Of all the softball and baseball hitting topics I have written about, this article may have the most impact on softball and baseball players at every level. If you would like to know how players can hit the ball farther and throw the ball harder INSTANTLY, I highly recommend you read on!
To stay fit during the pandemic, I have been playing more tennis. I enjoy watching professional tennis on television to pick up tips to improve my overall game. But, when I tune into women’s and men’s matches, I often turn down the sound due to the grunting and screaming by most of the players. The variety of noises each time a player serves or hits a ground stroke range from a short grunt to a loud scream, which I find distracting and annoying.
While watching a recent match, I couldn’t take it anymore. I decided to go online to search for the answer to a question that has been on my mind for a long time. Why do tennis players grunt and scream?
To my surprise, it turns out there are several good reasons for all the noise. Most of them are actually based in science.
Studies show that tennis players enjoy increased racquet speed and power when they make a noise the moment they hit the ball. Forcefully exhaling at the same time core abdomen muscles engage results in more power. In addition to increased power, grunting players also enjoy other competitive advantages that I will discuss later.
The Softball Experiment
After doing some initial research into the science behind grunting, I decided to test whether doing this would immediately increase the strength of hitters and pitchers. With the help of my bat speed sensor, I began testing the hitters on my college softball team. The results were eye-popping!
I first asked each hitter to take several swings without making any noise. Then, I instructed them to add a grunt when they hit the ball for the next few swings. EVERY player enjoyed an immediate increase in bat speed.
Hitters who already had high bat speeds (70+ mph or 80+ mph) saw increases averaging of 3 mph to 5 mph. For hitters with lower bat speeds, the increases averaged 5 mph to 7 mph. The players were excited and reported they actually felt the additional power during their noisy swings. I reminded them that according to ESPN Sports Science, for every 5 mph of additional bat speed, the ball will travel an extra twenty-five feet. This can be the difference between a single and a double or a double and a home run.
I decided to embark on a crusade to test as many hitters as possible to learn more about the power of grunting. The next group of players I tested was a junior college softball team. The results were even more dramatic. Every hitter enjoyed more bat speed and power. The bat speeds for two of the players actually jumped more than 10 mph!
Another noteworthy example of a dramatic increase in power involved a high school freshman softball hitter. She is athletic, but relatively quiet. After encouraging her to let go of her inhibitions, she began to grunt and her bat speed began to jump. She and her father were excited as her bat speed climbed with every swing. Her power surge was obvious.
It Also Works For Pitchers!
After testing this crazy theory on high school and college hitters, I invited our pitching coach to test her pitchers. She used the same methodology. Each pitcher threw a few pitches without noise and then a few pitches grunting as they released the ball. The results were similar to the hitters I tested.
Pitch speeds increased between 2 mph and 4 mph. Coaches at every level work tirelessly to squeeze more velocity out of the arms of their pitchers by using conditioning, drills, and weighted balls. Grunting requires no additional skill development, so our coach is now adding it to the toolkit for her pitchers.
In recent years, Major League Baseball has added more microphones on the field to pick up the sounds of the game. All-Star pitcher Max Scherzer is known to grunt almost every pitch, especially when he wants more velocity on his fastball. Listen for yourself as Scherzer grunts his way to a big strikeout. (Don’t forget to turn your sound up!)
The Science Behind Grunting
The early results of my bat speed tests were so compelling, I decided to do more research into why making noise improves athletic performance. As I read articles and reviewed studies, I was quickly reminded that athletes in many sports already grunt for more power.
Football players grunt when they block or tackle. Experts in the martial arts make noise when they execute a powerful move or instantly break wooden boards. Track athletes, especially shot putters and discus throwers use loud screams to optimize the distance of their throws. And, don’t forget about weightlifters.
Weightlifters have been grunting forever. An editorial in Men’s Health Magazine explained some of the science behind grunting.
“Researchers believe that primitive vocalizations trigger the fight-or-flight response to recruit more muscle fibers as you lift. By grunting, you’re essentially channeling your inner animal, which helps you move more weight. In fact, a Drexel University study found that grunting instead of regular breathing can boost maximum static handgrip strength by as much as 25 percent.”
My hitters are definitely finding their inner animals when they incorporate primitive vocalizations into their swing sequence.
