What do Eric “Mickey Mantle” Thames, Edwin Encarnación and Mike Trout have in common? A need for speed. These major league baseball players all have some of the fastest bat swing speeds in the sport. While the average bat speed in the MLB clocks in at around 60 miles per hour, these men have managed to push that expectation to the limits.
Table Of Contents 1Mechanics and Muscles Involved In Swinging a Bat1.1Stance and Body Positioning1.2Body Mechanics1.3Factors in Increasing Bat Speed2(7) Exercises to Increase Bat Speed2.11. Wood Choppers2.22. Cable Rotational Push-Out2.33. Single Knee Medicine Ball Throws2.44. Cable Hip Rotation2.55. Turkish Get-Up2.66. Sumo Squat Overhead Mace Swings2.77. Landmine 180s3Conclusion
Major league baseball (MLB) teams and fans have traditionally relied on batting averages and similar statistics as a predictor of potential success. But now that the MLB has begun to report on additional stats like exit velocity, which measures the speed of the baseball as it comes off of the bat, batting speed has risen in prominence.
Why does bat speed matter? It’s simple: While there are many important metrics for a batter, the faster you swing, the harder you hit the ball.
And the harder that you hit the ball, the quicker the baseball will leave your bat on contact (i.e.”exit velocity”), and the higher your probability of achieving a successful outcome (i.e. getting on base).
The success of Encarnación, Thames and Trout didn’t come about by sheer luck.
Players who are able to achieve exceptional bat speeds do so because they’ve invested time, energy and effort into improving their stance, their technique, and their strength. “There are a lot of variables, but the biggest one is just the strength of the athlete,” explains baseball biomechanist Patrick Cherveny.
Today, let’s dive into the biomechanics of swinging a bat, and how everything from your stance to your body positioning can influence your speed. We’ll review the seven best exercises you should be using today to improve your bat speed right away.
Mechanics and Muscles Involved In Swinging a Bat
When it comes to hitting home runs, a research study led by researchers from the University of California and the University of Cambridge identified a few key factors:
- The strength of the actual swing
- The angle of the incoming baseball
- The angle of the bat, and the specific point that it comes in contact with the batted ball (what players often refer to as the “sweet spot”)
- The physics of the impact, including factors like the ball spin
- The post-impact conditions, such as wind speed
While being able to judge the point of impact of the ball on your bat, and adjusting for factors like the wind, are all important, in today’s article we’ll focus specifically on the biomechanics and strength of your actual swing as a criteria for increasing batting speed.
By using bat speed exercises to build your strength, enhance your coordination and improve your stance, you’ll have the tools necessary to set a foundation for a strong swing. Everything else is simply fine-tuning and adjusting for the day-to-day conditions of your game.
Stance and Body Positioning
There are four key stances and body positions utilized by the hitter who is awaiting the pitch:
- The stance phase
- The loading phase
- The launching phase
- The follow-through
Typically, in the stance phase, you hold the bat firmly 10-12 inches away from your body at approximate shoulder height.
Some players choose to lean forward a little, with their knees gently bent. Others might choose to instead stand taller and square, while others may prefer to balance on the balls of their feet
The “best” stance is up to your own personal preference. The goal here is to get you into a comfortable and confident pose ready to swing that bat with maximum strength and optimal speed.
Next comes the loading phase. There are five specific movements and posture changes that occur as you gear up.
First, you’ll pull your shoulders and arms back towards the catcher behind you. You’re stretching the important muscles in your shoulder, chest and upper body, preparing them for full contraction when you swing.
As you move your shoulders and arms back, you inevitably include some backward rotation of your spine, turning the rest of your upper body back towards the catcher.
It’s important to note here that while it might look like you’re twisting your shoulders, you’re actually twisting with your spine. This is a very important distinction for anyone wanting to maximize their batting speed, and ties into the important core-building exercises we’ll discuss later.
Once your upper body, shoulders and spine are loaded, you’ll take a timing step with your front leg.
