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3 Tips for Developing Speed before Baseball Season

With baseball season fast approaching, many are currently evaluating their time spent during the off-season. They are evaluating their current level of preparedness for the upcoming season. For many they spent countless hours in the cage taking cuts or on the mound with their pitching coach, but far fewer have done anything about their conditioning and speed.

With only weeks prior to the season beginning you have just enough time to make sure that you are in a decent position for that first day of conditioning. You won’t blow anyone out of the water, however, you also won’t be watching everyone else from the rear.

With that said, here are 3 tips to keep in mind when performing your own speed training prior to season.

When it comes to speed development for baseball it looks very similar to speed development for any sport, initially.

Posture and Position

The first step is to make sure you are in a proper position for any type of acceleration. An improper position during acceleration can lead to lack of efficiency in movement, wasted energy, and potentially injury.

To find the correct posture and position, I always recommend beginning with a wall drill. This is a very simple and basic drill, however, it can tell you a lot about the athlete, their stride, and common flaws to be addressed. This drill also helps the athlete to recognize the desired position when they do begin running. This drill is something I will come back to on a regular basis with my veteran athletes as a gentle reminder of what I am looking to achieve.

From the wall drill, I will incorporate a series of falling accelerations. Again, this helps the athlete transition into different angles without losing the position we desire. Here are a few of those drills:

Distance/ Intensity

When beginning a speed training program, keep the distance between 10 and 20 yards. When the distance becomes too long, athletes begin to get into improper positions which turn a sprints into a fast jogging. By keeping the distance short and the rest appropriate you can also attain an intensity that allows the athlete to develop their max velocity through training.

Use Lateral Starting Positions

With a multi-directional sport such as baseball, it is important to use multiple starting positions, including lateral positions when going through speed development strategies. This allows for the training to have greater carryover when practice and competition begins.

In previous posts I discussed some of the lateral starting positions we use with our athletes, including, Directional Step, Crossover Steps, and Lateral Kneeling Starts. Each of these drills has a different desired effect and add a level of sport specificity.

With these three tips in mind, begin to build out your speed development strategy. As with any program, there should be a level of progression to your training. Progressions should be incorporated with starting positions as well as volume. Use the example below.

WEEK SPEED DEVELOPMENT STRATEGY
1 Wall Drill

Tall Falling Starts 4 x 10yds w/ 45” rest

Athletic Position Falling Starts 4x 10yds w/ 45” rest

Staggered Positions Falling Starts 2 x 10yds w/ 1’ rest

2 Wall Drill

Tall Falling Starts 2 x 10yds w/ 45” rest

Athletic Position Falling Starts 2 x 10yds w/ 45” rest

Staggered Positions Falling Starts 4 x 15yds w/ 1’ rest

Single Leg Starts 3 x15yds (on each leg) w/ 45” rest

3 Tall Falling Starts 2 x 10yds w/ 45” rest

Athletic Position Falling Starts 2x 10yds w/ 45” rest

Staggered Positions Falling Starts 3 x 15yds w/ 1’ rest

Single Leg Starts 3 x 15yds (on each leg) w/ 45” rest

Directional Step 3 x 20yds (each direction) w/ 45” rest

4 Athletic Position Falling Starts 2 x 10yds w/ 45” rest

Staggered Positions Falling Starts 3 x 15yds w/ 45” rest

Single Leg Starts 3 x 15yds ( on each leg) w/ 45” rest

Directional Step 2 x 20 yds (each direction) w/ 45” rest

Crossover Step 3 x 20yds (each direction) w/ 45” rest

With this program you can now begin your own training program in order to prepare yourself for the spring. Incorporate these drills and be sure to focus on the technique discussed in the videos. Implement these workouts twice per week for the next four weeks leading up to season. If you have any questions, please reach out.

Good luck this off-season!

