Early, Short, and Soft Hitting Stride?
Baseball and Fastpitch Softball
This Early, Short, and Soft Hitting Stride? article was excerpted from our new book The Ultimate Hitting Fundamentals, Techniques, and Strategy 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 equipment, click on the link Hitting Training Methods and Aids.
Building Rome Series (Roman Theme) Introduction
Our dedicated Roman Senators are back in session. Rome’s citizens much appreciate the Senate members due to their ability to keep an open mind and make well thought out rulings benefiting all levels of ability. Senators comprise a group of respected players, coaches, and sports scientists elected by the Roman citizens. The purpose of the Roman Senate is to review and debate contending hitting strategies and viewpoints. The Roman Senate seeks to raise knowledge to beget increased success. After each debate, the Senate issues a ruling. The ruling contains recommendations, proclaiming increases in power or productivity.
Many Roman Senators (i.e., hitting coaches) adamantly maintain shortening or eliminating the stride and keeping weight back to land the stride softly. In this debate, we take a close look at the claims for and against a “short and soft stride.”
Short and Soft Hitting Stride Argument #1
Length of Stride and Approach Does NOT Affect Power
Is bat speed generation affected by increasing (or decreasing) the amount of forward movement during the hitter’s stride and approach? If so, what forces are at work?
There are two parties of thought:
Party 1 – Forward Movement Has No Effect on Bat Speed
“…the length of the player’s stride — or even the very absence of a stride — has absolutely nothing to do with the amount of power or bat speed that a hitter generates.” (Epstien, 2003)
“The hips may start to rotate as weight shift ceases, but that rotation comes from muscle contractions in the pelvis region rather than from momentum transfer.” (Mankin, 2002)
“Your stance is fine, but you think a big stride will help you get more weight behind the ball and help you hit it harder. In fact, the large stride is causing you a loss of timing and a loss of power.” (Hitting – Stride, n.d.)
“The only reason you stride is for rhythm and timing. It does not give you power, it does not give you bat quickness or bat velocity, but just rhythm and timing.” (The Pre-Stride, n.d.)
Party 2 – Forward Movement Increases Bat Speed
“The body creates forward momentum and is stopped by the front leg. The body then transfers that momentum to the hips, to the shoulders, to the arms, to the hands, and then of course to the bat.” (Yeager D. C., 2015)
“There has been some controversy over the relative importance in batting of rotational motion and translation motion. Ted Williams emphasized the importance of rotation, and Charlie Lau emphasized translation. Of course, both are essential (as both Williams and Lau knew), and they are interrelated even as the energy of translation of the body goes into the rotary energy of the bat. To hit a baseball with dispatch, one needs to step into the ball, and to rotate.” (Robert K. Adair, 2002)
“This forward momentum is turned to rotation by the reaction of the front leg. Also, significant rotational energy is then generated as the muscles of the torso act through torque from the feet, both of which are now firmly placed on the ground. Most of the translational and rotational energy, generated in the complex actions over a fifth of second that bring the body into play, is now concentrated in the bat”. (Robert K. Adair, 2002)
A study done by the Hitting Performance Lab (Meyers, 2014) came to these conclusions:
- Apex of the bell curve for NO-stride swings ranged from 77 mph to 83 mph.
- With a longer stride, you’ll see the bell curve shifted, 81 mph to 85 mph.
- Three more 90 + swings using a longer stride.
Motor Cognition Theories
Here are some prevalent theories (in a nutshell) which attempt to explain why substantial forward momentum may increase bat speed for many hitters:
- Conservation of linear momentum translated to angular momentum.
As the hitter strides, the torso’s linear motion toward the pitcher comes up against the firm front leg. Linear momentum is conserved (transferred) to angular momentum, causing the hips to rotate quicker and with more torque. The sudden, forceful, blocking stop (provided by the firm front leg), which occurs during an aggressive forward weight transfer, acts to impel core rotation faster. The hitter’s body weight “slams” into the firm front leg, adding impetus to the hips’ turn.
This theory helps explain why baseball and fastpitch pitching motions have considerable forward movement. Pitchers load up the back leg, stride forward, and the front leg firms just before they release the ball.
- A longer stride increases muscle tension (“snapping the rubber band”).
As the hitter’s front foot strides, the “V” made by the legs flattens. At the same time, the hands move rearward relative to the hitter’s torso. These dual moves create tension in the muscles across the shoulders, chest, hips, and legs. Each of the many stretched muscles creates power-producing elastic energy (see Stone X: Separation).
- The torso is responsible for rotation.
Muscles in the pelvic region turn the hips straightening the front leg and hinging the rear leg. The hips can do this more naturally and effectively when moving forward into a resisting front leg.
Short and Soft Hitting Stride Argument #2
Allows Stable Head Thereby Improving Vision
All Senators (hitting coaches) agree an aggressive stride is more complicated. For example, most High-Level hitters drop their head a few inches when aggressively striding (look closely at the hitter’s head compared to backdrop), impacting vision.
But on the flip side, In many senators’ (and players) opinion, the longer stride and aggressive approach’s power benefits exceed the negative impact on vision.
