Professional Baseball Strength & Conditioning

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The Pro-Agility Run Part I

Evaluating Agility with the Pro-Agility Run

By Gene Coleman, Ed. D., RSCC*E and Jose Vazquez, PT, RSCC

The pro-agility run is a popular method of evaluating agility among players in travel, high school, college and professional baseball. While norms are available for most age groups, limited information exists concerning why coaches should measure it, how to evaluate it or how to train for it. The following is Part I of a four-part series on the pro-agility run. Part I will define agility and explain why it is important in baseball. Part II will discuss how to run it; Part III will discuss how to evaluate it and Part IV will outline how to train for it.

Although agility is not considered to be one of the five primary tools with which professional baseball scouts, coaches and management evaluate talent, it has been shown to be directly related to both offensive and defensive performance in game situations2, 5, 6. Research indicates that there is a significant relationship between agility as measured by the time required to complete an agility run (pro agility test) and the number of stolen bases achieved by professional baseball players5, 7. Data also indicate that there is a significant, positive correlation between fielding performance (range) as measured by the UZR/150 and agility6.

What is agility? Agility is the ability to explosively start, decelerate, change direction, and accelerate again quickly while maintaining body control and minimizing a reduction in speed1. Most athletic activities that utilize agility occur in less than 5-10 seconds and involve the ability to coordinate a few or several sport specific tasks simultaneously like an infielder receiving a feed at second base while moving in one direction and then stopping, changing direction and making a perfect throw to first base to complete a double play. Agility could also be an outfielder sprinting for a fly ball and then being able to stop and jump high enough to rob a batter of a home run without crashing into the fence. It could also be a runner between first and second extending a run down in order to allow a teammate enough time to score from third base.  Some authorities believe that agility is second only to sport-specific skills in its ability to predict success in sports.

Why is agility important in the game of baseball? Research on professional baseball players indicates that players who score the highest on tests of agility steal more bases and successfully reach and field more balls in game situations which, in turn, helps reduce the chances of batters getting on base and scoring runs5-7.

How do you measure agility? While there are a number of valid tests of agility, the test used most often by collegiate and professional teams across all sports is the pro agility run, also called the 5-10-52. Although many coaches and teams tend to focus only on the results of the test, i.e., how long (seconds) did it take to complete the run, the primary focus should be on how efficiently did the athlete move. Looking only at the test results (time) tells you how quickly an individual completed the run, not how efficiently he moved.

Evaluating movement performance. Watching how the athlete moves instead of the stop watch can yield valuable information that can be used to improve performance and minimize the risk of injury.  Coaches should focus on body control and awareness and determine if the athlete was able to control his weight distribution when starting, stopping and changing directions. Because you will move only as fast and efficiently as your mechanics permit, coaches should look at each player’s mechanics when starting, stopping and changing directs. Specifically, they should determine:

  • Did the athlete decelerate quickly and efficiently by landing on the edges of his feet? When decelerating while moving to his right, for example, did he land on the inside edge of his right foot and outside edge of his left foot?
  • Was his foot spacing relative to his hips adequate enough to ensure a quick, efficient stop and rapid, powerful change of direction?  Were his feet too close together or too far apart? Were the toes of both feet pointing forward or was one or both at an angle
  • Did he stop with his center of gravity located closer to the edge of the base of support in the direction of his next intended movement? Did he stop with his weight over his left foot when moving to his right and over his right foot when moving to this left?
  • Were his hips properly loaded and did he have the proper joint angles to ensure maximal force application during acceleration? When going to his right, did he stop with his hip over his left knee and his left knee over his left foot or did he stop with his hips behind his knee and knee behind his foot?
  • Did he use his arms properly when decelerating into and accelerating out of a stop? Did he slow his arm movements when going into a turn to reduce momentum and pump then faster when coming out of a turn to help overcome inertia and increase momentum?
  • Did he take too many or too few steps in each phase of the run? Did he take more than 11 steps total; more than 3 steps at the start; more than 5 steps between the first and second turns or more than 3 steps to the finish line?

Take Away. Agility training is one of the primary factors in determining success in most sports, including baseball. Movements in game situations are often not straight ahead; they frequently require changes of direction in which lateral movements are performed in multiple planes of motion, often simultaneously. Because movements in sport are initiated from various body positions, athletes must be able to quickly react with strength and power from a number of different positions. While most players are aware of the need for strength, speed and power, some don’t devote adequate attention to agility training. While improvements in strength, speed and power can have a positive effect on agility, research indicates that increases in speed and strength are not as effective in developing agility as participation in activities specifically designed to develop agility.

Agility is a neural ability that is developed over time with multiple repetitions. For maximum results, agility training, like strength and speed training should be a year-around program that focuses on movement mechanics and addresses the essential components of agility – strength, speed, power, acceleration, deceleration, coordination, change of direction, balance and dynamic flexibility. When teaching agility, it is essential that coaches emphasize technique first and allow athletes to increase speed of movement only after technique has been mastered.

References

  1. Cook, Gray. Athletic Body in Balance. Human Kinetics, 2003.
  2. 52-Week Baseball Training. Human Kinetics, 2000.
  3. Coleman, G. http://baseballstrength.org/stealing-2nd-base-with-mike-trout/
  4. Coleman, G. http://baseballstrength.org/category/videos/
  5. Hoffman, J. R., et. al., Anthropometric and performance comparisons in professional baseball players. J S&C Res. 23:2173, 2176, 2009.
  6. Mangine, G. T., et. al., Effect of age on anthropometric and physical performance measures in professional baseball players. J S&C Res. 27:375-381, 2013.
  7. Mangine, G.T., et. al. Predictors of fielding performance in professional baseball players. Int. J Sports Physiology and Performance. 8:510-516, 2013.

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Gene Coleman has over 4 decades in strength and conditioning at the MLB level (Astros 1978-2012) and Rangers (2013-2020). He is also Professor Emeritus in the Exercise and Health Sciences Program at the University of Houston – Clear Lake and Website Education Manager baseballstrength.org. Jose Vazquez, Head Strength and Conditioning Coach for the Texas Rangers has over 20 years of experience in MLB (Mets 2001-2005 and Rangers 2006-2022).

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