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Tips and Drills
Building Incredible Bat Speed for Baseball and Softball by Bob Alejo

No one knows more about improving bat speed than Bob Alejo (former strength and conditioning coach of the Oakland A's and now the Personal Conditioning Coach of NY Yankee's Jason Giambi). Learn how Bob gets his athletes to have a blazing fast swing.

The speed of the bat head through the hitting zone is crucial for making good contact and for hitting the ball as far as possible, two good things for a hitter. There is no question that a slow bat is a bad bat. To be honest, a quick bat does not ensure a hitter a great average either. We know a good hitter has many more qualities than strength and bat head speed. My point is to remember the other qualities which are important parts of hitting before expecting increased bat head speed to cure your average!

Now that we understand what bat speed can and can not do, here’s how to create a quicker, stronger bat.

Abdominal Training
The trunk ( abdominals and low back) creates a powerful twisting motion during the swing. Rotational torque provides speed and momentum to the arms and eventually the bat head. Like other muscles, it is necessary to develop strength by using resistance. A common mistake with abdominal training is to perform body weight resisted exercises and expect the abdominals to continually gain strength. In the beginning you will develop a certain amount of strength. However, after a while the exercises become nothing other than calisthenics or maintenance type movements. To develop strength you must add some sort of resistance the movement- as is the case in all exercises. The good news is that you can use most of the same traditional stomach exercises plus added weight, to get the desired results.

The three areas for you to concentrate on are the lower, upper and oblique abdominals.

Upper abdominals
Weighted crunches- Lying on your back with legs up in the air, knees bent at 90 degrees, hold a weight of your choice at straightened arms length. Using only your upper abdominals, raise only the upper body, keeping your back flat on the ground. Three sets of 20-40 repetitions.

Lower abdominals Hanging leg raises- Hang from an overhead bar, with your feet not touching the ground. Your grip should be about shoulder width. Contracting the lower abdominals, lift the legs together, knees bent at 90 degrees, so the knees are just above waist height. Lower and repeat. Three sets of 10-25 repetitions.

* This a difficult exercise which does not require much weight to increase the difficulty. Use ankle weights for the resistance.

* Do not rock back and forth to make it easier to raise the legs.

* To increase difficulty without adding weights, keep your legs straight while lifting them.

Rotational abdominals
Standing weighted twists- Put yourself into an athletic stance with your feet spread at a comfortable distance and your knees slightly bent. Hold a weight about six to 12 inches in front of your body. After a slow warm up, begin to twist at the waist (do not twist or bend at the knees) as rapidly as possible. The key to rapid movement is maintain a low, balanced stance and make sure your shoulder reaches the chin on the twist. Three sets of 20-40 repetitions.

Leg Strength
Never underestimate the value of leg strength for good, powerful hitting. The legs do not appear active. And in terms of movement, they really are not. But it is the strength of the legs that enable the abdominals and trunk in general, to promote bat speed.

As the swing begins, the stride is in place and the body begins to rotate. Without a firm base, the body will not be able to generate any strength from the legs into the trunk. Simply, the force is generated from the ground, into the legs, to the trunk and finally the bat. Without leg strength, the force necessary to start a powerful bat is not produced. To take it a step further, the swing might be flawed due to only upper body generation and nothing to stabilize the legs.

Basic leg strength has been outlined in previous articles. Safe to say, do not expect to have the best swing or the most powerful bat if you are only going to work on the upper body and ignore your legs.

Forearms
Beginning with the grip and finishing with the forearms (the two are connected), the bat head will take the proper path if there is strength in the hands. Notice how I say hands instead of forearms. This is because the grip strength (fingers, hand) is the most important part of forearm strength for baseball.

Take a look at a swing and follow through. The movement is not about forearm flexors or extensors. There is really no point in the swing where these movements are dominant. However, the hand and hand strength are involved the entire time.

You can have strong forearms, but not necessarily a strong grip. This is why you must work grip specific exercises into your routine, such as squeezing tennis balls, racquet balls and softballs. This will strengthen the fingers, hand and overall grip. When you add these exercises to the already common wrist curls and reverse wrist curls, you’ll have excellent results.

Total Body
When you are looking for running speed, a powerful swing or miles per hour on your fastball, you don’t just work the specific muscles involved. Take the approach that the entire body is a system and when all the parts are working together and efficiently, the outcome will be much more positive than singling out certain muscles. Train your whole body if you want optimal results, not to mention reducing the risk for injuring yourself.