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Before You Set That Resolution

It is that time of year. Time for the New Year’s Resolutions. I am asked constantly what my thoughts are on New Year’s Resolutions. Largely, I am not a fan of New Year’s Resolutions. If it takes the beginning of a year to create a resolution then your motivations may not be completely pure. However, this is a great opportunity to do something that we do not do enough of as a society…

We are a society that is so focused on growth, development and improvement. This causes us to constantly be looking forward. Looking for new opportunities, relationships and potential achievements. This means we rarely take the time to look behind us. We rarely take time to reflect and appreciate from where we have come. It is hard to appreciate our current status if we do not reflect on what helped us achieve that status.

This year, before you set that resolution, take some time to reflect. Reflect on where you were one year ago today. Where were you personally? Professionally? Physically? Are you happy with the growth you have seen in the last year? If so, what can you do in the coming year to continue to aid that growth? If not, what needs to change to create new or accelerative growth?

Resolutions are great, sometimes needed. However, perspective is also important. Reflection helps to shape the perspective which is the lens through which we set our resolution. Set yourself up for success this New Year by creating a resolution that is realistic, attainable and driven by your own growth. 

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Making the Most of Your Volleyball Off-Season

The volleyball season tends to be very long and demanding with little time to train in between. Most of our volleyball athletes will begin club season in February and compete until May. At that point our high school athletes will begin off-season conditioning, leading up to their school competition season starting in August and running through November. This leaves very little time to get away from the court in order to recover, refocus, and prepare for the next season.

With this being said, we must make the most of our time with our volleyball athletes. We can assume a few goals that each athlete will verbalize: increased vertical jump, quicker movements (First Step), and a stronger core. Besides these there are a few that we as coaches place added focus on in order to improve the durability of our athletes: 1. Improved posterior shoulder strength and 2. Improved ankle and hip mobility.

We must attack each of these goals from multiple avenues. It is also important to note that each athlete will need a much different approach. No two athletes go about achieving the same goal in the same ways.

Returning to the main idea, many of the motivating factors for the goals will come down to two things: the athlete wants to move faster and jump higher.

For a young middle or high school athlete, in order to achieve both of these goals I would recommend two things: 1. Get stronger and 2. Jump more often.

Improved Strength

Strength training should be one of the main focal points for athletes at this age. Being stronger is always a good thing, however, that is not the end of this discussion. Strength training is also key in motor unit recruitment and coordination. Motor units make up each muscle. Millions of these units must work together in order to create movement. As athletes strength train they improve the efficiency of the muscular system so the motor units work more efficiently and effectively.

Strength training is also important because this helps athletes to be more efficient in movement patterns and conserve energy. As an athlete’s strength improves they are able to create more force in movement. As their maximal force output improves, their effort required for movement is decreased because, it now takes less of the muscle/ motor units to make the same movement. This allows the body to conserve energy as the practice or competition goes on.

Increased Vertical Jump

To improve the vertical jump within middle and high school athletes my first recommendation is to jump more often. This can be a broad recommendation so let me be a little more specific.

Jump as high as you can more often.

Volleyball is a sport comprised of short movements and multiple jumps. However, these jumps are all done at sub-maximal effort. This would be similar to asking sprinters to sprint at sub-maximal effort then expect them to run faster due to this training. If you follow my work at all you know this is WRONG. By the same idea, volleyball players need exposure to maximal height jumps. They also need exposure to jumps with varied approaches and transition movements. No two jumps will be the exact same. They may have to start from a different spot on the court, or adjust their approach to the set, or even enter the jump from another movement. All of these variables adjust what will happen when the athlete begins the initial movement of the jump. By practicing each of these things we can prepare the athlete for similar competition situations.

VOLLEYBALL PLAYERS AND PARENTS, your off-season is very short. Be sure to make the most of it. Partner yourself with coaches and trainers that will help you achieve your goals. The next 10 months will be built off this foundations. 

