Celebrities were born, history was made and numbers skyrocketed. The 2004 Major League Baseball season was nothing less than extraordinary.
The Tampa Bay Devil Rays' Carl Crawford led the American League with 59 stolen bases. Eric Chavez, third baseman for the Oakland A's, collected his fourth Golden Glove. And, finally, the 86-year curse of the Bambino ended for the Boston Red Sox—thanks in part to Curt Schilling and Jason Varitek.
All these players and their respective accomplishments have one common theme: Mark Verstegen. Crawford, Chavez, Schilling and Varitek spent their off-season in Tempe, Ariz., training with Verstegen at his world-class facility, Athlete's Performance. It is there Verstegen implements his mission to "improve athletes' performance, decrease their potential for injury and motivate them through education."
As this trainer worked with each major league all-star to hone individual skills and improve performance, he focused on strength and speed development as well as agility training.
Generically, agility training increases change of direction speed and movement acceleration. But to a baseball player, this means greater infield coverage range, a faster break to run down a fly ball and less time to field a ball off the mound.
Verstegen prescribed the following three drills to improve agility and in turn, performance. Each drill is a progressive drill that should be done two to three times a week.
Base rotations will better your offense and defense. "Offensively, it's going to help you by improving the elasticity in your core, which will help improve bat speed. And, defensively, it's going to help you with first-step quickness ... to get a great jump on the ball that's deep in the hole," Verstegen says.
Imagine a large X on the ground. Place your feet at the ends of one leg of the X. Square your shoulders and rotate your hips 45 degrees. Now, rotate your hips so your feet move from one leg of the X to the other. Work your abs and core to rotate the lower body. Keeping your shoulders square, pump your arms the opposite direction of your legs.
Performing base rotations for two sets of four seconds; work up to performing two sets of six to eight seconds. When two sets at six to eight seconds are an easy rotation, perform three sets of four seconds and work up to six to eight second sets. Rest for one minute between sets.
Once you master base rotations, Verstegen recommends enhancing the drill with sprints. Start back at two sets of four seconds when you add sprints. At the end of each set try to either: sprint forward eight yards, crossover step and sprint right or left eight yards, or drop step left or right and sprint back eight yards. Again, rest one minute between sets.
"Lateral bounds are going to help your lateral quickness, or lateral power," Verstegen explains. "So [the drill helps] when you're planting and cutting, whether that's taking off for base-stealing or just trying to get to a ball that's deep in the hole. This is also going to help generate hip power and stability, which will help increase hitting power."
To perform lateral bounds, stand on your right foot. Using only the right leg, jump as high and far to your left as possible and land on your left foot. Once you land, hold that position for three seconds. Then, using only your left leg, repeat that motion, but move to the right. Again, hold the position for three seconds. Perform two to three sets of three to five bounds with a minute to a minute and a half rest between sets.
Once this phase of the drill is mastered, Verstegen advises adding additional movements. The second phase of lateral bounds starts on your right foot. Jump as high and as far as possible to your left, landing on your left foot. Now, using only your left leg, immediately jump back to the right. Spend as little time as possible on your left foot and jump as high and far as possible back to the right. Land on your right foot and hold that position for three seconds. Perform two sets of three to five reps with a minute to a minute and a half rest between sets. Perform the frst set starting on the right foot, and the second on the left foot. The last phase of lateral bounds involves continuous movement. Starting on your right foot—using only your right leg—jump as high and far as possible to the left. Then immediately, in the same manner, leap back to your right. Repeat leaping back and forth from the left to the right as fast as possible for 10 leaps (five to each side). Perform two to three sets of this phase. Rest for two minutes between sets.
The three-hurdle drill develops rapid response for quick feet. Quick feet enhance fielding range and reaction time, as well as speed and quickness for base running.
To perform the three-hurdle drill, setup three six-inch high hurdles or obstacles one yard apart. Straddle the first hurdle with your left foot on the outside of the hurdle. Now, sprint laterally over the hurdles to your right. As you step over the last hurdle, plant your right foot and hold the position for three seconds. Repeat the drill sprinting laterally left. Hold the position on your left foot as you step over the last hurdle. Perform two to three sets of four to six reps. Rest a minute to a minute and a half between sets.
Verstegen suggests three adaptations for the three-hurdle drill to increase difficulty.
Start again by straddling the first hurdle with your left foot outside. Sprint laterally to your right. Next, plant your right foot on the outside of the last hurdle and immediately sprint laterally back to your left. As you plant your left foot on the outside of the last hurdle, hold the position for three seconds. Perform two sets of four reps in each direction—two sets starting on the left of the hurdle and two sets starting on the right. Rest a minute to a minute and a half between sets.
Starting in the same position, run back and forth laterally over the hurdles as fast as possible for six to 10 seconds. Make sure to place only one foot outside of the last hurdle before laterally sprinting the opposite direction. Perform two to four sets for six to 10 seconds per set. Rest a minute to a minute and a half between sets.
Add sprints to the end of the hurdle movements. Starting in the same position, sprint laterally to the right over the hurdles and back. Then, as you step over the last hurdle, perform one of the following listed sprints.
- Immediately sprint forward eight yards.
- Turn right, and sprint straight ahead over the hurdles eight yards.
- Drop step and sprint straight away from the hurdles eight yards. Verstegen suggests two to three sets of four to six reps on the hurdle drills and sprints. Start with the first and simplest sprint pattern, and progress to performing the drop step and sprint movement.
In-season three-hurdle drill variation
For a strong in-season conditioning workout, perform the listed hurdle-to-sprint movements continuously, jogging back to the hurdles to perform the next sprint. For example, sprint laterally over the hurdles to the left and back to right; then sprint forward eight yards. Next, jog back to the hurdles; immediately sprint laterally over the hurdles to your left and back to the right, then turn toward the hurdles as you step over the last hurdle and sprint straight over the hurdles eight yards. Jog back to the hurdles and continue this pattern for each sprint.
"That [the conditioning variation of the three-hurdle drill] really turns things into a great in-season speed endurance drill. It really keeps all their lateral quickness, quick feet and acceleration mechanics," says Verstegen.
If you want proof of the effectiveness of these drills, look a back at 2004's baseball stars. If you want results, try them. Then you'll understand Verstegen when he says "improves performance and increases career productivity."