Speed Training for Baseball Players… Part 1

By Nunzio Signore (BA, CPT, CSCS, NASM, PES, FMS)

speed training for baseball players

Doesn’t matter the sport, everyone wants to be fast. Unfortunately, not everyone is, but everyone can surely get faster. This comes down to a few key principles, and it’s not just about running a faster baseball 60 yard dash. In this 2-part article, we’re going to review speed training for baseball players, position-specific speed and some of the techniques we use here at RPP to get our guys more explosive and faster on the field. But let me start by bringing up a few crucial points.

Getting Fast is First about Getting Strong – The more horsepower an athlete has, the more force he is able to put into the ground to get his body moving quickly. We can teach running mechanics all we want but if there is limited power being put into the ground on each stride it’s pointless.

On the other side of the coin, it’s not an “all-in or all-out” concept. There can also be a danger in training only max strength without understanding the total picture of the athlete standing in front of you.

We want to be able to prescribe the “correct type” of strength adaptation for the athlete in order for it to help athletes during the speed/plyo portion of the program.

There can also be a danger in training only max strength without understanding the total picture of the athlete standing in front of you.

Ladder and Cone Drills Make You Better at Ladder and Cone Drills – True they can give you quicker feet which is great if you’re auditioning for the River Dance.

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But don’t ask one of these guys to do this.

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A better alternative may be plyometrics that not only train lateral movement but emphasize quick deceleration as well. I mean, athletes and trainers have been focused on the elastic properties of moving quickly for centuries, so why try and re-invent the wheel? This brings us to the third point.

Spend Time on Training Movements that Pertain to Your Sport – It’s a waste of time training “top-end speed” to athletes who never reach it. And, other than sprinters, no other sport reaches top-end speed. For pitchers, time would be better spent on quickness in the first 10 yards, landing mechanics (deceleration) or change-of-direction speed (putting it all together).

(Lat Low Box Drill)

Genetics is a Starting Point, but Doesn’t Have to be the Endpoint – Many athletes simply accept their speed and write it off as “genetics”. Although I do believe that much of what makes an athlete fast (Type 2 “fast twitch” fiber) is genetic, there are things that can be done regardless of genetic make-up to make someone faster. Thinking and believing anything less is a cop out.

With that being said, let’s get on with it by starting with the “nuts and bolts” of any speed program worth the paper it’s written on.

Sports are about moving linearly (front-to-back) and laterally (side-to-side), but in sports such as baseball, the ability to start and stop quickly is the deal breaker. Ever watch a rabbit run? It’s actually not only how fast they are, but how quickly they start and their ability to stop on a dime and change direction.

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The same goes for athletes. If athlete 1 runs a 4.3 sec 40-yard dash and athlete 2 runs a 4.5 sec dash but has better starting and stopping (acceleration/deceleration) mechanics, athlete 2 will be faster on the field every time. This is particularly important for middle infielders in baseball who don’t really have a lot of time to foot-plant and change direction to make a play.

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Thus, training first-step quickness and change-of-direction speed  as well as improving mobility, strength and deceleration mechanics are the focal points of any great speed development program.

Now let’s get into more specifics.  The remainder of this article and the subsequent one will cover the following topics related to speed training for baseball players.

    • The Warm-up
    • Linear Acceleration
    • Lateral Acceleration
    • Lateral Change-of-Direction

The Warm-up

A thorough warm up is what sets the athlete up for a productive training session or game. Today we’ll go over the steps involved in the warm up and movement prep protocol that all of our athletes at RPP go through at the beginning of every speed session. So, without further ado, here we go…

Being explosive and running (and stopping) quickly can be very taxing on not only the muscles and joints, but the central nervous system as well.  It is imperative to perform a proper warm up for speed training:

    • Soft Tissue Work – Reduce muscle knotting (myofascial) for greater movement, nerve firing, and muscle action
    • Activation – Improve neurological firing (proprioception or “awareness”)
    • Mobility – Improve movement quality before training by increasing the range of motion of muscle and joints
    • Dynamic Movement and Running – Increase blood flow and body temperature and increase muscle and joint function, and prepare the body to move more intensely in the coming exercises

Soft Tissue Work – Fascia is a connective tissue system composed of 90% water and collagen. By wrapping around every element of the body, it holds everything together including muscles, organs and cells to help provide most of our elasticity and balance and gives our body it’s structural integrity. At RPP each athlete is taught how to use a foam roller to hit trigger points and help lessen or eliminate knots in the muscles. It also helps break up the soft tissue adhesions and scar tissue in the fascia. You can get many of the benefits of stretching without the lengthening of the muscle which may not always be the best thing for certain athletes. Recommended areas are calves, hamstrings, quads, glutes, Q.L. and lats.

Activation – Next is activating the neuromuscular system. We do our activation work immediately following the Soft Tissue Work (foam rolling). This helps “turn on” various muscle groups so that they’re ready to produce force when called upon. Some of these muscles include the glutes, traps and serratus. Here are a couple of great ones.

(Lat Band Walks)

(1-arm Wall Slides w/ Rotation)

Mobility to take the muscles through a full range of motion. When dealing with different groups of athletes at a time, we try to hit all the major areas. This means optimizing ankle, hip and t-spine mobility to name a few. All athletes have varying ranges of motion, some better than others so please be aware of that when finding your end range. Here are two examples that work on hip and T-spine mobility:

(Alternating Lunges)

(Quadruped T-spine Mobility)

Dynamic Movement and Running – Our dynamic movement runs seamlessly from our mobility drills. Athletes begin to move through they’re acquired range of motion getting the body ready to work out. Running, skipping, shuffling, and hopping, drills help increase kinesthetic awareness (where the body is in space) and is the final stage of the warm up.

(Fwd Lunge ViPR chops)

Closing Remarks

Showcases and events are always posting a player’s 60-yard dash.  It’s important to note that being a successful and speedy ball player is not just about running a faster baseball 60 yard dash.  Stay tuned for Part 2, as we will review the following topics as it relates to speed training for baseball players:

    • Linear Acceleration
    • Lateral Acceleration
    • Lateral Change-of-Direction

See ya’ at the gym…

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