In addition to the many scientific materials supporting my findings of increased power through grunting, two additional studies on grunting caught my eye. They had less to do with increased power, but they were interesting and relevant to softball and baseball.
The first study found that grunting added power without expending precious oxygen. This study involved both female and male tennis players. The players hit forehands and backhands while either grunting or not grunting for five two-minute periods with a one-minute break between periods. Power increased by an average of 3.8% for the players who grunted compared to the ones who were silent. Surprisingly, the study found that the grunters did not expend any more oxygen than the silent players. This should be good news for hitting and pitching coaches who fear their players will tire quicker if they grunt.
The second study investigated whether grunting gave players a psychological edge over the competition. Again, tennis players were at the heart of this study. The results clearly showed that grunting distracted opposing players causing them to respond slower and less accurately.
Grunting by hitters can theoretically affect the pitcher, catcher, and infielders. If their reactions are diminished even a little, it could slow their ability to make defensive plays. In a game of inches like softball or baseball, that’s the difference between a safe or an out call at any of the bases.
Here are even more benefits of being noisy:
Improved Focus, Rhythm, and Timing
I’m finding hitters who grunt are consistently getting to the ball “on time”. The best explanation I can come up with is they are more focused on grunting at the moment of impact with the incoming pitch. This improved focus is what all hitting coaches are looking for from their hitters. Grunting forces hitters to be more aware of the path of the pitch to ensure they grunt at just the right time.
You would think if hitters are grunting when they make contact with the ball, the swing sequence would be choppy or less fluid. The opposite is actually true. Like tennis players, hitters who grunt are merely adding another important part to the swing sequence. It doesn’t affect the mechanics leading up to the grunt or the finish of the swing after the grunt.
Hitters and pitchers who grunt also enjoy a more consistent rhythm. If the sequence is too fast or too slow, the grunt will feel awkward. But, when the timing of the grunt is in rhythm with the other components of the swing or delivery, the additional power feels natural.
Visitors to this website or those who have read my book Hitting With Torque: For Baseball and Softball Hitters know that even though I write a lot about bat speed and power, I’m equally obsessed with consistency. With improved focus, timing, and rhythm comes greater consistency. It is clear to me by observing tee work and front toss sessions that hitters who grunt are more consistent than hitters who are silent.
More balls are hit harder, as evidenced by the increased bat speed, but they also track in the desired direction and at the right trajectory. This could be the most surprising byproduct of grunting. I have been amazed at hitters who historically have struggled with consistency are now hitting the ball with more accuracy and control.
I can’t prove scientifically that grunting makes hitters more confident, but I can anecdotally. When I ask my hitters to grunt in practice, I observe a more intense level of athleticism. One of the biggest challenges hitting and pitching coaches face is how to convince players to trust their swing or pitching sequence and just go for it!.
When bat speeds jump and the ball explodes off the bat after that first grunt, a light bulb goes on for tentative hitters. They quickly realize how much power they have been withholding. Each subsequent noisy swing brings more confidence and reduces the inhibitions that was holding them back from being a complete hitter.
After measuring the effect of grunting on bat speeds in practice, it was time to see if making noise in games would result in more power. Again, the results were dramatic—more power and consistency!
Some of my hitters are a little bashful, so they are hesitant to grunt in games. Some claim they are grunting in their minds, which will improve their focus, rhythm, and timing, but I doubt it helps them hit the ball farther. The hitters (and pitchers) who have adopted grunting are definitely enjoying more success.
One of our seniors who is a talented hitter and also the loudest voice in the dugout is a new believer in the power of grunting. She recently smashed a towering grand slam that was one of the longest balls she has hit during her college career. After her teammates finished congratulating her in the dugout, I asked if she grunted during that home run swing. She smiled and said “Of course!”.
After reading the research and observing firsthand the many benefits for grunting, I can only conclude that this is a secret weapon that shouldn’t be so secret anymore in softball and baseball. I can’t wait to HEAR players at every level hitting bombs.
About Paul Petricca
In addition to writing this hitting blog, Paul is a college softball hitting coach and the author of the book Hitting With Torque: For Baseball And Softball Hitters. He also is a public speaker and provides unique customer engagement training through his company Torque Consulting. Paul teaches a Customer Relationship Management class to undergraduates at Wheaton College (IL) and MBA candidates at Loyola University Chicago and the Benedictine University Asia Program