Updated: March 10, 2021
The kinetic chain is a term for body parts working together in a specific order to create a movement.
Whether it's a jump, sprint, throw or swing, the human body creates movement as a chain of muscles firing in a specific sequence.
For baseball and softball, one of these sequential, powerful movements is the swing! Here we go...
When swinging a baseball bat, the kinetic chain basics begin with the legs. The legs produce power by shifting weight. In the video above, you can see him load up at :05 and begin to shift his weight.
Then (and then is relative because it's happening really fast), the power he produces in the legs transfers to the hips as they begin to rotate. The hips start to fire at :08 creating rotational power.
Then, finally, the power is transferred through the torso (how's your core strength?), to the lead arm, the hand, and the bat.
Each body part in the movement creates power, then transfers it onward down the chain. In the end, the bat speed created is greater in a connected sequence of movements than any single body part could produce on its own – meaning the final product (i.e. a powerful swing) is the result of each body part acting in harmony by staying connected like links of a chain.
Let's note this is a basic summary of a complicated movement - complicated to the extent that someone would want to get into the weeds on the physics terminology. Are we talking about power in the hips, or it is acceleration of the hips? Are we creating power or transferring energy, or maybe it's both at different points in the sequence? This level of understanding has its place no doubt, but not every hitter (or coach) needs that pin-point accuracy to be effective. If the shoe fits...
Still, to reach our goals, we do need a basic knowledge of physics to assess a swing. We also need coaches who understand how the body moves efficiently with range of motion across different athletic disciplines.
Hitters may not be able to feel accurately what their body is doing. Ask a hitter, "where did you make contact?", and his recall may not be accurate to a video. Ask a hitter, "did your hips rotate too early?", and it would be hard to produce an accurate observation, especially at the amateur level. But hitters can discover, can be taught, and can become more self-aware with new technology in baseball.
There are all sorts of ways to grade, breakdown, or assess movement efficiency during the swing. A simple example is if the hands cast out in a loop, the resulting weak ground ball proves the broken kinetic chain. It's also pretty easy to observe the bat path casting out with a naked eye. However, other movements happen too fast and are simply too difficult to observe without technology.
A good piece of new technology in the baseball world is the K-Vest from K-Motion. This device is worn just like it sounds - as a vest - the benefit of this training tool is that it measures two main pieces of information that help hitters understand the movement of energy – energy flow - during their swing:
In essence, the K-Vest measures the speed of body parts in terms of the kinetic chain basics, and the order in which they're creating power and muscle activation. As indicated on their website, K-Vest shows how to unlock a player's most efficient and powerful swing.
To understand how to use or effectively teach from a K-Vest, you'd need to be smart on biomechanics, baseball and interpreting a graph - yes, the x-axis is here and y-axis is here. K- Motion offers courses to assist in filling the gap between baseball and science, and we encourage coaches and fitness professionals to sign up.
Here's a quick explanation of the K-Vest from Chicago Cubs' Director of Hitting Justin Stone:
In the swing, the proper kinetic sequence is critical for creating as much batspeed as possible. The main contributors to swing power, in order, are the following:
Ultimately, the power produced by the hips, torso, lead arm and hand is delivered to the bat, which then smashes a baseball deep into the bleachers (hopefully!).
The sequence above is what every hitter needs in order to produce as much power as possible. If the lead arm generates its peak power before the torso, for instance, then the overall power produced (as bat speed) will suffer.
Each body part in the chain reaction needs to reach peak power output before the next body part reaches its peak power output. If any parts are out of order, then we need to work on fixing this progress through hitting drills.
The K-Vest is a great tool, albeit an expensive one. Your local hitting facility may have this equipment. If so, you can likely get an assessment to baseline where your swing is today and compare after you implement a program. Small changes in the sequence do lead to noticeable transformation and observations in the ability to increase exit velocity and ball flight distance.
Even if you don't have access to this technology, there are baseball hitting drills that can help. First, a drill to break the sequence down to target and guide each movement can build muscle memory and help a hitter become aware of what each movement feels like.
Here coach Andrew Beattie (@SilverbackAthlete) shows how to use a pvc pipe to work on the hip and achieving separation. Find him on Instagram for similar drills and training using K-Vest.
In this video from the Baseball Doctor on YouTube, Coach Cathcart explains how the actions of a proper hip load will help a hitter get his kinetic sequence in the correct order. Repetitions of this hitting drill would work with a batting tee or without, and it's a relevant style for baseball and softball hitting too, of course.
During your hitting drills, do you think about your kinetic chain sequence?
Do you work on getting your hips, torso, lead arm and hands working together in the proper order?
Practicing smart is crucial for long-term success, and every session hitting off a batting tee is a chance to get better.
At Tanner, we're here to help you get more out of your practice time. No matter where you're at in your baseball/softball journey, our mission is to support you.
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