Are We Running Enough?

At first glance, it sounds like an unnecessary question: “Are we running enough?” If we looked at the unprecedented growth in obesity in North America, the obvious answer would be “no”. However, taking that angle would be considered “easy pickins” as societal obesity is a much more complex problem of lack of education, depression, over-consumption and lack of movement of any kind. Would more running solve the problem? Possibly, but it would be a tough sell (more…)

Hamstring Actions during Running

The hamstrings are active at both the knee and hip during running. The primary function at the knee is eccentric flexion to decelerate knee extension prior to foot contact. The primary actions at the hip are concentric extension and hyperextension to propel the body forward. Flexion at the knee is critical at certain phases of the sprint cycle and less important at others. During the recovery phase of sprinting, for example, as the lead leg is swung forward, the hamstrings contract eccentrically to keep the knee bent to approximately 900. This action by the hamstrings prevents the knee from over extending which will, in turn, cause the runner to land with his foot too far in front of his body, i.e., overstride. Overstriding has been shown to increase stress on the hamstrings, increase the risk of injury and reduce running speed.

JV1As soon as the lead foot hits the ground (foot contact), the primary function of hamstrings switches from eccentric flexion of the knee to concentric extension of the hip. The transition from knee flexion to hip extension is not immediate. There is no an on-off switch for the hamstrings during the sprint cycle. Eccentric knee flexion continues to a small degree at the lower end of the hamstrings, just after foot contact, but lasts for only a moment. As the center of mass moves over the foot (stance phase) the upper portions of the hamstrings contract concentrically to help extend the hip and continue the forward motion of the body (drive phase).

The hamstrings continue to extend the hip during the drive phase to help the glutes propel the body forward and eventually enter a state of hyperextension as the foot moves behind the mass of the body. Hyperextension at the hip helps the runner achieve maximal leg drive and power. At toe-off, the foot exits the ground and the sprint cycle repeats itself for the duration of the sprint. Proper hamstring and hip development through the full range of the sprint cycle are essential for fast, injury-free sprinting performance.

Hip training can be divided into two general movement categories (bent-knee and straight-knee exercises), and three specific movement categories (short, medium and long length muscle exercises). Effective hip and hamstring training requires the performance of both bent-knee and straight-knee exercises because each position allows either the glutes or the hamstrings to receive more of the training load and both the glutes and hamstrings need to be as strong as possible. Bent‐knee hip work targets the glutes more due to the principle of “active insufficiency.” When the muscle is shortened to the point that it can’t generate or maintain active tension, active insufficiency is reached. With the knee bent, the hamstrings are shortened at the knee so they are not as strong at the hip. By default, the glutes have to work harder to move the load. Keeping the knee straight, removes most of the slack at the knee joint and puts more strain on the hamstrings and less on the glutes. Bent- and straight-knee exercises are essential to maximize hamstring and glute development throughout the hip region.

For effective, injury-free sprinting performance, the hip has to be trained throughout its entire range of motion. Because the hamstrings’ primary function changes as it extends and shortens, the hip needs to be trained using short, medium and long length exercises. Short length exercises (reverse hypers,) work the hip from near extension to a hyper‐extended position (mid‐stance until takeoff). Medium length exercises (sled pulls and pushes) work the hip from a half flexed‐extended position to an extended position (foot contact until mid‐stance) and a long length exercises (squats and deadlifts) work the hip from an almost fully flexed to an extended position (sprint start). Performing resistance training exercises at each of these positions (muscle lengths) will ensure that the muscles are worked using the same body positions, joint angles and movements used in sprinting and help ensure that there are zero weak links in the sprint cycle.

Jose Vazquez is Head Strength and Conditioning Coach, Texas Rangers

Gene Coleman was the Head S&C Coach for the Houston Astros from 1978-2012 and is currently a strength and conditioning consultant for the Texas Rangers and Professor in the Fitness and Human Performance Program at the University of Houston – Clear Lake.


Sled Pushing Technique for Acceleration*

Research indicates that two of the most important factors when training to improve acceleration are 1) the angle the body is in when force is applied to the ground and 2) the amount of force applied to the ground. While there are several drills to improve body angle and numerous resistance training and plyometric exercises to improve ground reaction force, one of the simplest and most effective drills to improve both at the same time is the resisted sled push.

The advantages of using sled pushes over other forms of training are numerous and include the following: 1) They utilize the perfect acceleration position for running, i.e., teach the proper direction of force application; 2) emphasize back side mechanics, i.e., the pushing or driving phase of acceleration; 3) develop the single-leg strength and power needed to increase the amount of force that can be put into the ground; 4) teach athletes how to initiate and produce more force in less time; 5) force the legs to develop maximum strength in as little time as possible; 6) increase first step drive; 7) improve quickness; 8) increase acceleration; 9) increase upper body strength and shoulder stability; 10) increase core stability; and 11) enhance the transfer of force from the lower body to the upper body.