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The Key to Speed Training That You Are Overlooking

There are many factors to speed training that are nonnegotiable and typically covered by most or all speed coaches: body position, stride, arm movement. These aspects are common and unimpressive. Any “coach” who has read a book or received a weekend certification can recite these same lines. The coaches that impress me and leave me asking for more are the individuals that act more like technicians. The professionals that are able to breakdown grand movement patterns into finite pieces and analyze the specific movements, and consequences of these movements. These professionals are the ones that truly understand what they are seeing and seek to find the specific answers for the individuals they are working with.

It takes a greater understanding of movements, physics and biomechanics to understand the interplay between the body and its environment. It also requires great comprehension to then assess, evaluate and recommend strategies for improvement moving forward.

Again, the coaches that can do this are the ones that I am interested in.

As I work with athletes on a daily basis and study their movement, there are many themes I continue to come back to. One of the common themes that I have spent time on lately in our accelerations has been the interaction of the foot with the ground. In some instances, the focus is on how the surface contorts the foot/ankle complex, while in other instances the focus is on how the foot/ ankle complex creates movement further up the chain (i.e. knee/ hip). This interaction can create positive or negative effects. An interaction of the foot/ ankle complex with the ground that creates no adverse movement within the complex, but also creates a vertical (Upright Position) or vertical-horizontal force (Acceleration Position) in an interaction that is beneficial and effective in regards to the goal of speed.

When there are issues with this scenario there is an increased need for the Technician-Coach described above.

Two major issues that I see in regards to the ankle-foot complex when referring to speed training are:

  • 1)Lack of eccentric control when foot makes initial contact with ground
  • 2)Inversion of ankle at ground contact

The first issue, lack of eccentric control, refers to the body’s lack of ability to stay high on the front of the foot when the foot hits the ground while sprinting.

 

You’ll notice in the first picture when the foot comes in contact with the ground there is a high position with desirable ankle plantarflexion. However, as we move forward in the frames you can see that the heel begins to drop to the ground. Due to a multitude of reasons the foot-ankle complex is not strong enough to maintain the initial position at ground contact and the athlete drops down. This is inefficient from a performance standpoint as the athlete will now spend more time on the ground. This will affect the athlete’s ability to sprint, move laterally, and jump.

The second issue, inversion of the ankle at ground contact, refers to the ankle moving inward/ toward the body’s midline when the foot contacts the ground.

 

Again, you’ll notice in the first picture that when the feet initially contact the ground there is a vertical ankle structure and the Medial Malleolus (Bony Knob on inside of ankle) is in line with the Metatarsal-Phalangeal Joint (Big Toe-Knuckle) of the big toe. As we move the frames forward you can see the Medial Malleolus drift inward. This, again, can be due to a number of issues include lack of strength, lack of mobility, poor awareness, or fatigue. This inefficient movement pattern will create a loss of power through all sprinting, agility and jumping movement patterns.

These are two examples of issues I see on a daily basis that need specific and individualized attention in order to correct the issue and ultimately improve sprinting ability.

The ankle is a crucial joint within all movement. Poor movement patterns and inefficiencies here will manifest in less than ideal performance outcomes.

Often, athletes and coaches assume the ankle and foot function correctly due to the fact that they are not experiencing pain. Lack of pain is not an indicator of optimal function. If you are curious as to what your movement looks like and if there may be areas for growth and refinement in your own performance be sure to enlist proper help.

To read more about ankle movement, assessment, and exercises check out more info here

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You Are Not Slow, Your Conditioning Sucks

Many of the athletes that I begin working with will have similar, if not, the same goal. They want to be faster. I can understand this goal. Who wouldn’t want to be faster? With a goal so simple and straight-forward, you would think the answer would be the same, simple and straight forward. Sadly, it is not.

