Ideal Balance Position Determines Stride Length
Before even finding the best stride length for players, I want inexperienced players to understand what ideal balance position is. This concept is crucial for everything in sport and all sports. It is especially necessary with the most challenging skill of all – hitting a baseball. Balance is often misunderstood when it comes to the initial stance and stride, as many people mistake style for fundamentals.
First, with very young hitters, it is best to start them with their feet wider than the shoulders. This distance gives them initial balance and keeps them from lunging at the ball, a common problem in hitting. Another consideration with beginning hitters is helping them keep their heads as steady as possible. Allowing their heads to bob and weave when swinging the bat is another problem with young players. However, as they progress in baseball, their initial setup is individual to hitters and something they must feel comfortable with having. When I look back on some of my major league baseball cards, I notice a different style in each one. Coaches and players should know that what felt comfortable one season may not be the next, so players may continually change for that comfort.
As for the stride length, some hitting coaches say shorter the better, like 2 to 3 inches, is best and while some allow a longer step like 8 to 12 inches. The thing about hitting is they both may be right. If you look at some of the great hitters in major league baseball, you will not see any consistency of stride length. For example, Los Angeles Angels’ great, Albert Pujols, incorporates a wide stance and a short stride. On the other hand, Boston Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia has a narrow stance but takes an aggressive and long stride into the ball. Both techniques work for them, and a key is the finding of which method works for each batter.
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It is important to note that all accomplished hitters have similar things in common. They use their body to the utmost, with a kinetic chain of events to produce the most bat speed possible. A step gives hitters the initial momentum into the ball to create explosive energy, as things in motion are more potent than static elements. Most important for all is arriving at the ideal balance position on time to swing the bat. As for stride frequency, it occurs on most pitches unless the batter uses a no stride approach, which is most popular with a two-strike count. The reasoning with that technique is that it has less moving parts, allowing for a concentration on making contact only.
When you watch great major league hitters, most, if not all, do the same things to swing the bat, once the front foot lands. Before that though, many major league hitters have their style with how they initially setup and with their stride length. There is just no one stride length fits all when it comes to correct hitting mechanics. However, it is safe to say that all great players’ stride- range takes them to the ideal balanced position, which is that position that allows them to perform such an explosive action under control and with ultimate bat speed.
All of the above is meant to explain why there is no perfect stride length for baseball batting, as it varies depending on each player’s style, athletic makeup, and setup. Players, who prefer a narrow initial stance, stride further to get to that ideal balance position and those, who like a wide stance to begin, have a short stride to attain perfect balance position. It often takes years of trial and error to arrive at the stance and leg position that suits each player the most, because as mentioned, no one method works for everyone.
Finding Ideal Balance Position for Stride Length
With that in mind, one of the first thing coaches should do with young players, is to figure out and explain this ideal balance position. It is important to note that this spot not only helps with hitting but with setting up to steal bases, for setting up in ready position on defense along with usefulness in other sports and athletic training. Teaching players to have ideal hitting posture begins with a slight knee bend and lean of the upper body towards home plate.
Young players have trouble figuring out their ideal balance position, so a couple of ways to help them include.
- Have batters jump with two feet as high as they can and have them hold their finish upon landing – most will have great balance and good posture upon landing.
- Have kids get set in the position they guard someone in basketball or soccer or the stance they have to take on a runner coming at them in football. Many kids play other sports and understand the ideal posture from playing those.
- Have players get set to hit and then gently push them in each direction to see if you can throw off their balance. They will brace themselves as you can move them in various directions, which helps them understand the best balance position.
- Have players stand on a balance beam or a two by four piece of wood for a spell. In time, this action will help them figure out how to brace themselves.
Once kids have begun to figure out this ideal balance position, coaches should measure it and show players that measurement, so they know when they are getting to it or not. Their baseball bat is an excellent measurement device. Of course, as players grow and their bats get longer that distance changes. The key is that players swing the bat from this spot after the stride foot lands, whether they began with a narrow or wide stance.
Once done, players can practice the stride length that takes them from their initial stance to this ideal balance position.
A couple of extra hitting “stride length” notes
Losing balance after their swing is an indicator that players are not getting to ideal balance position.
With very young players, it may be best to have them hit initially from this ending balance position (no stride hitting) to help them get a feel for it.
It is essential for coaches to know that it is a lot to expect inexperienced players to achieve the perfect stride length to the ideal balance position, so starting as close to the best hitting spot is best, which usually means a short stride approach.
Coaches should be careful of the very wide stance which some players use, as it may be beyond their ideal hitting position. That stance could lead to a reverse stride, which defeats the purpose of the initial step into the ball.
The direction of the stride is also crucial. Batters who end up with both feet in line with the pitcher is best. Beginning hitters with an even stance, each foot equal distance from home plate is also best for the hitting mechanics and for seeing the ball from the pitcher’s hand.
It is always a good idea to allow kids to experiment with hitting styles some as long as they maintain the hitting fundamentals. Having a one form fits all approach is not best, as hitting a baseball as well as coaching it is a continual work in progress.
Jack Perconte has dedicated his post-major league baseball career to helping youth. He has taught baseball and softball for the past 28 years. His playing, coaching and parenting stories create better experiences for athletes and parents. Jack has written over a thousand articles on coaching baseball and youth sports. Jack is the author of “The Making of a Hitter” and “Raising an Athlete.” His third book is “Creating a Season to Remember” – get here . Jack is a featured writer for Baseball the Magazine. You can also find Jack Perconte on YouTube with over 120 fun and innovative baseball instructional videos.