Note: this article touches on a couple other aspects of the swing beyond the leg action. Those aspects are not explained in detail. Additional aspects of the swing are addressed in other Baseball Positive articles and videos. Please let me know in the comments section if This article creates questions regarding the swing; I will reply and try to provide some clarification.
The energy for power and bat speed for the swing is generated by the legs. When the legs are fully utilized, the initial action in the batting swing is much like Jumping.
When a person jumps, they squat down, swing their arms back, then with a quick burst of energy, extend their legs while accelerating their arms straight- up. The first sections of this article describe the basic actions that create that burst of energy to produce a quick and powerful swing.
At the end of this article, I share a very simple drill to help a young batter develop their ability to maximize the use of their legs in their swing. The information presented prior to the drill gives some background on why this very simple drill is so valuable for a youth baseball or softball player.
HOW POWER FROM THE LEGS IS MAXIMIZED IN THE SWING
The difference between the jumping action and the swing is a batter doesn’t fully extend their legs in the swing as happens in the jumping action. In the swing, a batter ANCHORS their back leg, which stops their leg extension mid-‘jump’. The ‘stopping’ of the ‘jump’ is a key to transferring energy and momentum from the legs to the hands. (Anchor is discussed later in the article)
The shifting of body weight in the swing is fairly subtle; there is much less movement in the weight-shift action than many people think - or teach; ) (I do not make any reference to Weight Shift when working with kids)
In a ‘traditional’ stance, and in many of the stances we see at the professional level, the batter starts with their weight pretty much evenly distributed. Their torso and head are centered between their feet. Some batters have a little extra weight on their back foot/leg in their stance.
From this Centered and Balanced position, a makes a slight inward turn with the front side of their body and shifts their weight slightly to their back leg - The Load
(I prefer using the phrase “Turn Back” rather than ‘Load’, when working with kids. It is important that we recognize, in all our coaching communication, that kids have a smaller vocabulary than adults and have had less exposure to the terms associated with the game. Many don’t know exactly what is meant by the term ‘Load’. The phrase, “Turn Back” is a literal description of the loading action.)
From this loaded position, the batter shifts their weight forward, to where their weight is pretty much (again) centered between their feet….not forward (past center) to their front foot…the ‘weight shift’ is from back to center.
(In the 80’s, a more dramatic forward weight shift was taught by some high-level coaches; this trickled down to the youth level and from time to time I see coaches teaching this concept. In previous decades the stride was taught; this continued through the end of the century. Today you will have to look very hard to find a successful MLB batter who shifts their weight to their front foot. Also, you will notice that few MLB batters stride. These dramatic changes in the teaching of the batting swing have occurred over the past 15-20 years).
The Weight Shift is from ‘back to center’, involving a minimal amount of forward movement.
It is during this slight movement, from back to center, that the batter is ‘Jumping’. While it takes place in a small space, through this action a batter is fully utilizing the strength in their legs to generate power and energy for the swing. Many youth players are unaware of the importance of the legs in the swing and few, if any, are trained to maximize their legs in their swing.
The following information gives some basics on how the swing works.
ANCHORING THE SWING
The action of anchoring the swing has the batter driving the muscles of their back leg straight down against their back knee. This driving down action takes place as the batter is turning their legs/hips (the action of “Switching Heels” is shown in a three videos below).
(A teaching phrase used constantly in Baseball Positive instruction is “Turn Fast” - said with a lot of energy and emphasis. Because most kids are not aware of the importance of their legs in the swing, or that the legs have anything to do with the swing at all, it is critical that we constantly talk ‘legs’. When we teach, we want to put extra emphasis on our statements referring to the use of the legs.)
‘Anchoring’ the swing keeps the head and torso from moving forward past ‘center’ and aids in maximizing the transfer of energy and power from the legs to the hands. Coordinating this transfer of energy, with the assistance of Anchoring the back leg produces bat speed and the acceleration of the swing through contact.
When the teaching focus is on Anchoring the Swing, we have our batter remain in the finish position of their swing. Then firmly run our hand down the side of their leg, so they gain an understanding, through 'feel’, that they want to drive down with the muscles of their back leg. Recognizing ‘Feel’ is an important part of learning, and maintaining, proper actions of the muscles.
The end of the turn, the anchoring of the swing, is the end of the ‘Jump’.
The Leg/hip turn is accomplished by “Switching Heels”. Watch the three videos below: Albert Pujols and Mike Zunino blasting home runs.............and a Soldier doing an ‘About Face’. ................This is included to demonstrate that the Switch Heels action is not a ‘secret’ action for swinging the bat. The Switch Heels action is basic Body Mechanics.
