Power Production for Baseball Players

With the professional football season just coming to a close and opening day still nearly two months away, you probably aren’t really ready to be getting into baseball just yet.  That is unless you are a die-hard baseball fan, or a baseball player training for the upcoming season. If you are a player, here is some insight as to where you should focus your attention while training as it pertains to body planes and athletic movements.  When talking about power in any type of rotational sport, the key lies in the transverse plane.

The Anatomic Planes
The body is divided into three cardinal anatomic planes:  transverse, frontal, and sagittal.  The transverse plane is where the body rotates (think transverse plane = rotational plane).  During any athletic movement, motion is occurring (usually simultaneously) through all three planes. However, the transverse plane is particularly important in baseball.  For simplicity, we will focus on hitting and pitching.  While hitting, the batter starts perpendicular to where the ball will be hit, and for pitchers (from the stretch position), they start perpendicular to where the ball will be aimed.  In order to produce power (velocity or bat speed) in either situation, the athlete must efficiently rotate through the transverse plane.

The Anatomic (Cardinal) Planes of the Body

The Kinetic Chain
Now that we’ve addressed what the transverse plane is, we need to move on to force (power) propagation through the body’s kinetic chain.  Whether in the batter’s box or on the bump, power is generated from the ground up – starting at the feet and ending at the hands.  When moving up the chain, there is increasing ranges of motion providing for potentially greater angular velocities and force production.  Closest to the dirt, the ankles have relatively little rotation while the knees only have a little bit more transverse plane movement. Motion, angular velocity, and force start to really ramp up once we reach the hips as they have roughly 70 degrees of motion (combined internal rotation and external rotation).  In short order, force is transferred through the trunk, then through the shoulder, arm/elbow, and finally to the fingertips.  For pitchers, this force is transferred to the ball, hopefully delivering a strike with adequate velocity.  For hitters, the aim is for this force to produce enough bat speed to park that same strike five rows deep.

The Powerhouse
Both pitching and hitting are ballistic motions, requiring great force in an incredibly short amount of time.  One key to this explosion are the gluteal muscles (maximus, medius, and minimus) as all are powerful hip rotators.  In order to take full advantage of the gluteals while throwing or hitting, the trail hip starts to move into an internally rotated position before blasting through full external rotation, allowing maximal power production (think of a snake coiling to strike).

The Middle Man
With both swinging and pitching, there is large amount of thoracic (middle) spine rotation, further building on the “coil and strike” effect.  The more you can “coil” it up, the greater potential energy that can eventually be imparted on the ball or bat.  So, if we can increase the amount of thoracic rotation an athlete has, we can (in theory) increase velocity and power.  Here are some examples of both hitters and pitchers “coil and strike,” with the trail hip first moving from internal rotation into external rotation, transferring large sums of power up through the trunk:

Aaron Judge about to launch one into orbit.  Note that his right leg has already started his swing (from the ground up).  The “coil and strike” is that quick – his right leg it is a blur compared to his (still relatively stationary) left leg.

Sandy Koufax (he was kind of good) starting to rotate towards the plate to probably deliver a strike.

#Gainz, #ExitVelo, #Gas
So, how can this knowledge be used to result in gains on the field?  Easy, strength and mobility training.  By definition, strength training is specific to the type of contraction, velocity, joint angles, and surfaces used.  In other words, there should be focus on both mobility and strength training aimed at producing more power in the transverse plane.  Specific to baseball, you must move loads in similar postures and contraction types.  Off-field training should be used enhance baseball skills, and not replace baseball-specific drills (tee work, soft toss, long toss, bullpen sessions, etc.).  Here are a few exercises that are ideal for baseball players:

The Lateral Bound with Rotation is similar to the pitching motion. In the top photograph, the athlete loads into stance leg hip into internal rotation before exploding into external rotation while bounding laterally (middle photograph). This drill can easily be adapted to the batter’s stance (bottom photograph), and be progressed, using additional loads – such as bands or medicine balls. These exercises can be performed with moderate to heavy weights for 4-6 repetitions or lighter loads for 12-15 reps.

Quadruped to Lumbar-Lock Thoracic Rotation is an easy drill that can be performed anywhere. Set up in quadruped position (on your hand and knees) and rock your hips back toward your heels.  Sitting back on your heels allows the drill to better isolate the thoracic spine versus the lumbar (lower) spine. The lumbar spine which should be a stable segment with relatively little transverse plane motion.  Place one hand behind your head and rotate up toward the ceiling. Take a deep breath at the top to facilitate relaxation. Hold for 3-5 seconds before returning and repeating the process (this same stretch can also be performed with you hand behind the small of your back).  Perform twenty reps before weight training or baseball-specific drills.

The Thread the Needle exercise is another drill used to improve thoracic mobility. The set-up is again in quadruped rotation, but this time the athlete rotates underneath the trunk toward the opposite arm. Again, hold for 3-5 seconds and perform twenty repetitions before weight training or baseball-specific drills.  This drill can be progressed to be performed in a side-plank which doubles as a closed-chain upper extremity stability drill (we will get to that in later blog entries).

The Plant Leg
While lead leg blocking is the term used for the leading leg in the pitching motion, its concepts can also be translated to hitting.  The idea is that in the beginning of the pitching motion, force is generated by the lower half and is directed horizontally toward home plate. To convert this energy up through the torso and eventually the throwing arm, the lead leg must be able to plant and transfer the lateral momentum superiorly.  Evidence shows that velocity correlates better with lead leg force actually than rear-leg force.  This hypothesis can also be applied to the swing as there is also horizontally force generated by the plant leg.  The practical implication for this data is to be sure to incorporate single-leg strengthening exercises such as Bulgarian split squats, Romanian Dead Lifts, lunges, or step ups.

Bottom Line
Strong lead leg blocking accompanied by adequate thoracic rotation and transverse plane hip motion and strength will result in increased power production and increased exit and throwing velocities.  Before starting a new training regimen, it is essential to be properly screened and assessed to find any underlying deficits in motion, strength, or control.  A sports physical therapist, with keen knowledge of baseball, is the perfect movement specialist to consult with to mitigate injury risk while developing a comprehensive training plan – whether you are getting ready for the upcoming season or looking to keep peak performance throughout the long baseball season.  Once cleared to implement a new, comprehensive regimen, the strength training principle of progressive overload is paramount to increase strength.  Aim to increase load or volume each week in your training to ensure optimal strength gains.


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