The 60 Yard Dash versus Stealing Second Base
When training baseball players for speed I often ask them if they understand how running a 60 yard dash is different from stealing second base. I usually receive very intelligent answers. They understand that the distance between the two types of runs is different (180 feet versus less than 90 feet) and they even point out that they cannot get picked off when running a 60 yard dash. What boggles my mind, however, is that the player will then attempt to use the exact same baseball start when running in both scenarios.
While testing a 60 is not as standardized as assessing a 40 yard dash at the NFL Combine, there are a few rules that are usually consistent among most scouts and coaches. First, the player is usually asked to start in a traditional baseball start in which they would be facing the (imaginary) pitcher, and second, it is usually assumed that the time begins when the runner makes their first move.
Because you can’t get picked-off at first base while running a 60 yard dash your mindset should only involve moving to your right (or forward). While the coach or scout tells you that you have to start in a baseball stance, he almost definitely will leave the exact details of what that means up to you. In other words, you are ok as long as you start sideways to where you will be running.
Therefore, your 60 yard dash start should be slightly different from you start used on the base paths (actually, I would change the baseball start as well, but that is a whole other topic). More specifically, I recommend that the toes of your right foot should be behind the heel of your left. This will allow the back foot to go directly towards the finish line. Also, the right toes should be greatly turned out (about 60-90 degrees). Many times, the first movement is spent opening this foot and wasting valuable time. Finally, the arms should be switched in a manner that the left arm pulls and the right arm punches. This is usually opposite from what is traditionally taught.
Stop Slouching and Stand-up Straight
to Improve Your Speed
A common phrase often heard from parents, teachers, and coaches is to “stand-up straight and stop slouching!” This saying is so common that it usually goes in one ear and out the other. Is this just some twisted way to harp on kids or does this advice actually have some merit?
Although this phrase is yelled at just about everyone, it is particularly valuable for people who play sports. Believe it or not, the advice of keeping good posture and “standing-up straight” may be the single-most important bit of information that athletes will receive in their entire playing career!
One is said to have bad posture when they are slouching or not “standing-up straight”. This usually means that:
- Shoulders are rounded forward… leading to tight/shortened chest and upper neck muscles and weak/lengthened posterior shoulder/mid back muscles.
- Hip flexors muscles are tight/shortened… leading to weak glute (butt muscles) and core stabilizing muscles… possibly leading to back pain.
Good posture = good muscle balance. Basically, muscle balance describes when all muscles surrounding a joint are pulling appropriately. Muscle balance should be the goal of every athlete because it decreases the likelihood of injuries. However, it also means that the muscles are more capable of exerting strength, power, and explosiveness due to the muscles being at their appropriate length and tension. A tight muscle on one side of a joint usually leads to a weak and lengthened muscle on the other.
By now, I’m guessing that you understand how muscles imbalances may lead to injuries? However, I’m also guessing that you might still be questioning how it can affect your speed?
In addition to muscles not being able to exert full force as described in the last paragraph, bad posture may lead to limited range of motion in certain joints of the body making it difficult to run with proper form. For example, a rounded shoulder posture will make it difficult for one to run with correct arm action. Instead of appropriately swinging the arms in a back-to-front manner, they usually will cross the body. This leads to forces being applied in the wrong direction and a slower overall run.
Tight hip flexors (which lead to weak glutes and core stabilizers) are also a result of bad posture. Overall hip range of motion will be affected and stride length will probably be less than ideal. Weak glute/hip extensor muscles mean that you will not be able to generate maximum power and speed. Finally, a weak core will mean that energy will be lost as it tries to get from the upper to the lower body.
So instead of getting defensive the next time someone tells you to “stand-up straight and stop slouching,” you may just want to listen to them and say “thanks!”
Push-off versus Landing Strength…
and how they Relate to Speed
In order to move your body forward during sprinting, most athletes realize that they need to explosively push down and back into the ground. Therefore, they’ll train for hours in the weight room working towards improving their push-off strength (another term for push-off strength is concentric strength). Most will use traditional exercises such as leg presses and squats in hopes of accomplishing this goal, often only paying attention to the part of the movement in which they “push” or straighten out their legs from a bent position. While I’m not denying that push-off strength is extremely useful in order to run fast, many athletes usually under appreciate another form of strength called “landing” or “eccentric” strength. This type of strength is responsible for absorbing the large amount of gravitational and bodyweight forces that occur every time a foot hits the running surface.
When sprinting, athletes often strike the ground with force much greater than four times of what they weigh. Meaning an athlete weighing 205 lb will be required to absorb well over 800 lbs of force upon every stride taken during the top speed phase of the sprint. This makes sense because if their muscles did not turn on during the landing phase of each stride their body would collapse due to gravity.
When training my athletes I always start by teaching eccentric, landing techniques before teaching concentric, jumping/push-off techniques. Many of them feel like I’m starting them out too slow, but the only way to maximize explosive, push-off strength is to be sure that they are first able to control and absorb all landing forces.
Traditional weight room exercises usually require both an eccentric and concentric portion. In other words, if you are lifting weights you are probably already doing a form of eccentric (landing strength) training. As stated earlier, when doing a squat, athletes usually key in on the phase of the lift in which they push into the ground in order to return to a tall position. This is because this concentric/push portion is usually recognized as the difficult part of the lift. On the other hand, when lowering the weight back down for the next rep many athletes appear to be taking a break. While this part may seem easier, they must understand that this eccentric/lowering is just as (if not more) important than the push phase that follows. Instead of simply lowering without focus, the athlete should concentrate on their form and center of balance. When done correctly, they will end up in an advantageous position in which to transition into the concentric/push phase. Remember, if your muscles were not working during the “down” part of the movement, your body would collapse!
An example of a drill that stresses the eccentric component is a depth jump. This is an exercise in which the athlete steps down from a prescribed distance, lands, and then jumps back up in the air as high as possible. While this exercise may seem simple, it places great demands on many systems of the body. Like many exercises, it can reap great rewards when done correctly. Therefore, when first incorporating technical exercises it is recommended that you seek the advice of a qualified professional.