The speed of the bat head through the hitting zone is crucial for making good contact and for hitting the ball as far as possible, two good things for a hitter. There is no question that a slow bat is a bad bat.To be honest, a quick bat does not ensure a hitter a great average either. We know a good hitter has many more qualities than strength and bat head speed. My point is to remember the other qualities which are important parts of hitting before expecting increased bat head speed to cure your average!
Now that we understand what bat speed can and cannot do, here's how to create a quicker, stronger bat.
The trunk (abdominals and low back) create a powerful twisting motion during the swing. Rotational torque provides speed and momentum to the arms and eventually the bat head. Like other muscles, it is necessary to develop strength by using resistance. A common mistake with abdominal training is to perform body weight resisted exercises and expect the abdominals to continually gain strength.
In the beginning you will develop a certain amount of strength. However, after a while the exercises become nothing other than calisthenics or maintenance type movements. To develop strength you must add some sort of resistance to the movement-as is the case in all exercises. The good news is that you can use most of the same traditional stomach exercises plus added weight, to get the desired results.
The three areas for you to concentrate on are the lower, upper and oblique abdominals.
Weighted crunches (non-weighted crunches shown) - Lying on your back with legs up in the air, knees bent at 90 degrees, hold a weight of your choice at straightened arms length. Using only your upper abdominals, raise only the upper body, keeping your back flat on the ground. Three sets of 20-40 repetitions.
Hanging leg raises - Hang from an overhead bar, with your feet not touching the ground. Your grip should be about shoulder width. Contracting the lower abdominals, lift the legs together, knees bent at 90 degrees, so the knees are just above waist height. Lower and repeat. Three sets of 10-25 repetitions.
* This a difficult exercise which does not require much weight to increase the difficulty. Use ankle weights for the resistance.
* Do not rock back and forth to make it easier to raise the legs.
* To increase difficulty without adding weights, keep your legs straight while lifting them.
Standing weighted twists - put yourself into an athletic stance with your feet spread at a comfortable distance and your knees slightly bent. Hold a weight about 6-to-12 inches in front of your body. After a slow warm up, begin to twist at the waist (do not twist or bend at the knees) as rapidly as possible. The key to rapid movement is maintain a low, balanced stance and make sure your shoulder reaches the chin on the twist. Three sets of 20-40 repetitions.
Never underestimate the value of leg strength for good, powerful hitting. The legs do not appear active. And in terms of movement, they really are not. But it is the strength of the legs that enable the abdominals and trunk in general, to promote bat speed.
As the swing begins, the stride is in place and the body begins to rotate. Without a firm base, the body will not be able to generate any strength from the legs into the trunk. The force is generated from the ground, into the legs, to the trunk and finally the bat.
Without leg strength, the force necessary to start a powerful bat is not produced. To take it a step further, the swing might be flawed due to only upper body generation and nothing to stabilize the legs.
Basic leg strength has been outlined in previous articles. Do not expect to have the best swing or the most powerful bat if you are only going to work on the upper body and ignore your legs.
Beginning with the grip and finishing with the forearms (the two are connected), the bat head will take the proper path if there is strength in the hands. Notice how I say hands instead of forearms. This is because the grip strength (fingers, hand) is the most important part of forearm strength for baseball.
Take a look at a swing and follow through. The movement is not about forearm flexors or extensors. There is really no point in the swing where these movements are dominant. However, the hand and hand strength are involved the entire time.
You can have strong forearms, but not necessarily a strong grip. This is why you must work grip-specific exercises into your routine, such as squeezing tennis balls, racquet balls and softballs. This will strengthen the fingers, hand and overall grip. When you add these exercises to the already common wrist curls and reverse wrist curls, you'll have excellent results.
When you are looking for running speed, a powerful swing or mph on your fastball, you don't just work the specific muscles involved. Take the approach that the entire body is a system and when all the parts work together efficiently, the outcome will be much more positive than singling out certain muscles. Train your whole body if you want optimal results, not to mention reducing the risk for injuring yourself.
Other Tools For Bat Speed
There are a few gadgets and machines advertised to increase bat speed. My advice is to stick with the basics, because there are so many variables that affect bat head speed which cannot be directly trained, such as pitch recognition or reaction time. Factors such as strength and hitting mechanics are variables that can be improved by some legitimate means, or rather, means which have been tried over the years and have worked.
One thing that has been used often, but incorrectly, is the weighted bat. When you use this tool as a way to become stronger, it is important to maintain your game swing. What I mean by this, is that your swing should not change even though the weight of the bat is increased.
Most of the time the weight of the bat is far more than is needed to increase power in a swing. How many times have you seen a hitter work with a weighted bat in a slow, awkward motion that looks nothing like his swing? More often than you should!
One thing that has been discussed in the development of power, is the need for speed. Speed of movement must be present if power is to be increased. Speed can be slightly reduced if a weight is being used, only because power increases when using the correct weight.
Movement is also important when training for power. For the swing to increase in power, the weighted swing has to be similar to the regular swing or there is no transfer of power. The same situation exists when you run with a weighted vest or ankle weights. If you run differently with the weights, then it does not have a positive effect on your normal running style.
My suggestion is to use a bat that is only a few ounces heavier than your regular bat. Try to use the same length as well. This way the swing will be the same, but because of the added weight, you will be increasing power with your normal swing.
Be careful not to use the weighted bat in normal game or batting practice situations. Your reaction time will be the same, but your bat will be slower at game speed. I recommend hitting off of the tee or using soft toss to work on your weighted game.
About The Author
Bob Alejo is currently, Assistant AD and Director of Strength and Conditioning at North Carolina State University. Bob is the former Strength and Conditioning Coach, Oakland Athletics, 1993-2001.