Training and developing baseball and softball athletes is much more than just having them bench press, squat and clean. As performance coaches we obviously aren’t skills trainers, but we can bridge the gap between performance training and sport by having knowledge of the movements required in the sport and utilizing training protocols that would fall under the special physical preparation category.
One example is using medicine balls to help reinforce and develop proper lower body and hip rotation mechanics with baseball and softball players. In the video below, Cana Davis, at the time a TA softball sophomore and now current TA softball senior star and D1 Virginia Tech softball commit (who also has been called one of the best hitters in the State of VA, by Tech coach, Scot Thomas) demonstrates a common med ball drill we like to use.
The medicine ball side hip toss is a great beginning tool to help baseball and softball players understand and feel the hip rotation and front leg bracing needed for a high level swing. As you can see Cana does a great job bracing her front leg in order to allow her back hip to continue to extend and rotate through the throw which in turn helps deliver her hands and ball to the wall. In effect, the mechanics she is using allow her to optimize the strength she has. Meaning, we know from training Cana she is very strong and displays a very good ability to put force into the ground. However, in a rotational sport, that doesn’t guarantee anything. She is very good at creating hip rotation and a very strong front side, which helps serve as a braking force to allow all the force she is putting into the ground with her lower body to be transferred to the ball. Whereas a soft front leg would create an energy leak and would not allow maximum force to be transferred to the ball. Think about a bike rider traveling very fast and hitting a strong concrete wall about 2 feet high vs hitting a soft pile of sand about two feet high and you get the picture. That bike rider will go flying after hitting the concrete wall, but will likely just fall over after hitting the sand.
That’s the link between strength generated in the weight room and being able to begin to transfer it to the field.
A few things to consider:
- The drill does need to be done correctly. Some incorrect things athletes try are spinning their whole body, moving their hands but not hips, bending the front leg and allowing their body to ride forward among others
- speed/intent of the drill is also important. The athlete should try to drive the ball into the wall
- I tend to use a bit wider range of medicine ball weights with these than some other drills. Usually in the 4lb-10lb range. If the athlete is strong enough, we’ll go a bit on the high side early on to help them become as efficient as possible as using their lower half. As we get closer to the season or in-season, we go lighter to focus on the speed of movement
- We always do this drill to both sides even if it looks ugly. It’s important to balance out all the rotation they get to their dominant side
- We like to cue the athlete to brace hard through the front leg, keep a stiff front leg and let the hips deliver the ball.
Remember, nothing in our training will be specific to the sport except the athlete swinging an actual bat. However, we need to do as much as possible to bridge the gap between training and performance. That means utilizing speeds of movement and exercises that are close to the demands of the sport. This drill certainly doesn’t mean a baseball or softball player will all of a sudden start driving balls into the gap or over the fence. There’s a huge difference between throwing a medicine ball and trying to hit a curveball, but it helps give our athletes context to take to their batting practices.