Good base running is one of the least-taught aspects of the game. It's unfortunate too, because the ability to run from second base to home can be the difference between winning and losing. (See A Guide To Base Running Strategy.)
With the correct training, commitment and discipline, improving base running speed is simple. It requires focusing on only two areas of performance: ankle and hip mobility; and acceleration and speed. (See also 4 of the Best Base-Running Drills.)
In this first article of a two-part series, I explain why ankle and hip mobility are important and how athletes can improve them. Perform the recommended exercises before workouts and on "off days."
Importance of Ankle and Hip Mobility
Better ankle and hip mobility improves your ability to "bend," "lean" and generate force on the base paths. Consequently, it also helps you become more efficient rounding bases. The ability to get lower into your lean around the bend results in greater speed and better control of your path.
Working on your mobility will improve ankle and hip flexion and extension. And both of these joint movements are essential for improving sprinting mechanics, force development and ultimately improving acceleration and speed. Improving mobility is not only a prerequisite for speed training, it reinforces the benefits gained from a speed and strength program—by facilitating greater range of motion, better body position and body control.
Drills to Improve Ankle Mobility
Knee to Wall
- Stand facing a wall with your hands at chest height against the wall, feet facing forward
- Assume a staggered stance, right foot (toes) against the wall, left foot slightly behind
- Keeping both feet flat on the floor, touch the wall with your right knee
- Reset by moving your right foot progressively further from the wall until you can no longer touch the wall with your right knee while both feet remain flat
- Switch stance to target the left ankle
Coaching Points: Keep feet flat; maintain correct knee and hip alignment (no rotation).
Progression: Add a dynamic element to the stretch by removing the two-second hold. Progress to this stage only if you achieve the aforementioned body alignment.
Calf Foam Roll
- Roll and identify areas of discomfort and knots
- Maintain pressure on these areas for 10 to 30 seconds until discomfort subsides to an extent
- Spend one to two minutes on each leg
- Progress as follows: single leg; two legs; single leg with added pressure (fold non-rolling leg over to add pressure)
- Assume a push-up position; keep core tight and don't allow hips to sag or sink
- Slowly bring your feet toward your hands until your right foot is flat on the ground
- Wrap your left leg behind your right leg
- Slowly drop your right knee to the floor
- Extend your right knee return to start position with your right heel flat on the ground
- Perform set with opposite leg
Progression: Again, add a dynamic element to the drill. Perform it with increased speed while maintaining correct core control.
Drills to Improve Hip Mobility
- Stand and use a solid object for balance, keeping both legs straight and core tight
- Swing your right leg forward
- Emphasize the use of the hips by keeping your glutes contracted and the rest of your body as still as possible
- Swing forward and backward as far as hip mobility allows
- If excess body movement occurs, perform smaller movements
Progression: Use different planes of motion by performing side-to-side swings as well as back to front.
Hip Stretch and Activation Series
Perform this in a circuit fashion, 30 to 45 seconds per drill and repeat two or three times.
Kneeling Hip Flexor stretch
Keep glutes contracted throughout, reach arm overhead, stay straight and tall.
IT Band Foam Roll
Hold areas of tension until the tension subsides.
- Assume push-up position
- Maintaining a tight core, move one foot to the outside of your hand
- Keep the foot flat and take time to feel the stretch
- Hold for two seconds and change legs
Lateral Hamstring Stretch
- Assume kneeling position
- Extend one leg out in front
- Turn the toe of the extended leg inward
- Reach to your toes with the opposite arm
- Return to start position and open up the body in a windmill style
- Lie on the floor face up, heels on floor with toes up (dorsiflexed)
- Bring your feet in as close to your butt as possible
- Keep core tight and push through the floor with heels
- Contract your glutes and push your hips to the ceiling
- Slowly lower back down
Coaching Points: Keep both heels on the ground and ankle dorsiflexed. Engage and contract glutes and push hips through.
Progression: Single Leg Bridges. Also, experiment with foot position, bringing the feet towards the body and also trying to move your feet further away.
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