When training for acceleration, start with a relatively light load (10-20% of body weight), keep the distance short (10-25 yards) and recovery long (90 seconds between reps and 3 minutes between sets). Avoid pushing heavy loads over long distances as this can significantly alter sprint mechanics in a negative way. Keep the recovery between sets and reps relatively long to ensure that you give 100% effort on each rep.

lorenSet up. Start the drill from standing position, with your feet parallel, arms extended, hands on the sled poles at chest level and body at a 450 angle with the ground. Using a 450 forward body lean moves your center of mass forward, positions the ground reaction force vector behind your center of mass and produces a straight line from your back foot, through the hips, shoulder and head to create an optimal angle from which to apply force from the ground up. Proper set up is essential. If you don’t start the drill from a good position, you typically won’t find it in the middle of the drill.

Punch: Set your core and punch the thigh of the lead leg (flex the hip) forward without pulling the heel toward the buttocks (flexing the knee). This action creates a positive shin angle (lead foot is dorsiflexed and the shin is parallel the rear leg and torso), puts the glutes on stretch, initiates the stretch-shortening cycle and creates an ideal posture from which to produce force.

Drive: When the lead thigh is flexed to the desired height, drive the leg back behind the hips with maximum force while simultaneously punching the opposite thigh to the flexed and loaded position without changing body lean. Continue the “punch and drive” cycle in a piston-like manner landing on the ball of the foot with each step and push the sled as fast as possible for 10 yards or for 5 to 7 seconds. Rest 90 seconds and repeat the drill. Start with 1 set of six 10-yard pushes (1x6x10). Add one set per week for three weeks. Increase the distance to 15 yards in week 4 and perform 3x6x15 yards with 90 seconds rest between reps and 3 minutes rest between sets. Do 3x6x20 in week 5 and 3x6x25 in week 6.  Perform sled pushes twice per week with at least one day of recovery between training sessions. Keep your core tight and don’t round your back or allow your head to fall forward throughout the drill. There should have a positive shin angle on the recovery leg and a straight line from your ears down to your hips and ankles on the drive leg.

When you can complete 3x6x25 workouts at a fast speed with perfect form, gradually increase the load on the sled. How heavy is too heavy? Your goal is to add resistance without altering sprint mechanics, not to see how much weight you can push. The load is adequate if you can hold an acceleration position and run without altering sprint mechanics. If however, the resistance is so heavy that it causes a change in running mechanics, there is a limited chance that the drill will provide a significant positive effect on performance in game situations.

*See on-site video, Landow and Scaife – Sled Push


 Loren Landow is Director of Sports Performance, Steadman Hawkins Clinic – Denver.


Gene Coleman was the Head S&C Coach for the Houston Astros from 1978-2012 and is currently a strength and conditioning consultant for the Texas Rangers and Professor in the Exercise and Health Sciences Program at the University of Houston – Clear Lake.

Kneeling Landmine Swing

The Landmine is a great tool to use for total body strength and rotational movements. While there are a number of ways to use the Landmine, one way to engage the upper body more is to perform a swing from your knees. Performing the swing from your knees forces your upper body to do the swing without the aid of the lower body. Due to the fact that the lower body is disengaged a much lighter weight should be used. In order to perform the drill in a safe, effective manner, progress through the following progressive steps.

chase1• Step 1: Position your body parallel to the bar. Kneel down so that the base of the bar is on your left side and grab the bar with both hands using an underhand grip with the top hand and overhand grip with the bottom hand.

• Step 2: Lift the bar up to thigh level. This is the “ready” position.

• Step 3: Move the bar upwards by swinging it away from your body. During the swing, rotate your upper body towards the bar without turning your hips. This will allow for greater core activation and increased range of motion.

• Step 4: Return the bar to the starting position following the same path used in the previous step (Step 3). Perform the prescribed number of reps, switch sides and repeat. Do 3-5 sets of 5-10 reps on each side.

Unlike some Landmine movements this one should be performed using a smooth, controlled tempo in both directions. Another good tip is to turn your head in the direction of the bar as it moves both up and down to allow for greater trunk rotation. Due to the nature of the movements, there will be some slight rotation in the hips, but try to minimize it as much as possible. Keep your core tight and your body upright throughout the movement.

Steve Chase, CSCS, RSCC, is the Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coordinator for the Detroit Tigers.
Editor note: See accompanying video, Kneeling Landmine Swing on this site.

