HardBall Magazine asked two baseball trainers to write on how MSBL and MABL players can increase their speed. Below are the resulting two articles.
A Speed Program for Adult Baseball Players
by Jim Sullivan, San Diego North MSBL
(This article appeared in the Spring 1993 issue of HardBall Magazine)
"Playing in the MSBL, I see speed win and lose games every week. Lack of speed and quickness is most evident in the number of fly balls that fall safely in the outfield. These are balls that infielders and outfielders should catch. When they fall for hits, big innings often take place." -- Jim Sullivan
Running speed is critical in baseball. Teams win and lose games by its presence or absence. Perhaps due to the incorrect assumption that speed lost can never be regained, it is generally de-emphasized in the MSBL. Balls that fielders should reach drop for hits. Ground balls that could be base hits are turned into outs. Over the course of a typical MSBL or MABL season, a gain of 4 percent in running speed could add 100 points to a player’s batting average.
The Speed Program
"Speed never goes into a slump.” –Branch Rickey
With the advent of spacious astroturf ballparks, scouts value speed more highly than ever. A fast player becomes an instant prospect, while outstanding players with subpar speed are often overlooked. In our 10-week summer program for high school and college athletes, our goal is to increase each player’s speed by 4 percent. This may seem insignificant, but the difference of 1/10th or 1/20thof a second in the 60-yard dash can make or break a young career.
As an MSBL or MABL player, it would not be practical to expect you to commit to an intensive program of speed training. The purpose of this article is to show you the elements of a comprehensive program, so that you can select a few things that might fit your personal situation.
We employ several complementary techniques. Nutrition is a primary component of any training regimen. We stress the importance of a balanced, vitamin-rich diet, high in complex carbohydrates, low in sweets and fats. Adult players should be aware that alcohol impairs fast-twitch muscle response up to 48 hours after ingestion.
We begin condition with light running on flat ground and slight inclines, swimming, a lot of stretching and light-to-moderate graduated resistance machine (or free weight) station training. After a few weeks, we gradually increase the work load.
In the second phase of weight training, we concentrate on the legs, especiall the hamstrings, with squats and leg presses. In this phase, and throughout the pgrogram, we continue to work on flexibility.
A speed coach gives the players tips on running technique. Many ballplayers have no idea how to run. A coach can instantly spot mechanical problems (excess motion, legs too high, swinging arms) and suggest improvements.
After about four weeks, resistance training begins. The hills get steeper and longer. We use speed chutes to offer varying degrees of resistance. This technique increases muscle strength and lengthens the stride.
Following the onset of heavy resistance training, we integrate plyometric exercises into the program. Plyometric exercises are highly sophisticated techniques designed to train muscles to react quickly and powerfully. Bounding, jumping and explosion drills bridge the gap between strength and speed by reducing the time during which the feet touch the ground. An athlete must be in excellent condition to perform plyometrics without the risk of injury.
Overspeed training forces a runner to run faster than he ever has before, thus training the nervous system to fire with corresponding rapidity. We use a rowing machine that pulls a runner at 110 to 120% of this top speed for about 100 yards, but the simplest way to achieve overspeed is to run down a smooth grassy slope of about 3%. To avoid injury do not attempt overspeed training unless you are in peak physical condition.
This program requires time, dedication and maintenance, but the results are worth the effort. By incorporating selected aspects of speed training into a year-round conditioning regimen, MSBL and MABL members can achieve significant gains.
To perform at top speed during the game, a player must stretch and run before a game. Many players arrive five minutes before game time throw a little, and think themselves ready to play. After some easy running in the outfield, begin your stretching routine. After stretching, run some more, progressing to several full speed wind sprints. The body does not magically stay loose for the duration of the game. Stretch between innings, on deck and in the field. Run on and off the field at a good pace to keep the muscles warm.
Don't bounce when you run. Push the ground away from you. Lean forward slightly. Don't raise your knees. Pump the arms. Your stride rate will increase as the legs are force to keep pace with your arms. Relax! Muscles fire faster when they are relaxed. A clenched jaw tightens the entire upper body. Ask a local track coach to evaluate your running style. A small adjustment can make a big difference in speed.
Stay in shape
Your league probably plays once or twice a week. That leaves time for conditioning. Maintain a program of stretching, light running, and moderate weight training. Light resistance training, such as uphill running, will almost invariably yield noticeable results. Do not attempt advanced training techniques without professional instruction.
Faster players reach base more often, score more runs, and make more of the difficult plays. By improving your speed, you can enhance both your ability to perform and your enjoyment of the game.
Practice Speed Training Tips For Amateur Ballplayers
by Jeff Turner, San Diego North County MSBL
(This article appeared in the Spring 1993 issue of HardBall Magazine)
Poor form means lost speed. Practice good form during games in between games.
