Home › Hitting › Should the Back Elbow Be Up or Down?
  • 9/9/2015 added JJ Hardy image to 'elbow down' group (h/t BBF reader)
  • 4/16/2015 added exit question at end regarding horizontal forearm
  • 2/8/2015 added some 'elbow down' (up?) pictures of Molitor and Kent
  • 8/12/2014 clarified a line in the summary from "begin your actual swing, the elbow goes down" to "begin your actual swing with several simultaneous actions, including the elbow going down"
  • 11/17/2013 added Epstein pictures and explanatory text
  • 11/16/2013 added UP/DOWN graphic, blog post What Does Elbow Up Mean?, and images of Miguel Cabrera, Ian Kinsler and Paul Molitor
  • 11/14/2013 added image of Jose Bautista
  • 11/13/2013 added image of Mark Texeira
  • 9/26/2013 added images at toe touch - Hunter Pence, Andre Ethier, Chase Utley, Jayson Werth, JD Drew, Magglio Ordonez, Matt Kemp, Miguel Cabrera, and Ryan Howard
  • 5/16/2011 removed inactive youtube by HitDawg, added exit question
  • 1/28/2010 added toe touch picture gallery
Related: What Does Elbow Up Mean?

Should the Back Elbow Be Up or Down? Can I Generate More Bat Speed?

This is 'elbow up'
at toe touch
This is one of the many confusing topics when discussing the baseball or fastpitch swing.

Some recommmend 'elbow up' in the stance. Some recommend 'elbow down 'in the stance.

The truth is, it doesn't matter where the elbow is in the stance. This truly is personal style and does not effect the swing.

But, you ask, I have heard the elbow position makes a big difference.

Well, you heard right. Just not in the stance...

We will present below both sides of the argument from experts, then show you some pictures of actual MLB hitters, and finally give our recommendation.

What is the definition of Up? What is Down?

Believe it or not, we have to define this because many people have different definitions of up and down for this purpose.

'Up' is in the 45 degrees to 110 degree range. 'Down' is 0-44 degrees. Most consider 'down' to be near the ribcage (near vertical).

See What Does Elbow Up Mean?

What's Up?

Advocates for keeping the elbow down - or it doesn't matter

The first Google result for "back elbow up" is Jon Anderson with Brookside Little League who says:
what [is] the worst advice [you] ever heard a Little League coach say. ‘‘The absolute worst thing and the thing I hear all the time is, 'Get your back elbow up.’’

This well intended statement has hurt more young hitters than any other advice I have heard. The idea here is to get on top of the ball and hit line drives the ball goes down if you hit the top, see Hit the Top of the ball, but just the opposite will occur. Here's what happens.

* During the swing the back elbow should come close to the rib cage and the barrel of the bat should stay above the hands when you first start the swing.
* With a high back elbow, the elbow travels a much greater distance and at a much faster rate of speed.faster bat speed is not better?
* Consequently, the barrel of the bat will drop below the hands as it does for 99% of MLB hitters, the front elbow will raise up, and you end up with a long swing. If this technique is used for very long, you will develop a real bad habit. like Pujols maybe
Dave Hudgens, MILB hitting coordinator for the Cleveland Indians, in an article ironically named Don't Get Caught Following Bad Hitting Advice, says:
Hitting Fallacy #1: "Get Your Back Elbow Up!"

I cringe every time I hear these words. Every little league coach I have ever heard at one time or another has told his hitters to do this.

I asked my friend Chris Bando, a former Major League Coach, what the worst advice he ever heard a little league coach say. Chris is a great person to ask since he has had five boys in Little League. The first thing he said to me was, "The absolute worst thing I hear all the time is, 'Get your back elbow up!'" He's right. This is the worst advice around, but you hear it everywhere.

The idea here is to get on top of the ball see Top of the Ball Myth and hit line drives, but just the opposite occurs. During the swing, the back elbow should come close to the rib cage and the barrel of the bat should stay above the hands. With a high back elbow, the elbow has to travel a much greater distance and at a much faster rate of speed isn't this the point? higher bat speed?. When this happens, the barrel of the bat will drop below the hands actually the barrel must drop below the hands, the front elbow will rise as in every MLB swing, and you will have a long swing. If this goes on for very long, you have created a habit - a very bad habit.
Mike Epstein, in "Back Elbow Up and Staying Inside the Baseball" PDF file and the 1/9/2004 article, Rear Elbow: Up? Or Down? says:
In reality, this is a "style" issue and has nothing to do with a hitter's technique. not sure if he's talking about the stance or toe touch here

No matter how or where the hitter places his rear elbow in his stance, it MUST slot (tuck down and in) at the launch position.

The picture (left) shows the correct grip of a hitter. The top hand "knocker-knuckles" line up with the "knocker-knuckles" of the bottom hand. With the hands in this position, it is virtually impossible to elevate the back elbow. MLB hitters do not use the grip he describes, and 99% of them elevate their back elbow
Here's Jake Epstein telling hitters to drop their elbow in a YouTube video Rotational Hitting Drills From Mike Epstein Hitting (Part 1 of 2)
Jake Epstein Wants To Fix This
Jake Epstein Elbow Fix
(L) 0:35 He shows what he calls a bad swing (the swing on the left)this looks like a MLB position to me

(R) 2:42 "The key is to get on plane early back here." He shows the dropped elbow as a fix for a push swing. That's not the remedy for a push. Some Epstein followers say this is out of context. I can't imagine why anyone would spend an entire video teaching something that no current MLB hitter does.