Plyometric Ankle Jumps for Reactive Calf Strength and Power

Plyometric ankle jumps, also called “ankling” are designed to increase strength in the muscles of the anterior shin, minimize ground contact time and activate the stretch reflex in the muscles of the calf and ankle to increase strength, speed and power when performing linear and lateral movements. Because we are told to land on the ball of the foot when running, many runners mistakenly believe that they should land on the forefoot and then let the heel drop down, i.e., land (more…)

Muscle Activation : A Better Way to Prepare for Workouts, Practice and Competition

The procedures for helping athletes prepare to train, practice and compete have changed significantly over the last decade. The decade started with “authorities” recommending that players perform static stretches prior to activity. From there it advanced to dynamic warm-up, movement preparation and self-myofascial release. The current recommended by many in the field of sports performance is muscle activation. Muscle activation, sometimes called muscle (more…)

Using Suspension Trainers for Shoulder Strength and Stability

Suspension trainers, such as the TRX, are versatile pieces of equipment that allow you to position your body so that it works against the force of gravity in a variety of movement patterns to improve strength, joint integrity and core conditioning. Because they utilize body weight as the main form of resistance, they can be used in weight room and non-weight room settings. They are small, portable, easy to set up and adjust, and one size tends to fit all. Resistance is changed by simply adjusting the length of the straps or adjusting the distance between your center of gravity and your base of support.


What’s in a Number?

Most coaches use a battery of tests to evaluate the status of their athletes and determine areas of strength and weakness. Tests such as the vertical jump, broad jump, pro agility shuttle and 40-yard dash are often used when testing athletes in a variety of sports. While many coaches are content with the quantitative number (how high did they jump, how fast did they run, etc.) derived from the test results, a qualitative evaluation of the results (how effectively did they absorb force, how (more…)

Multi-Directional Lunge and Reach Exercise for Hams, Core and More

The following exercise was recommended by Vern Gambetta. I have used it with good success, first with the Mets and currently with the Rangers. This exercise has three movement sequences that emphasize the loading and unloading of the hips and hamstrings in the sagittal, frontal and transverse plane. It can be used as both a conditioning and rehabilitation exercise.

jv1Lunge and Reach to Floor. Emphasis: Stand erect with a DB in each hand. Set the abs, step (lunge) forward on the left leg and reach forward with both hands until the DBs lightly touch the floor. Pause for 2-3 seconds and then push back to the starting position with the lead leg. Perform the assigned number of reps on the left leg and then repeat on the opposite leg. For variety and more balance and coordination, alternate right and left legs and do 10 reps on each side. Keep the abs tight throughout the exercise. As you reach to the floor the hamstrings are loaded at both the origin and insertion. This is functionally similar to the load placed on the hamstrings during running at foot contact. When you touch the floor, push off the ground explosively with the lead leg. This is similar to the load from foot contact to the push off phase. Keep the neck and head in a straight line with the trunk throughout the exercise. Benefits: Eccentric loading of the hamstrings.

jv2Lunge and Reach Overhead. Emphasis: This exercise emphasizes the loading and unloading of the hip flexors and adductors in the sagittal plane. In this exercise both the hip flexors and adductor group are lengthened. This load is necessary to effectively unload the hip creating an explosive knee drive during running. Stand erect with feet shoulder-width apart, arms extended and hands overhead with palms facing forward. Set the abs and lunge forward on the left leg until the back knee almost touches the ground. Push back with the lead leg and return to the starting position. Perform the assigned number of reps on the left leg and then repeat on the opposite leg. For variety and more balance and coordination, alternate right and left legs and do 10 reps on each side. Keep the abs tight, arms extended and hands overhead from start to finish. Do not arch the back. Perform the exercise with a MD Ball, DBs or kettle bells to increase the intensity of the movement. Benefits: Eccentric loading of the hip flexor and adductor group and increased range of motion in shoulders and T-Spine.

jv3Lunge and Twist. Emphasis: This exercise emphasizes the loading and unloading of both the hip flexors, adductors and abdominals in the transverse plane. Most baseball movements occur in the transverse plane, making this exercise very appropriate. Stand erect with arms extended and hands together in front of the body at chest height. Keep the palms together, set the abs and lunge forward on the left leg until the back knee almost touches the ground. As the back knee approaches the ground, twist the trunk, arms and hands toward the lead leg. Pause for 1-2 seconds, twist back until the arms are directly in front of the body and then push back with the lead leg to return to the starting position. Perform the assigned number of reps on the left leg and then repeat on the opposite leg. For variety and more balance and coordination, alternate right and left legs and do 10 reps on each side.
Keep the abs tight, arms extended and palms together throughout the exercise. Perform the exercise with a MD Ball, DBs or kettle bells to increase the intensity of the movement. To increase range of motion, balance and coordination, bring both hands up and over the shoulder on the side of the lead leg. Benefits: Transverse training of the hip flexors, adductors, core and T-spine.

Jose Vazquez, PT, CSCS
Head Strength Coach, Texas Rangers