Short and Soft Hitting Stride Argument #3
Easier to Adjust to Off-Speed Pitches
“When a hitter strides, she wants to do so softly, as if she’s stepping out onto ice that she doesn’t want to break.”
“Why do this stride in 2 parts? The reason is that the initial stride (toe touch) is not when the player commits her hands and bat to the pitch but rather when she gets herself into her attack position. If the hitter decides SWING this requires her body weight to slide forward and her hands and bat to explode forward as well.”
“The reason that poor hitters cannot hit change ups or even slower pitchers is because they stride with their entire weight forward onto their stride foot all at once.” (Bristow, Soft or Hard, Good or Bad?, 2019)
“No weight transfer should occur during the load and stride, except to the backside. The front foot needs to be planted lightly. A ‘strong’ or ‘heavy’ front foot usually results in bad timing and a tensioned swing, which causes a slow swing. A good position to be in once the front foot is planted is to have the weight and hands still back, but ready to explode to the baseball.” (Ngin, 2018)
The consensus of Senators (hitting coaches) offers the following checklist of concepts for guiding hitters:
- Let the hitter move naturally at first.
A young player should not force a leg kick into their swing simply because they have seen a player on TV do it. But if a big stride develops naturally and their rate of hard-hit balls is high, then let them run with it. Aggressive strides often get eliminated with the mindset that shortening cures all the ails of a swing.
- Begin experimentation in middle school.
“This is why I believe it is very important for every young hitter to begin experimenting with the leg lift. It has just too much potential to not at least test it out.” (Kaufman, 2018)
Kids need to begin to learn how to use their bodies to develop terrific bat speed – the ability to hit the ball hard increases fun and confidence.
- The aggressiveness of stride and approach should be fit to the player.
Stride length and the amount of weight landing on the front foot at toe touch is not Universal in its execution. Hitters have unique athletic abilities and goals and different ways of moving to achieve their potential.
Especially when it comes to striding, one size does not fit all.
- Avoid poor tempo created by post-striding.
Outside a few big and strong athletes, most High-Level power and gap hitters land their stride with weight balanced between their feet. It makes sense. Transitional energy, obtained from movements initiating from stance and ending in hitting position, is wasted when the swing executes in two parts. Momentum comes to a halt and then re-starts.
- Objectively evaluate quickness.
Verify the claim that hitters who do not stride or utilize a smaller approach are quicker to the ball by using a bat sensor (click the link to shop for a highly rated baseball bat sensor or softball bat sensor), providing the time to contact metric. Developing tremendous early bat speed, along with a compact swing path and inner zone contact, creates quickness to the ball and power. Don’t necessarily correlate a short stride to quickness and speed (or improved timing).
See Tool XXII: Early Bat Speed Drills, Drill IV – Reduce Time to Contact Drill (click the link for our free book except detailing drills to build bat speed).
- Objectively evaluate power.
Determining if “short and soft” helps or hurts a specific hitter’s power involves objective measurements (bat speed, ball exit speed, rate of hard-hit-balls (HHB%).
See The Ultimate Hitting Training Guide, Tool X: Experimental Stride and Approach Drills, Drill I – Stride and Approach Experimentation Drill.
- Objectively evaluate off-speed productivity.
An aggressive stride, such as a leg kick, leg lift, toe tap, or longer simple stride (see Stone XV: Stride Types), is often more productive and generally more robust for hitting off-speed than is a short stride. The more aggressive stride allows the hitter time to start their stride, recognize the off-speed pitch, then slightly slow up their approach and delay toe touch.
See The Ultimate Hitting Training Guide, Tool XXIX: Off-Speed Drills, Drill II – Early Recognition Off-Speed Drill.
- Instead of shortening and softening the stride, increase power and productivity by emphasizing:
- Early bat speed (click to see the why and how of early bat speed).
- Timing (see Foundation XXX: Consistent Stride and Chapter 10 Timing).
An aggressive strider picks up their stride foot earlier and starts their forward approach sooner (see Chapter 10 Timing) in the pitcher’s motion, compared to a short strider. As long as their stride is consistent in length, height, and tempo, the big strider’s timing is just as consistent as the short strider.
- Optimal attack and launch angles based on ball exit speed (click for how to optimize launch angle by age and level of play).
- An aggressive but selective mental approach (click for the article The Eight Steps to a Productive Plan at the Plate).
- Tool X: Experimental Stride and Approach Drills, Drill I – Stride and Approach Experimentation Drill.
- Tool XXIX: Off-Speed Drills, Drill II – Early Recognition Off-Speed Drill.
Find these drills in The Ultimate Hitting Training Guide (click for book details):
Other Hitting Debate Articles You May Find Interesting
Click the links below for more free articles:
Building Rome Series Books: Building the High-Level Swing Series
Click on Building the High-Level Swing Series to learn more about our new two-book hitting series containing a detailed and comprehensive description of 100 hitting fundamentals and 140 step-by-step drills that efficiently construct the batting swing from the ground up.
In the Building Rome Series of books, the construction of skills are in functional order, providing a “roadmap” to becoming a great hitter.
All baseball and fastpitch softball players can “climb the Roman Coliseum steps” to become a powerful and productive hitter.
Enjoy the quest!