Professional Baseball Strength & Conditioning


6-Week Speed Training Program for Baseball and Softball

By Gene Coleman, Ed. D., RSCC*E

SPEED WINS! Speed is one of the 5-tools that pro and college scouts look for, high school coaches covet and many youth players lack. Speed is the only tool that is used on both offense and defense and can be a game changer in baseball and softball. Players with speed get from home to 1B faster, advance on balls in the dirt, steal more bases and score more runs. They also get to balls quicker on defense and save more runs. So, if you are a player, parent or coach, how do you improve speed?

Sprint. First players MUST sprint. Sprinting is a skill, just like hitting, fielding, pitching, catching, throwing, etc. that gets better with practice. No coach or parent would expect their child or players to be successful without taking regular batting and fielding practice, yet they seldom require them to sprint. Most runs in game situations in MLB are approximately 30-yards or less and most plays are over in 5-seconds or less, so acceleration is more important than top speed. Baseball and softball players don’t have to run repeat 60s or 100s to improve the type of speed needed in game situations. A fast 60-will get you noticed in show cases, but fast accelerations will help you succeed in game situations.

Short to Long. When working on speed and acceleration, it’s better to start with short sprints and gradually progress to longer sprints for two reasons. First, the mechanics of acceleration and the mechanics of top speed are different. When you accelerate, your initial steps are short, ground contact time is long, stride rate is slow and body lean is more inclined and less upright. As the distance increases, stride length and stride rate increase, ground contact time decreases and the body becomes more upright. Max results occur when an athlete perfects the mechanics of acceleration before trying to improve top speed. Second, running longer distances requires more energy, creates fatigue and fatigue reduces acceleration and speed.

To minimize the risk of fatigue:

  • High school players (16-18U) start with 5x 20-yard sprints.

  • 12-14U athletes start with 5x 15-yards.

  • Younger athletes start with 5x 10-yard sprints.

  • All players sprint 3 times per week, twice at practice and once at home or vice versa depending on the practice schedule.

Sprint early in the practice session. Sprint when players are fresh. Do it the first thing after a warm-up. Don’t wait until the end of practice when players are fatigued. Running when you are tired is practicing to be slow.

Time speed. Time players over their starting distance in week 1 (10-20 yards) and retest at the same distance after each 6-week session to evaluate progress, enhance motivation and hold players and coaches accountable.  If you don’t measure speed, how can you evaluate it?

Max effort. Research indicates that, if an athlete runs at less than 90% of max effort, he/she is working on something other than speed. Therefore, the goal is to have athletes run all-out on every rep. Start with 5 reps, walk back and, after adequate rest, repeat. Since fatigue limits speed, make sure athletes are fully recovered between reps. To help ensure recovery, separate the team into 4 groups of players with similar speed. While one group runs, the other three rest. Rotate groups and repeat. For best results, time each group to ensure that players are giving max effort and not running at a slower velocity and making an ugly face.

Adaptation takes time. Do this 3 times per week for 3 weeks. You can’t microwave success. Be patient and allow players enough time to improve mechanics over the starting distance and develop the habit of running fast before increasing distance. Ideally, they should also sprint on and off the field to help reinforce the concept of speed awareness.

Progression. After 3 weeks:

  • Add 5 yards per week for 3 weeks.

  • A HS athlete should be running 35 yards after 6 weeks

  • 12-14U players should be running 30 yards

  • Youngest players should be running 25 yards.

  • Make sure you time players over their starting distance in week 1 and retest over this same distance in week 6 to evaluate progress and enhance motivation.

Restart the program at the original distance for each age group after 6 weeks and repeat the program for an additional 6 weeks. In the second 6-week phase:

  • Add 10 yards each week starting in week 4.

  • HS athletes should be running 50 yards after 12 weeks.

  • 12-14U players should be running 45 yards after 12 weeks.

  • Youngest players should be running 40 yards after 12 weeks.

  • Time the players again after 6 weeks at their starting distance and compare their initial test times to their times after 6 and 12 weeks to determine progress.

Mix it up. All runs in baseball are not straight ahead (linear) so, vary the starting position once or twice per week. For example, start from a base running position and sprint right and left. You can also have athletes turn and run at a 450 angle to simulate going after a ball over their shoulder and shuffle 2-3 times before sprinting the required distance to simulate sprinting after a secondary lead. Be imaginative. Players tend to get bored doing the same thing day-after-day.

Technique – Practice makes permanent. If you consistently do something wrong, you will develop bad habits which will be hard to correct later.  Use your phone and video runs from the side once per week when possible and look for mechanical flaws on each rep. Look for big ticket items like:

  • Keep the head straight and eyes forward vs. turning it side-to-side, looking up or looking down at the ground.

  • Arm movements should be from the shoulders with the lead hand coming up to shoulder or chin height and the back hand going down and past the pockets (“cheek to cheek”)

  • Elbows should be bent on the way up and down and then the back elbow should be extended to drive back hand pass the hip

  • There should be a straight line through the head, trunk and hip to ensure that the core is stable enough to provide a sound base from which the arms and legs can move

  • The lead knee should come up high enough so that it is perpendicular to the angle of the body and the lower leg should be parallel to the body

  • The toe on lead foot should be turned up (dorsi flexed) to put strain energy in the muscles of the calf to help propel the body forward on ground contact

  • The back hip and leg are almost fully extended to drive body forward on toe off

  • Fix improper mechanics as soon as possible to avoid reinforcing bad habits

Use it or lose it. Speed is not something you do only before practice and games. It’s something you do throughout practice and games. Every opportunity to sprint in practice and games is an opportunity to improve speed. Players, for example, should sprint, not jog, through 1B on routine ground balls. Players who sprint through 1B on routine ground balls put pressure on the defense and have a chance of being safe if the throw pulls the first baseman off the base or he juggles the throw. Those who slow down and jog through the base will most often be out, thus denying their team a baserunner who has the potential to score. Players should also sprint the first 10-20 yards on and off the field between innings, especially if they did not have to sprint to make a play on defense or didn’t make the last out of the inning by sprinting all-out to 1B.

Speed awareness. The more players sprint, the more comfortable they become sprinting and the more likely they will do it in game situations. The goal of this program is not to create future Olympic sprinters or even members of the high school track team. The goal is to improve speed and create a “team culture of speed” through coaching, repetition and encouragement. Results will not come quickly. You can’t microwave progress. This program will not make anyone fast. Genetics determine each athlete’s speed potential. The program, however, can help make everyone faster. In games like baseball and softball where the difference between safe and out and win or lose is often an inch or two, improving speed just a step in every player can help make a team more competitive.

“Coaches can’t make anyone fast, but they can make everyone faster.” 


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

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