One of the most critical moves in fastpitch (or baseball for that matter) hitting is learning to separate the hips and shoulders. By allowing the hips to lead, the hitter can:
- Generate more power by enabling the big muscles to generate tremendous energy (much more than the arms or shoulders alone can do)
- See the ball longer
- Shorten the distance the bat has to travel to make contact with the ball
- Enable themselves to adjust to pitch speed and location more easily than with an arms-driven or one-piece gate swing
- Carry the bat forward so you’re hitting out front instead of across the body
Yet while that makes logical sense, and can be seen in the swings of high-level players, learning to actually do it can be difficult for many players. They tend to want to bring everything forward at once.
What I usually tell them is they need to counter-rotate their upper body when the hips start to fire. In other words, when the front foot lands and the hips start to rotate forward, the shoulders should pull back a little against them. The hips will then pull the shoulders around so they can launch the bat.
Sounds simple, right? But hitters can’t always visualize that move, or feel it. So here’s a way to help them get it.
Take a piece of elastic, the type you can easily find at a fabric store or big box retailer, and tie a loop in one end. Then slip the front foot into the loop, and wrap the other end around the bat handle.
Now, when the hitter lands and the hips start to rotate, tell her to use her hands and shoulders to stretch the elastic further. Bam, you have separation and sequence. Simple!
Here’s how that looks:
You can see the stretch of the elastic as she makes the first move. She does it again as she goes into the swing.
The question then is does it translate? Here’s a video of the swing after the elastic has been removed.
Now, swinging off a tee isn’t the same as swinging at a live pitch. It’s still going to take some practice to lock it in.
But at least she has a great start on it.
If you’re looking for a tactile way to help hitters learn this important move, stop by your local fabric store and pick up some elastic. It help shortcut the learning process.
A few weeks ago I wrote about a cue I’d developed called “shoulder eye.” It’s worth reading the full post, but if you’re pressed for time the core concept is placing an eye sticker on the shoulder, then making sure the shoulder comes forward to see the ball before it tilts in.
Then last week I ran into another issue where the eye stickers came in handy.
In this case it was a fairly new student who was having some challenges getting the hang of driving her back hip around the front side to initiate her swing. She’d done fine off the tee, but when we moved to front toss she just couldn’t help but lead with her hands as she has since she started playing.
So… off to my bag of tricks I went, and I came back with an eye sticker. I told her to place it on her back (in this case right) hip. (If you look closely at the top or the full-length photo you can see it.)
I then told her that in order to hit the ball, she had to make sure her “hip eye” came around to get a good look at the ball before starting her hands.
As with shoulder eye I’m not 100% of why this works. But I’m happy to report that it does.
My guess is that placing the eye on the hip (or shoulder) creates more of a, pardon the pun, visual for the hitter. Perhaps “bring your hip around” is too vague, whereas point this eye toward the ball first is more specific.
Or it could just be goofy enough to break well-established, unconscious thought patterns to enable new information to take over.
In any case, it seems to work. I’ve used it a couple of times since that first one and the difference was immediate.
The hitter wasn’t necessarily perfect – I like a lot of drive out of the back side. But it definitely set her down the right path.
So if you have a hitter who is having trouble latching onto the proper sequences of hips-shoulders-bat, or who isn’t using her hips at all, get some eyeball stickers and have her place it on her back hip. It might be just what she needs to start hitting with authority.
While it might sound like this is a post specifically for mutants, “shoulder eye” is a concept I came up with to help hitters stop dropping their back shoulders toward the catcher before they begin to rotate their hips to fire the swing. The premise is you want the imaginary eye on your shoulder to turn and get a look at the ball before you start to tilt into the swing.
This is an issue I see all the time, especially on low pitches. As soon as a hitter spots that the pitch is low, he/she will start dropping the shoulder to get down to the ball. That’s just wrong on so many levels.
For example, if you drop the shoulder back and down instead of bringing it forward first you lose the ability to fully adjust to pitch locations. You’re kind of locked into a zone, and if you guessed wrong there isn’t much you can do about it except swing and miss or hit a weak ground ball or popup.
