There are a myriad of cues that I believe cause a lot of harm to the performance of hitters. Swing down, knob to the ball, stay on top, don't drop your back shoulder are a few of these. However, I think that I have found one that may top all the others and that is the cue to land soft on the front side. Ever since we obtained the Swing Catalyst force plate, we have had the unique ability to really see how each and every hitter uses the ground. Today I want to discuss why this cue causes harm, the trends that we have found amongst the most powerful, consistent hitters we train and how hitters should actually think about their stride foot and their front side.
What is landing soft?
When we talk about "landing" as a hitter, it applies to the way that a hitter hits the ground with their front foot as it lands. One of the most common coaching cues in the hitting world is to tell hitters to be passive or soft on the front side. Some cues that are common are "stay back", "land like you are stepping on glass or ice", or simply "soft on the front side."
Why do coaches tell hitters to be soft with the stride?
Unlike a lot of bad coaching cues, I truly understanding the reasoning for coaches telling players to be more passive with the stride foot. Many hitters, especially young hitters have tough time controlling their weight as they stride forward and will lunge at the ball. So, telling a hitter to stay back or be softer with their landing can certainly help hitters avoid lunging. However, I believe that with this cue, you may give a hitter a temporary fix that could open up a pandouras box of other issues, most commonly, a severe lack of power.
Since obtaining force plates to measure how hitters use the ground, we have found some pretty cool trends with how the best hitters use the ground compared to weaker hitters. One of those trends that we have found is the way that good hitters hit the ground with their stride foot. To sum it up: powerful, consistent hitters hit the ground incredibly violently and put a lot of force into the ground as the stride foot lands. Regardless of load or stride style, they apply a huge amount of force on with the stride foot. On the other hand, hitters who lack both power and consistency more often than not are very soft and passive on their front side.
One such hitter that I have been working with came in looking to improve both his power and consistency. He told me that his power has been down and he feels like even as he has gotten a lot bigger and stronger, his power has not improved like he had hoped.
The way the we measure how well a hitter uses the ground on the front side is to look at the amount of vertical and horizontal force that a hitter applies to the ground. When we add up those numbers, we have found that the most powerful, consistent hitters we train all are over 300% of body weight in force.
Below are the Swing Catalyst graphs from our first session. If you add up the total force (vertical and horizontal) this hitter was only applying 229% of their body weight in force. Not enough to generate max force in the swing. This showed up with his max exit velocity off of batting practice at 87 mph. Not bad, but certainly for this player who has aspirations of playing high level college baseball there was more to squeeze out.
We spent a few sessions really getting him feel how the front side should hit the ground and worked through a number of drills to get him to feel this interaction. In just a few more sessions, his exit velocity is up to 97 mph and has been able to show that power in front of college coaches. What was the change? How he uses the ground, specifically the way that he hits the ground with the stride foot. Below are the force graphs on a ball he hit over 95 mph. If you add up the front side forces, they are 299% of his body weight, right at the 300% number that we look for.
Check out a quick coaching video explaining how forces move in the swing and why it is important to apply force into the ground on the front side: