Don’t Get Elbowed Out Of Hitting Power

Thor Cover

I see it over and over again! As hitters begin the swing, the back elbow quickly caves into the body, which forces the hands to drop and causes the angle of the bat to become flatter. Then, the arms try to get the bat back on the right path, but it’s too late—full extension and optimum bat speed are never achieved. The result of this chain reaction is a total waste of the kinetic energy that was generated by a powerful load and the violent rotation of the lower body.

Unfortunately, many hitting instructors actually teach hitters to keep their hands and elbows close to the body during the swing.  They convince their hitters this will allow them to stay “inside the ball”, which always amuses me. Ok—stop reading right now and pick up a bat.  Pretend the ball is approaching and actually try to make a swing where your hands are outside the ball. You will quickly realize that the only way for your hands to be outside of the ball is if you hit the ball with your forearm!  Every hitter who actually makes contact with the ball with the bat has their hands inside the ball.  I feel better now that I have finally got that off my chest after all these years of hearing this silly instruction.

All my sarcasm aside, I do understand what hitting coaches are getting at when they ask hitters to stay inside the ball.  They want them to pull the hands and back elbow into the body, so they can push the bat into the ball as they try to hit the ball to the opposite field .  Pushing the bat into the ball with the arms is exactly the problem I see all the time when I begin working with baseball and softball hitters. Whenever hitters manually change the path of the bat with their hands, wrists, or arms, they sacrifice precious bat speed, power, and consistency. As I have written many times, it is possible to hit with power to the opposite field (and all fields) without aiming the bat at the ball.

One of the keys to maintaining bat speed and maximum power to all fields is to keep the back elbow totally still and the same distance away from the body throughout the swing in one continuous movement.  The bat, arms, and shoulders all need to rotate powerfully in unison, and in a direct path to the ball. Conversely, when the back elbow caves into the body, the result is a “two-piece” swing.  First, the hitter brings the back elbow into the body and second, the hitter pushes the bat into the ball. This unnecessary and harmful bat movement stifles most of the rotational force generated by the body up to this point. Another problem that results from caving the back elbow into the body is the hands move downward and the hitter loses the “attack angle” of the bat.  Maintaining the attack angle of the bat is critical for making powerful contact with the ball.

Here is a sequence of pictures illustrating the proper rotational sequence of the upper body:

Thor Attack Angle

Notice the correct attack angle (in red) as this hitter loads and prepares to begin the rotation of the lower body and then the upper body.  The challenge for hitters is to maintain this attack angle until right before extension and impact.

Thor Elbow

Here the back elbow is away from the body, allowing for a swing that is not manually altered by the hitter.  It is apparent by the position of the knob of the bat that this hitter maintained the “attack angle” as long as possible.  Notice how her hands are “inside the ball”, without having to cave the back elbow into the body.  Her bat speed is not altered, which will result in more power to all fields.

Thor ExtensionThor Extension-side

Finally, the back elbow remains still until the force of the upper body rotation naturally propels the bat into the ball, without any intervention on the part of the hitter. The bat will automatically explode into the ball like a lightning strike.

The good news for hitters who have the tendency to cave the back elbow is it will take only a short period of time in the batting cage to correct this mechanical flaw.  Just concentrate on maintaining the attack angle of the bat by keeping the back elbow still and let the body do the rest of the work!

katie thornton

The player featured in this post is Katie Thornton of the Wheaton College Softball Team.  In 2015, Katie was named the CCIW Conference Player of the Year and an All-American by the National Fastpitch Coaches Association (NFCA), due to her outstanding performance on the mound and in the batter’s box. She hit .420 (50-for-119) in 40 games this season, with 28 runs scored and 29 RBI. As a pitcher she appeared in 34 games with a 15-9 record and three saves. She posted a 1.82 ERA on the year with a school-record 132 strikeouts in 157-2/3 innings.

Thornton set Wheaton’s single-season pitching records for strikeouts (132) and appearances (34) this year. Her 157-2/3 innings pitches is the second-highest single-season total in school history and she is also second in wins in a season (15) and saves (3). At the plate, her 50 hits is the seventh-highest single-season mark in school history.

Katie Thornton