Written By: Chas Pippitt
EXIT VELOCITY is quite the buzz-worthy topic these days. Just as pitchers have gone through the unrelenting quest to increase their throwing velocity, hitters are doing the same thing with bat speed and batted ball exit velocity. These revolutions are happening for good reason…more velocity on the mound or in the batter’s box gives a player more chances to be successful.
There are plenty of ways to build exit velocity in hitters. Hitting coaches from all over favor techniques like lifting tons of weights, hitting weighted balls, swinging bats of different loads and lengths, CNS training…you name it, it’s on #hittingtwitter and freely on display.
First, let me be clear, I’m not here to tell you that I’ve researched EVERY SINGLE TYPE of Exit Velocity Development Program out there. I haven’t. What I am telling you is that we at Baseball Rebellion lean on different principles in our development. Everything at Baseball Rebellion is based on principles of human movement. Those principles, like how a normal healthy knee flexes and extends, are not up for debate. Therefore, we use these movement facts to cue and coach and athlete into positions that generally result in optimal movement quality for normal and healthy people. Similar to how martial arts has used the practice of Katas, (detailed choreographed patterns of movements, used for centuries to develop disciplined quality fighters, practiced either solo or in pairs to build muscle memory in martial artists) we use similar rhythmic movement patterning in our coaching of hitters on a daily basis. The Katas were performed over and over to ensure the effortless use of the movements in the field of battle or in a fight. Here is longtime UFC champion fighter Georges St. Pierre using a Kata in his open workout before his UFC 129 bout.
Now, before everyone reading this has a conniption fit about the Central Nervous System solving problems and constraints, allow me to frame our movement improvement ideas first on improving turn speed within the body and therefore Exit Velocity with the batted ball. We at Baseball Rebellion believe most, if not all hitters, come into our doors with many misconceptions about how to turn their body to generate power. Most have been over-coached to incorrectly use their arms to hit the ball, but some, even with no coaching at all, have many movement issues inside their swings (turns) that prevent them from exhibiting maximum force or adjustability. Even our MLB and MiLB clients who were highly drafted or have years of service time benefit from the ‘katas” we teach to help them learn to turn. Then, once that is finished, their bodies naturally use the new speed and new movement ideas within their natural patterns.
Martial Art Don’ts
Here is a video of some novice martial artists who are in need of some different movement solutions…
These ‘martial artists’ are clearly giving it their best attempts at their ‘karate moves’ but much like many of our baseball/softball athletes, he does not have an efficient or powerful movement solution within his required sport. These novice fighters in the previous video have no chance of finding their own ‘movement solutions’ to moving like a martial artist in any type of efficient timeline. When someone hires a paid instructor to train their hitter, or themselves, in a skill…they expect results in a quantifiable and time efficient manner. We must, as full-time instructors, spend the time to gain an informational advantage over the coaches or teachers they get at their little league or school-ball practices so that we can achieve results that are both better and faster than the methods already available to them. This does NOT include just asking them to ‘hit the ball harder or higher’ and bombarding them with gimmicky drills or bats covered in tape. Later in the process, once the athlete has a turn solution that makes sense; weighted balls, bats, varying constraints can have a lot of use and success, but before the hitter’s movement quality has been built, it’s just unethical.
Basically our theory is this: IF a hitter comes into the program, after their initial evaluation and their testing, and they clearly do NOT have a workable movement solution to hitting the ball harder and movement effectively and efficiently while attempting to hit the ball hard, than we have to build that movement pattern solution for them. Initially, this looks like the movement progression article we put out a few weeks back: The Movements That Made the Rebellion. From a mastered Rebel’s Rack Turn, the athlete will naturally modify their learned pattern of hitting into something that is faster and more powerful within their own stance, hand set, and swing. For example, hitters may have toe taps, high hands, leg kicks, small short strides or early leg lifts with a hang in our program. As long as they can time their turn and execute a fast rotational move, they’re in their own ‘optimal pattern’ within the confines of actually hitting a moving ball.
Strength Coach Fails
Another way we look at movement is through the eyes of a strength or speed coach. For instance, let’s pretend this lifter walked into our ‘gym’ and this is how they squatted in their movement screen.
