Several years ago we wrote a manual on baseball running. It had a very unoriginal title, The Jerry Ford Running School Manual (not my idea). Believe it or not, there really was such a thing as the running school.
This manual itself was featured in Collegiate Baseball. It sold out of two printings and has never been reprinted since. There wasn’t enough time to continue the running school, so that ended too. However, the techniques have been used by many successful players over the years including some who are currently playing in the Major Leagues. One of the very best students of running I ever had (Terry Schneekloth) helped me write the manual. He played when I was coaching in college and broke the all time small college record for stolen bases. Our team also set the all time team stolen base record and even without Terry we broke the record again the following year. Terry stole 100 bases in 109 attempts after mastering the start explained below. The year before he started to use these techniques he was a 6.75 runner in the 60. One year later he ran a 6.25 in a Major League tryout at Busch Stadium in St Louis. The technique he used to cut a half second out of an already fast 60 time is outlined below.
The reason we decided to post this is that lately we’ve been getting lots of questions regarding “How can I improve my running times”? It’s really hard and time consuming trying to help one player at a time, so here is something that will hopefully help many of those young players while saving us some time doing it. While there are several important ingredients, the one thing that will make the biggest difference, by far, is the start. We see thousands of players run the 60 each year. Most all of them have bad technique. For those who are interested, here is part of a chapter, taken directly from the manual, on the perfect start. Master this and it alone will cut at least .2 tenths out of your 60 time, maybe more. To date it has never failed to work, no matter how fast or slow the runner was to begin with. It isn’t easy to master, but everyone can do it. We used to sell this manual for somewhere around $50, but got tired of doing that. It has helped so many young players over the years that we felt we would post part of it here for those who are interested in improving their running ability. Guess you could say that there is a money back guarantee.
Chances are that you have heard the term "explode out" at the start. Explosion can be a bad thing if not controlled. Think about the term "explode". Think of a bomb exploding. A bomb explodes in every direction. If we take off in any direction other than exactly at the target, we do not get to our target as fast as possible. A better word to use is "pop". A pop would have control, be more precise with everything going in one direction. A pop is quick, precise, accurate and efficient. It gets all the energy geared toward a single target. So when you perform the start below, think "pop", not "explode".
How To Guarantee A Good Start.
Some of the best base stealers in baseball history were left-foot pushers. The all-time record holder, Rickey Henderson, actually makes his first movement with his right foot. While this is true, in slow-motion you will see he uses that right foot as a timing device. He brings it up, points it to the target and, if it comes down at precisely the right time, he pops and goes. So he has perfected this method and it is a great method for stealing bases.
If it were strictly a run for the stop watch and the timer started the watch on first movement, Rickey would have better times not doing this.
His first real move after the right foot drops is a cross over step very similar to what we teach. This is a case of GAME RUNNING vs. STOP-WATCH RUNNING. Rickey Henderson is using his right foot to be able to go forward or back, which all great base stealers must be good at. He is great at it.
We have found nearly everyone is capable of mastering the right foot push, however. This start we use is one of many. It is not even necessarily the best one, but it is the best one we have found for what we do because of:
It is the quickest way that we have found for a player to reach a good, accurate, and balanced running form.
Just as hitters have different stances, so do runners. Comfort is of the utmost importance. For some, the feet will be wider. The key is to try to find the quickest and most cat like position. Note: Most people are quickest when using a stance wider than their shoulders.
As in the foot placement, the crouch will differ from one athlete to the next. As a general rule, the lowest position you feel comfortable with is the best. There are two major reasons for this: 1) Bent body parts are quicker and more relaxed. 2) The lower you start, the more natural and well balanced the initial lean will feel.
In a base-stealing situation, it simply puts you closer to the bag on a dive back. It gives you a better line. The runner can move that 12 or 13 feet quicker going back to a base from a lower position. It just stands to reason he should also move the first 12 or 13 feet in the other direction quicker from that same position. You would want the position to be the same all the time for obvious reasons. That is precisely why we usually practice big-one-way-lead returns as part of our instruction. The techniques are basically the same. If you saw your start in a mirror, you would see yourself returning to a base.
