Mirror, Mirror, on the Wall - Finding Your Stride
The stride is an instrumental part of the swing and comes in a variety of sizes and vertices. It triggers movement in the lower body and is an essential fundamental for timing and balance.
As we discussed in the Mirror, Mirror, “Comfortable Hands” drill, a full size mirror is a valuable tool for hitter’s looking to fine-tune their mechanics. Considering the importance of the stride, practicing this integral part of the swing in front of a mirror contains great value.
Although the stride can be varied, it’s important for an athlete to consider a number of things while developing this fundamental. First of all, a hitter’s stride should feel comfortable and natural. As is true with any mechanic in the swing, if a player doesn’t feel comfortable, they are doing themselves a disservice; however, a hitter doesn’t want to compromise solid mechanics for comfort. That would be detrimental to an athlete’s success, lead to bad habits and be very frustrating.
Typically this drill leads to some practice swings, but initially a player doesn’t need to use a bat, or swing at all. The idea here is to find your natural, comfortable stride.
When I was younger my father used to practice his golf swing while standing in line at the grocery store. The act embarrassed me a little bit as a kid, but now I realize it was smart! And wouldn't you know it, he had a beautiful golf swing with impeccable tempo, balance and consistency.
A baseball player can accomplish the same outcome by practicing the length of the stride and perhaps, even a leg kick. The mirror is to assess balance, weight transfer and athleticism. However, don't be afraid to take a couple reps anytime, anywhere - the mind's eye makes a fine mirror.
After the stride, a hitter should be in the most athletic position possible. Your weight should be balanced, 50-50 on both legs, and the front foot should feel a slight amount of pressure. After a player spends some time practicing the stride specifically, and gaining comfort, then they are ready to incorporate a swing into the drill. When the time comes to take a few hacks, it’s essential that a player maintains the same stride that was previously perfected - consistency is imperative.
It’s important to remember that the stride is a completely separate action from the swing. Proof? For one, you don’t need a stride to swing - it’s a unique style, but it’s a simple approach that some hitters prefer. Secondly, if a hitter takes the traditional stride, they do so on every pitch. But, do they swing at every pitch? Hopefully not. This concept epitomizes the drill. Swing at some pitches, imitate taking other pitches, but always take a stride.
The most overrated, mismanaged, over-coached and down-right misleading part of this generation of ballplayers is the stride (taking the place of the dreaded “get your elbow up” instruction that many of us grew up with). We’ve heard it all before - “Don’t step in the bucket. Step into it. Don’t break the egg.”
The point is that not all athletes are created equal and neither are all strides. So, if a coach is adamant about teaching the same exact stride to every hitter - pump the breaks. The stride can be huge, or non-existent. It can look enormous, and be worthless. It can be soft and simple, and be invaluable.
Similar to the batting stance, the stride is completely unique to a hitter. It's one of the artistic parts of hitting, and should be incorporated as so. Many major league ballplayers have found success with a unique stride over the years - Miguel Cabrera and Shohei Ohtani have an almost non-existent stride, while players like Josh Donaldson and Justin Turner have a huge leg kick. However, hitters should beware - the stride can potentially doom a hitter before the swing ever begins.
Considering there isn’t one stride that is perfect for every ballplayer. How does a hitter develop the technique right for them? First and foremost, it takes time and work. But, if it’s mechanically sound, feels comfortable and leads to better results - you’ve found your stride.