If you turn first, keeping the shoulder up, you can then take a little more time (even if it’s just a couple hundredths of a second, everything helps) to see where the ball is, then tilt only as much as is needed. You can work from high to low, enabling you to cover more of the strike zone AND get a better bat angle.
Another issue with dropping back is that it tends to restrict your ability to move the hips forward effectively. All your weight is pressing down on your back side making it difficult rotate quickly and efficiently. Even if you get your hips to turn you won’t be generating much power out of them.
If you turn your shoulder eye forward first, you can unweight your back side so it can drive quickly around your front side and generate power. You can then get a proper hips-shoulders-bat swing that will help you drive balls into the gap or over the fence rather than seeing most of your contacts end up staying in the infield.
The idea of not dropping the back shoulder toward the catcher before rotation isn’t new, by the way. It’s a fairly standard instruction.
Hitters are told to land with their front shoulder lower than the back, turn a certain way, and do all sorts of other things. But they don’t always understand the instruction in a way that makes it easy to execute.
The shoulder eye concept does. Telling a hitter he/she has an eye on the shoulder, and it has to look forward before the shoulder drops, is visual (no pun intended) and easy to understand.
Originally I would tell hitters just to visualize the shoulder eye. But then one day it occurred to me – why not give them an actual shoulder eye?
A few bucks on Amazon later I had enough stickers to teach a small army of hitters. With 4,000 of them I’m guessing it’s a lifetime supply, even with my habit of giving a few to hitters who want to use them at home or at practice as well.
And why not? It’s fun and effective. Even my students who are college players like the stickers and find the concept valuable in helping them hit bombs.
So if you have a hitter who just loves to drop that back shoulder and sit on the back side, open his/her eyes to the shoulder eye. In my experience it’s a real difference-maker.
As fastpitch softball hitters begin to experience some success with making contact, their next natural evolution is to want to hit the ball harder. Often what that amounts to is trying to swing the bat harder with their arms.
It makes sense in a way. You’re holding the bat in your hands, which are attached to the arms. The faster the bat moves the harder the ball will be hit (theoretically). So…
The natural tendency is to try to make the bat move faster with the arms and shoulders. There’s just one problem: once you try to maximize batspeed with your arms you lose all ability to adjust the bat to the flight of the ball.
That’s because the arms can only do one job. They can either supply power or they can lag a bit behind the body and then deliver the bat accurately and properly in the path of the ball.
So where does the power come from? The strong rotation of the lower half of the body, which most people refer to as driving the hips.
That’s where the biggest muscles of the body are located, so that’s where you can generate the most power. If you’re trying to push a car out of the snow or mud, you either use your legs or it doesn’t go anywhere.
The problem is, if you don’t develop the power from your lower half it has to come from somewhere. So the body will instinctively try to get it out of the part of the body that’s holding the bat.
And now we’re back to the original issue. With no (or little) hip rotation, the bat has to travel a longer distance to get to the contact zone. That means you have to start developing the power and applying it before you really know where the ball will be.
It’s like trying to throw a dart without knowing where the dartboard is until you’re about ready to release it. Sure, you might get lucky and hit the bullseye. But you’re far more likely to wind up on the edge, or miss the target entirely.
Starting with the lower body gives you a little more time (not much, but every hundredth of a second helps) to see the path of the pitch. It also helps carry the bat closer to the contact point before you actually release it into the ball, creating a shorter path to the ball (as in “short to, long through”).
Just as important, though, when it comes time to launch the bat you are able to control it much more effectively so you can take it right to where it needs to go.
The arms (and shoulders) can only do one job – supply the power or guide the bat in a way that’s adjustable. If they try to supply the power, that will override bat control.
Let the power come from the lower body so the arms and shoulders can do their proper job. It’ll make for a much more successful 2020 at the plate.