Similar to the starting stance, there’s a bit of personal preference at play here. Some players raise their front foot high. Others keep their foot still mostly in connection with the ground. Regardless of your front foot’s height, the key is to shift all your weight to your back leg.
Finally, there’s the repositioning of your hips and wrists.
This tends to happen simultaneously with your timing step. First, the hips rotate backwards, towards the catcher, stretching those hip muscles so they can snap back with power during your rotational swing. At the same time, your wrists cock back, ready to swing.
With your body primed and loaded, you can now launch into the actual swing (launching phase). This is when all those muscles, which have been stretched to their limit, will snap back and contract with explosive movement, driving your torso rotation forward and propelling the bat with a lot of power.
It all begins with taking that leading foot (which had previously been raised with a timing step) and lowering it down, initiating the swinging movement.
As that foot comes down, hip rotation kicks in. Your hips open up and move forward, uncoiling all that power that you’d built up earlier. With it comes rotation of the spine, followed by the pushing and pulling power of the arms and shoulders as your torso pivots forward and swings.
Finally, you follow through as the bat comes in contact with the baseball. It’s important to complete the swing because your body is still releasing a lot of momentum, and not completing it can throw you off balance as you start to run.
Your forearms, which are now fully extended, complete the swing, moving across your torso. The momentum drives that front leg down with force and your hips are now fully open, facing forward. With any luck, you’re now sprinting on your way across all the bases.
To complete the four key phases outlined above, some specific muscle groups are recruited.
As you begin to understand the underlying body mechanics of a swing, and how it impacts bat speed, the batting exercises required to enhance those body mechanics become much more clear.
We can skip over the stance phase, as you aren’t recruiting any specific muscle groups yet. You’re simply relaxed and ready to jump into action.
In the loading phase, the backwards movement of your shoulders and arms recruits your pectoral muscles in your chest, and also the latissimus dorsi, teres major, and trapezius muscles on your left side of your body.
As you twist backwards, your lateral spine rotators kick in up and down your spine.
Finally, the timing step activates your hip extensors and knee extensors, and shifting your weight to your back leg activates your glutes and the other large muscle groups in your legs and butt.
In the launching phase, you start to see the real action. As you swing and uncoil that pent up muscle energy, you’re fully activating all of your upper body muscles. Specifically, you’ll see a lot of movement in your chest and shoulders: Your pectoralis major (chest), deltoids (shoulders), coracobrachialis (a muscle group in your arms) and serratus anterior muscles (part of your core, running along your rib cage).
Other muscle groups involved include your spine rotators, core, and minor muscle groups in your forearms and hands.
Factors in Increasing Bat Speed
It’s important to focus on specific training and bat speed exercises that build the strength and flexibility of the specific muscle groups that reinforce good swing biomechanics.
Ted Williams (author of the book, “The Science of Hitting”) says that a good batter, with optimal exit velocity, likely has exceptional rotational energy and torque energy. You’re stretching, loading, then firing those muscle groups to power up your swing. To do so, you want drills and bat speed exercises that:
- Build your core strength
- Improve the mobility and strength of your chest and shoulders
- Enhance your balance, so you’re more coordinated in each phase of the swing
- Support true rotation of the hips and spine for maximum energy output
- Build up your ability to do explosive movements
(7) Exercises to Increase Bat Speed
“Baseball batting has been defined as the most difficult skill in sports,” reports Ethan Stewart at the University of Kentucky. After analyzing numerous muscle groups and studies, Stewart notes that specific muscle groups in your upper body have a direct impact on your batting speed, such as your abdominal muscles (i.e. core muscles), your arms (i.e. your biceps and triceps), and more.
The seven bat speed exercises below are all proven baseball drills that target the muscles that increase bat speed. Make these baseball drills a part of your weekly workout routine to see vast improvements at both bat speed and exit velocity.
1. Wood Choppers
The cable woodchopper works your abdominal core muscles, as well as your shoulders. You’re also activating multiple stabilizing muscles that help improve your stance and coordination, and there is some secondary activation of the lower and upper back. Additionally, the chopping motion helps build your body’s ability to rotate and twist efficiently.
