Nearly every parent that brings their young athlete to us tells me “my kid needs to get faster.” A lot of coaches out there would give them fancy footwork drills, fancy programs and equipment in order to impress the parent, but here’s the bottom line:
1. Athletes need to have great horsepower
An athlete that strength trains can increase their potential power output. If the amount of force they apply to the ground increases, they will get faster.
As coaches we have to allow for adequate recovery time between reps. We want our athletes to have the ability to be at top speed on each rep. If you want to be fast, you have to train fast.
Another aspect coaches tend to overdo is the distance they ask their athletes to run. A lot young athletes are not going to have enough strength or a big enough aerobic base to run 60-80yards, and they will have a mechanical breakdown.
In baseball, we are tested on the 60, but you will rarely ever run in a straight line for 60 yards in a baseball game. Baseball is played in short explosive bursts so our focus should be on building horsepower and being great at acceleration.
All of our speed work is done in 10-30 yards max. This allows the athlete to develop the force production they need without over thinking the mechanical aspect of sprinting. I try to limit my cueing as much as I can- I’ll tell the athlete eyes down, violently rip down and back, and push the ground away from them – that’s pretty much it. The drills we use should help the athlete’s body self-organize into efficient running mechanics and they can simply just be as fast and powerful as they can.
We utilize hill sprints to help an athlete feel what it’s like to have an acceleration phase. The incline of the hill forces a couple of great things to occur that train the athlete to accelerate very fast. The horizontal lean while running prevents over striding and forces greater hip flexion in order to clear the foot from hitting the ground. This knee drive increases the power of the force into the ground.
Another added benefit to the hill is that they can just work on driving for the entire rep and train to extend the length of their drive phase. On flat land acceleration tends to end very quickly in beginners, but the incline of the hill will not let them come up out of their acceleration phase.
Push Up Starts & Mtn. Climber starts
These variations are a good progression from the hill sprints. Starting in the push up position will help your body get to an optimal angle for acceleration similar to the way the hill does. I will then progress this to a mtn. climber start to allow the athlete to feel their knee drive, and then on my cadence they will take off into a sprint.
Again, one of the biggest benefits of sled sprints is that it reinforces proper acceleration mechanics. It is important not to go too heavy with sled pulls because we don’t want there to be a break down in mechanics. There should be just enough weight for the athlete to feel some resistance and for it to hold them in their horizontal lean for the duration of the rep.
One of my favorite benefits of this drill is that with that little bit of extra weight athletes tend to get a lot more violent and aggressive with their arm swing.
We'll usually do 8-10 sprints with the sled at 20 yards max.
It's rare to ever reach top-end speeds in baseball since it usually doesn't happen until 40-60 yards. Baseball players need to focus on being strong, powerful, and explosive first. Acceleration is the quality we are trying to develop. By getting really strong in the weight room and keeping their speed work at short distances, athletes will be to improve force production and see great carryover onto the baseball field.