Another Internet hitting site, WebBall, in Lesson 8: The Back Elbow Debate explains:
It used to be every coach (and well meaning sideline parent) would yell "get your back elbow up" most confuse elbow during stance with elbow at toe touch. Then, for a time, every instructor explained that the first action in a swing is to bring the elbow in towards the body, therefore elbow up is wrong, it should start down logic?.

Our view now - who cares?

We aren't even sure we should include this page. It's such a huge non-teach and yet there is a temptation with images and animations to think this should be studied. It should not. The point is - as you'll see when we get to arm action from launch to contact - that the hands matter more than the elbowswe don't think hands are very important.
Rich Taylor, "CEO and head instructor of California Pitching Academy and a scout for the New York Mets", in Keeping the Back Elbow Up is an Old Baseball Fallacy explains:
Time to put a youth baseball fallacy to sleep. Send it out to pasture. File it in the cold case baseball section of the local library cellar. Eliminate it from modern day baseball instruction and just consider it old time folklore.

Where it came from I don't know. It's never mentioned in any hitting book I've ever seen, yet I keep hearing this jargon around the youth baseball batting cages, games and practices. It's yelled from the stands by parents and from the dugouts by coaches.

I'm talking about the dreaded saying "get your back elbow up to hit."

While you've probably seen some major leaguers get their back elbow up to some extent most MLB hitters, none of them were taught to actually hit that way contradicts his lead-in "I keep hearing this jargon". And besides, they're so strong and have tremendous bat speed through the hitting zone that at the point of contact their bat is in the correct position logic?. However, no major league hitting coach is standing next to the hitting cage telling them to get their back elbow up probably because they all do it anyway.

If these same people studied hitting in more depth they would understand the disservice they're doing to young hitters. Simply put, if a kid's back elbow is up to hit (by high I mean his back elbow is actually pointing toward the backstop behind home plate) he must then drop it to hit, causing the bat to drop which then means the bat takes a slower it's faster, actually and long looping path to the point of contact, thereby swinging under the ball it does go under the hands initially - but that is in the plane of the ball and missing it.

Younger kids usually don't have forearm strength, core strength or strong hands to generate bat speed. Therefore, it's essential to teach them the right mechanics to hit. Keeping your back elbow up is not one of them! Forget about what professionals do you lost me there. Concentrate on what's the best thing for a young hitter to learn.

If kids are taught correctly and learn to swing down or level on the ball and hit line drives not so good, see Hit the Top of the ball this fallacy can finally be put to rest.

Advocates for keeping the elbow up

Jack Mankin responded to the Anderson quote above by saying:
I would agree that a player having an elevated elbow would be of little value with the swing mechanics that are taught by the vast majority of coaches. In fact, it could very well lead to the problems you outlined. But this is not the case with the top hitters in the game. Having an elevated elbow adds to their hitting performance because they have adopted transfer mechanics that are far more efficient than the mechanics taught to the average hitter.

Most Pro batters elevate the back-elbow and most hit under 300. But, all the great hitters (300+ aver & 30+ hr) have transfer mechanics that keeps the hands back at the shoulder during initiation.

The reason you find the best hitters with an elevated elbow is because they find this a more powerful position for "pulling back" with the top-hand (like an archer pulling back on a bowstring). And, as I stated earlier, it is of little value if the batter (Little League or Pro) drives the hand forward at initiation.
See also Jack's article "Rear elbow down - vs - Rear elbow elevated".

Gallery of Hitters at Toe Touch

Most MLB hitters have their back elbow up at toe touch.

Elbow Down

We found one current MLB hitter with his elbow down. (He compensates with a horizontal rear forearm)
JJ Hardy
with elbow down

We found two former players with their 'elbow down'... sometimes. Paul Molitor and Jeff Kent.

Note: Some of the above images may be copyright MLB.com and ESPN.com and are used here under "fair use" provisions of U.S. Trademark Law and are instructional, critical, non-commercial, and transformative in nature.

The back elbow should be "up" at toe touch for maximum power and bat speed

Chipper Jones elbow up
99% of major league hitters have their back elbow up at toe touch/weight shift. You should too.

Most current MLB hitters have their back elbow somewhere in the 60-90 degrees UP1 range at toe touch.

You can hit with your elbow down, you will just not generate as much power. Have you ever tried to throw or pitch with your elbow down?

To recap, put your elbow any place you like in your stance. Then bring it up (almost even with your shoulders) as you shift your weight forward to toe touch. After your weight shift/ stride and your toe touches, you begin your actual swing with several simultaneous actions, including the elbow going down.

Still don't believe us? Go to a field and try hitting both ways to see for yourself which method makes the ball go further.

In our experience, 5-8 mph extra bat speed is generated by taking your raised elbow down to your hip. At 7 feet/mph, that's 30 feet or more extra distance.

Yes, ladies, this goes for fastpitch also.

Exit question: Where should the back forearm be at toe touch?

The back forearm is generally horizontal and the bat is vertical. Then, from toe touch through hip slot, the forearm goes vertical and the bat is horizontal. This is called turning the barrel.

If the back forearm begins vertical, this almost always leads to bat drag.