You can either use a weighted exercise ball, or a cable machine with the pulley set to the highest position.
Holding either the cable or the ball, stand with your feet shoulder width apart and the ball (or the pulley handle) held up and above your right shoulder.
While keeping your lower body stable and your feet firmly planted on the ground, rotate your torso and bring the ball or cable down and across the front of your body towards your front left leg. Pause, then return to the starting position with control.
Do three sets of 10-12 reps on each side of your body.
2. Cable Rotational Push-Out
From swinging a bat to throwing a ball, many of the movements you need to master as a baseball player require the development of your pelvic-hip complex and efficient execution of core positioning.
Cable rotational push-outs, also known as cable press-outs, assist with this. They’re especially helpful with improving the rotational capacities of your core, and helping you to produce more kinetic power as you twist at the hips.
Stand next to the weight tower on a cable machine, and grab the pulley handle.
Get into the starting position, standing perpendicular a couple feet away from the weight column. Your feet should be a shoulder width apart, and your shoulders and hips should be centered.
Bend your elbows gently and hold the pulley handle away from you at chest height, close to the weight column. Keeping your hips square, twist and pull the cable across your torso away from the weight column. Continue to push, straightening your arms as much as possible. The entire movement should look similar to swinging the baseball bat.
Pause, and return to the starting position.
Do three sets of 10-12 reps, then switch sides and repeat on the other side of your body.
3. Single Knee Medicine Ball Throws
By getting into a single-leg stance, you force your body to recruit all of your stabilizing muscle groups, which helps with coordination, balance and posture in your baseball swing.
The actual underhand throw of the weighted medicine ball, combined with the explosive twisting, hits your entire core, from your rectus abdominis to your external and internal obliques, as well as the muscles running along your spine.
Kneel down perpendicular from the area that you’ll be throwing the ball (e.g. towards a solid, concrete wall, or your coach/training partner).
Hold the ball in front of you, held at approximately the same height as your waist. Twist back, away from your wall/partner.
Then, with a quick and explosive movement, swing the ball across your torso and release it. Your arms, shoulders and torso should follow through in a quick, smooth movement while your waist and legs stay stationary.
This lateral pass encourages a greater range of rotation and mobility in your core.
Do two to three sets of eight to 10 reps. Switch your legs each time you throw. Then, turn around and repeat two to three sets on the opposite side of your body.
This lateral pass encourages a greater range of rotation and mobility in your core.
4. Cable Hip Rotation
You might focus on your core when you think about twisting and rotating in your baseball swing, but don’t forget your butt.
Your gluteus maximus is one of the largest muscle groups in your lower body, and researchers note that it is one of the most powerful muscles for improving the explosive power of your hips when rotating.
“The gluteus maximus is well-built for hip external rotation,” says exercise specialist Bret Contreras. “Research shows that the gluteus maximus is highly recruited in throwing, swinging, and striking actions in sports.”
Cable hip rotations target your glutes, as well as increasing the mobility of the pelvic-hip complex for a wider range of movement when twisting.
Stand perpendicular to the weight column on a cable machine. Bend your knees gently and lean forward slightly at the hips. Grasp the pulley with your opposite hand, so the arm holding the pulley passes down and across your torso.
Using a quick, explosive movement, straighten your legs while rotating quickly away from the cable machine.
As you do this, pull the cable up and towards your hip while twisting your chest away. Your leg nearest the cable machine will pivot quickly. Pause, then return to the crouching position.
Do eight to ten reps, and two to three sets for each side of your body.
5. Turkish Get-Up
Additional explanation video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=okzp6D-k_Ko
Turkish get-ups are currently the starred favorite of the functional fitness world. Its complex series of steps, all done while holding a kettlebell above your head, stabilizes your shoulder joints (ideal for both baseball swings and injury prevention).
And because you’re getting up from a lying position, you’re recruiting all major muscle groups, as well as the core muscles and spine muscles that are critical for fast bat swings.
