Today's guest blog comes to us from Jeff Albert, one of the bright minds in the world of hitting instruction. I've enjoyed Jeff's stuff for years, and I think you'll like it, too.
Hip extension is a getting a lot of attention in the fitness world these days. Eric Cressey was asking us to get our butts in gear back in ’04 , ESPN recently made a Call of Booty , and we now have our very own glute guy, Bret Contreras . Kettlebell swings, hip thrusts, deadlifts, and squats are staples of exercise programs for athletes for good reason: they make the posterior chain stronger and more explosive. This, in turn, makes it easier for athletes to do things athletes are supposed to do - like run faster and jump higher.
But how is this going to help with your actual skills? What is the role of hip extension in the baseball swing?
EMG studies in both baseball ( Shaffer et al 1993 ) and golf ( Belcher et al 1995 ) report highest muscle activity of the primary movers of the posterior chain – the hamstrings, glutes and low back – happens during the beginning of the forward swing. The exercises listed above are often programmed because they target the same muscles. Very conveniently, those muscles are also responsible for creating rotation in the swing.
Here’s the key point: good hip rotation has an element of hip extension!
This is what it looks like from the front and side in the swing:
Check out the belt line as the hitter transitions from landing with his stride foot to making contact. This is the actual unloading of the hips during the forward swing. You should be able to see how the hips (belt line) lower into flexion (load) and then actually come up a bit as the hips extend (unload).
Unfortunately, the baseball EMG study only measured muscle activity on the back leg. The golf EMG study, however, measured both legs. An interesting point from this golf study is that in the initial forward swing (from the loaded position to horizontal lag position), activity in the quads (vastus lateralis was measured) of the lead leg was higher than the posterior side (glutes, biceps femoris, semimembranosus). This makes sense because the front side is accepting some shifting weight during this time. But, when the club is being moved from the horizontal lag position to contact, the hip extenders again become more active. Baseball instruction commonly refers to having a “firm front side”, but we haven’t talked much about how that happens. This golf EMG suggests that extension at the hip, rather than knee, is more responsible for creating this effect.
Keep this in mind if and when you are working on the lower half in your swing. Very often players can show a nice, powerful hip rotation and extension pattern in the gym (throwing medicine balls, for example), but look much different when they pick up a bat in the cage. Differences in terminology that you’ll find between the gym and the batting cage can often be a cause of this, and sometimes players just don’t make the connection between their physical conditioning and their actual swing.
If you do struggle with rotation of your lower half, give some thought to the hip extension and rotational work that you do in the weight room and pay attention to the patterns that you’re developing there. First of all, make sure your hip extension and rotation are good in the first place, and then see if you can repeat the movement pattern when swinging the bat. The whole point in creating strong, explosive hip rotation in the weight room is so you can actually use it to create more power when you finally have the bat in your hands.
About the Author
Jeff Albert is a CSCS with a MS in Exercise Science from Louisiana Tech University. Jeff is entering his 6th season as a coach in professional baseball, now serving as a roving hitting instructor in the Houston Astros organization. He works with players of all ages during the off-season in Palm Beach, Florida and can be contacted through his website, SwingTraining.net , or follow him on twitter ( @swingtraining ).
1. Bechler JR, Jobe FW, Pink M, Perry J, Ruwe PA. Electromyographic analysis of the hip and knee during the golf swing. Clin J Sport Med. 1995 Jul;5(3):162-6.
2. Shaffer B, Jobe FW, Pink M, Perry J. Baseball Batting: An Electromyographic study. Clin Orthop Relat Res. 1993 Jul;(292):285-93.
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