Pulling Head Hitting Fixes and Drills
Baseball and Fastpitch Softball
This Pulling Head article is excerpted 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.
Definition of Hitting (Launch) Position
We start by defining hitting position, a valuable check position to use in many drills.
Hitting position is the batter’s position just before the barrel launches on its journey from behind the hitter’s back towards the hitting zone. More precisely, the body position when the stride foot lands at toe touch before the front heel drive triggers core rotation.
Pulling Head Hitting Drill #1 – Head Steady Drill
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).
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 (image above bottom) when transitioning into hitting position (as necessitated by an upright stance). Therefore, we recommend youth hitters not copy MLB Mike Trout’s tall stance (image above top).
Simplify by setting up in an athletic 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 an athletic 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 moves into or pulls away from the noodle, they are changing spine angle, causing eyes to move too much. Repeat until the hitter acquires the feeling of maintaining a twenty-degree spine angle from stance to launch.
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 point on a backdrop), as seen from the front. The hitter observes their positioning, which should be 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.
Pulling Head Hitting Drill #2 – Stable Spine Angle Drill
As we described in the previous drill, to keep mechanics simple, developing hitters should assume a 20-degree spine angle in their stance (upright is 0-degrees). More experienced hitters may find they gain rhythm and momentum into the swing by starting more upright in their stance and then transitioning to an athletic posture as they move to launch.
By launch position, all hitters should exhibit a 20 to 30-degrees spine angle.
Then, as the hitter rotates, the spine angle must remain stable. A stable spine angle during rotation is critical for vision, balance, and a reliable swing plane.
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.
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 a torso side bend (sideways lean) as they rotate hips and then shoulders. Ask the hitter to slowly swing with a static spine angle (images above) 25 times. Then 25 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.
Next move to a batting tee. As the coach watches the hitter’s head from a front (or back) view, the hitter slowly executes a full swing (prolonged execution takes at least five seconds) and hits the ball off the tee. The coach determines 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 successfully 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 (or behind) during rotation. 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.
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, a pulling head negatively affects swing path, balance, and vision.
Here are two issues that cause head movement during rotation:
- Spine angle changes as the hitter rotates. They fail to transition to and maintain a torso side bend.
- 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. Now the coach pins the hitter’s head to a backdrop from a side view and then 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 during core and shoulder rotation. Now remove the pause at heel plant, swinging slowly. Then progress to game speed.
Once the hitter’s head remains static during rotation off tee or bag, for at least 25 swings at four practices, move on to front toss, pitching machine, or live BP. Ask the hitter for 100 purposeful swings with a perfectly steady head (after front heel plant and through follow-through). Take a video and watch numerous swings in slow motion to verify. Routinely perform this exercise until a steady head during rotation is a habitual part of the hitter’s baseline.
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