Physical Training for Softball

Softball Training

“Physical Training for Softball” Written By Shannon McDougall

Softball is an anaerobic alactic sport of explosions lasting from approximately .07 seconds in the execution phase of a throw to consecutive explosions lasting 3-4 seconds when running out a base hit. It is a sport which also requires the anaerobic lactic energy system when running 2 bases or more (120 feet, 8-15 seconds). Although most of the activities generate most power from the lower body and mid-section, in the women’s game, we need to pay particular attention when designing strength training programs to include the upper body as they are generally stronger in the lower body by nature and weaker in the upper body. As a power sport, the most popular activities used in softball to develop explosive power as it relates to strength and speed have been plyometrics. This type of training increases the elasticity of the muscles by contracting them eccentrically and training their ability to retract very quickly after extending. This form of training is very beneficial to athletes in softball as it works to decrease the amount of time the muscles take to contract. A good strength training program is first necessary however, to maximize the effectiveness of the workouts and to fully utilize its benefits when on the field.

Athlete should not be doing high box drops as it is more beneficial for deceleration training such as with volleyball players and other vertical jumping sports. Young athletes younger than 19 should also not be considering weight training unless they have been adequately trained progressively from youth as the amount of damage that can be done to the body is dangerous and will not benefit their performance.

Softball utilizes the following physical components which are all enhanced by strength training:
—infield positions
—outfield positions
—base running
*Maximum Strength
—explosive power in running
*Aerobic stamina
—base for all other energy systems
—enhanced recovery, regeneration
*Anaerobic Alactic
—all explosive actions
*Anaerobic Lactic
—running down a fly ball
—all actions
—injury prevention
—improves range of motion allows more leverage in skill execution
*Strength Endurance (although not the same strength endurance as required for a sport such as wrestling)
—Pitcher pitching
—Catcher throwing

Following is a bioenergetic breakdown of the most used skills in softball:
—Preparation phase – 1.35 seconds
—Execution phase – 100% intensity for .18 seconds
—Follow through phase – .68
—Preparation phase – .30 seconds
—Execution phase – 100% intensity for 1.67 seconds
—Follow through phase – .47 seconds
—Preparation phase – .33 seconds
—Execution phase – 100% intensity for .07 seconds
–Follow through phase – .23 seconds
—Base Running Home to 1st base
—Explosion off back foot – .167 seconds
—Home to first – 100% intensity for 3.267 seconds
—Deceleration – 1.24 seconds
—Base Running 2nd to Home – 100% intensity for 5.6 seconds

Muscles involved in almost all technical skills in softball:
*pectoralis major – serratus anterior – latissiumus dorsi
*trapezius – rhomboids – deltoids
*biceps – biceps brachii – brachialis
*triceps – triceps brachii – teres minor
*infraspinatus – teres major – subscapular
*erector spinae – serape musculature – gluteus maximus / minimus
—all skills requiring balance
*hamstrings – gatrocnemius – trapezius
*gluteus maximus – external oblique – tensor fasciae latae
—all rotation activities
—quadriceps – illiopsoas – rectus femoris
—all rotation activities

An approximation of the muscle fiber type distribution for a successful athlete in softball (i.e. % Type 1 vs % Type II).

Softball is a sport requiring very quick movements drawing from the ATP-CP energy system in which the action is performed predominantly with the fast twitch or type 2b muscle fibers. It is however the Type 1 muscle fibers which are used to initiate all activities and to maintain our body positions while in the ready position etc. An athlete who has more fast twitch muscle fibers than slow twitch muscle fibers, will generally adapt to the training in a softball program much easier. It is not known exactly the percentages of type 1 to type 2 fibers are used in softball however I believe that an outfielder would use more slow twitch fibers as their level of intense activity while on the field is much lower than the level of intensity of the pitcher or an infielder.

