Speed is the name of the game if you’re a rotational athlete. The recent publicity surrounding Bryson DeChambeau and Rory McIlroy has brought training club head speed to the eyes of many looking for an edge this offseason.
DeChambeau spent his downtime training with one intention: to lead the tour in club head and ball speed. This materialized in his impossible-to-not-notice change in physique and the videos circulating on social media that highlight the vicious rips he took in a living room sports science lab.
One reason why many golfers don’t improve speed is because they don’t actually dedicate time to trying to swing their fastest.
Note the MAX intent. pic.twitter.com/WIvOgrfDBA
— TPI (@MyTPI) September 20, 2020
DeChambeau is doing things differently, and the success he’s enjoying with this newfound approach has everyone taking notice. We have long preached the performance benefits of gaining bat speed and have developed a means of doing so with our bat speed programs and Axe Bat Speed Trainers. It’s exciting to see observers come around to the importance of training the skill of speed as hitters also begin to recognize the need to move faster.
We share DeChambeau’s emphasis on speed, and the goal of this post is to provide some information and insight into why moving faster and increasing bat speed is important. We’ll also cover important factors to consider when looking to gain bat speed over the course of an offseason.
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We’ll do this by first making a case for all hitters to incorporate bat speed training into their practice. We’ll review and elaborate on:
- Relationship between bat speed/EV
- Performance benefits of adding bat speed/EV
Then, we’ll explain a few training guidelines and considerations for improving bat speed/EV. Here, we’ll cover:
- Speed/accuracy tradeoff considerations
- Relationship between bat speed, attack angle, and point of contact
- Kinetic link principle—The relationship between improved mechanics and bat speed
- Weighted bat training review
- Practice environment and the role of intent
The goal here is to clarify the implications of adding bat speed to your game and provide the necessary information to make good decisions if you decide to train it.
The Importance of Exit Velocity
Here’s what we need to know as players and coaches: harder hit batted balls produce more optimal outcomes.
This can be thought of simply as the harder you hit the ball, the better chance you have of getting a hit, and the better chance you have of getting hits that are considered valuable. In the context of wOBA, this means you have a better chance of getting hits that move baserunners further from their starting point, on average.
In short, hitting the ball hard does a lot to help your team win, increasing your value as a player.
In the charts above, we can see the linear relationship between EV capability and wOBA on the individual level, coupled with run probabilities increasing dramatically with EV. Visual credit – Noah Thurm
So, we know that hitting the ball harder leads to more production at the plate, and how much better you can get can actually be estimated. In our Summer 2018 Hitting Review, we looked to quantify the performance benefits of adding EV to your game. We found that if you increase your exit velocity by 1 mph, you can expect an increase in roughly 7 points of wOBA.
If all else stays the same, you become a more valuable player by being able to hit the ball just a little bit harder.
Exit Velocity and Bat Speed
So, what does this have to do with bat speed? As demonstrated in previous blog posts, with higher bat speeds come higher exit velocities.
Although the mass of the bat—and pitch speed—play a role, bat speed will ultimately play the largest role in determining the batted ball’s exit velocity when holding contact efficiency constant.
In other words, for two players who square the ball up exactly the same, on the same pitch, with the same size bat, the player moving the barrel faster will hit the ball harder, giving that player a better chance at delivering a productive outcome.
Bat Speed Relationships and Improving Swing Quickness
Now that we’ve driven home the need for hitters to improve exit velocity/bat speed let’s look at the interplay between bat speed and a few key aspects of the swing. It’s important as a player or coach to understand potential pitfalls and caveats to training speed.
Bat speed has a significant relationship with the following metrics—point of contact, attack angle, and time to contact. We’ve covered this at length in Debunking Bat Speed Myths, and past investigations pairing HitTrax and Blast data.
To help visualize this, check out the following tweet and video describing this relationship.
Talking the relationship btw bat speed, contact point and attack angle and how to make sure we’re not “cheating” bat speed gains
Would love to hear what you guys think and if you want to see more quick videos like this! pic.twitter.com/Qw5vuUJvp9
— Max Dutto (@MaxDutto_) June 24, 2020
Early in the swing, the hitter will be moving the barrel at a downward or negative attack angle. If contact is made during that downswing, it’s more than likely we would see a deeper point of contact and slower bat speeds than the hitter’s average. Conversely, the further along in the arc of the hitter’s swing and the more out front the contact point is, the higher the attack angle and bat speed. In the linked video, Acuna makes contact at a spot that combines optimal bat speed and attack angle and hits a homerun derby bomb.
Because bat speed can be added “artificially” with a contact point further out front, it’s important to monitor contact point to ensure the gains you’re making are a product of a pure increase in output. We do this at Driveline by hitting on HitTrax with point of contact feedback, but this can also be monitored with a bat sensor. Another way to make sure your bat speed gains are real is by getting a baseline attack angle in practice and aiming to stay within 2-3 degrees of that average (assuming you are in a good attack angle range to begin with).
The last thing to note is that increased bat speed generally means decreased time to contact, holding attack angle, and point of contact constant.
This seems especially relevant given that fastball velocities continue to increase, along with breaking ball usage in all counts. Hitters must meet a certain bat speed threshold to wait long enough to make a good swing decision—and still be able to catch up to 100 and spit on the slider in the dirt. You need bat speed to hit bombs and make good swing decisions—and sometimes to simply make contact.
Training Guidelines and Principles
Why Train Bat Speed?
