Lifts for Speed With Texas Baseball

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Many delightful activities and attractions are available to tourists during June in Omaha, Neb. The Omaha Convention and Visitors' Bureau recommends sampling the city's quaint bistros and fine restaurants, enjoying its contemporary dance, music and theater productions, or hiking the beautiful trails of the Fontenelle Forest. This summer's visit to Omaha by the University of Texas baseball team included none of the above. Instead, the Longhorns made a clean sweep of the nation's top teams, going 5-0 to claim the 2005 College World Series National Championship.

If fine dining, hiking and theater are your passions, these next few pages probably won't interest you. If developing blazing and powerful speed on the diamond is your priority, read on.

Lance Sewell, the Longhorns' assistant strength and conditioning coach, echoes the general theme that resonates in Austin: "Develop explosive power first, then build off that foundation." UT's 2005 baseball squad used this foundation like a set of starting blocks, stealing 103 bases, more than twice as many as their opponents, and scoring 470 runs versus their opponents' meager 245. The result: a 56-16 record and a giant trophy to take back to Austin.

Sewell's program combines explosive-style weightlifting with drills that develop proper running mechanics. "Platform lifts increase explosive power and recruit the nervous system to fire as rapidly as possible," he says, "while technique drills teach how to apply that force properly." Sewell blends the two main pillars with doses of resistance, over-speed and speed endurance training to maximize his players' speed development.

PLATFORM TRAINING

The Longhorns use Olympic-style explosive lifts to increase power and first-step acceleration. Sewell says, "These lifts are very energy-system specific to baseball. The game itself consists of quick starts and stops and accelerating and decelerating. That is exactly what we are doing on the platform." The payoff: hitters get out of the batter's box faster and fielders get to the ball quicker.

Sewell recommends maintaining a quick tempo when it comes to rest on the platforms. "We train with the mentality of keeping your mind on your business and your business on your mind when we are in the weight room," he says. "Our players know that people are watching them to find out how they work—because they are Texas baseball and they win championships." Keeping the tempo up, the Longhorns use a 2:1 rest-to-work ratio on the platform, even jogging to and from the water fountain.

 

POWER CLEAN
Sewell has his players perform a true power clean from the floor, plus a clean from just below the knees. The technique is the same for both starting positions.

  • Start with shins touching bar
  • Grip bar just outside athletic stance
  • Get into dead-lift position with back locked, shoulders up and abs and chest flexed
  • Begin initial pull by extending hips and knees
  • Move into second pull when bar is just above knees
  • Explode by forcefully shrugging and fully extending hips, knees and ankles
  • Pull bar up keeping it close to chest
  • Drop under bar and catch it along front of shoulders in athletic stance with knees bent

HANG CLEAN
Hang Clean differs from Power Clean only in the starting position. Instead of beginning with the bar on the floor touching your shins, start in an upright position with the bar just above the knees and shoulders over the bar.

CLOSE GRIP SNATCH
While the clean develops power, the snatch produces speed. Therefore, Sewell has players lighten the weight and "really concentrate on moving the bar fast and explosively to get the fast twitch muscle fibers firing as quickly as possible." To reduce stress on the shoulder joints, he teaches holding the bar with a shoulder-wide grip rather than a wide one.

  • Begin with bar just above knees
  • Grip bar at shoulder-width
  • Explode by forcefully shrugging and fully extending hips, knees and ankles
  • Pull bar up keeping it close to chest
  • Drop under bar and catch it overhead with straight arms in athletic stance with knees bent

SNATCH GRIP PULL (FROM THE FLOOR)

  • Start with shins touching bar as it rests on floor
  • Grip bar with wide grip
  • Get down into deadlift position with back locked, shoulders up and abs and chest flexed
  • Begin initial pull by extending hips and knees
  • Move into second pull when bar is just above knees
  • Explode by forcefully shrugging and fully extending hips, knees and ankles
  • Pull bar up keeping it close to chest until it reaches chin level

SPEED MECHANICS

Sewell explains why proper running mechanics are important in baseball: "The quicker you can get into proper form, with good mechanical force application into the ground, the faster you can get to your destination, object or goal—whether it is stealing second, stretching out a double or beating out an infield hit or bunt. If you are able to apply more force into the ground through good technique, you have a better chance of being safe."

Sewell wants his players to take short, quick strides, get their feet back on the ground as fast as possible and avoid overstriding. To facilitate quick rotation and prevent losing time with their feet in the air, Sewell teaches the Longhorns to focus on keeping their toes, knees and heels up throughout the running stride. "We emphasize good dorsiflexion of the foot—toe up—so when they make contact with the ball of the foot, they can drive off immediately and effectively," he says. "Also, many coaches tell athletes to bring the heel to the butt, but I change it up and have them bring the heel to the upper hamstring—I call it 'heel up'—right where the glute and hamstring meet to decrease the amount of time the leg spends in the air."

TECHNIQUE DRILLS
The Longhorns perform these drills as part of a dynamic warm-up to achieve proper running form.

HIGH KNEES WITH DORSIFLEXION

  • Rapidly drive knees upward with opposite arm/opposite leg action keeping toes up

HAM KICKS

  • Skip and drive knee up with dorsiflexed foot while simultaneously bringing heel to upper hamstring
  • Cycle foot through running motion and make contact with ball of foot keeping toes up
  • Repeat with your other leg in skipping fashion

SPEED SCHOOL
Sewell takes his players through "speed school" to bring together the three components of proper running mechanics. Over a 60-yard span, they build up to 80 percent of full speed for 15 yards, continue through a 30-yard work zone during which one of the three components is emphasized, then coast for the last 15 yards.

The Longhorns perform 8 repetitions, focusing on keeping toes up for the first 2 reps, knees up for the second 2 reps and heels up for the third 2 reps. For the final 2 reps, they put all three elements together and hit full speed in the first 15 yards. Sewell gives verbal cues for each specified component throughout the work zone to remind the players to maintain proper technique. They rest with a 3:1 recovery to work ratio.

RESISTANCE TRAINING
Sewell says, "Resisted running really works initial speed and force application into the ground where they really feel the drive phase."

SLED PULLS
The Longhorns do sprints while pulling a sled carrying about 20 percent of their body weight. They perform 6 reps over a 20-yard distance with a 3:1 recovery to work ratio. Then they close out the session with 4 unloaded 20-yard sprints.

OVERSPEED TRAINING
"Overspeed training really gives the feeling of running fast at top speed," Sewell says. "I have the team concentrate on not overstriding. They have to get their heels, knees and toes up, then get their feet down quickly. That way they can have proper running mechanics while firing their muscles faster than they could without assistance."

ASSISTED SPRINTS

  • Attach a bungee cord to yourself and partner standing in front of you
  • Start in stance so cord has tension
  • Sprint while your partner runs in front of you at constant rate entire length

The Longhorns perform 6 repetitions of 40 yards and take a full recovery. They do not begin overspeed work until after four weeks of working on technique and acceleration.

SPEED ENDURANCE
Simply put, speed endurance is the ability to run fast when you are tired. Sewell explains, "Speed endurance is a mental discipline for us. We like to know that we are in shape and can take anything that an opponent throws at us at any point during the game."

To ensure late inning speed, the Longhorns perform 10 sprints of 60 to 110 yards and gradually work up to 16 sprints, keeping a 3:1 recovery to work ratio the entire time.

IN SEASON
Once the season starts, the Longhorns focus on baseball specific speed work, with some platform training. At the beginning of practice, they do base-stealing drills while Sewell observes and gives verbal cues to ensure proper technique. He adjusts the platform work depending on how much baseball is scheduled for that day and the next.


Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock