As players become more skilled, the list of baseball fundamentals grows beyond fielding ground balls and laying down bunts. Speed itself has moved from being a desirable individual attribute to a vital team trait, essential for success.
Regarding speed, we're not just talking about stealing bases like Jose Reyes. Yes, base stealing is invaluable for getting into scoring position, but offensive speed also helps you leg out infield hits, advance on sacrifice bunts and frustrate your opponent's double-play opportunities.
University of Florida strength and conditioning coordinator Steve Orris calls this "usable speed"— or baseball-specific speed. He says, "What happens is guys have a great 60 [Yard Dash] time and think they are fast, but when you get them in a game and they are running to first, it doesn't transfer. We try to develop drills to make their speed more specific and usable."
Usable speed was in striking evidence as the Gators chalked up five runs with a flurry of infield hits, sacrifice bunts, hit-and-runs and sacrifice flys to capture the 2011 SEC Tournament crown.
To enhance usable speed, Orris recommends exercises that address three key aspects of baseball speed—first-step quickness, acceleration, and lateral explosiveness.
Why: Loading one leg with more weight than the other trains you to be explosive when your weight is not centered, similar to your body position after swinging the bat.
Exercise: Preloaded Starts
- Assume push-up position with body in straight line
- Place one foot under hips and press ball of foot into ground
- With weight loaded on front leg, explode out of sprint for specified distance
Reps/Distance: 3x each leg for 30 yards
Coaching Points: Keep hips below shoulders when driving out // Explode into sprint as quickly as possible
Why: Rounding the bases without taking a wide angle or slowing your feet helps you speed up on the base paths.
- Create two adjacent boxes of four cones, each seven yards apart
- Begin at corner of box and sprint around top half
- Continue sprinting across middle of boxes and around bottom half of second box
- Continue sprinting around second box
- Sprint across middle of boxes and around bottom of first box
Coaching Points: Perform in both directions // Start with one box and progress to Figure 8 pattern // Stay tight to cones // Maintain speed around turns // Once improved, accelerate through turns, taking good angles and dipping inside shoulder
Why: Horizontal plyometric drills develop power to explode off one leg and promote higher stride frequency.
- In continuous fashion, explosively bound off one leg to the other for specified distance
- For advanced variation, bound for 20 yards, then explode into sprint for 10 yards
Sets/Reps: 6-8x20 yards
Coaching Points: Cover as much ground as possible // Drive arms forward and back // Work for height, not distance
Photo: Tim Casey
Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock