Part 2: Training your body to develop home run power
What muscles are important for a strong baseball swing?
The most important muscles in the baseball or softball swing are in your trunk, also referred to as the core or torso, and in your legs. Your legs start the rotation of your core, which stabilizes and builds upon that rotational energy and eventually transfers it to your hands hold the bat as it rotates around your body.
Go ahead and try swinging a bat without rotating your legs or torso. You could do this by sitting on a chair as you swing. Notice that the bat feels a lot heavy as you swing. That's because your arms are doing all the work, and that's not what they are supposed to do with a powerful swing. Your arms are supposed to act like a rigid structure bridging your torso to the bat. Don't believe me? Look at how the pros swing (see videos in the Introduction to the Home Run Swing module) and notice how from the point of "go" (when the batter decides to swing at the pitch and his arms start moving forward) to the point of contact with the ball the left and right elbow hold the same angle and are the same distance apart, even as they rotate around the body (back elbow goes downward, front elbow goes up).
Now that I hope you believe me about what muscles groups you should be focusing on, let's get started with our training.
The most important thing you should take away from core training is that it's not the same as "working your abs". We are trying to strengthen muscles for performance, not for show. You don't need six-pack abs to be a home run hitter. I would be willing to bet most major league ballplayers don't have six-pack abs.
Core muscles are in the lower trunk, both in the back and the front. Some of these muscles are built for moving your body, such as you'll be doing when you swing a bat. Other muscles are meant for stabilizing the body and protecting your joints and aligning the spine properly during movement (it just so happens that you do want your spine properly aligned).
To strengthen our core muscles for a power swing, one thing we are going to avoid doing is isolating specific muscles to train. The baseball swing is a complete body movement, and over-training one muscle group could lead to serious problems in others. The first thing we are going to do is work on stabilizing the core.
The key to core stabilization exercises is to always keep the spine in the neutral position. This a slight curvature at the lower end of the spine, but your torso should appear straight. Think of what a person looks like when the sit up with proper posture in a chair. This is a spine in the neutral position. No leaning forward or back. No arching in either direction.
Exercise 1: I start out with an exercise that is very simple. Get on your back in a position you would take if you were about to do sit-ups or crunches. Feet flat on the ground, knees in the air, spine in neutral position. Keep your butt relaxed. Put your hands on your stomach. Now contract the muscles in your gut, but make sure to keep your spine in the neutral position and your butt relaxed and not flexed. Now breathe in holding that position. Now breathe out, and as you do pull your lower gut in and up toward your ribs. Focus on not letting your ribs rise up as you do this. How for 10 seconds. Repeat 5 times.
Exercise 2: Bridges. They look so easy. Get in your push-up position, except with your forearms on the floor. You are in what would be the up position of the push-up (in other words, you are resting on the floor). Now your body should be straight from your ankles to your head, no sagging or arching. Pull your stomach in and hold this position for 45 seconds. Remember to breathe regularly and keep those stomach muscles activated the entire time. Repeat this 2 or 3 times.
Planking. It was the internet craze of 2010. Give it a try. Take some pictures. Just make sure to contract your core. A strong core -- and not big biceps -- is what will give you that home run potential.
Other core exercises: For other core exercises I'm going to recommend an exercise ball or Swiss ball. They sell them everywhere now, even at Wal-Mart, and they're usually under $40. When you get your ball just Google some exercises, and these in particular: Swiss ball sit-ups and mountain climbers. Also, just by replacing your regular chair with a swiss ball you can improve your core's stabilizing muscles.
Building core strength
The Bodybuilding.com website has several recommendations for building core strength. I'll give you the names of the exercises, and you can Google them to get a proper understanding of how to do them. Do 2 sets of 10 repetitions of each of these 3 times a week and you'll be well on your way to a stronger core:
- Swiss Ball Prone Roll-outs
- Swiss Ball Pikes
- Bus Driver
- One-Leg Ball Sit-Ups
- Swiss Ball Twists
Just remember to add "exercise" after each search entry to make it easier to find. I would imagine typing in "how to do a bus driver" into Google would get you some very odd results.
Developing Core Power
Now that we've got stability and strength under our belts (literally), it's time to create some power. The difference between strength and power is that strength comes from slower "twitch" muscle fibers, while power utilizes the "fast twitch" muscle fiber. Both are important, but for different reasons. The ability to move a baseball bat comes from those slow twitch fibers, while the ability to move it fast comes from the fast twitch.
While the previous exercises had you moving very slowly or not at all, power exercises utilize explosive movements. Here are a few of them:
Exercise 1: Side touches. Get in a crunch position with your feet in the air and the lower part of your legs parallel to the ground. Put a medicine ball about a foot away from one side of your body. Grab it with both hands and move it to the other side. Make sure to keep proper posture while you do this and rotate your shoulders as opposed to bending your back. Now move the medicine ball back to the other side. Repeat this as fast as you can until you've done it 30 times. Repeat this three times.
Exercise 2: Wipers. For this exercise you're going to need your swiss ball and something to hold onto on each side of you. If you've got a squat rack or a Smith machine that'll work find. Lay down with your back on the ball and your hands grasping whatever you've decided to hold onto on your sides. Put your legs in the air and wipe them back and forth like windshield wipers. Rotate as far down as you can go while maintaining control and keeping the legs straight. Repeat 10 times. Do 2 sets.
For additional ideas to develop core power, search for swiss ball and medicine ball exercises.
Lower back strength
There are a variety of exercises you can do with your Swiss ball to develop lower back strength. Just Google "swiss ball exercises" and you'll find plenty of good stuff. Single leg lifts are also good. I'll include a video of those below.
Conclusion: Work the Core
Once you've figured out all the exercises you can do with just a Swiss ball and a medicine ball, you'll be well on your way to building a stable and explosive core that is ready to be the engine behind your home run hitting machine.
Compared to the core, leg exercises are easy. I recommend the following: Good mornings (with the jump at the end) and HIIT running. That's high intensity interval training. It means you start off with a jog, then you sprint for 30 seconds, then you jog for a minute, then sprint, then jog, so on and so forth. You don't need sprinters legs to have home run power, so I'm not going to tell you you have to train for them. You can do your leg presses if you want, but it's mostly for show.