Loading Mechanics: "Getting Back"

In previous articles, we have discussed the importance of loading into and against the rear leg. From a loading efficiency perspective, loading through the rear hip and against the rear leg allows the body to produce the maximum amount of force and torque. While that is "ideal" we do see a lot of hitters struggle with the concept of "getting back" and what that means from a weight distribution and movement perspective.

Why do we need to "Get Back" in the first place?

We have heard this phrase relentlessly used in batting cages and on fields for decades. There is an overarching concept that hitters need to use the most amount of space possible as to give themselves the most time to see the ball. While that is absolutely true, the focus of getting back often misinterprets what physically needs to be "back" and in what direction the "back" happens.

Miguel Cabrera , Gather Phase (Gathering Against the Rear Leg)

Miguel Cabrera, Gather Phase (Gathering Against the Rear Leg)

From a rhythm and timing perspective, we need to build momentum with our lower and upper body/hands. When we talk about the hitters initial movement with their legs, the timing of the lower half must be in sync with the timing of the upper body. If we have movement that is not in-sync or is rushed and disconnected we lose efficiency. Our body is unbelievable in terms of dealing with compensation and if we rush or are off-balanced, we compensate in an effort to correct. I find that the best hitters have a ability to remain extremely balanced and athletic during the loading phase.

From a balance perspective, the initial part of the gather with the lower body is meant to have the hitter feel the center of mass in a a controlled state. I use the analogy of riding a bike as it pertains to loading. If I begin to pedal, my weight gradually shifts back and forth as the bike propels forward. If I lean my center of mass too far to the left, I fall off the bike. If I lean to the right, again I fall off of the bike. In either direction, my balance is compromised. The goal is to maintain the ability to produce force (each push of the pedal) through the center of my body without compromising direction. The same is true with the loading sequence of the lower body. Our goal is to maximize the hinge in our hips (hips bent) and put force  into the ground.

What does Getting Back Mean?

The concept of getting back or staying back refers to the timing window needed to see the baseball effectively. So, that window while many believe can be opened longer by shifting the weight back towards the catcher is actually done most efficiently by creating better spacing with the hands.

The barrel of the bat is controlled by the hands. It doesn't matter if we are in the most centered position or off balanced if the hands are not in an effective position to launch.

So when we prioritize what getting back is, we need to understand how the hands work and in what direction.

Distance v. Direction

When we think of the ability for a hitter to create space for their hands to work often times there is this concept of distance then trying to "get back". The hands must work away from the body but its important to recognize that is is not the distance that matters as much as the direction to which they move. To simply say that the hands must work "back" can lead to a variety of patterns based on the individual hitter and how they interpret what back is.

Albert Pujols,  Gather Phase (Hand Position)

Albert Pujols, Gather Phase (Hand Position)

The gather move with the hands represents a loading mechanism for each hitter. It is a tilting or tipping action of the barrel that allows the hitter to load the barrel with the hands. When hitters tend to focus more on the distance their hands load from their body, their barrel does not activate properly which is seen as more of a "pushing" action towards the catcher. We can see in the image to the right (Albert Pujols) that the loading of the hands is actually a torquing action eliminating the slack through the arms and rear shoulder.

The distance component or how far "back" the hands get is in relation to the stride. When the hitter begins their forward move to the baseball, their hands begin to work "up and behind" (see image below).

Hanley Ramirez , Separation (Hands working up and back)

Hanley Ramirez, Separation (Hands working up and back)

This up and back action allows the hands to work into a slot to which they can "turn over", allowing the rear elbow to come down and the lead elbow to work up. With the hands back, this not only builds tension as the body begins it's rotation but establishes a deeper swing path.

What we come to understand about creating the "back" in our swing is that it is created by a forward move, not necessarily the larger negative movement. The most important thing about this movement is creating space for the hands to work up and back as pitch recognition happens.