When taking an athlete through their initial assessment, knowing that they are looking to improve their speed, we must assess what limiting factor(s) that may be preventing them from being “fast”. (“Fast” is relative. Everyone wants to be “fast”er)

We have discussed our evaluation process in the past. We always begin by assessing flexibility, mobility, and movement quality through a series of full body, body weight movements. Then the athletes will be put through a dynamic warm up which, again, is used to assess the athlete’s predisposed movement patterns and highlight any compensation patterns. We will then assess power output or force application through a series of jumping exercises before asking the athlete to go through a series of sprinting and agility drills.

At this point in the evaluation we have gone through 30 minutes of work. Most athletes should be able to withstand these demands with little to no fatigue. However, this now is my opportunity to assess their work capacity or conditioning. Again, we have only been through 30 minutes of bodyweight movements, jumps, and sprints, so any half way in-shape individual should still be breezing through this. However, if I begin to notice the sprint times consistently getting slower as we perform 2-3 repetitions of a 10 yard sprint, followed by a 20 yard sprint then I can highlight one of the other major areas of need.

This brings me to the greatest area of need: SPEED ENDURANCE

All too often, what is thought to be a lack of speed is actually a lack of REPETITIVE speed. Many of these athletes have the ability to be fast and explosive, but they are unable to do it for 60, 90, or 120 minutes.

Speed Endurance refers to our ability to prolong the amount of time that a near maximal speed is maintained. This can refer to our ability to hold near maximal speed for 60 yards instead of 30 yards. Or, this can refer to our ability to achieve near maximal speed in the second half and/or fourth quarter. Both of these demands are going to require an abundance of speed endurance.

Now, I know what you are asking yourself, how do I train my speed endurance?

Think about what you would typically do to improve your endurance… Then do the exact opposite.

Improving speed endurance tends to be one of the biggest misconceptions that I run into when working with athletes and their parents. Most athletes will tell me they want to get in “better shape” (Again, relative), so they have begun running miles for their conditioning.

WRONG.

Unless you are a cross country athlete, please stop running miles.

(Even you cross country athletes, there’s a better way)

When it comes to improving your Speed Endurance, training is going to look a lot like your desired goal. It is going to require repeated sprint efforts. Where many people are misled is the rest between these sprints.

In order to maintain continued bouts of high quality repeated sprint efforts you must be well rested in between. This does not mean 10, 20, or even 30 seconds rest. Instead we are measuring rest in minutes. I have heard many rules of thumb, however, typically I stick with 1 minute of rest for every 20 yards sprinted. This helps to ensure that each effort is complete and the sprints do not turn into jogging pace. General rule of thumb is a sprint will be 85-95% effort or maximum velocity. Your rest should be indicative of this.

In order to improve speed endurance now you must repeat this sprint for multiple repetitions. The number of reps will be dictated by the experience level of the athlete. Many of our younger, middle school athletes will complete 4-6 sprints in their first two weeks of training. After many weeks of training they will work up to the point where they are completing 12-16 sprints in any given session.

One way to maintain accountability in these repetitions is to incorporate timing. We will use a Freelap system in order to track Fly 10 times. However, you can easily do it with hand timing as well. We will time each repetition and let the athlete know exactly what they have run. This helps us to monitor their readiness, recovery, and progress from week to week.

Knowing that each of our athletes has different sporting demands we vary the distances, starting positions and rest times accordingly. For example, a wide receiver in football is going to have more rest than a point guard in basketball. However, the wide receiver is going to sprint further in each repetition throughout their sprint training.

The specificity noted above is incorporated after an athlete has been through the first 10-15 weeks of training and has a firm understanding of acceleration demands, posture and position.

The goal is to create a situation where the athlete can be successful (i.e. short sprint efforts with extended rest) then progress them with small doses of discomfort (i.e. longer distance or shorter rest) to the point where they can be comfortable in a more demanding scenario (i.e. long sprints, short rest, specific starting/ stopping positions).

The means to achieving your goal may be simpler than you think. In your training, do not stray too far from your desired outcome.