Preparing the Hips for Hitting
By: Eric Cressey
In the past few weeks, I've had separate conversations with two really knowledgeable baseball "dads" who also happen to have a ton of experience with coaching up-and-coming hitters. In both cases, a (paraphrased) message that stood out was "improving as a hitter as a teenager is largely about learning to use the hips."
By contrast, have this same conversation with almost any professional baseball player, and he'll tell you: "I hit with my hands."
So who is right? Do pro players not use their hips? Or, do kids not use their hands?
Actually, they are both right. You don't get to professional baseball in the first place if you don't use your hips well when hitting. And, you don't succeed in professional baseball unless you use your hands efficiently and have tremendous hand-eye coordination. It's just multiple levels of natural selection that set the best apart - and they may sometimes forgot about the early stages of progress.
Need proof? Watch a little league batting practice session, and then go to a big-league game to watch their batting practice. The young players all pull the ball on every pitch, whereas the big-leaguers usually spray the ball all over the field, moving from the opposite field to the pull side. They do this with their hands and wrists, all the while taking the hips for granted.
Think about this: how many more TFCC (wrist) injuries and hamate (hand) fractures do we see in professionals when compared to teenagers? There are a lot more - because this area gets used a ton more. Kids, on the other hand, get lower back stress fractures if they misuse their hips. It's no surprise, given the crazy rotational velocities and ranges of motion we see in hitters.
What is a surprise, though, is that nobody has caught on to the ramifications of what this means for the youth baseball player who is learning to hit.
If a kid wanted to be a NASCAR driver, would we start him with a few 200mph laps at the Speedway amongst dozens of other drivers? Of course not.
Why, then, do we have kids playing 150+ games per year between school teams, AAU, fall ball, and even winter ball? Where is the opportunity to learn how to hit in a controlled environment (closed loop), as opposed to trying to learn how to hit in live situations off of kids with no control (open loop). Don't get me wrong; many programs do a tremendous job with instruction and really do build outstanding technical hitters - but as much as I hate to say it, the occupation of "hitting coach" seems to be a dying profession. Why?
1. Schools are starting to put batting cages on campus for year-round hitting, and some kids don't appreciate that they need to learn to hit.
2. Some people see more money in AAU programs than individual instruction. If a hitting lesson is personal training, running a team practice is semi-private training: more money in less time (and it's usually cheaper for the players). This strategy can work if it's executed properly with sufficient coaching on-hand and the right demographic in mind; I have seen some AAU programs that are run with outstanding organization and excellent individual instruction at crucial parts of the year.
What is the right demographic? I can't say for sure - but I can tell you that we need to be really careful in dealing with kids in the 11-17 year-old range. They're learning to use their hips in an incredibly technically precise motion while their bodies are changing rapidly thanks to growth spurts and the fact that they spend 20 hours a day on their cans, thanks to sleeping, sitting at school desks, and playing around on Facebook and Instant Messenger. We're giving more physically demanding challenges to less physically prepared (and, many times, less motivated) kids.
Kids need good hitting instruction early. They also need good mobility and stability training to help them acquire these advanced hitting approaches while keeping their bodies healthy in the process. To get the ball rolling, try adding these four mobility drills in daily to help with your hitting-specific mobility:
About the Author
Eric Cressey is the president of Cressey Performance in Hudson, MA. A performance coach to over 100 professional baseball players, he publishes a free blog and newsletter at www.EricCressey.com.