We hear a lot about coaches who “want to train the engine” when discussing skill development. Most of the time they are referring to velocity of some sort, whether that be throwing or hitting. We have learned over the last few years that this is a trainable skill. It is fairly well documented that we can develop throwing velocity and we can develop bat speed.
I am not a strength coach and we have a fantastic one in Kyle Fridrich. I truly believe most of training the engine has to do with a great lifting program, but most of what I will discuss to day will involve training within the practice setting.
If you know anything about me, you know that I am all about practicality and application. It’s one thing to perform a study for 6 weeks in a controlled environment and another to apply it in the team setting on a daily basis.
Here are a few ways we have found to be able to develop these skills.
Let me talk more about the offensive side and how to go about training for bat speed. I cited a few journals above on the subject, but I wanted to show a clear picture on how we go about this.
Medicine balls (Here is a great source on some med ball training.)
Each day as part of their warmup process, we do a few different variations of med ball throws. Not only are we working on using the core correctly within our forward move, we are also chucking a heavy implement and being able to redirect energy from our forward move to the rotation part. Being able to stop energy going forward is a major key. If a player does not have the strength or technique to do this, they’re leaking a massive amount of potential energy. Another goal of using these is to clean up some sequencing. By using the heavy implement (4–6 lbs for us) our hope is the body will organize itself into sequencing correctly (think hips, torso, shoulders, hands).
We either have them for hitting 2 or 3 days a week. So a typical 3 day a week warmup with med balls would look like this.
- (4–6 lb) scoop toss med ball
- (4–6 lb) scoop toss with a scissor.
- (4–6 lb) scoop toss with a kick through
The main goal with the med ball throws is trying to get them to use their core, there will be times that players will try and muscle up and throw these with their upper body. There will also be times when they will coil their upper body (think a righty hitter turning shoulders to RF) too much to try and accomplish the goal of throwing this hard. These are just a few things to look for with this.
Weighted bats (for bat-speed)
In the past, whenever I would read studies that recommended a “weighted bat program”, it made it sound like it was something extra that we needed to add. If you are like me, the only way we can add something is if we cut something out. But what if we didn’t have to?
We do a pre-test with blast motion sensors (more on how we use them later) to test and understand what each players bat speed is to monitor it over time. We can measure exit velo, which has proven to be an extremely important outcome when hitting. I also like measuring bat speed because it’s process based and one way to have higher exit velo, is to have the bat traveling faster (Reverse Engineering Swing Mechanics from Statcast Data).
We also want to test their skills in a game like/stressful environment and this accomplishes a couple of things. We want to make sure their pattern and bat speed holds up under stress and we want to get an accurate read of what their in-game bat speed actually is. We don’t want little Johnny to only be able to swing a bat fast on flips in practice. Transfer to game has to be the key to any training environment.
Heres a snapshot of what our collection sheet looks like. You can get as specific with this as you want, but when you have a data collection team of one, simpler is better.
The fall can get tedious at times, so if we can attach a number and show trends over time, it provides some accountability to the player and the coach. The player cannot take swings off without their average number going down, and for the coach we can monitor if what we are doing is working. We also want to monitor this in season to make sure our workload isn’t too heavy in practice, which would also cause dips in bat speed.
So how do we use weighted bats?
For bat speed development, we use each bat 33% of the time. Each round we use either an underload, overload, or regular. Most coaches do rounds that are 3X (insert your specific number here), so just have the 3 bats ready and have them switch every round. For example, let’s say we have 3 rounds of hitting today with 10 swings each round and 3 stations.
Front toss>Front toss> Machine.
We are going to take 90 swings, and 33% of them will be with each bat.
A few of the different implements we use
Notice I used the term “motor” instead of engine in the title. Weighted bats and differential training not only provide benefits for bat speed, but also proprioception.
Proprioception- perception or awareness of the position and movement of the body.
Nikolai Bernstein has written about the degrees of freedom problem. His “problem” is there are an infinite amount of ways we do things and that we never do the exact same movement twice. By changing the implement, we will actually be able to learn tasks faster. Taking this into account, here a few fun competitions/constraints that can challenge our players.
- Front toss- Hit the ball oppo with an underload bat, pull with heavy bat.
- You can do angle toss the same way. Try “hitting it back where it came from” so pull side for a righty, set up the tosser between the 3B side of the mound and 3B and oppo on the 1B side.
- Front toss- Square it up, switch bats. Anytime you barrel a ball, change bats.
- Front toss- Square it up, move up. When you find a barrel, you have to take a step forward. This is more of a time constraint rather than an implement one, but it still fits with the challenge mold. Have trouble with soft lefties, start closer and move further back.
You can even include different length of bats and different sizes and weights of balls. All of these can provide different challenges to our players systems. We’ve done this in the past and it’s the same premise. For example, the long bat (think a fungo) can be great for players who dump their barrel or who are slow to contact. Or you can use the short bat as this can be really good for teaching posture changes. IE, being able to do this.
I hope that this provided some context into why people use different implements in practices and learning. I wanted to not only show how we can make this a part of our daily system but to do so in a way the is impactful and lasting for each player.