I hear constantly out of coaches and parents mouths to their players, “swing hard!”. Although it’s with good intentions to try and get their child or player to be more aggressive with their swings, it typically causes more harm than good. Most people when told to swing hard begin tensing up, making bigger, quicker, and out of control movements. These movements lead to inconsistent swings and typically poor results.
First, having overly tense or tight muscles will cause slower movements and lead to slower swings through the zone. Tighter muscles will typically fire about 30% slower than relaxed muscles. When players are told to “swing hard” muscles typically begin to tense up with anticipation of the hard swing they’re about to take. The first thing that tightens typically will be the grip on the bat, giving the "white knuckles" effect, which leads to the muscles up the forearms to the biceps and triceps, shoulders, traps and neck to all tighten up. This usually happens while the player is still in their set up which eventually leads to the slow swing. Also when you tense up the neck muscles, another smaller but highly important muscle begins to tighten up as well… the eyes. The eyes are arguably the most important muscle when it comes to being a good hitter and the optic nerve attaches right at the base of the skull and upper neck. When the neck is tight that means the eyes are tight as well which leads to slower response time and communication between eyes to brain and brain to body.
Tight muscles are harder to move than relaxed muscles and therefore takes much more effort to do so. This leads to much more strained and bigger movements to get the swing going. These movements end up being much slower and create long swings to the baseball and through the hitting zone. Usually the swing ends up going across rather than through the hitting zone leading to less time in the zone to hit the ball. With the muscles being tighter and requiring more energy to move, the body’s movements become quicker or more aggressive. Quicker and more aggressive may sound good, but what that usually means is out of control and less repeatable or “herky jerky”.
These large and aggressive movements approaching the power position lead to less control and less balance throughout the swing. If you don’t consistently have balance in your swing, you typically will be a very inconsistent hitter. Your big, out of control movements typically take your body and energy away from the hitting zone towards the 3rd or 1st base dugout and away from the middle of the field, which is where we want our energy delivered to. With all of the excessive movements, the head and eyes start to move around as well. This will cause the ball to “move” without actually moving, leading to less pitch recognition, mishits and swings and misses.
How do I feel about swinging hard?
I say 100% yes I want player to swing as hard as they possibly can, although I prefer the word fast. However, the way in which I would like a player to “swing hard” differs from what coaches typically say. To be fair most coaches and parents just broadly say “swing hard” without giving a true explanation of what it should mean.
The way in which I would like a player to swing “hard” or “fast” is to have good control and tempo as they take their stride and load to approach the hitting zone. Once they have gotten to a good hitting position with smooth and controlled movements, I want them to be as explosive as possible through the hitting zone, contact, extension and follow through. Ending up with good balance. With this approach the hitter should be able to harness and control the aggression in their swing to have repeatable mechanics while still delivering an aggressive and powerful swing through the hitting zone, where it belongs. Avoid the trap of just “swinging hard” without knowing how to do so. If you want quick hands and faster bat speed learn where and when in your swing to “slow it down” and to “turn it up”.