Identifying which exercises are the best exercises for baseball athletes in order to start running faster can be a challenging task.
Many experts disagree with each other quite substantially, but that’s normally because most coaches just talk in absolutes and hardly ever offer context when trying to educate.
Put another way, in many cases everyone is right, they are all just arguing because they don’t provide context and/or have an ego that’s bigger than their grip on reality.
Fortunately, when you look at the factors that determine sprinting performance you are able to correctly identify the muscles that are used and the different types of force output they need to display during a baseball game.
From there, you reverse engineer your way backwards to the gym and create a baseball specific program for sprinting success.
What Impacts Running Performance?
When you scientifically compare sprinters from non-sprinters as well as low-level sprinters to high-level sprinters you will see a variation in three major things:
- Hip extensor muscles (hamstrings, adductors, glutes)
- Hip flexor muscles (psoas and rectus femoris)
- Knee flexor Muscles (hamstrings)
In future article submissions we will cover all of these in depth as I want my readers to be the fastest baseball players in the world, but for now, I want to cover what I think baseball players miss out on the most in their training — the hamstrings.
Hamstring Strength and Baseball Running Speed
When you’re sprinting out in the field or stealing a base, the hamstrings are doing two major things for you:
- The contribute to hip extension during the ground contact phase to give you explosive speed.
- They decelerate the leg downwards for faster start-stop speed and overall injury prevention.
Essentially, your hip flexors are going to bring the thigh through to the point where it’s parallel to the ground, once it has reached this height the hamstrings are going to start decelerating the leg and bring it back down to the ground (this is how it acts as a hip extensor).
Beyond this, since the lower leg is already starting to swing forward rapidly at this point the hamstrings activate to decelerate that leg during this point of the movement as well (acting as a knee flexor).
This dual role it carries is powerful, but what’s most important to understand here is that the hamstrings need to produce a very high amount of force in order for you to run at optimal speeds — but it also needs to be able to produce this force even in a fully lengthened state (like when the upper leg is in full stride extension).
Because of the nature of running outlined above, your hamstrings contract in a very eccentrically dominated way during a sprint, but the bonus here is that we can exceed these force demands quite effectively with some sound strength training programming.
Hamstring Strength Training for Baseball Speed
Although exercises such as lying hamstring curls, seated hamstring curls, and leg curls on a stability ball can all be effective movements for baseball athletes… they don’t necessarily cover the major eccentric strength needs for sprint performance.
Well, two reasons:
- When you do hamstring movements, at the full extension of your rep you have to emit the force equivalent to the amount of weight you’re using plus the gravity momentum going downwards as well, but, during the eccentric phase you are only resisting against the weight (and not the gravity), so a full contraction isn’t being met here.
- Eccentric strength is approximately 30% stronger than concentric strength, so when you are using a weight that is 90% of your 1-Rep-Max, to your eccentric strength it’s really like only using a weight that’s 60% of your 1-Rep-Max.
Because of these troubles, we need to find work arounds to train the hamstrings effectively for hip extension, knee flexion, and simultaneously provide a heavy eccentric stimulus.
To do this, my favorite options are:
- Nordic hamstring curls
- Double leg hamstring curls into single leg eccentrics (bring the weight up with both legs, but only lower it with one)
- Eccentric loaded glute-ham raises (hold a plate on the way down for a slow count of 6 seconds, and then release it before coming back up)
Even though some coaches don’t think that these movements are “functional”, I would question their ability to understand what baseball function actually is because you can draw very clear lines through biomechanics and force production as to how this would help a baseball athletes speed during a game.
If you want to improve your speed to elite levels, you’re going to need to get on a comprehensive Baseball Speed Program.
You can’t just “go for a run” and hope that speed development eventually comes along for the ride, sport science optimization doesn’t work that way and I hope this blog was able to show you how deep this stuff can really get and how some exercises you wouldn’t immediately classify as “functional” may be some of the most functional movements in the game.
If you want a completely “done for you” baseball program that checks all the boxes for you so you can just trust the process and become a better athlete, check out my programs and take your performance to the next level today.