If a novice lifter attempts bodyweight squat with this type of technique…would ANY strength coach let them LOAD that lifting technique with weight? I am sure SOMEONE out there would…but the vast majority would answer that “NO!” Any strength coach, with any sort of experience, would not allow that type of lifting technique to be under a bar with any weight on it what so ever. Loading that horrible squat technique is very likely to end up with this type of outcome…
Ed Coan Squat Injury 2002
Obviously, it is not any coach’s intent to hurt an athlete. That being said, loading the inefficient and weak swing or throwing motion of a delivery with either underspend or overspend instruments is not only dangerous it is often times negligent. Loading bad patterns in any sport or athletic activity may slow not only the short-term development of the player over time but can put an artificial technical ceiling on the player that limits the altitude of their careers.
Why is baseball/softball hitting training different? Why would a parent or pro baseball/softball client want to load a faulty pattern? Can you get some Exit Velocity gains? Of course, you can! But now, after your premature weighted bat or ball training, the hitter is just swinging POORLY, FASTER. Bat speed is good, obviously increasing bat speed and exit velocity is better than not increasing those metrics. But we want to do these drills in ways that make sense. Learn a correct pattern that works, then load it! Again, going back to the Movements that Made the Rebellion article, you can see that we train the movement OUTSIDE of the actual discipline of hitting. That allows the athlete to re-pattern their turn speed and distance internally so when their goals change (hitting a double, moving a runner, driving the ball with a 2 – 0 count) they’re able to utilize their subconscious mind to achieve the turn, and hopefully the desired result. Internal cues are given frequently, in short bursts, during the movement to direct specific focus to areas that need improvement. This internal cuing can happen by demonstration accompanied by verbals as well as manual instruction or help from the instructor as well.
Once the turn is learned through our Rebel’s Rack progression, we load it and then we speed it up. Here is exactly HOW we load and speed up the turn to increase exit velocity when hitting.
Assisted Turns with Hesitation
We usually add a hesitation move in the assisted turns first to really emphasize the need to drive down into the ground with your front heel to help drive the front hip back into the rotation. This also helps in stopping the face from moving forward during rotation.
From here, we have now strengthened and trained the faster turn process of the body and we are ready to hit. Sometimes we use the rack for timing drills as well inside the cage with a moving ball but no bat (see video below). These are more stable environments where verbal internal cues like “Open your pelvis without opening your shoulders” are vital for skill acquisition. Once these skills are acquired and the faster turn has been patterned, then the athlete is put in a less stable environment where cuing is less frequent, less verbal, less internal and more results or outcome focused. For example: “Turn your hips sooner” is the cue we would use during rack movement, while during hitting, Baseball Rebellion instructors may say “Pull the ball into the gap”. Both are used. Both work. But we have found much more success when using internal cues FIRST to build and acquire skill and THEN external cues in support of those cues after to develop in-game performance and retention.
Timing the Off-Speed Pitch
Recently, I had a conversation with Robert Butler, DPT who now works with the St Louis Cardinals. He referenced Motor Control and Learning, A Behavioral Emphasis a textbook from his Movement Sciences 600 level class he taught at Duke University. Robert, and the research inside the book, talked a lot about internal cues as needed for skill acquisition and learning in the first phases of skill development and then external cues as the keys to continue the execution phase of the skills within varied environments or games. It was good to hear someone with a doctoral level of motor learning and motor control talk to me about the HOW skills are first learned in a vacuum, and then transferred to the chaos of the ever-changing game environment. Too many coaches in hitting are skipping the verbal cues needed in the acquisition phase of learning and jumping right into the adaptive phase of in-game use. At Baseball Rebellion and Softball Rebellion, we think that teaching the adaptive LOAD phase before the acquisition LEARNING phase is a mistake. Consider that before your next weighted bat or weighted ball session…do you really have the technical proficiency to load your movement or do you need to go back and acquire more movement acquits?
P.S. We created the Rebel’s Rack to help teach rotational power, which directly correlates with increased exit velocity! Buy your Rebel’s Rack today and get the drills that will help you BOOST your POWER at the plate!
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