Albert Pujols, Switch Heels- Four examples at: 0:260:340:440:53 Mike Zunino, Switch Heels- Three examples at: 0:00-0:130:14-0:200:30-0:35
Soldier, About Face: 0:00-0:10
At the end of the Leg/hip turn, the lower half of the body ‘stops’ right in the middle of the swing (see the Zunino Video at 0:09). When the Legs/hips stop, the energy they produced has to go somewhere….it is transferred to the hands…this energy transfer is a key for maximum bat speed and power.
The end of the turn, the anchoring of the swing, is the end of the ‘Jump’.
Watch this slo-mo video (0:35-0:50) of Nelson Cruz' swing. You can see the lower half of the body (legs/hips) literally stop...while the bat accelerates through the contact point with the ball.
THE LEGS POWER THE HANDS IN A STRAIGHT LINE
(The following information is included to point out
what happens following the ‘jumping’ segment of
the swing. Information on teaching these actions
is not included in this article.)
The hands take the energy and power created by
the legs to accelerate the bat to, and through, the ball.
The path of the hands in the swing is, more or less,
a straight line.
The bottom hand ‘pulls’ the bat ‘half way’ towards
contact point. The bottom hand ‘stops’
(is finished contributing to the swing) midway
through this aspect of the swing involving the hands.
The top hand then snaps ‘all the way’, using a
‘skipping-a-rock’ action where the palm of the
top hand remains ‘facing up’ through contact.
The wrists 'roll over' after contact is made. This 'rolling over' action of the wrists happens naturally as the hands/arm extended in a straight line through the end of the 'swing'.
Note: the action of the hands in the ‘swing’ is not a circular, as one might think, but more of a straight line. An efficient hitter doesn’t ‘swing’ the bat, they ‘snap’ the bat. . ...the momentum of the barrel of the bat continues in a circular path. It is this momentum of the barrel of the bat that takes the hands off the straight line.
THE DRILL - ‘DEEP LOAD’
This is a modified version of the ‘Switch Heels’ drill shown earlier. When the batter 'Turns Back' we have them exaggerate this action by turning back a bit more than usual and sinking their butt a bit resulting in a Deeper knee bend then normal.
From this Deep Load position, the batter Turns Fast and ‘Jumps’ to the ANCHOR position.
The energy and power of the ‘jump’ is transferred to the hands, which accelerate in a straight line to completes the swing. The ‘swing’ is completed when the hands and arms are fully extended at the end of the straight-line path of the hands.
The ‘Deep Load’ is the key point of the drill. When repeating the Deep Load Drill over and over, the batter becomes aware of and gains are greater sense of the feel of their legs in the swing.
When working with smaller and younger players it is important to recognize that they have limited strength in their legs and we are asking them to perform an action they have never done before. They will not master this the first time they try the drill….or the second time, or the third time. It is important to understand, when working with youth baseball and softball players, they are not going to ‘get it’ as fast as we might expect, from our perspective as adults. In all our teaching, when working with young players, we must be patient with them…and with ourselves; ) --- the process of gaining some level of master of muscle actions is a weeks or months long process.
(STRIDE is not mentioned in this article. Watch MLB batters; very few stride. Many simply ‘Turn Back’ as described. Some pick up their front foot and set it right back down. - I don’t teach stride and I encourage youth coaches to avoid talking about striding to kids age 12 and under. When they get to their teens, there will be a few kids who can benefit from incorporating a small stride into their swing.)
The drill is executed while working off a tee, doing soft toss (watch this video - 1:35-2:00), or short front toss.(see the first set of pictures, found about half way down the page, inBatting Practice - A 12-Play Drill
Prior to doing the drill we want to prep the batter with a brief explanation of the concept that the legs initiate the swing action and that the legs are where the energy and power for the swing is generated.
The info presented earlier in this article provides some talking points. The age of the batter dictates how deep the conversation will be. In any case, this prep talk should not take more than about 30 seconds. We want to give the batter just enough info to do the drill, then we get them working.
After they have taken some swings (10-15) their muscles will need a brief break. During the break, we can give them a little more insight about the importance of utilizing the legs in the batting swing.
This, like most drills, is not going to magically make a batter a superstar in a single session. This is an activity to include in a swing workout. Over the course of time, the batter’s muscles will become trained to better utilize their legs, which will produce more power and bat speed.
Note: it is important, when working with an athlete of any age, to limit the volume of information we give them at any one time. This is an easier strategy to follow if we go into the teaching session with the understanding that we are not going to see miraculous improvements in just a few minutes.