Hitting 101 – The Load and Stride
The load of a hitters swing is the transfer of weight to the back leg and the stretch of the hands back. The load is a vital part of the hitters swing; it is the start of the swing that builds up our body’s tension to be released on the baseball.
As a hitter, we want to start in our stance fairly balanced. Some hitters like to have the weight distributed on each leg at 50/50, and some hitters actually prefer to have their weight already favored on the back foot 60/40. When the weight transfer begins to take place we need to remember a couple things. When the swing actually launches from our back foot, the push is coming from the inside of the back foot, not from the outside. So as we load the weight back, all hitters need to focus on that weight being loaded to the inside portion of the back foot. If a hitter allows the weight transfer to get to the outside portion of the back foot, then the hitter must reposition that weight back to the inside portion before swinging. This ends up being a large waste of energy and time in the swing, and can mean the difference of being on time with the pitch or a swing and a miss.
Now that we know we need to keep the weight on the inside of our back foot, how much weight should we actually transfer back while loading? I teach my hitters to load between 70-75% of their weight to the back side. This allows to hitter to be in a strong loaded position, while also maintaining a balanced and athletic stance. As you begin to load more than the 75% to the back side, you will notice that the hitter’s weight will start to shift to the outside portion of the foot and it will become very difficult for the hitter to launch the lower half with its maximum velocity.
Next we need to load the hands. The hitter’s hands should load to a point that reaches back just past the outside of the back shoulder, and the hands should also be loaded straight back and not wrapping around the body. Having the hands move straight back is very important to our swing. If the hands start to wrap around our body, the only way our hands can release is to create a long swing where the hands have to push away from the body. We want to give our hands a direct path to the baseball to give us the greatest probability of successfully hitting the baseball. If a pitcher can see your hands disappear while he is throwing, that tells him that you cast your bat and he can beat your with hard fastballs inside or soft breaking balls away. The load of weight to the back side and the load of the hands often occur at the same time.
Now that we have loaded the weight back and have our hands ready to hit, we have to figure out when we should stride for the baseball. The hitters stride has many different combinations to choose from. Some hitters have high legs kicks, while some use low strides and some hitters do not stride at all when hitting. Each style of hitter will have a little different way they like to get ready to hit. The most important aspects of picking a stride length and style is the ability to get your front foot down on time for the pitch as well as not letting your weight drift forward. Now a common mistake I see, in young hitters especially, is they think being on time with the stride is putting their foot down at the precise moment they begin their swing. Doing this will leave the hitter feeling rushed or behind the pitch, and their consistency of solid contact will also be very low. As a hitter, you always want the front foot to be down early rather than late. The best time to have the front foot down is when the baseball has been released and the ball has traveled about ¼ to ½ of the distance to the plate. From this point the hitter can actually track ball location and pitch type without having to worry about getting their front foot down any longer.
At this point, some of you may be saying “If I put my front foot down that early, then my weight will be way too far out in front of the pitch”. If this thought ran through your mind, then you lunge at the baseball and are guessing pitch type and location. The stride of the front foot should not be fast and with a hard stomp, it should be smooth and quiet. I tell all my hitters that they should imagine that their front foot is striding onto a patch of ice. This soft stride will help you keep your weight back as a hitter, which gives you the ability to hit to all fields and also hit off speed pitches. The stride should be more like the front foot is feeling out in front rather than stomping out in front.
There is no one correct or incorrect way to load and stride as a hitter, but there are important factors. Remember load 70-75% of your weight back, hands load straight back and have a soft stride forward as if stepping on ice. If you are able to do these three things, then you are in a great position to hit the baseball.
- Ashley Hewitt