Something that’s rarely discussed in hitting circles is how the effort with which we swing impacts our overall level of performance. Recently, I’ve heard a lot of hitting “gurus” tell hitters that they need to be swinging with full intent or they’ll say things like “try to drop a tank!” But is this the best approach? Does this approach lead to consistent performance? Does swinging with 100% effort allow a hitter to maximize their power production? The simple answer would be yes. Our conditioning tells us that the harder we try the more success we’ll experience. However, when we dig a little deeper we recognize that peak performance occurs when a hitter is more effortless than effortful.
Let’s quickly look at both the mental and physical reasons behind why maxed effort doesn’t equal peak performance. From a physical standpoint, we want to perform the skill (our swing execution) or any skill for that matter in a manner that allows us to maximize our power output while at the same time maintaining mechanical execution. Ideally, you want to execute that skill in such a way that allows you to activate the “agonist” muscles (the muscles required to perform the skill) while keeping the “antagonist” muscles (the opposite muscles needed to execute the skill ie: the tricep is the antagonist of the bicep) as inactive or relaxed as possible as to not create any resistance that will both slow the firing of the agonist and create compensation in the rest of the body leading to mechanical breakdown. When we’re executing at “100%” we inadvertently contract both the agonist and antagonist muscle groups creating the physical resistance that leads to diminished performance.
Psychologically, when we’re at maxed effort we’re generally focused on the creation of specific results. Our focus tends to be in the future and therefore not fully in the present moment. When our focus shifts to the creation of future results we activate our fight/flight response which leads to increased muscular tension and decreased fine motor skills. Which, makes it less likely that we will execute a quality swing.
Think about those times when you’re in the zone, those times where the ball seems as big as a beach ball and it appears as though every ball we hit is perfectly squared up. How does that state feel? What thought’s and emotions are you experiencing? Often, hitters use words like “peaceful”, “quiet”, “slow motion”, and “effortless” to describe this state. Now, instead of simply hoping that this state arrives inconsistently throughout the season let’s consider that it might be possible for us to set the stage for its arrival. Science is now showing that it’s possible for us to train our mind and set the physical conditions for us to slide into this state more readily. One way I help my hitters do this is by working backwards. We examine what this state feels like and then try to mimic that feeling in our practice sessions and in our live at-bats. Think of it this way… If we feel “effortless” when we’re in flow then we need to really key in on that feeling during our practice sessions.
A drill I like to perform I call my “Zero to Ten Drill”. Think of a scale 0-10. Ten being the most effort you can produce, the hardest you can possibly swing and zero being doing nothing at all. Experience has taught me that maximum power production and consistent swing repeatability occurs when a hitter is executing in the 6-7 range. Any effort above 7 we begin to see diminishing returns. We don’t see much, if any, increase in power and we see a dramatic increase in mechanical breakdown. I have my hitters become aware of where their effort levels are on both quality swings and broken swings. Let’s say a hitter squares a ball up I’ll ask “Where were you there 0-10?” Mostly they’ll say between 6-7. I’ll ask the same question on a broken swing and typically they’ll respond 8, 9, or 10. We then try to repeat the proper effort level and then watch as the swing and results take care of themselves. The more awareness the hitter cultivates the more they are able to repeat their swing mechanically, make quicker adjustments and maximize their potential.
Next time you’re hitting off of the tee become aware of where your effort levels are on quality swings and broken swings. Instead of trying to produce results shift your focus to setting the stage for the results to flow effortlessly.