Baseball speed training is all about quick reactions and acceleration. This isn’t about long-distance running; it’s about sprinting – hard and fast.
Baseball speed training should be incorporated into a comprehensive baseball training program rather than the whole thing. To play well, you also need to concentrate on your swinging and your throwing as well as your running. But to make the runs count, you need speed and acceleration to make it to steal bases and get home safely.
Before any baseball speed training session, you should be sure to warm up. Fast sprinting puts a lot of demand onto the quadriceps (the muscle in the front of the thigh) in particular, so be sure to stretch this as part of your warm-up. A good warm up for a baseball speed training session should include gentle jogging to get your heart rate up and your muscles nicely warm. This should be followed by a session of stretching all the major muscle groups. Pay particular attention to the leg muscles, but don’t forget to stretch your back and arms – once you have worked on your speed, you should go on to working on your swing and your throwing, which will need your back and arms. Besides, you need your arms to run.
Straight sprint training is a good basic part of baseball speed training. Don’t fool about with starting blocks – you won’t have these when you have to steal second base. Sprint a 50 meter course – longer than you’ll be running during the game, but a good distance to train over. After going hard out for 50m, walk back to the start to rest between sprints. Do about five to ten of these sprints, depending on your current fitness level.
Doing the same thing over and over gets rather dull, and it gets hard to maintain your focus if you’re getting bored, and you won’t train to your maximum. One way of enlivening sprints is to train with a friend or teammate. While you won’t be racing against each other when you play, by racing during your baseball speed training, you will encourage each other to run faster and harder.
Other drills can be used as part of baseball speed training – these are all designed to improve acceleration and to strengthen the quad and other major leg muscles.
- Stair running or step training: simply run up and down a flight of stairs – the longer, the better. Sprint up, then jog down. If you have access only to a short flight of stairs or a pair of steps, go hard out up and down. About ten minutes of this should be adequate.
- Hurdling: Jumping over an obstacle improves your explosive power. You don’t have to tackle huge hurdles – something about knee to mid-thigh height should do the job.
- Skipping: Normally associated with little girls but a great way of training for speed. Having to get your timing right to clear the rope also sharpens your reflexes, which is also a necessary part of baseball speed training. To avoid getting bored with plain jumping rope, find a little girl or someone who has been a little girl to show you a few variations (e.g. backwards, The Skier and The Bell).
- Cycling: Works the major leg muscles but doesn’t jar the joints as much. Cycling uphill is best for speed training, but any intense cycling is great for baseball speed training. As a cycling session doesn’t have to be part of a full training session, though – a bicycle was built as a means of transport, so get on your bike, Mike!
Sled training: Some coaches recommend pulling a weighted sled as a way of improving acceleration. The idea is that you attach the weighted sled around your middle and run over a short distance (20–30 meters) from a standstill. You can buy special training sleds ($$$) that you can add weights to ($$$), but there are other ways of getting the same effect for less money. One is to tie a stout rope or tie-down in a big circle and get a friend who’s also doing some baseball speed training. You both put the rope around your middles and try to run in opposite directions in a sort of reverse tug-of-war. You might not be able to run very far doing this, but you will both work those muscles like anything trying.
A third way of weighted sled training is to take a lightweight toboggan (like for snow) or a body-board or even an old sack to a park or beach and find a pint-sized personal trainer (nephew, niece, cousin, kid brother/sister, your own kid or volunteer to babysit for a neighbour) to put on it as a weight. The kid should be small enough to tow but old enough to hold on tight. Put the kid on the toboggan and put the rope around your middle (you may need to adjust the rope so you don’t knock your heels on the toboggan). Now, mush!