And speaking of 2020, happy holidays to everyone, no matter which holiday(s) you celebrate, and best wishes for the New Year. I appreciate you reading Life in the Fastpitch Lane and look forward to sharing more about the fastpitch journey next year.
Players, coaches, parents and fans all love them – those hits that take off like rockets. There’s nothing like seeing a well-struck, majestic line drive rising into the distance, especially if it clears a fence.
Learning to hit those awesome rockets, however, can be counter-intuitive. As I have pointed out before, because you want to hit the ball with the bat there is a natural tendency to focus on yanking the bat into the hitting zone with the shoulders and arms.
Players seem to believe (understandably) that the faster they pull the bat through with their arms, the farther the ball will go. This belief is often reinforced, incidentally, by the improper use of ball exit speed measurements that focus only on the numbers rather than looking at the technique as well. You can get better numbers off the tee, but that won’t necessarily translate into rockets off of live pitching for a variety of reasons.
During a lesson this week I was trying to explain how each of the body sections contributes to the swing when a thought occurred to me. To hit a rocket, a player should be like a rocket.
Think about it. Where does the power in a rocket come from? The bottom section. That has to fire first, with a lot of effort, to get the rocket going.
If you put all that power into the middle section, the rocket wouldn’t go anywhere because it needs to thrust against the ground to break free. Instead, it would just blow up on the launch pad.
Once you have things going, the secondary stage kicks in. It builds on the momentum created by the first stage to really start driving the rocket toward its destination.
Finally, there’s the payload section. That’s the part that carries the astronauts, or the satellite, or the exploratory vehicle, or the communications array that will alert our eventual alien overlords that we are here, we are too primitive to get to them, and thus we are ripe for exploitation and eventual elimination.
In hitting, the lower body is the first stage of the rocket. It initiates the swing and supplies the bulk of the power that will be applied.
The shoulders and upper torso are the middle stage, adding on to the power of the first stage and providing guidance on where the rocket should go.
The bat is the payload stage – the point of the whole process. It takes advantage of everything that has gone before to deliver the final result, which is the hit.
Stick to that sequence and you will hit well. Do them out of order and the result will likely be a huge, fiery crash and burn.
So as you’re working with hitters, trying to explain how to properly sequence the swing, give this analogy a try. Maybe even show them this video:
Then send them out on the field for their own rocket launch.
Ok, before anyone gets their undies in a grundy, I’m not calling players name or saying this fastpitch hitting drill is only for stupid people. It’s merely a device I’m using to make what could otherwise be boring a little more fun.
The purpose of the drill is to teach hitters to lead with their hips, then release the hands. All too often hitters will either start the swing with their hands, or will start with their hips but then let the hands take over too early.
Ideally, you’ll want a sequence of hips-shoulders-bat/hands, where the hips start a powerful rotation, then you add on the shoulders, then you finally get the hands involved. When you go in that order you use the big muscles to develop more power and batspeed so when you do make contact you hit the ball harder/farther.
Going hips-first also gives the hitter more time to see the ball before she commits, enables a shorter swing to the ball, and puts the bat into the green zone at contact. Lots of great reasons to go hips-first.
While that may be easy to say it can be tougher to execute. You want to hit the ball with the bat, and the bat is held in the hands, so for many hitters (especially young ones) it makes more sense to lead with the bat. They may try to hold it back, but it’s just so tempting.
So I came up with the “dummkopf drill.” Here’s how it works:
The reason for the name of the drill is it’s based on WWII movies where one of the German soldiers is asked a question, answers it, and then is slapped in the head and called “dummkopf” by his superior. (SIDE NOTE: All the German I know comes from WWII movies, so it’s a pretty limited vocabulary. And not very useful in everyday conversation unless I were to find myself in a WWII prison camp.)
In this case, there were two purposes. One was to get the sequence right. The other was to help Abbey, who is pictured here, get the feeling of transferring her weight into the front leg instead of spinning on the back leg. As you can see, it accomplished both missions.
We could have done the drill without adding the callout “dummkopf” at the end. But it wouldn’t be as much fun. Using the word also helped her focus more on the point of contact, since she was trying to slap the rubber part of the tee upside its virtual head.
