How to Improve Speed in Youth Baseball – Part II
By Gene Coleman, Ed. D., RSCC*E, FACSM
In an attempt to better serve the coaches, players and parents involved in youth and high school baseball, the PBSCCS periodically publishes information on factors that can affect conditioning and performance at these levels. Topics are selected from questions submitted by participants, coaches and parents involved in youth and high school sports.
In a previous post, PBSCCS responded to a question from a parent who wanted to know how to improve speed in 12U and 13U players. Part I discussed the importance of proper running mechanics. http://baseballstrength.org/improving-speed-in-youth-baseball-by-jose-vazquez-and-gene-coleman-texas-rangers/. Part II will discuss on how strength training can be used to improve running speed and athletic performance.
In order to become faster and enhance sports performance, players must improve running mechanics and strength. Both are essential and neither is totally effective without the other. Fast athletes are strong. There are no weak, fast athletes. Research shows that the fastest athletes apply more force to the ground when running, jumping and throwing than slower athletes. It also shows that it’s not only how much force you can produce, but how fast you can generate force and how well you can apply it in the right direction that determines performance. The three takeaways from the research are: 1) you have to apply a lot of force to the ground; 2) you have to apply force quickly; and 3) you have to apply force in the right direction, i.e., at the proper angles in order to maximize running speed and sports performance.
While many in the college and pro ranks have found that high-intensity explosive resistance training exercises like Olympic lifts, power cleans, etc. are effective for elite adult athletes, these lifts are not appropriate for youth athletes due to the complex nature of the movements, intensity of the effort and lack of training background of most young athletes. When introducing young athletes to resistance training, the exercises used should be those that improve the movements required for effective performance in practice and game situations. The goal is to improve movement, not improve muscles1.
While the specific exercises selected for youth athletes will differ significantly from those used with elite adult athletes, the basic movement patterns will be similar. For effective performance athletes of all age should be able to perform the basic movement patterns that require them to: 1) push, 2) pull, 3) hinge, 4) squat and 5) stabilize the core.
- Push. This movement involves pushing your body away from an object as in a push-up or pushing a weight away from your body as in a DB bench press. Pushing movements can be divided into horizontal and vertical components that target the muscles of the chest, anterior shoulders and triceps. Pushing is one of the most popular exercises among many athletes. Research, however, indicates that over emphasizing pushing exercises, especially those performed with the back pressed against a bench (barbell bench press and DB bench press) can limit the “normal” movements of the scapula and, over time, lead to postural problems and increase the risk of shoulder injury due overdeveloped chest muscles (pecs) and underdeveloped scapula (shoulder blade) muscles. For this reason, many strength and conditioning coaches recommend that players of all ages perform at least one and sometimes two pulling exercises for every pushing exercise.
- Pull. This movement requires you to pull your body towards your hands (pull-up) or pull a weight toward your body (DB row). Pulling movements can also be divided into horizontal (DB row, incline row, cable row, tubing row, Landmine row) or vertical (pull-up and chin-up) components that target the muscles of the back, posterior shoulders, biceps and forearms. Athletes should perform both vertical and horizontal movements.
- Hinge. Hip hinge exercises are extension movements at the hip joint; also called “posterior chain” exercises because they involve the muscles of the low back, hips (glutes) and posterior thigh (hams). A strong posterior chain is important for running, jumping, swinging, throwing and other powerful displays of athleticism. The hip hinge is executed by kicking your butt back and leaning your torso forward while maintain a neutral spine. The most crucial exercises in this group are deadlifts, hip lifts and RDLs performed with body weight, resistance bands, tubing, kettlebells and/or dumbbells. Hinge movements build the posterior chain, i.e., the muscles of the hamstrings, glutes and lower back.
- Squat. The squat is considered to be one of the most complex movements the human body is capable of performing. Variations of the squat include back, front, goblet, and sumo squats. Squats targets the glutes, core, quadriceps and to a slight degree, the hamstring muscles. The split-squat and lunge are also lower body movements that are performed with the body in a less stable position with one foot forward and the other foot back. Since your body is at a disadvantaged stance, these movement demands a high level of flexibility, stability and balance. The split-squat and lunge target the glutes, quadriceps, core and hamstrings.
- Core. The core is the area between the shoulder and hip joints. The shoulder and hip joints are designed to provide motion. The core is a stable beam between the shoulder and hip joints designed to resist motion in the area between the shoulders and hips (the trunk). A strong core (trunk) provides a stable base from which the arms and legs can move. When you run, jump, hit or throw, the core stiffens when the foot hits the ground, bat hits the ball or hand released the ball so that all of the force created by the legs and arms can be transferred through the core and applied to the ground and/or ball. A soft belly and weak core allow the trunk to bend instead of staying stable which causes energy to leak away from the point at which the force is applied (ground or ball). This loss of force is called an energy leak. Energy leaks can result in a loss of running speed, jumping ability, throwing velocity, throwing distance and bat speed. Energy leaks can also cause smaller, weaker, supporting muscles (synergists) to be overworked as they try to compensate for the loss of force in the larger muscles of the hips, shoulders, legs and arms. This, in turn, can increase the risk of injury in the synergistic muscles.When training the core, we want to use exercises such as prone and lateral planks, and perturbations to develop core stability and MD ball rotations and throws, plate lifts and landmine rotations to increase rotary strength and stability.
Gene Coleman, Ed. D., RSCC*E, FACSM has over four decades as a head strength and conditioning coach (Astros) and strength and conditioning consultant (Rangers). He is Professor Emeritus in the Exercise and Health Sciences Program at the University of Houston – Clear Lake and Website Education Manager baseballstrength.org.