We have all heard the terms ‘explosive hips’, ‘fast hands’, ‘quick hips’, ‘fast swing’, etc… when it comes to hitting in baseball. And, they all pretty much refer to the same thing…the ability for the hitter to get around on the ball and hit it explosively. I have talked before about developing explosive hitting power (you can read about that here), and made videos with drills you can do to help with this power. I think it’s important to explain just what “hip” development is and isn’t when referring to a baseball player…in this case, the hitter. It’s a term that is thrown around a lot and I am not 100% sure that all of the people that are working and developing young baseball players, really understand it, and how to properly develop it. More so, I am not sure that most people that deal with the young player understand just how important it is to properly train the “hips” to not only improve hitting performance, but also to avoid costly injuries and pain.
Strong, Mobile, Strong, Mobile, Strong, Mobile, Strong, Mobile…..
So which is it…
Getting the core muscles, glutes, legs, small and large stabilizers and of course, the power generators in the body trained so we can crush the ball when hitting is the ultimate goal for most hitters, parents and coaches. “Activating” these muscle groups takes the right training and programming. However, it’s also extremely important for injury prevention too.
Too much playing, not enough training.
These days, young baseball players are constantly playing games…year-round. And while they aren’t playing, many have hitting coaches, or go to the batting cages throughout the year to work on their swing. This, in theory, is a good thing. The more practice, the better you get. And while, for many, it is a good thing, there are also some players that suffer from too much playing and not enough training. That hip development that we keep talking about doesn’t always come natural to everyone, and if it is not developed steadily as young players mature, developmental “windows” are missed and movement is forced. This can cause issues in both performance and injury. Players that continuously force movements that the body is not ready for (i.e. weak stabilizers, immobile joints, etc…) get hurt more. Besides that, inefficient movement causes poor performance. Bad habits are formed and throughout the MANY reps they are getting playing throughout the year and in the cages, these habits get strengthened and are very hard to break. In many players that are hitting year-round, training needs to be a priority.
How young players approach the game has changed. Year-round playing is here and here to stay. However, because of this, we need to approach how we prepare differently as well. Young players are in essence, being rushed into developing skill sets that would normally happen over the years, slowly and properly. Because of this, the body is not always ready for these skill sets and where the player lacks strength, mobility, flexibility, reflexes, etc… can cause problems. This needs to be addressed. Improper development, without proper training causes major deficiencies and lack of performance. Improper development through poor or no training can cause injuries, some…serious.
Sometimes, the young player is just making things worse for his future.
Role of Hitting Coaches, Field Coaches, Strength Coaches, Dads, and Player
We ALL share in the responsibility. Too many “Reps” without the proper foundation is more than just a power problem. I have seen and treated the injuries. They are preventable. I have seen and treated the performance holes. It is tough to make up for lack of development when the 17 or 18 year old walks into the facility and he is YEARS behind. It is tougher to change bad physical function because of compensation patterns that have developed over the years too. Too many of these young players are “forced” into making physical compensations so they can get “reps” in when they just are not physically ready.
Hitting coaches, field coaches, strength coaches, dads, and even the player are all responsible for seeing this and addressing it. If a player is going to go year-round, and all-in with baseball, I have no problem with it as long as proper development is not being stifled and the right movement/function is not being compromised. We need to recognize the young player and make sure he/she is getting the right kind of developmental training along with rest when needed. “Hip” development, as you can read, is much more than just working in and around the hips. Forced reps will not always take care of this development.
Rotational strength and power, which is used when hitting a baseball, is dependent on many different factors. Some we have already covered. More important is to understand that all of these factors need to be trained in a comprehensive program at various points of the young athlete’s development. These components should be trained at some point, before skill practice starts and also throughout the drilling. The “hips” that we so often talk about are really a complexity of movement patterns that come from the whole body…and with this, produce a high level of stress throughout the lower back, the true hip complex, the wrists, elbows, and entire lower extremity. Injuries can and do happen. I have treated and trained many young baseball players that have developed lumbar spine fractures, lumbar disk issues, bad groin and hip flexor strains, wrist and elbow inflammatory conditions as well as hamstring tears and even ankle issues…all from repetitive swinging. Basically, these young players were not physically ready for the demands of repetitive swinging throughout the year. They needed strength. They needed mobility. They needed flexibility. They needed a plan!
If we acknowledge that young baseball players are specializing earlier and earlier and realize that this is the trend, we have to find a way to embrace it and help manage the physical and mental aspects before it’s too late and we witness physical and mental burnout.
All coaches (i.e. School, Club, hitting, etc..) moms and dads, strength coaches, trainers, etc…have to take responsibility in some way and make sure these young players are being properly prepared before they enter the year-round loop of constant playing, drilling, throwing, hitting, etc… The young body can only handle so much. Bad habits, inefficient movement patterns, physical dysfunctions, etc… all will take place with some, or even all of these players at some point. It’s essential that the hitting coaches learn what proper training and preparation is before they begin the repetitive drilling and hitting. It’s essential that the school/club coaches understand the physical demands and either learn the proper training or find someone that can help. It’s essential that the parent find experienced trainers and prep coaches that will physically prepare the young players for the physical demands of the sport. It’s essential that the player communicate with ALL involved how he/she is feeling at all times. The bottom line is that there needs to be an advocate for the young player. Development of the “hips” is more complex than people realize and much more so when the athlete is young. Year-round playing, with no training will lead to problems in and around the “hips” ultimately either grounding the player or leading to a major drop off in performance.