Other Tools For Bat Speed
There are a few gadgets and machines that are advertised to increase bat speed. My advice is to stick with the basics, because there so many variables that affect bat head speed which cannot be directly trained such as pitch recognition or reaction time. Factors such as strength and hitting mechanics are variables that can be improved by some legitimate means, or rather, means which have been tried over the years and have worked.

One thing that has been used often, but incorrectly, is the weighted bat. When you are using this tool as a way to become stronger, it is important to maintain your game swing. What I mean by this, is that your swing should not change even though the weight of the bat is increased.

Most of the time the weight of the bat is far more than is needed to increase power in a swing. How many times have you seen a hitter work with a weighted bat in a slow, awkward motion that looks nothing like his swing? The fact is, more often than you should! One thing that has been discussed in the development of power, is the need for speed. Speed of movement must be present if power is to be increased. Speed can be slightly reduced if a weight is being used, only because power increases when using the correct weight.

Movement is also important when training for power. For the swing to increase in power, the weighted swing has to be similar to the regular swing or there is no transfer of power. The same situation exists when you are running with a weighted vest or ankle weights. If you run differently with the weights, then it does not have a very positive effect on your normal running style.

My suggestion is to use a bat that is only a few ounces heavier than your regular bat. Try to use the same length as well. This way the swing will be the same, but because of the added weight, you will be increasing power with your normal swing. Be careful not to use the weighted bat in normal game or batting practice situations. Your reaction time will be the same, but your bat will be slower at “game” speed. I recommend hitting off of the tee or using soft toss to work on your “weighted” game.


Shoulder Training Part 2

PNF Patterns
PNF patterns are great “educational” tools for the shoulders. They help increase stability by improving neuromuscular control of the shoulder musculature during dynamic activity.


  

Exercises 1-3 require a partner. Have the partner aggressively and rapidly push the arm in multiple directions (you could consider it more of a “slapping around” than a push). There should be no rest between pushes, rather a constant “attack.” The goal of the athlete is to maintain the arm in a centralized position. Each barrage should last for an intense 10-20 seconds.

1.Throwing Pattern
Start at the beginning of your throwing stance. Utilize 3-5 positions of the throwing pattern.

2.Vertical Response
Perform this drill either sitting or standing.

3.Horizontal Response
Perform this drill while lying on a bench or stability ball. It is best to have the scapula unsupported so it can freely move.

4.3 Dimensional Response
Attach heavy jumpstretch bands to the top of a squat rack. Assume a push-up position with a hand in each band. Your hand should not touch the floor. Slowly try to perform uniform arm movements while minimizing shaking and extra movement.

Strengthen Exercises
Strength in the shoulder of the throwing athlete should not only be thought of in the “linear” sense. Since throwing is a rotational activity, certain aspects of the strengthening protocol should address the intermuscular orchestration of rotational strength. Furthermore, there needs to be additional attention paid to the musculature that decelerates the arm (this is most important for sports that utilize high arm velocities with lighter implements).


  

5.Row and external rotate
Tie a pair of bands or some elastic tubing at shoulder height (you can raise the attachment up and down to change the loading pattern in the shoulder). Grasp one in each hand. Perform a rowing movement keeping the shoulder abducted to 90 degrees (upper arms stay parallel to the ground). Once the upper arms are in line with the torso, perform a full external rotation. Reverse the motion until the arms are fully extended back in front of the body.

6.Scapular Protraction and Retraction
Lie on the floor, bench, or stability ball, and hold a dumbbell in on hand. Hold the dumbbell above your body at arms length. “Punch” the dumbbell slowly into the air. Tell my athletes to pretend they are trying to make their arm as long as possible. The shoulder blade should pull as far from the midline as possible as the shoulder is pulled up. The active shoulder should be the only thing to move. Reverse the movement and try to touch the shoulder blade to the spine (figure of speech).

A partner can be used instead of the dumbbell. Have the partner apply manual loading to the athlete.

7.Seated Dumbbell Cleans
The actual upper body response is visually similar to that of a standing db clean, but lacks the help of the leg and hip musculature. The movement should be performed at a variety of speeds. Spend time at slower speeds to improve strength and insure accurate form.

