Secrets of Speed and Quickness Training
A collection of articles
by Dr. Larry Van Such - Vol. 18 - Part 2
Part 2 of 4 - The Loading Phase
THE BASEBALL SWING
The Loading Phase
The loading phase takes us from the stance position to the launching
There are five noticeable movements that take place during this phase and they are:
1) the backward movement of the shoulders and arms,
2) the backward rotation of the spine,
3) the beginning of the timing step,
4) the cocking of the hips and
5) the cocking of the wrists.
1) The Backward Movement of the Shoulders and Arms. The first noticeable
movement that takes place during the loading phase is the backward movement of the shoulders
and arms toward the catcher. This action helps to load, or stretch, different muscles in each
shoulder that will be released, or contracted, later during the swing.
Let’s take a look at a sequence of movements from directly across home plate. Starting in the
stance position in Figure 1-8a, follow the movement of both shoulders and arms in subsequent
Figures 1-8b, 1-8c and 1-8d. Here we see both shoulders and arms moving in the same
direction, back and away from the pitcher however, each shoulder uses a different set of
muscles to get there.
First, the movement of the leading left arm and shoulder across the body and away from the
pitcher is known as shoulder adduction. See Figure 1-8d. This is caused mainly by the action
of the pectoralis major muscle with help from the coracobrachialis, latissimus dorsi and teres major muscles, all on the left side of the body. The left shoulder ends up shrugged or
elevated in this position which is a function of the upper fibers of the trapezius muscle. The left scapula or shoulder blade is also protracted, or moved anterior, toward
the front of the body in this position. This motion is caused by the left serratus anterior muscle.
The contraction of these muscles stretches or loads the muscles on the back side of the same
leading left shoulder, namely the posterior deltoid, rhomboids and middle fibers of the trapezius muscles. These muscles
are now fully loaded, or stretched, and ready to deliver fast bat speed.
The movement of the back (right) arm away from the pitcher and laterally raised away from the
player’s body is known as shoulder abduction. See Figure 1-8d. This is caused by the
supraspinatus and middle deltoid muscles. The
right scapula may also be slightly shrugged or elevated in this position depending on the
player’s style and if so, this motion is caused by the upper fibers of the trapezius muscle.
The contraction of these muscles stretches or loads the antagonist or opposing muscles on the
same side of the body, namely the latissimus dorsi, teres major and serratus anterior muscles. These muscles are now
fully loaded and ready to help swing the bat with speed and power from this position.
2) The Backward Rotation of the Spine. At the same time the shoulders and arms are
moving backward, muscles along the spine and abdomen are also contracting to help turn and
rotate the spine (including the chest, abdomen and upper body) in the same direction. To see
this, let’s look at a similar sequence of movements from behind home plate.
Starting in the stance position in Figure 1-9a where only the back shoulder is visible, follow the
movement of the upper body in Figures 1-9b, 1-9c and 1-9d. Here we see the chest, abdomen
and upper back also being rotated away from the pitcher to the point where now both shoulders
are visible. This action of upper body and spine rotating away from the pitcher gives the
appearance that the shoulders are rotating backward when in effect it is the spine that is
rotating, carrying the shoulders with it. This backward rotation of the spine is caused by the
contraction of the lateral spine rotators.
To get the body to rotate back and away from the pitcher, the lateral spine rotators on the left
side of the body (‘front’ side for the right-hand batter) needs to contract or shorten. In doing so,
the trunk is turned to the side opposite to that from which these muscles act -to the right, or
backward. This may be opposite of what you might think however, this has to do with the
upward and oblique orientation of these muscles in the spine. The contraction of these lateral
spine rotators on the left side of the body stretches and loads the exact same muscles on the
opposite, or right, side of the body, which will be needed during the forward movement of the bat.
3) The Beginning of the Timing Step. Immediately after the shoulders and arms have
started to move toward the catcher and the spine (including the chest, abdomen and upper body)
has rotated as well, a short timing step with the front leg begins to occur. Look again at
Figures 1-9a through 1-9d and you will notice that as the player’s body has turned inward or
backward, his front foot has come off the ground signifying the beginning of this timing step.