So if you have a hitter who is having trouble leading with her hips instead of her bat, give this one a try. And be sure to leave a comment below letting me know how it goes.
When I work with fastpitch softball hitters, one of the things I will drill into them (incessantly, if you listen to some) is the sequence “hips-shoulders-bat.” It’s the order in which body parts should be fired if you’re going to be successful.
(Yes, I know “bat” isn’t a body part but I try to distinguish that from the “hands to the ball” teaching that used to be so prevalent.)
It’s basically a mantra we use. If the hitter only gives a partial turn, or leads with her hands, or swings everything at once like a gate, I will ask her “What’s your sequence?”
The correct answer is “hips-shoulders-bat.” Repeating it over and over helps drill the point across.
There are several reasons “hips-shoulders-bat” is the optimal sequence. For one, it allows the largest, strongest muscles to get the body moving and create the power that will drive the ball into gaps and over fences.
Another is that it gives the hitter more time to see the ball before committing her bat. If you swing hands/bat-first, you have to start moving the bat into the hitting zone before you know where it will be, or how it’s spinning (for more advanced hitters).
But if you drive the hips first, then add on the shoulders, then finally launch the bat, you will have a couple tenths of a second more time to gather information about the pitch and recognize patterns. Doesn’t sound like much, but to a hitter in fastpitch, where the pitcher is throwing at high speeds anywhere from 35-43 feet away as a starting point, it’s an eternity.
Working hips-shoulders-bat also makes it easier to avoid the dreaded “dropping of the hands.” If you swing hands-first, it’s much easier to take the hands down to your waist and swing level to the ground rather than keeping a good bat path.
Getting to the optimal hitting zone
One important reason that doesn’t seem to be talked about as much, however, is the effect a good hips-shoulders-bat sequence has making contact in the optimal hitting zone.
The photo at the top of the post illustrates what I mean. The red, green, and yellow bars represent the quality of contact you can expect to achieve if you hit the ball in each of those areas. (It’s a general illustration, so don’t hold me to the exact placement of each color.)
If Kayleigh started the swing with her hands, her bat would have a long way to travel from the load position to where it will make contact with the ball. This gives her the opportunity to make contact somewhere in the red zone. In fact, there is a pretty good likelihood she will because of the issues of time and distance.
The red zone is red for a reason – which is, you don’t want to make contact there if you can avoid it. The swing hasn’t fully developed yet, and you’re only using the smaller muscles of the arms to move the bat, so you’re probably not going to hit the ball very hard. Your more likely outcome is a popup or a weak ground ball.
If you turn your hips first, then add your shoulders onto that turn before you launch the bat, you will have done a couple of things. One is you will have recruited the big muscles of the legs, butt/glutes, abdominals, chest and shoulders to create power. Now your bat can jump on that moving train and be accelerated into the pitch.
The other is that you will have carried the bat further forward before launch. Now you can’t help but make contact in the green zone (or the yellow zone if you’re a little early) because your bat has effectively bypassed the red zone in the pre-launch phase.
Like Kayleigh here, you will be a great position to take the bat to the ball and give it a ride.
Of course, like other things relating to softball hitting there are always exceptions. For example, the optimal hitting zone changes depending on how close the pitch is to the hitter.
The more inside the pitch, the further out-front it needs to be hit in order to drive it. Looking from the top, the optimal hitting zone will tend to look more like the photo inset (for a right-handed hitter). Again, this is an approximation; your mileage may vary.
But for a basic concept, I think this works pretty well.
If you are a hitter, the more you understand where you need to make contact with the ball the more likely you will be to adopt a hips-shoulders-bat sequence.
If you are a coach, use the photo at the top of the post to help your hitters understand where they want to contact the ball – and why. Many of us are visual learners, so a picture will be worth the proverbial thousand words.
Either way, it’s one more incentive to learn the body sequence for hitting that will drive greater success. Give it a try, and let me know how it goes in the comments.