Nov 27, 2017
Baseball Speed
Jeremy McMillan

In the Texas A&M University baseball program, speed and power training is an offseason priority for us. In the beginning of fall, our focus is on developing proper body control, coordination, and optimal alignment. To build these traits, we teach our athletes the “power position,” which requires knees bent, hips back, and the chest out over the knees.

Athletes use the power position for almost every athletic movement, both inside and outside the weightroom. It is required to get into a jump, change direction, decelerate, and create movement effectively. For example, when the ball is hit back toward a pitcher, the first thing he does is gather himself into the power position so he can react with the most power and speed. We repeatedly teach the power position in warm-ups and workouts until it becomes second nature.

Once players have it down, we go over proper landing and change-of-direction mechanics, including linear deceleration. The deceleration component is crucial for keeping players healthy because it teaches them to land and slow down using proper technique, muscle recruitment, and firing patterns. It also enables them to fully utilize the speeds and velocities they are capable of creating. Together, these skills build the foundation for our lateral speed, linear speed, and plyometric training, which allows players to turn the strength and power they are developing in the weightroom into athletic ability on the field.

Our lateral speed work consists of short cone drills covering five to 20 yards each and 100 to 200 total yards per session. These drills focus on shuffling, backpedaling, crossover steps, sprinting, or a combination of movements. Cuts consist of tight turns, wide turns, lateral cuts, and jump cuts.

We start our lateral work with planned movement in one direction. So an athlete might shuffle to the right for five yards and then sprint to the right for another 10 yards. Next, we add a change-of-direction element. In this stage, an athlete might crossover run for five yards, plant into the power position, and then crossover run or sprint back the other direction. We finish with unplanned movements — an athlete might shuffle back and forth between two cones 10 yards apart depending on which way a coach points or partner moves.

During the last few weeks of offseason training, we make our unplanned lateral work as baseball-specific as possible by having players mimic fielding or running the bases. For example, one drill involves a pitcher running five yards to a cone on his right to simulate fielding a ball, then shuffling one or two strides toward first base, and finishing with a sprint through first base as if he was beating the runner to the bag.

Our linear speed work is aimed at teaching athletes to sustain acceleration through every foot contact. We want to teach them to apply large amounts of force in a short period of time.

To do this, we use three phases of acceleration training. Stage one is early in the offseason. We utilize distances from 10 to 30 yards per drill, totaling 150 to 350 yards per session, and mix in an array of starting positions, including lunge starts, drop starts, crossover starts, and shuffle starts.

As we progress into the second phase of acceleration in weeks seven through nine, we have players pull sleds for the same distances used in stage one. To manage the weight on the sled, we use speed coach Charlie Francis’ rule of 10 percent: If the athlete’s time over a given distance increases by more than 10 percent once the sled is incorporated, then the weight is too high. We also add contrast sprints and stadium stair sprints during this phase.

The last stage of linear speed training is the top-speed phase. This is usually done in weeks 10 to 12 of the offseason. During this time, we complete 30- to 60-yard runs where the athletes build up to full speed and maintain it for a given distance, staying at or below three seconds of work at full speed. All of our speed training is done at greater than 95 percent intensity, and we schedule full rest periods between runs to ensure high CNS quality.

Although baseball players rarely reach their max speeds on the field, the benefits of top-speed training have a positive effect on their strength and power. For instance, speed can improve athletes’ inter- and intramuscular coordination, rate coding, rate of force development, and stretch-shortening cycle.

Our plyometric training teaches athletes how to use the strength they are developing in the weightroom in an explosive and powerful manner. We focus mostly on jump training, progressing from teaching athletes to apply force through large ranges of motion and long ground contact times to smaller ranges of motion and quicker ground contact times. Our jumps advance from no counter movement, to counter movement, to double tap, to continuous jumps, and we utilize all planes and both unilateral and bilateral jumps. Toward the end of the offseason, we sometimes add resistance to our training with vests, medicine balls, dumbbells, and bands.

By following our offseason plan, we hope to start each season with faster, more explosive, and more powerful athletes than we had the previous year. When we reach this goal, our team is more prepared to succeed on the field and continue the winning tradition of Texas A&M baseball.

Jeremy McMillan, CSCS, SCCC, is Sports Performance Coach for the Texas A&M University baseball team. Previously, he served as Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coach/Nutrition Consultant for the St. Louis Rams, and he's also worked at Texas State University, the University of New Mexico, and Texas Tech University.

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