Ok, now we can get into some training guidelines and principles. We understand that increasing bat speed improves our ability to hit the ball hard, but, indirectly, increasing our bat speed can also improve our swing mechanics and efficiency.
Most of us have heard of “sequencing” and that a good swing involves moving your body parts sequentially, from the ground up. This would be a swing where the lower body—led by the hips—fires first, transferring energy to the torso, then transferring energy to the arms, wrists, hands, and eventually the bat.
This is called the kinetic link principle. It’s widely accepted that the most efficient way to move an end point quickly is to accelerate and decelerate body segments from bigger segments to smaller segments.
The kinetic link is telling us that better mechanics (sequencing) likely increases bat speed. So, training for bat speed IS training for efficient swing mechanics. If we train bat speed, we improve our body’s ability to fire muscle groups in sequence, leading to a more effortless swing and increased bat speed come game time.
At Driveline, we supplement our bat speed training with a comprehensive assessment. We assess biomechanics with our marker-based motion capture lab and K-Vest to understand any “inefficiencies” that could be causing a hitter to lose out on bat speed. This is accompanied by a high-performance assessment conducted to understand certain force-velocity profiles and how physical advantages or limitations play a role in a hitter’s bat speed.
Although improving mechanics can help with aspects of the swing like bat path, the main reason to go about making technical changes is to improve bat speed. And the most effective way to train efficient movement patterns to increase bat speed is to execute a weighted bat program.
How to Increase Bat Speed
For those not familiar, swinging heavy and light bats are the most tried and true method for increasing bat speed in hitters. To get the most out of weighted implement training, we want to understand why it works to have the right thoughts and intent during practice sessions.
It helps to think of overload as weightlifting for your swing—we are improving your specific strength and using the specificity of actually hitting a ball with a bat to get the most transfer out of our training. Additionally, overload can provide us with the opportunity to make positive movement changes.
Let’s think of how different our movements are when bending over to pick up a ball in a cage vs. picking up a 400lb barbell from the ground. We will certainly be moving more efficiently when there is more weight involved in the movement. Overload bats act similarly. When the intent is to move the bat fast, our brain tells our body to be more efficient by recruiting larger, stronger muscle groups to swing the bat. This can also improve sequencing, as the brain tells our body to start transferring energy more efficiently because of the reaction to the heavy bat and the directive to move that bat fast.
With underload, we take advantage of overspeed principles, similar to running downhill to improve sprinting speed. We are training our central nervous system to recruit more fast-twitch muscle fibers to improve the pure velocity portion of the movement.
Bat Speed Training Guidelines – The Kinetic Link
The right intent is also paramount when training for bat speed and, above all else, our goal when training is to move the bat faster than we ever have before.
Training with that intent is vital to improving bat speed, as swinging a weighted bat at submaximal levels can have the opposite effect. Although still beneficial for concentrated movement patterning work, the brain may be sending the wrong message to the muscles, employing a different pattern of muscle fiber recruitment and losing out on the opportunity to make positive power and speed gains. With this effect in mind, we can begin to think of how intent levels are manipulated without us even knowing it in the form of feedback and the practice environment.
We all saw DeChambeau letting it eat in his training—AND hitting the ball into a net, with minimal ball flight feedback. Why is this relevant to making bat speed gains?
When hitters receive positive or negative feedback based on their quality of contact, it’s likely pure speed training can be compromised, as the hitter’s effort level is capped by the need to put the barrel on the ball. The same goes for making the training environment too difficult; the hitter’s focus will shift from speed to guiding the barrel to receive a form of positive feedback. Feedback can be in the form of a launch monitor, but, more often, it comes in the form of a coach, friends, or teammates who look down upon swinging at maximal effort level at the seeming expense of solid contact. For this reason, the training environment as a whole plays a key role.
To unlock a hitter’s intent, we often program bat speed training to be done off the tee and into the net, limiting the feedback available to the hitter. This is done while wearing a bat sensor so that a successful rep is only judged by bat speed at impact, allowing the hitter to organize themselves according to the task at hand.
Using a tee and net is normally a part of bat speed training for hitters at Driveline, but for a few reasons, we will increase the specificity of training and swing weighted bats at high intent off of batting practice or the machine (we’re able to do so thanks to the durability of the Axe speed trainers). We’ll program this type of bat speed training for more experienced hitters who understand the role of intent and limit their emotional and physical reaction to poorly hit balls.
Additionally, hitters who have hit with us for the whole offseason eventually meet this criterion and can enter a more specific phase of training. This is often done closer to the season, where we can expect more training transfer in an environment mirroring competition, where hitters are swinging with high enough bat speeds to elicit a positive response to training.
Although it is important to be extremely precise with programming, especially for highly skilled professional players, taking the necessary measures to train solely for speed initially is almost certainly the most critical aspect in ensuring bat speed improvement.
Now more than ever, it’s evident that players who increase their bat speed over an offseason are doing a great deal to improve their chances of success and gain an edge over the competition.
This blog aimed to explain why this is the case and offer considerations for designing and ultimately executing a bat speed program for yourself. There’s clearly a great deal of context that goes into increasing an individual’s bat speed, along with assessing and designing programs for other aspects of your game. Driveline hitting trainers can guide you through an offseason, monitoring your goals and putting you in the right environment at the right time.
For more information, check out the Driveline Hitting Assessment and Training webpage.
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Written by Assistant Director of Hitting, Max Dutto
Edited by Hitting Analyst, Noah Thurm