By Nunzio Signore (BA, CPT, CSCS, NASM, PES, FMS)
Given the nature of the sport, speed training for baseball players covers a number of different speed disciplines. Ball players sprint, decelerate, change direction, move laterally, all within short bursts of time. In Part 2 of of this article (click here for Part 1) on speed training for baseball players, we’re going to review:
- Linear Acceleration
- Lateral Acceleration
- Lateral Change-of-Direction
Linear acceleration means getting our center of mass moving as quickly as possible moving forward. I It obviously relates to many sports, but is best put to use on the baseball field in the form of base running, stealing and in the outfield. We’re going to break down linear acceleration into three phases and explain how we train each phase separately and eventually connecting them into one fluid movement.
- Phase 1 – Posture
- Phase 2 – Power
- Phase 3 – Drive
Phase 1 – Posture – Correct running mechanics begin with good static posture. We start every session with Glute / Wall Iso Holds to help simulate what good posture looks like in mid-run. Some of our cues are:
- Feet approximately 3 feet away from wall (distance can vary based upon height of the athlete)
- Wrists at shoulder height or slightly below – It’s important not to bring the hands and arms up too high due to the fact that we want to make sure the core can handle the body posture and stabilize the pelvis based on where the hands are
- Straight line from ankle to shoulders
(Glute / Wall Iso Holds)
Phase 2 – Starting Phase (Power) – The initial push-off all the way to the first 2 or 3 steps is where 75% of the battle is won (or lost). This is also known as “first-step quickness” or “first 10-yards”. Call it whatever you want, I call it getting a good stable base of strength in the weight room before you try and go out and be powerful. Anything less is merely leaving half of it on the table.
With that being said, one way we can train power in the starting phase, is with a drill such as 5 yd falling starts. This drill helps to “over emphasize” the start or “push” phase as well as let them feel forward motion and getting started with the body low. This in turn carries over to a more explosive start when in a more athletic position. We like to cue “load the front leg” as well as “throw the arms back” to help drive the same side leg up into flexion and get the athlete up quicker.
(5 yd Falling Start)
Phase 3 – Drive Phase – Once the athlete is up and moving we need to make sure that he is continuing to accelerate by using an aggressive arm action which in turn creates a longer ground reaction time helping to produce a longer stride as well as a stronger and higher hip and knee drive. We also cue “chase the shoulders” to ensure we are keeping the load on the front leg throughout. Step drills are great to help feel what an in-sync pattern feels like.
Lateral acceleration is where an athlete can separate himself among the pack. The ability to accelerate or change direction quickly while maintaining an athletic posture sets an athlete up, not only from a performance standpoint, but also visually speaks volumes about his athleticism during any recruiting process.
Let’s review a few techniques that make athletes more efficient when getting into successful positions on the field, whether it be fielding, catching or running bases. We begin by breaking down the lateral shuffle into three phases, why we use it, how to do it and what to look for when moving laterally.
Why We Use It?
We use it to stay in an athletic position while keeping our “eyes on the prize” when moving laterally. This can go a long way when getting a jump on a ground ball or an outside and/or wild pitch for a catcher.
How to Do it?
Performance Technique / Back Leg – The leg opposite to the way we are trying to move becomes our back or “power” leg. We like to cue “down and away” to help the athlete feel the initial push.
Performance Technique / Front Leg – The front leg’s job is to continue creating momentum by “pulling” while digging into the ground with the front heel. Using the heel to pull helps us activate the powerful glutes and the hamstrings, rather than the adductors (groin) which are much smaller and weaker muscles.
Sometimes there can be a “lag” in the initial down and away movement setting the athlete back from the start.
(5-yd Lateral Shuttle)
One way to help correct this can be to use a band to pull the athlete away from the direction of force production, forcing them to initiate a more powerful push with the back leg. Once a good understanding a putting force into the ground, we can train the opposite effect by using the band for “over-speed” training and allow the athlete to “feel” neurologically what fast really is as well…
(Band Resisted Shuttle Run)
What to Look For?
Staying Low or in the Tunnel – Many young athletes use a vertical “bobbing up and down” while moving which causes the athlete to create an energy leak in the opposite direction, slowing down any lateral movement.
Knee Over the Toe / Shoulder Over the Knee – This helps create a more stable base of support giving the athlete a better and more powerful starting position as well as during deceleration while changing direction.
This is an area where many athletes make the most mistakes. It’s also an area where top-end speed is not a factor, making those who are great movers in a short area excel. It can be particularly useful to the infielder who needs to make quick cuts to get to a ball on time, or a base runner in order to beat out a run down. Let’s review how we change direction and go over some corrective cues and strategies you can use to help become more proficient at them.
Landing Mechanics “Load the System”– The key to changing direction quickly is to minimize how long we pause (ground reaction time) when landing before we re-accelerate to change direction. Making sure our foot, ankle and knee are “stacked” correctly ensures a powerful and stable landing action. Remember for every action there is a reaction, so the more stable the landing the more powerful the subsequent push will be.
Prevent Energy Leaks “Stay in the Tunnel” – This is a term I heard speed guru Lee Taft use when referring to “staying low”. This prevents energy leaks caused by popping up and down and producing force in a more vertical direction during lateral movement.
Land in a Wide/Athletic Stance – Landing with the feet in a wide, athletic stance sets up a more stable base of support, enabling the athlete to better decelerate their momentum. This prevents a “lag” prior to re-accelerating in the opposite direction.
We use the low box drill to help put all of these techniques together into one explosive movement. Paramus Catholic’s Dave Hidalgo demonstrates.
(Lat. Low Box Drill)
If there is a lag in the lower half upon re-acceleration, once again over-speed training can be utilized. The band can be used to create extra momentum forcing the athlete to “push away” harder and more explosively when changing direction.
(Band Assisted. Low Box Drill)
Sometimes the problem may be an upper body issue such as a dip or “sway” in the landing position. Many times this is due to the core not creating adequate “stiffness” in the landing, which helps to create a more stable base of support to re-accelerate. Med ball fake throws are a great drill to create extra momentum in the upper half and help the athlete feel his core engage in order to better decelerate.
All three of these drills are also great for letting the athlete “feel” where their foot and body should be to create the most effective landing angle and ultimately a quicker change-of direction (amortization) movement.
If interested in a complete speed training program for baseball players, you can click below. The speed and agility package below also includes a training program.
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