“No other exercise simultaneously trains both mobility and stability—two requirements for super strength— across so many joints in so many positions,” says conditioning coach Tony Gentilcore.
Lie down, facing the ceiling, with your right leg bent and your right foot flat on the ground. Your right arm, holding the kettlebell, should be straight in the air above you.
Pushing down through your right heel, use your left elbow to prop yourself up off of the ground. Continue to press down through your left hand, tightening your core muscles and getting up into a seated position.
Bring your left leg in under you, shifting all of your weight onto your left foot and rise up from the seated position into a half-kneeling position. Your right leg should be in front of you and your left leg behind you, and both knees should be bent at 90-degree angles.
Keep in mind that this entire time, your right arm continues to be held up above you.
From here, continue to push up and into a lunge position. Finally, contract your core and press yourself up into a standing position.
Now, repeat all these movements, but in reverse, getting back into the prone, lying-down starting position. That is one rep. Do two sets of eight to ten reps on each side. Because this is a rather advanced bat speed exercise, don’t force it. Press pause if you notice your form starting to suffer.
6. Sumo Squat Overhead Mace Swings
A steel mace is a specialty piece of workout equipment, not too dissimilar from a kettlebell. Shaped like a giant, metal rod, steel maces let you mimic real-life functional movements (in this case, swinging a baseball bat) while building resistance (and thus muscle strength).
Overhead swings, also referred to as mace 360s (if you are rotating the mace fully) or mace 10-and-2s (if you’re swinging the mace from the 2 o’clock position to the 10 o’clock position), fully engage your rotator cuffs, shoulders and chest as you complete each swing while trying to maintain upper body stability.
In this variation, mace swings are paired with a sumo squat.
Sumo squats keep your legs wider than in a traditional squat, and it targets the gluteus maximus, your thighs, your hamstrings and your core, which can all be helpful during the loading and launching phases of your swing.
First, stand with your feet wider than shoulder width, your toes turned outward slightly, and the mace held above your head.
Squat down while engaging your core, lifting your chest and maintaining a flat, aligned back. All of your weight should be resting in your heels, which will naturally activate your hips and push them backward.
From this position, swing the mace. You can either do a complete circle, or do half circles.
As you swing it, maintain tension and fluidity, avoiding any chopping movements. You’ll naturally twist your body to maintain the swings, and should be rotating from your hips and from your thoracic spine (the middle of your back), but you should NOT be twisting from your chest or your shoulders.
Keep your core engaged the entire time, and complete a three sets of a dozen rotations/swings.
7. Landmine 180s
Blow up your workout (pun intended) with landmine 180s (also known as landmine twists). When it comes to bat speed exercises, this drill is a very effective movement for improving your torso flexion, mobility and twisting capabilities.
Plus, you’ll hit the transverse abdominis (the ab muscles deep in your core) and your obliques, plus some secondary targeting of your back, glutes and shoulders.
You’ll need a landmine bar, which is a weighted bar that typically attaches to the bottom of a squat rack. If you or your gym don’t have a landmine, you can make do by using a barbell with enough clearance around you to avoid injuring yourself or others.
Stand in front of the bar, facing it, with your legs wider than shoulder width apart.
Get down into a squat and grasp the bar. Lift it up to your shoulder height, holding it in front of you with your arms fully extended.
Using the strength of your hips and torso, lift and swing the bar from hip to hip in a fluid, smooth half-circle motion. Your arms should be extended the entire time, and your core braced and tight.
One rep is completed when you’ve swung the landmine in each direction. Do four to five sets of five to seven reps.
Increasing your bat speed requires:
- Mobility and flexibility
- A strong core capable of quick, explosive twists
- Stable shoulders and arms
- Simple, pure strength
With the seven bat speed exercises above, you strengthen all the muscles required for full rotation of the hips and torso, as well as the stabilizer muscles necessary for the loading and launching phases of your swing.
Make these bat speed exercises part of your regular workouts. When combined with fine-tuning your actual batting technique, you’ll see improvements in your explosiveness, your swinging power, your bat speed, and your overall exit velocity.