8.Prone Scarecrow
Lie face down on a bench or stability ball. Grasp a pair of 1-5 lb dumbbells and perform a rowing motion with the upper arms abducted to 90 degrees (the upper arms should be in a straight line from elbow to elbow creating a “T” formation with the midline of the torso). Once the elbows are in line with the body externally rotate. Keeping the elbows “high”, bring the weights together and touch them behind the head concentrating on scapular rotation. Reverse the motion until you are back to the starting position.


  

9.Plate Decels
Have the athlete assume the terminal stance of the throw. Hold a 2.5 lb plate in your throwing hand. Start in the initial position of the throw. Have a partner forcefully push the plate forward. Tell the athlete to stay in the throwing “grove”. Have the athlete decelerate the plate toward the end of the motion.

10.Scapular Elevation and Depression
The mechanics of this movement are the same as the shrug exercise, even though the loading element is reversed. Have the athlete suspend their body from a dip rack. Keeping the arms straight, have the athlete try to touch his/her shoulders to the ears. Have them reverse the motion until the shoulders are as far from the ears as possible. This should be a slow controlled motion.

11.Medball Handwalks
Line up 3-5 medicine balls of different characteristics in a short arc. Have the athlete start to the side of the first medball. The athlete should step onto the first medball with the closest hand. Next, the trail hand should step onto the ball so both hands are now on the same ball. Now, the lead hand should step down to the opposite side of the ball followed by the trail hands. Continue down the arc until you have crossed over the last ball. Reverse the direction and lead with the opposite hand.

Elastic Response Drills
Elastic response drills utilize a light reboundable medicine ball. Each drill can be performed at a specified arm angle, or around an arc.


  

12.Straight-Arm Bounce
Keep the arm straight and try to use a pure shoulder motion. Keep the torso erect and do not rotate at the hips. Perform an arc that starts with the arm crossed over in front of the face and ends when the arm is almost parallel to the floor.

13.Bent Arm Bounce
The same basic rules apply to this drill as the straight-arm bounce, other than the arm is bent to 90 degrees at the elbow. The difficulty of this drill can be increased by using a mini-trampoline set at an incline. The athlete should throw the ball off the mini-trampoline instead of the wall (the distance between the athlete and the mini-tramp should be considerable greater than between the athlete and the wall). Although the tempo of this drill is slower, the intensity and physical demand is much greater.

14.Prone Bounce
The mechanics of this drill are the same as the straight-arm bounce. This may be a good precursor to the straight-arm bounce.

Conditioning Program for Baseball Athletes

Sample Conditioning Programs

In-season
Starting pitcher (supposing a five day rotation)
Day 1
Jog ½ -1 mile warm up
Ten 30 yd strides with 9 seconds rest between reps
2 minutes rest
Ten 60 yd strides with 18 seconds rest between reps

Day 2- off

Day 3
Jog ½ -1 mile warm up
Twelve 15 yd sprints

Day 4- off

Day 5- pitch

Day 1
Jog ½ - 1 mile warm up
Six 100 yd strides with 30 seconds rest between reps
2 minutes rest
Six 50 yd strides with 15 seconds rest between reps
2 minutes rest
Six 25yd strides with 7 seconds rest between reps

Day 2- off

Day 3
Jog ½ - 1 mile warm up
Sprints- Three 5yds, Three 10yds, Three 15yds
 

Position Players
Day of work is always followed by a day of rest.

Day 1
Twelve 20 yd strides with 6 seconds rest between sets

Day 2- off

Day 3
Ten 5 yd sprints

Day 4- off

Day 5
Six 40 yd strides with 12 seconds rest between sets

Day 6- off

Day 7
Eight 10 yd sprints

Off-season Routine
Pitchers

Day 1
Jog Twelve 400 yd reps
Strides:
Six 100 yd reps with 30 seconds rest in between reps
2 minutes rest
Six 50 yd reps with 15 seconds rest in between reps
2 minutes
Six 25 yd reps with 7 seconds rest in between reps

Day 2
Jog Eight 400 yd reps
Sprints
Ten 20 yd reps with full recovery in between reps
Agility drills
All drills performed with 30 seconds rest in between reps and 2 minutes rest between drills.

Day 3- Off

Day 4- Repeat day 1

Day 5- Repeat day 2


Day 6, 7- Off


Fielders


Day 1
Jog twelve 100 yd reps
Strides
Eight 50 yd reps with 15 seconds rest in between sets
2 minutes rest
Eight 25 yd reps with 7 seconds rest in between sets

Day 2
Jog twelve 100 yd reps
Strides
Six 30 yd reps with full recovery in between reps (warm up)

Base Stealing Starts
Five 5 yd reps with full recovery in between reps
Sprints
Twelve 15 yd reps with full recovery between reps

Agility Drills
Al drills performed with 15-30 seconds rest in between reps and 2 minutes in between drills.