Some players may raise their foot higher than this while others may still keep their toes in
contact with the ground. Some will even turn their front knee inward to facilitate the hip-cock
(discussed next), though this is not part of this batter’s technique here. But however high or low
the beginning of this timing step is, the first effect of it is to force the back leg to carry the
player’s weight, however since his feet are shoulder width apart at the start and not directly
underneath him, the natural tendency once in this position will be to ‘fall’ forward thereby
creating valuable momentum in the process. Another effect of the beginning of the timing step
is that it also places an additional load on the big muscles of the back thigh and buttocks. Looking again at Figures 1-9a through 1-9d, we see this additional load on the back leg taking
place as the player’s position ends up squatted down a little more when the front foot comes off
the ground. The muscles in the back leg that are further loaded during this movement are the
hip extensors and knee extensors.
Besides creating forward momentum and loading the powerful muscles of the back leg, another purpose
of the timing step is to cock the hips which is discussed next.
4) The Cocking of the Hips. Cocking of the hips refers to the backward rotation of the
hips away from the pitcher and as just mentioned, it occurs in unison with the beginning of the
timing step. You can see this backward turn of the hips in Figures 1-8d Figure 1-9d above.
As the front leg has come off the ground both hips rotate backward, toward the catcher, and
now the front side of both hips are visible.
Cocking the hips is driven by momentum created by the backward movement of the
shoulders/arms and the rotation of the spine along with a shift in weight to the back leg and the
inward turn of the front knee. Since the back foot remains in contact with the ground during
this time, it is forced to plant firm. This creates a pivot point around the back hip for the weight
of the entire body to rotate. As a result, the rear hip (thigh) is forced anatomically into medial
or inward rotation. This in turn stretches the powerful external hip rotators in this same rear hip. This is the primary effect of cocking the hips and the
stretching of these strong muscles stores an incredible amount of elastic energy that when timed
properly, can be released to help carry out a very powerful rotational bat swing. This is why
these are the muscles everyone needs to target as part of their training!
5) The Cocking of the wrists. Cocking of the wrists is an action the hands perform on
the bat handle at the tail end of the loading phase (Figure 1-10a) and into the first part of the
launching phase (Figure 1-10b). It’s purpose is to break inertia, or prevent the bat from coming
to a dead stop, and create a rapid recoiling effect with the bat-head at the end of the player’s
Figure 1-10a. End of loading phase.
(This is the same as Figure 1-8d.)
Figure 1-10b. Beginning of launching phase.
(This is the same as Figure 1-11a in Part3 - The Launch Phase)
As the shoulders, arms and spine have moved and rotated backward as seen in Figure 1-10a, the
hips, being the last to rotate back in the loading phase, are now the first to recoil and begin their
explosive contraction forward in the launching phase seen in Figure 1-10b.
Comparing the back hip’s position in Figure 1-10b with that of Figure 1-10a, we can see that
the hips have already begun their turn toward the pitcher and this rapid change of direction by
the hips occurs a split second before the head of the bat reaches its furthest backswing position.
The furthest backswing position of the bat is accomplished by a pushing of the top hand on the
bat-handle so the bat-head ends up leaning back toward the hitter. This represents the cocking
of the wrists and is shown in Figure 1-10b. Compare the bat-head position in this figure with that in Figure 1-10a, and you will see the bat-head is now closer to the player’s head, which is a
sign that the hands and wrists are still loading, and this occurs even though the hips have
already started to launch forward.
Since cocking the wrists occurs in the opposite direction as the path of the swing resulting in the
bat-head pushed to it’s furthest backswing position, and since it occurs when the body is
transitioning into the launching phase, it represents a point of maximum coiling power in the
body. If timed at the right moment, this little extra thrust of the wrists cocking the hands on the
bat-handle while the hips start to unload will create a rapid change in direction of the bat-head which increases the body’s
ability to create, store and release incredible amounts of elastic energy in the arms and
shoulders resulting in incredible power and speed in the bat swing.
Part 1 - The Stance
Part 2 - The Loading Phase
Part 3 - The Launch Phase
Part 4 - The Follow Through
Always glad to help!
Dr. Larry Van Such