The first movement is a combination of a back hand swat with the right hand, and push off with right foot without turning it, moving the left foot in a straight line to the target (Finish line). At the same time taking the left hand just past the left hip as you square to the target.
Do these movements together and quickly while shooting your shoulders and hips out in front of your right foot. This will put you in a position you could very easily dive out of. It also immediately puts you in correct position for taking your first full stride, which puts you in the correct position for the second full stride, and so on. It will put you in a position that is well-balanced, very efficient, and accurate (absolutely squared to the target immediately).
The stance must lend itself to getting to top speed towards the target as fast as possible. You must understand how important the goal of running a fast time revolves around the start. The very fastest time involves the straightest possible line to the target. This means every body part is going in a straight line to the target.
First, place the feet wider than shoulder width apart. Take the right foot and drop it backward so that it lines up or is behind the instep of your left foot. This opens up your hips more, which is one of the body parts that must turn to get into a line with the target. So if you can save time on turning your hips, you have just saved time on your run. Cheating too much here is counter productive. You are looking for a quick turn where your left (Cross over) knee and foot goes directly in a straight line towards the target. This requires the right foot and leg to be slightly out of the way so that you don’t have to swing around it or cross over to a place other than straight at the target.
Note: Turn the right foot so the toes point partially in the direction of the target. This will feel uncomfortable for a while until you get used to it. This eliminates the time it takes to turn the foot. Do not turn the foot on takeoff, that takes time!
The next aspect of the stance is the knee position. Bend them so that the hips will be lower to the ground. This will put more body lean and spring into your start.
Thirdly, because the hands and arms will be your guidance system. they must be in the same position every time you start. Right (Lead) arm should be bent slightly so that you hand is held loosely right behind your right (Lead) knee. Your left arm should be bent at close to 90 degrees out in front of your body. The left hand and forearm should be in a straight line to your target. If you were to keep your feet from moving, you should be able to reach straight ahead with both arms and this will create the tunnel that your body will run in.
The fourth check is weight distribution. We want to go from the stance to top speed as fast as possible, so the right foot must be the one with the traction. You want your weight toward the target. The closer to your target your weight is, the shorter distance it must travel. Keep most of your weight over the right foot because that puts your weight closer to the target. It prevents you from pushing off the wrong foot and it will give you the quickest start. Weight needs to be out front (on the right foot) before you take off.
The First Step
The first step is actually a combination of four movements that need to happen at exactly the same time.
Swat the right hand toward the target. This swat must be accurate because this is your guidance system. If the swat is too far outside, your body will go that direction. If the swat is inside, your first step will follow to the inside. If the backhand swat is too high, you are likely to raise your body, which wastes momentum going upward, not toward your target. Ideally, at the end of the slap, your finger tips should be pointing at the right edge of your target. Your shoulders and hips should be perfectly square to the target (finish line). Be sure to always have a target, even if you must imagine one.
You need to realize you run the fastest when you run in a straight line. If you have to divert from that straight line, you lose balance. You will not even know you are adjusting, but you do and that loss of balance and adjustment slows you down. Even if that slow down is small, you lose time. We are looking for perfection. It’s all about quickness and accuracy.
The right foot must push the left foot and the body forward. The left foot has no pressure on the push off. Do not use the left foot for any of the power because power from the back foot causes you to lose balance. The left foot will cross over in a perfectly straight line towards the target. You will end up in an ideal running position when the left foot lands. The left foot has to be in a straight line to the target. This should happen automatically if the right hand slap is accurate.
With this swat of the right hand, push with the right foot, step with the left foot, and take the left hand directly to the left hip. These 4 motions put you in the perfect running form the quickest possible way. You are now have balance and are on line and squared to the target. These are essential for balance and accuracy and getting to top speed as fast as possible.
