It is the busiest time of year at Sparta, not because of the Holidays, but because it is the pro baseball offseason, which means we are improving their sprint mechanics. One of the best ways to immediately get these players to run faster, or any athlete for that matter, is to step backwards! That’s right, by dropping one of your feet in the OPPOSITE direction of your target; you can get your destination sooner than your opponent.
Athletes have intuitively known this nugget for years, the best base stealer of all time, Rickey Henderson, would always drop his front foot before heading to second base. Below is a video of Daniel Descalso, one of our athletes who recently won the World Series with the St Louis Cardinals.
However, only recently was such intuition confirmed by research. A 2011 study out of the Department of Kinesiology at the University of Waterloo, Canada, examined athletes of varying start stances and their effect on both 5 and 10 meter times. One group started with their feet parallel before stepping forward, the second group started in a split stance with one foot forward before stepping forward, and the last group did a false start, stepping backwards to initiate movement. The also correlated these sprint times with ground reaction forces (GRF) using a force plate of course (see Sparta Point 1/27/10).
The authors found that the false start group had the fastest sprint times at all distances due to increased force and power at push off. While the other groups spent more time on the ground, this longer opportunity to apply force was not an efficient means of movement due to the slower result, 29-66% slower in fact!
The reason this false start is more effective is due to the way an athlete applies force. Basically this backwards step sets up a better angle to apply force into the ground towards the desired direction, in this case, horizontal or forward (see Sparta Point 6/15/11).
Most recommendations for quickness in the lateral direction (Right to Left, like stealing a base) are directed to use a cross over step; the front foot remains planted while the back leg crosses over the front leg. The argument is that this method never “loses ground.” Well, athletes and researchers both know that what they may lose initially with this drop step, they gain by a greater rate of force and angle to apply this power.
But if you’re competing against our athletes, please don’t step backwards just keep that front leg in your way.