Fix Pulling Head Hitting Drills
Maintain Spine Angle
Baseball and Fastpitch Softball
This Fix Pulling Head Hitting Drills article is excerpted directly from our new book, The Ultimate Hitting Training Guide (click for book details)
For recommendations on how and when to use various training methods (dry, heavy bag, pylos, tee, toss, live, machine, etc.) and to shop for practical and durable training equipment, click on the link Hitting Training Methods and Aids.
Fix Pulling Head Hitting Drill #1 – Head Steady Drill
We suggest not copying MLB Mike Trout (above) until the hitter plays at a high level.
For simplicity and confidence building, developing hitters and many experienced players should maintain their head as steady as possible – given the aggressiveness of the hitter’s stride and approach.
Simplifying is done by starting in an athletic stance – don’t stand tall!
The hitter’s head must move forward as they stride out. But the less experienced hitter should strive to stabilize all head movement except for this forward linear movement – no lowering of shoulders as they transition into hitting position as necessitated by an upright stance.
Purpose – Maximize vision as the forward approach executes and the hitter swings.
Attention Focus – Internal focus (click for our free article describing how to use mental focus to improve practice and performance) on maintaining a twenty-to-thirty-degree spine angle from stance through swing completion.
Use dry swings. Ask the hitter to take their stance with a twenty-degree inward lean (spine angle) as in the above image. The coach places a long foam noodle, level with the ground, and pointing at the pitcher against the front of the hitter’s helmet. Now the hitter executes their stride and approach, stopping in hitting position. The hitter’s helmet should slide lightly along the noodle as they move forward. If the hitter’s head drops or pulls away from the noodle, they are changing spine angle; eyes are carrying too much. Repeat until the hitter acquires the feeling of maintaining a twenty-degree spine angle beginning in stance and through stride and approach.
Here are the fixes required to maintain a steady head:
- If the hitter’s head moves away from the noodle, they straighten up (decreasing their spine angle).
- If the hitter’s head moves into the noodle, they are diving head (increasing their spine angle).
- If the hitter’s head raises higher than the noodle, they are likely straightening one or both legs as stride lands; as the hitter arrives in hitting position, they should be athletic, with both legs flexed and bent.
- If the hitter’s head drops below the noodle, they are likely striding out aggressively and flattening the V made by their legs. Proper lower body mechanics (rear knee drive, hinging, and dragging rear toe) fix the aggressive strider’s dropping head (see the chapter devoted to lower body drills in our new book, The Ultimate Hitting Training Guide).
Now use 25 dry swings but with no noodle. Ask the hitter to take their stance with a twenty-degree spine angle, move into hitting position, and freeze. The coach watches from a front view as the hitter moves. The hitter’s head should remain in precisely the same spot (pin head to a backdrop), as seen from the front. The hitter observes themselves, slightly bent at the waist with weight mostly over toes and head nearly over the interior batter’s box line (athletic). Repeat until the hitter acquires the feeling, with no noodle for help, for maintaining a steady head as they move out of their stance to toe touch.
Finally, use a tee or front toss. Beginning in their stance, with a twenty-degree spine angle, the hitter moves slowly, at first, into hitting position and then swings. From the front view, the coach again pins the hitter’s head against a backdrop. As the hitter gathers, strides forward, and swings, only forward head movement—no movement in, out, up, or down. Block practice maintaining a steady head for 50 swings. Measure and track the number of successes. Try to beat this number at the next practice.
For preparation to accumulate, it must be performed routinely over some time.
Fix Pulling Head Hitting Drill #2 – Stable Spine Angle Drill
A stable 20 to 30-degree spine angle during core rotation results in a steady head. Moreover, to maximize torque, shoulder rotation and swing path must be 90 degrees to the spine’s inward angle.
To keep mechanics simple, developing hitters should assume a 20-degree spine angle in their stance (upright is 0-degrees). Often experienced hitters gain rhythm and momentum into the swing and transition to this more athletic posture as they move to launch. But, absolutely, spine angle in hitting position is 20 to 30-degrees. Then, as the hitter rotates, spine angle remains stable. A stable spine angle during rotation is critical for vision, balance, and a reliable swing plane.
Purpose – Form habit for a stable 20 to 30-degree spine angle (inward lean) during rotation of hips and shoulders.
Attention Focus – Internal focus on remaining athletic as the hitter swings (click the link for our free article explaining when and how to adjust mental focus to improve practice and performance).
Step 1 (Get the Feeling)
Use dry swings for this step. First, ask the hitter to assume their stance with a 20-degree spine angle. Now place a long swimming pool noodle lengthwise against their helmet. Ask the hitter to move into hitting position and then stop, keeping their helmet sliding along the noodle as they stride forward to toe touch. Execute 25 proper repetitions.
Now the challenging part. Ask the hitter to hit the ball off a tee with a full hip rotation while maintaining their head against the noodle through swing completion. To maintain a stable spine angle during the swing, the hitter replaces the forward bend (posture) with the torso side bend (sideways lean) as they rotate hips and shoulders. Ask the hitter to slowly execute a static spine angle and then 50 times at game speed.
Step 2 (Begin Habit Building)
After the hitter has achieved a degree of feeling (aided by the noodle), now use a static heavy bag placed even with the hitter’s front heel after stride completion. The hitter takes a full swing, hits the bag, then freezes and observes whether they have a 20-degree side bend. Ask the hitter for five correct executions in a row.
Now move to a batting tee. As the coach watches the hitter’s head from a front view, the hitter slowly executes a full swing – prolonged execution takes at least five seconds. Next, the coach watches to see if the hitter’s head moves up and out, indicating the spine angle decreases as they rotate. If so, go back to Step 1 and do further repetitions. If the hitter is maintaining spine angle, gradually speed up the swing. While the hitter’s head moves toward the pitcher during the hitter’s approach, the head remains in the same position as viewed from the front. Pin the hitter’s head to something in the background. Ask the hitter to complete 25 stable spine angle executions for at least four practices.
Fix Pulling Head Hitting Drill #3 – Rotate Around a Steady Head Drill
Many young hitters (and golfers!) straighten up, “pulling their head,” where the hitter moves into a more upright posture (decreasing spine angle) during the swing. Unfortunately, aA pulling head negatively affects the swing path, balance, and vision.
Here are two issues that cause head movement during rotation:
- Spine angle changes as the hitter swings.
- The rear knee fails to hinge. Straightening the back leg results in the hitter’s upper body rising and lunging forward (see drills to develop excellent lower body mechanics in our new book, The Ultimate Hitting Training Guide).
Purpose – Ensure the hitter’s baseline swing exhibits a perfectly steady head during rotation.
Attention Focus – Internal focus on spine angle and rear knee hinge.
Use a static heavy bag or batting tee to begin. Ask the hitter to move into hitting position with a twenty-degree spine angle, plant front heel and block front leg, and freeze. The coach pins the hitter’s head to a backdrop from a side view and a front view. Ask the hitter to start their rotation, leading with hips, and finish their swing. Check that the hitter’s head remains perfectly still. Now remove the pause at heel plant, swinging slowly, then game speed.
Once the hitter’s head remains static for at least 25 swings at four practices, move on to front toss, pitching machine, or live BP. Next, ask the hitter for 100 purposeful swings with a steady head during rotation. Routinely perform this exercise until a steady head during rotation is a habitual part of the hitter’s baseline.
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