Do you feel like you’re swinging hard but the ball is going nowhere? Is ‘warning-track-power’ your nickname? Do you feel like if you ever do get a hold of a ball it gets pulled foul? Then you may be suffering from a lack of backside power…
In hitting, there are three main components to developing power within a hitter: Separation, front side tilt, and backside drive. The purpose of this article is to demonstrate the most effective ways to train backside drive in an athlete, in particular, a female softball hitter.
This article will cover the various ways to coach an athlete through improvement. Some hitters operate best with a simple cue while others need a more focused skill development. Sometimes, neither of these work and the hitter is instead limited physically by their structure and muscular functions. For this article series, we will dive into each of these categories so that you as a parent, coach, or athlete can feel fully equipped to develop backside drive.
Part 2: Structure & Function
When hitting, our ultimate goal is to be able to drive the lower half while simultaneously staying centered enough to rotate along the middle axis of our body. If you see the video below, I am analyzing the hitter’s drift once her front heel makes contact with the ground. This is indicative of the initiation phase beginning. Therefore, the back side (back hip) should begin to violently externally rotating as the front side hip absorbs the rotation by internally rotating.
It is important to note that if the athlete does not possess the ability to rotate at the hip joint then they will rely solely on linear aspects in order to generate power. If you view the video below, you’ll notice the tilt angle drastically changes during the initiation phase because the individual lacks the ability to properly rotate on their front hip.
Additionally, if the athlete cannot get into the proper loaded position at separation then they will miss getting into the proper position in order to drive out of their backside anyway. This will typically happen when an athlete does not possess the proper strength or awareness to sink into their backside as they begin to separate. This does not necessarily mean the athlete is not strong, it just means that the position they are in is inhibiting them to exhibit that strength. In this video below you’ll notice an athlete sway or drift backward opposed to sinking into their back hip and as a result, they have a tremendous push forward instead of an effective drive that allows the hand path to smoothly translate to and through the ball. The athlete still hits the ball hard but it requires a maximum effort in order to do so. This inability to load down into the back hip will throw off muscle sequencing and thus disallow the proper muscle firing order in the swing.
Okay, great – what do we do about this now? If you are looking for skill specific work to address these issues, then check out our first article on backside drive. If you have attempted each of these drills with precision and consistency and have still struggled to find results in your hitter, then perhaps there is an issue with structure or function.
The body won’t create what it can’t first absorb
What does this mean? The body won’t jump to a height it does not feel strong enough to land from. A pitcher won’t be able to throw so hard that the shoulder doesn’t feel like it can hold the arm in place. And lastly, a hitter will not swing with a velocity that the body does not feel it can slow down. In a perfect world, these statements are 100% true. However, when the athlete pushes through these limitations, compensates with poor movement patterns or neglects to listen to their body’s signs of fatigue, the result is an injury. Therefore, in order to have the body trust the swing, it is imperative to activate musculature needed to absorb the power created in the swing.
Below are three basic activation exercises that require zero equipment. Thoughtful intent and high kinesthetic awareness are required.
Activation Exercise #1: Lateral Plank with Rotation
For this exercise, the athlete begins on their side. They will work to keep their balance on the outside of their bottom foot as they cross over their top leg and plant it firmly on the ground for balance. It is imperative that the elbow on the ground is aligned with the shoulder so as to avoid undue stress on the shoulder capsule. From here, the athlete will work to reach around their midline and then while maintaining balance and control, reach their arm to the ceiling. As a coach, look to have the athlete maintain proper hip height throughout the entire movement. If the athlete struggles to balance in this position, have them first just hold the lateral plank position and eventually progress to the plank with reach variations.
Activation Exercise #2: Glute Bridge
There is a multitude of variations for the glute bridge. The ultimate goal is to get the body to activate the glute. Seems obvious enough yet it is important to note that many athletes will feel their hamstring or lower back activate instead of their glute. Remember, athletes are not the best movers, they are the best compensators. We will figure out a way to accomplish the task regardless if we are utilizing the best musculature in order to do so. Therefore, progress these movements slowly and controlled and work to communicate with the athlete on where they are feeling this movement. Adjusting the hip height and alternating between unilateral vs. bilateral variations will aid in the effectiveness of this exercise.
Activation Exercise #3: Split Stance Tempo Up Downs with Rotation
Although this drill appears simple in nature, the complexities of it come from understanding the bodies smallest movements. From a kneeling stance, the athlete should work toward exhaling their ribcage into a neutral position thus adjusting their spine and hip position to an active neutral position as well. From there, the emphasis will be on activating the glute of the trail leg. The athlete should be able to keep the glute engaged throughout the entire length of the movement. If the athlete is unable to stand all the way up with their glute remaining engaged, then take the athlete to the height of disengagement and work toward improving range of motion each week.
Correcting for Common Issues
Addressing the inability to separate the lower half and the upper half. See below for various drills that work toward having the athlete feel the separation in the swing.
Banded Separation/PVC Separation
Seated Thoracic Mobility
Quadruped Thoracic Mobility
Addressing Drifting on Load or Initiation Phase
Many times in the swing, the athlete will experience drift due to an inability to internally and/or externally rotate at the hip or rotate at the thoracic spine. Below are exercises that address these two issues.
Internal/External Hip Rotation Conditioning
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