This past winter, I had a conversation with one of my collegiate baseball players (who I’ll refer to as JD) regarding techniques that are taught by current baseball coaches. Baseball has always paid homage to wisdom from the past and clung to the trends produced from this idolization—that is, until another “winning” coach comes up with something else. Unfortunately, this archetypal approach infiltrates the instruction of technical execution for hitting, throwing, and running.
Much of this classical instruction includes language embellished with pseudo-science that’s not much more than an old wives’ tale. While a coach’s words may seem good in theory, the opposite outcome may reveal itself in practice. With the dawn of video and advancements in biomechanics, baseball skill instruction in the modern era has evolved past the coach’s eye, as these movements are too fast to accurately analyze in live time.
Speed on the Basepaths
Returning to my conversation with JD: At this point in the pre-season, he and I were struggling to decrease his 10-yard dash time (from sideways start), which happened to be between 1.7 and 1.8 seconds depending on the day. Although undersized at 5’5” and 155 pounds, JD is strong and immensely powerful:
- Easily performs trap bar deadlift of more than 350 pounds for a set of five reps.
- Long jumps over 9 feet.
- Has a vertical jump of 32 inches.
For the moment, those boxes were checked off. So, I decided to look at his technique during the start. Although his alignment and angles looked solid, it appeared he was missing something that I could not quite put my finger on.
At that time, I recalled a SimpliFaster article by Chris Korfist that referenced the “0 Step,” citing the significance of projection at takeoff. Korfist discovered a way to measure projection distance via a gate system set alongside the runner, in which the objective was to hit a particular distance upon first step contact. Upon video review, I found JD was not covering much ground (if any) in the takeoff phase: at best, he was simply spinning off the lead foot to square his body to second base.
Video 1. JD performs a traditional crossover step in accelerating from a baseball lead.
Maybe this was the missing link?
When I asked JD how he was taught to steal a base, he replied: “My coaches have always taught me to crossover step.”
In contrast, what is referred to as a “wasted step” or “false step” becomes our optimal technique to steal a base. Here, the lead foot is lifted off the ground and “punched” toward first base with the foot, knee, and hip opening on an angle toward second base. This style lends itself to optimal acceleration in a few ways. From a posture and position standpoint, the negative step creates a positive shin angle in the direction of force, which in turn creates a forward trunk lean as the body’s center of mass is brought ahead of the base of support.1 The key to this first step is to get momentum going in the direction you want, catch that momentum, and go.What is referred to as a ‘false step’ becomes our optimal technique to steal a base…From a mechanical standpoint, it better utilizes the stretch-shortening cycle beginning with the foot. Click To Tweet
From a mechanical standpoint, this “false step” better utilizes the stretch-shortening cycle beginning with the foot. The elastic properties of the tendon and the reflexive movements of the ankle, knee, and hip are enhanced as the foot aggressively returns to the ground after the lift. This action creates greater impulses via higher ground reaction force applied in a shorter amount of time, which decreases the time needed to reach peak force and overall push-off force. The combination of these mechanisms from the false step result in higher overall accelerations and sprint velocities via higher directional force, power, and velocity in the horizontal plane when compared against the crossover step.1,2
This biomechanical explanation should stymie the argument that the crossover step eliminates losing ground and saves time generating forward momentum. But this explanation may leave many baseball coaches’ heads spinning. Instead, a simple remark of “losing ground to gain an angle” (Justin Kavanaugh) may have the trendy ring that communicates effectively.
How Do We Apply This Technique in Training?
As mentioned, JD checked off the requisite general strength and power boxes but needed to bridge the gap to the technical task. For us, this took shape in an exercise that was an evolution of the Yessis side lunge, where horizontal resistance is applied to the hip.
- Begin by pushing off one leg (outside leg) laterally while displacing hips in that same direction.
- Rotate the hips slightly in the direction of push as well as the same side knee and foot, at a 45-degree angle.
- Land with the torso in an upright position with the spine long and head directly over the hips.
Benefits of the side lunge done with horizontal resistance (cords, bands, cable):
- Athlete develops the “feel” of projecting the center of mass in lateral action.
- Greater strength in the abductors in the push-off action. Elastic resistance lends itself well to more specific, explosive actions.3
- Less stress on the spine via absence of axial load.
While this drill served as an effective entry point, we decided to increase specificity by adding the second step to further drive a precise and explosive path toward second base. This drill starts out as an explosive side lunge and finishes into a forward lunge.
On a closer examination of the first video, we can see JD does demonstrate a slight drop step and gets a good angle, but he lacks projection from his hips. His COM still lags, which creates a bit of a drag from the back leg (the swing leg is far behind the lead leg at ground strike). When his front foot hits the ground, his takeoff is delayed until his hips get ahead of his lead foot. While his position begins optimally, his torso dumps over his COM, and he stumbles his way down the basepath.
Video 2. Training the Stealer’s Two-Step with band resistance.
In the Stealer’s Two Step, we look to cue the movement of the COM with horizontal resistance around the hip and drive the reflexive action via an exaggerated lift of the lead foot. This forces JD to aggressively push his back leg to get his COM moving and elicits a stronger use of the SSC of the lead leg. As you can see, this puts his hips in front of the base of support upon ground strike that results in a reflexive action that eliminates drag of the swing leg. This reflexive scissor action of the legs creates a takeoff that takes less time, increases peak force, and optimizes acceleration posture for speed on the basepaths.In the Stealer’s Two Step, we look to cue the movement of the COM with horizontal resistance around the hip and drive the reflexive action via an exaggerated lift of the lead foot. Click To Tweet
This increase in speed was reflected our results, as JD dropped his 10-yard dash time to a best of 1.58, while clocking no slower than 1.65 on any given day during this six-week training period. No other part of the training was changed during this time to eliminate interference from other drills. If your baseball players are struggling getting out of the gate, give this drill a try!
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1. Boss, S. “Comparison of three base stealing techniques in Division I collegiate baseball players.” Dissertations and Theses @ UNI. 2016; p. 4, 11, 13, 14, and 25. https://scholarworks.uni.edu/etd/314
2. Miyanishi, T., Endo, S., and Nagahara, R. “Comparison of crossover and jab step start techniques for base stealing in baseball.” Sports Biomechanics. 2017; 16(4): 552-566.
3. Yessis, M. Biomechanics and Kinesiology of Exercise. Ultimate Athlete Concepts, 2013.