According to "USA Today," hitting a baseball is the hardest thing to do in sports. Baseball coaches and players use many techniques in an attempt to hit the ball better and many of those strategies cause serious debate. Whether hitters should keep their back elbow up or down while swinging is one of the biggest debates among players and coaches.
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The back elbow refers to the elbow of the hand on top when gripping a bat. For a right-handed hitter, the hitting side is the right side, so the right elbow is the back elbow. Because hitters stand facing the plate, the top hand elbow becomes the back elbow during the stance and the subsequent swing. Any position with the back elbow and forearm parallel to the ground or higher is considered keeping the elbow up. This means the elbow is considered to be up if it is pointing straight back or at any point higher than straight back; any point lower than that is considered to be swinging with the elbow down.
Keeping the Elbow Up
Swinging with the back elbow up is a popular coaching phrase often used by youth baseball coaches, according to baseball coach Rich Taylor. This form is designed to teach hitters to stay on top of the ball by helping them to use their top hand more. For some hitters, the technique is effective and feels comfortable; however, Taylor notes that keeping the elbow up also can lead to a slower bat, swinging under the ball and missing the ball. This is mainly due to hitters dropping the elbow before the swing and getting off balance, things that can happen regardless of starting style.
Keeping the Back Elbow Down
Proponents of starting the swing and swinging with the back elbow down say that the technique allows a more direct path to the ball, which results in a level swing, according to Taylor. The problems with keeping the elbow down during the swing result from the player still dipping the back side. This dipping leads to an uphill swing, as the batter looks like he is swinging up on the ball. This leads to being off balance, losing sight of the ball and being well underneath the ball on the swing.
According to baseball coach Jack Mankin, both versions of elbow positions actually can be right, depending on the player swinging the bat. Mankin suggests that players that take a big stride and weight shift use the elbow down style while players who simply stay stationary and have a small stride would be better off with the elbow up. The key to the swing is finding a comfortable position for each player, with the elbow up or down, and duplicating the swing while staying balanced across the body.