Baseball is all about power.
At the highest level, pitchers are now regularly throwing over 100 miles per hour and batters are clobbering more home runs than ever.
Where does that incredible power come from? There has to be a science behind it, because it's not just the tall, brawny guys dropping bombs or throwing cheddar. Plenty of smaller guys are getting in on the action, too.
The secret to power production in baseball is shoulder and hip separation.
You're probably thinking that the hip and shoulder aren't even close to one another, so how do they "separate"?
Think of the body as a slingshot.
If the hips start to open up without the shoulders turning, this creates a "stretch" in the body akin to pulling back a sling shot. This stretch creates energy and torque. The more these two can separate and stretch, the more torque and power is created. The farther you stretch the sling shot, the farther the rock should fly.
Mechanics play a big role in throwing or hitting a baseball, of course, but a huge part of the power of these actions comes from shoulder/hip separation.
One thing to remember is that power comes from the ground up. The more power you can create with your legs, the more energy you will transfer through the body to your throwing arm or your swing also known as, kinetic energy.
The shoulder/hip separation while hitting can also be called bat lag.
As your legs and hips open up, the bat "lags" behind with your shoulders, creating that stretch. Once you release that stretch and go toward the ball, the energy created from the legs transfers to the arms then to the bat, and hopefully to the baseball.
This motion is not nearly as stressful on the body while hitting as it is when pitching. One of the best hitters that creates a lot of shoulder/hip separation is Josh Donaldson.
(At about 0:59 is where they talk about his shoulder/hip separation)
Pitchers face more of an issue when they create their torque and power with this motion.
The problem is when they create their shoulder/hip separation, their arm is also behind them, like the bat lag. If their timing is not spot on, all of the torque and power created can put a huge stress on their arm, causing injury. So, if you are a pitcher working on velocity and trying to create that slingshot effect, you need to make sure your mechanics and timing are spot on. I don't recommend tweaking your motion while throwing max effort on your own or you might hurt yourself!
Aroldis Chapman is one of the most powerful pitchers in baseball history, regularly hurling pitches well over 100 mph. One of the main reasons he can throw so hard is that his shoulder/hip separation is around 65 degrees. To put that in perspective, some of the other elite power pitchers generate an angle of around 40-50 degrees. That's a huge difference. At about the 1:07 mark in the below video, they discuss how Chapman's shoulder/hip separation is a secret to his success:
Now, you're probably asking yourself how you can increase your shoulder/hip separation and the power that comes from it.
Some simple exercises that will often result in improvements are T-Spine Open-Ups, Split Stance Med Ball Rotational Throws, the Bretzle Stretch, and Banded PVC Rotations. There are literally hundreds of exercises that can help baseball players optimize their shoulder/hip separation and power, but these are some of my favorites.
The recipe I recommend is to start with mobility exercises to increase range of motion. There is no point in doing strength and power exercises if the range of motion is poor. After range of motion is improved, move on to some strengthening exercises, followed by power or explosive movements.
T-Spine Open-Ups along with the Bretzle Stretch are both great exercises to work on range of motion to get the upper body to separate from the hips and lower body.
For T-spine Open-Ups, begin on all fours with your knees directly below your hips and your hands below the shoulders. Take one arm and reach as far through as you can without bending the arm that's in contact with the ground. After that, rotate as far up as you can, following your hand with your eyes and head. Make sure not to move your hips as you rotate, rather keeping them as steady as possible. Repetitions can vary, but I suggest anywhere from 2-3 sets of 6-10 reps on each side.
For the Bretzle Stretch, begin by laying on one side and bending the top leg to about 90 degrees while bringing it up toward your chest. After that, move the bottom leg backwards. The key is to try and push the top knee and the same side shoulder down toward the ground in opposite directions, creating a twist separating the hips from the shoulders. Take deep breaths and as you exhale, try to push that shoulder and knee towards the ground a little further. Do this for about 20 seconds, and then flip sides. You can hit each side two or three times.
Banded PVC Rotations are a great way to increase rotational strength along with working on the shoulder and hip separation. You do not need a PVC pipe for this. Just having a band will work well enough, although I believe the PVC does help keep the shoulders square during the rotation. Start with your feet about shoulder width and arms straight out in front. Rotate with your upper body while keeping your lower body still and try to keep the pipe as level as you can. Once again the rep range can vary. I believe 2-3 sets of 6-8 reps in each direction is plenty.
Closed Off Med Ball Rotational Slams are great for rotational power. Using the split stance helps keep your hips from opening, creating more shoulder/hip separation. Don't let the ball get away from the body with straight arms. Rather, cradle it close throughout the motion until the ball is released. I would suggest around 2-3 sets of 4-6 repetitions per side. Really try to make each rep explosive. Once again, there are many different medicine ball exercises you can use to accomplish the same thing. This one just happens to be one of my favorites.
Optimizing shoulder/hip separation is becoming a bigger focus in baseball, as more players are discovering how the "slingshot" effect can help them hit and throw and the ball harder.
As I said, these exercises are not the be all, end all for creating power. But, along with many other effective potential options, they can be useful tools. Focus on clean execution and remember the focus of each movement. Train safe!
Photo Credit: Sam Edwards/iStock
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