There is a bit of disagreement among many sprint coaches about breathing patterns. In our studies we have not found a specific pattern that gives us the best results. However, we have detected the loud huffers and puffers appear to be working too hard at it. Since we advocate efficiency we do not want anything too hard. So we want easy natural breathing, in other words we do not spend much time working on breathing. After all, nearly every sprint that counts in baseball lasts 7 seconds or less; most times it is about 4 seconds or less. If you do not breathe at all during that period it would be one less thing your body is doing. Arguable this could be the most efficient way to run this short distance.
The one area where breathing is important is the start. It is the only area we concentrate on. There are two very important reasons for this:
So what we want is for the runner to take a deep breath and puff or blow it out at exactly the same time he exerts energy to the start. The deep breath relaxes the runner in much the same way it does a pitcher or hitter. Blowing it out adds speed and strength in much the same way as a weight lifter blowing out at the time he lifts, or a boxer blowing out when he delivers a punch.
The blowing out actually becomes a part of the start so some actually use it as a triggering device; a part of their reflexes, timing, reactions, and feel. We have experienced some success training runners to do this only when they go forward and not blowing out when they are getting back to a base. This is definitely arguable for obvious reasons, if you are quicker one way you should be quicker the opposite way doing the same thing.
We want to use the triggering, timing devices to go and use nothing but reflexes to get back. The best base stealers not only have good speed, but also have great instincts and reflexes. For them this breathing technique seems to work well.
In all cases, it is advantageous for the runner to quickly blow out the air when he starts. If you blow, you go! If you do not, you did not get your best jump.
As we have mentioned before, accuracy is of the utmost importance. This chart describes what happens if your 1st step (the cross over) is 1 inch, 4 inches, or 1 foot off.
Without making any adjustments (Remember, adjustments always cost time) to get back on line with the target, you would miss your target by the following distances:
Distance of the run (in yards)
The 1st step miss (in inches)
The overall miss (in feet)
No one will actually miss this far unless they were blindfolded (we do that at times) because when they see the target, they begin to make adjustments right away. It is those adjustments that are costly. You probably do not even feel the adjustment, but you see what needs to be done and you do make the adjustment. It hurts you in the following ways:
If you make it too soon, you lose balance (leverage) It will take you longer to reach optimum speed. If you make it too late you are running too far off line and still losing some balance and leverage. You will reach top speed sooner, but will have to adjust at top speed. This slows you down and could actually cause you to fall (we have seen it happen many times). Since the goal is to be as efficient as possible, accuracy is very important.
Referring back to the infielder who uses his instincts, think about the start a good infielder would use to get to the ball to his right as quickly as possible. He pushes off with the foot nearest that direction. He throws his right hand out toward the direction of the ball and takes the left hand (glove hand for most infielders) close to his hip.
You see some right-handed infielders who lead with their glove on a ball to their right. They are putting themselves in a poor running position. The good fielder extends the glove just before the ball arrives.
The good infielder does just the opposite on the ball hit to his left. He then leads with his glove if he is a right-handed thrower. So the quickest route to the baseball is… ball to your right… lead with your right hand and crossover. Ball to your left… lead with the glove hand and crossover.
Remember this… All runners arm action is forward when opposite leg is forward. Everything we have talked about here, especially the start has right hand forward when left foot goes forward (as it would be in a well balanced full stride). If left foot and left arm start forward together you will soon be making an adjustment. (Adjustments cost time)
Outfielders should use this same start too in order to get to the ball as quickly as possible.
Once the technique is mastered, it must be practiced often. It has to become a new habit and old habits are hard to break. This is all about technique, but obviously conditioning can make you a better, faster athlete. If you master the technique and become a better conditioned athlete you are going to be very pleasantly surprised. There’s much more to all of this, maybe we will post more later. This article deals with one area of many. Most players have no idea what they are really capable of. Why not find out?