Day 3- Off

Day 4- Repeat day 1

Day 5- Repeat day 2

Day 6, 7- Off


Shoulder Training Using a Speed Sled
Set Up:

Attach a ten-foot rope with a loop tied on its distal end (or use a light chain with a large adjustable link attached to its distal end). Take a second rope and tie a loop at each end that you can use for handles. Run the second rope through the distal end of the rope (or chain) that is attached to the sled. The rope with the handles should slide back and forth freely.


  

Movements A-D: "I"-"Y"-"T"-"A"
All four of these exercises have the same starting position. Begin with your arms raised to the front at shoulder width. Walk back until the slack is removed from the towline. You can continue to either walk backwards or stop prior to the arm movement. Once the towline is tight, you can perform one of the above movements, which terminate in either an "I"-"Y"-"T"-"A" position. Walk back until the ropes are tight again and perform another repetition of the chosen exercise.


  

Movement E: Lunge and Twist
Hold the rope to your side with both hands and walk forward until the slack is gone. Lunge forward, dragging the sled, and twist to the front. Stand up and repeat on the same side. Perform a given number of reps and switch sides.

Movement F: Lunge and Press
Hold a handle in each hand and walk forward until the slack is removed from the towline. Lunge forward, dragging the sled, and press to full extension. Stand up and repeat lunging on the opposite leg.

Movement G: Lateral Step and Twist
Facing laterally, hold the towrope with both hands on the sled side of the body. Laterally shuffle until the slack is gone. Perform a full twist. Repeat.

Movement H: Forward Twist
Same as Lateral Step and Twist except you face forward.


  

Movement I: Front Raise
Hold a handle in each hand and walk forward until the slack is removed from the towline. Perform a standard front raise motion utilizing any hand position you want (change the hand position from rep to rep or set to set). Repeat.

Movement J: Rear Fly
Face laterally and hold both handles in the hand that is furthest from the sled. Walk laterally until the slack is removed from the towline. Perform a rear fly. Repeat.

Movement K: Triceps Extension
Hold a handle in each hand over your head. Walk forward until the slack is removed from the towline. Perform an overhead triceps extension. Repeat.

Movement L: Face Pull
Face the sled and grasp a handle in each hand. Walk back until all of the slack is removed from the towline. Pull the handles toward your face with the elbows held high. You can pull toward your face, your forehead, chin, or throat. Walk backward and repeat


  

Movement M: Chest Fly
Face laterally and grasp the handles in the hand that is closest to the sled. Perform a chest fly (do not rotate your body).

Movement N: Row Externally Rotate
Face the sled and grasp a handle in each hand. Raise the arms up to the front and walk backwards until the slack is removed from the towline. Perform a rowing motion until the arms are bent to 90 degrees at the elbow. At this point externally rotate at the shoulder. Repeat

Example Programs
Pitchers Sled Pull Program

  • "I"-"Y"-"T"-"A" 2 TRIPS EACH
  • LUNGE AND TWIST 2 TRIPS
  • REAR FLY 2 TRIPS
  • LUNGE AND PRESS 3 TRIPS
  • FRONT RAISE 3 TRIPS
  • FACE PULL 2 TRIPS
  • CHEST FLY 2 TRIPS
  • ROW EXTERNALLY ROTATE 3 TRIPS
  • TRICEPS EXTENSION 2 TRIPS
  • TRIP =20-6OYARDS (INCREASE DISTANCE WITH TIME)

    Position Players Sled Pull Program

  • "I"-"Y"-"T"-"A" 2 TRIPS EACH
  • FACE PULL 2 TRIPS
  • REAR FLY PULL 2 TRIPS
  • LUNGE AND PRESS 2 TRIPS
  • FRONT RAISE 2 TRIPS
  • FLY PULL 2 TRIPS
  • ROW EXTERNALLY ROTATE 2 TRIPS
  • LATERAL STEP AND TWIST 1 TRIP
  • FORWARD TWIST 1 TRIP
  • LUNGE AND TWIST 1 TRIP
  • TRIP =20-6OYARDS (INCREASE DISTANCE WITH TIME)