Big, strong legs drive a big, strong swing.
Plyometrics Deliver Lower Body Strength and Explosiveness
Leg strength is key to athletic performance in baseball. It's obviously a huge part of running the bases, but leg strength is also responsible for generating a lot of power in the swing and extra push when throwing. Pitchers: pay attention here, these exercises will be some of the most important for increasing velocity.
Everyone knows about leg presses and squats. While these are useful leg strengthening exercises, we want to get the explosive take off and push we need for baseball. One way to get those results? Plyometrics - also known as jump training. Jumps exert maximum body force into the ground, resulting in a very strong push, exactly the technique we want to develop for improved performance on the field.
We start with an exercise you know very well - the squat. How do we make it better for baseball? We get the explosion we want via the jump.
3 sets of 10-15 repititions:
- Stand with feet shoulder width apart.
- Keeping your back straight, lower your hands and butt down into a squat position.
- Jump straight up with maximum force, throwing your hands over your head to help you get full vertical.
- Land back down into a squat and repeat.
- Start facing sideways, perform the squat, jump and turn 180 degrees, so that you're facing the other side. Land in squat, jump back in the other direction. Repeat. This spinning jump builds muscles that are used in the stride and rotation of swinging the bat.
- Instead of jumping straight up, jump forwards, turning it into a series of standing long jumps. Remember to land back into a squat and start the next jump immediately after landing. This movement is more akin to getting those first quick steps out of the batter's box.
- Instead of jumping straight up, jump laterally / to the side. Land in a squat, then immediately jump back in the other direction. The lateral / side-to-side movements will help with reation time when fielding as well as running from a lead off position on the bases.
- Jump up onto a box or bench or other sturdy surface that is anywhere from 6-36 inches above the ground, depending on skill level. Jump down, again going into full squat on landing, and jump back up. Repeat. The surface you're jumping to will force consistency as you're doing your repititions, creating a minimum height for your jumps.
A lunge is another familiar exercise. A simple long stride forward, with the back straight and descending all the way down until your back knee almost makes contact with the floor. The plyometric version is to jump up out of the lunge, building tremendous leg strength as we do.
3 sets of 10-15 repititions:
- Keeping your back straight, take a long stride forward with your right and lower your body until the back knee almost makes contact with the ground.
- Make sure that the front knee does go farther forward than the front ankle - if it does, take a longer stride to prevent injury.
- Jump straight up as high as you can, and switch which leg is forward, landing in a lunge with the left leg forward.
- Repeat, jumping and switching the front leg of the lunge on each jump.
- Instead of jumping, lunge in all directions. Standing from neutral, imagine that you are the center of a clock. The straight lunge is stepping towards 12 o'clock. Without rotating, lunge the right leg to 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6 o'clock positions, pushing off hard from the ground as you return back to the center of the clock (note that the lunge to 3 o'clock will be a straight side step and that the lunges to 4, 5, and 6 o'clock will be backwards lunges). Repeat with the left leg, lunging to 11, 10, 9, 8, 7, and 6 o'clock, again, pushing hard off the ground with the leg that is extended as you return to the center of the clock. Lunging at these unusual angles will engage the hips and the core, great for hitting and throwing.
There are no two ways about it - this exercise is hard. It's almost like running while in a push up position. We're fighting gravity, we're working our abs, we're testing the flexibility of our hips, and we're getting a very quick jump movement on every repitition.
3 sets of 10-20 repititions:
- Get into pushup position with the body straight.
- Bring one foot up near your hands as far as it will go.
- Jump to get both feet off the ground at the same time, switching which foot is forward.
- Repeat, jumping and switching the front leg as fast you can, trying to get that front foot as close to your hands on each extension.
- To make the exercise easier, put your hands on a stable surface that is raised 6-12 inches off the ground such as a stool or a step. This modification will give you more room to move your legs.
- To make the exercise harder, put your hands on a surface that requires you to stabilize, such as a BOSU ball or medicine ball. This modification will activate more of your stabilizer muscles, working out more muscles simultaneously.
All of the above exercises can be made more difficult by adding weights or resistance, which could be as simple as holding dumbells or wearing a weighted backpack. Alternatively, the easy way of making it harder: jump higher.
Until next time, Play Ball!