Your first step should be a crossover step. (For example, after taking a lead on the bases, take along first step with your left foot.)
Start any sprints by staying low. Lean forward and push against the ground with the balls of your feet. Do not run upright and do not run on your heels.
Run in a straight line. That is the shortest distance between two points.
Pump your arms in a vertical plane. As you pump, bring elbows to the sides of the downward phase, then pump arms forward and upward. To run faster, pump your arms at a faster rate. Keep the jaws neck and shoulders relaxed. Tension waste energy, but adds nothing to your speed.
Stretch, Stretch, Stretch!
Stretch before sprinting.
Stretch, among other parts of your body, the hamstrings, quadriceps, calves, and Achilles tendon.
When stretching, hold the position for 10 to 12 seconds. Do not bounce! (For a detailed discussion of stretching, see Dr. Herb McReynold’s article on stretching in the Spring 1991 issue of HardBall Magazine.)
Warm up by walking at a brisk pace for a quarter-mile. Stretch the upper body while walking. Next, jog for quarter-mile.
Work on lengthening years stride by doing sprints at distances of 10, 15, and 20 yards. Do the first three sprints at 75% of your maximum speed, emphasizing form. Initially, do five sprints at each distance, and build the number of repetitions over time.
Find a straight line on a field and practice running in a straight line by sprinting at a controlled pace for 22 to 25 yards. Again, emphasize form. Start low. Stay low. Remain on a straight line. Work the arms properly. Walk back using simulated arm action. Repeat this exercise as many times as you can comfortably.
Strengthen the Hams And Quads
A hamstrung injury can cost you weeks of playing time. Unfortunately, when you run hard, you risk a pulled hamstring.
Both the quadriceps and hamstrings are taxed when you sprint. Because the quads are almost always stronger than the hams, it is the hamstrings that tend to suffer injury.
The two most common exercises to build the hams are the squats and leg curls. Squats for the hams are done with the legs positioned apart and the feet pointed out that 45 degree angles. If you feel the hamstrings doing most of the work as you rise from the spot, then you can be confident that you have your feet and legs positioned correctly. Leg curls are a standard exercise done on a bench in a weight room. Lay face down and lift a padded weight-bearing crossbar so that the heels of the feet are rotated or "curled” toward the buttocks.
The two most common exercises to build the quads are squats and leg extension. Squats for the quads are done with the legs positioned apart and the feet pointed straight ahead. Again, if you feel quadriceps during most of the work as you rise from the squad you know that you have your feet and legs positioned correctly. Leg extensions are done sitting on a bench in a weight room. The foot is placed under padded weight-bearing crossbar and is lifted upward and outward until the leg is extended.
Do the strength building exercises for the hams and quads on a regular basis. Increase the number of repetitions over time.
Once you’ve been doing the sprinting and strength building exercises regularly, you may be ready to do more than speed training work. One form of advanced speed training involves the use of chutes to provide resistance (see photo). Running up hills at controlled pace is another form of advanced training in which gravity is the resisting force. Do not run hard up hills until you have consulted with a trainer or doctor.
|Training with speed chutes offers varying resistance, building increased strength and a lengthened stride.
Once you have consulted with a trainer and he is convinced you are ready to handle more aerobically advanced exercises, you can add plyometric training to your program.
Plyometrics are exercises involving powerful muscular contractions in response to the rapid, dynamic stretching of the involved muscles. Their purpose in this program is to train the fast twitch muscles to be more explosive. The essene of these exercises is the minimization of the time the feet spend on the ground.
Whenever you do any of the plyometrics listed below, remember that you must guard against overexertion. If you find yourself short of breath, STOP and resume only after you have rested and are able to breathe normally. By incorporating some or all of the exercises listed into your regular routine, you will gradually increase the number of times you repeat an exercise.
- The most common plyometric exercise is jumping rope.
- Curb jumping, in which you jump back and forth from street to curb, is similar in nature to jumping rope and is easily mastered.
- Running in place against a wall with your hands extended and the body low combines plyometrics and resistance. Just keep the feet pushing against the ground.
- Tuck jumps, in which you bounce in place and pulled her knees to the chest, are standard plyometrics (see diagram.)
- Standing long jumps, repeated consecutively as many times as you can do comfortably, are among the toughest plyometrics..
- Giant leaping strides are tricky to master but are excellent once you get the knack (see diagram).
- Finally, you can always practice the Superman leap. Start this exercise with your hands at your side, look upward in a single bound, throwing your arms and hands upward. Regroup when your feet touch the ground, and repeat.
|Giant Leaping Strides
Jim Sullivan and Jeff Turner are hitting instructors and baseball trainers based in Southern California.