The slow twitch muscle fibers are much more active in long duration aerobic activities in which carbon dioxide, water and heat are produced as a byproduct of exercise. It has been shown that although fast twitch muscle fibers cannot achieve any slow twitch muscle fiber characteristics, the type 2a or transitional muscle fibers can attain fast twitch muscle fiber qualities through proper training, in the early developmental stages of young athletes. This is important in designing training programs and when training young athletes as we want to ensure that the athletes do not spend too much time developing the slow twitch muscle fibers adapting the type 2a muscle fibers to slow twitch muscle fibers instead.

These types of muscular action are predominant in softball. Following is the percentage of importance (as it relates to training) of concentric, eccentric and isometric muscular contractions.

Softball is predominantly an explosive power sport which includes both concentric and eccentric muscular contractions. In exploding off a base for example, the concentric muscular contractions of the quadriceps, glutes, and gastrocnemeus muscles work with the eccentric muscular contractions of the hamstrings and the tibialis anterior muscles. The sprinting after requires the recruitment of both eccentric and concentric muscular contractions and even isometric contractions when coming to a stop after running through first base or after crossing home plate. Isometric muscular contractions in softball do not require the same force such as when wrestling, although they are utilized when waiting in the ready position on the field or when waiting for the ball to come when up to bat.

Although strength derived from concentric action is required in the muscles to produce the maximum force in skill execution, the majority of injuries sustained in softball are due to the deceleration phase of a skill which incorporates eccentric muscular contractions. Training the muscles adequately to prevent injury during this follow through phase of a skill, requires eccentric contractions to be emphasized during training. In attaining this benefit, the athlete would in their weight training program, emphasize the deceleration phase of the resistance exercise lasting 2 seconds, taking twice as long to undo the exercise as it did to do the exercise which is approximately 1 second. In the early stages of strength training, when muscular hypertrophy is the aim of training, eccentric contractions are better emphasized as it produces higher force than concentric contractions which facilitates the muscle fiber growth. When the strength training is the goal then the concentric contractions again become the focus.

Strength training recommendations for softball athletes

An overall strength training program with a solid aerobic base is important as it builds the foundation for the explosive power training that is most dominant in softball. It will also enhance the other important aspects of softball such as speed and muscular endurance. Strength and flexibility training in addition to joint stabilizing activities will also assist in decreasing vulnerability to injury, as well as assisting with a quicker recovery from injury. Finally but not lastly, a comprehensive strength training program will increase the athletes resting metabolism which helps to reduce body fat contributing to increasing V02max.

The following considerations need to be included when developing a strength training program
*athletes current fitness level
*athletes age
*athletes maturation level
*athletes psychological condition
*athletes medical status
*athletes level of experience
*athletes nutrition level
*athletes athletic goals

Although all athletes in softball should be equally strong in all areas, there are specific position considerations such as for infielders who will require more stabilization exercises around the knees to prevent injury as a result of quick side to side movement from a cold or semi-cold position. Outfielders will need to work on more sprinting activities for running down fly balls and covering infielders and each other on the field. Catchers and pitchers will need to work more on their arm strength endurance as they can throw or pitch over 90 times per game. The catcher will not only be throwing to the pitcher after every pitch but will also be throwing hard to 1st, 2nd or 3rd bases for pick off throws. It is important to vary the training program every 3 to 4 weeks by changing the weights or the days that the weights are done on. The training program can have the same focus while not allowing the body to adapt without getting stale.

Look for symptoms of over training
*unusual sleep patterns
*lack of motivation
*decreased appetite
*lean body weight loss
*increased irritability and anxiety
*decreased sex drive
*The first week of each training cycle should include an assessment, such as:
*Aerobic Power – 8 minute run
*Agility – shuttle run
*Balance – flamingo stance
*Coordination – hand slap test
*Explosive Power – standing long jump
*Flexibility – zipper test and modified sit and reach

Muscular Endurance
*half push-up (upper body)
*abdominal bridge (core)
*wall press (lower body)

Muscular Strength
*maximum number of push-ups (upper body)
*maximum number of sit-ups (core)

Reaction Time
*ruler test

*30 m dash

Following is a chart with the 1st week of 4 training cycles which progress through the YPI. During the season, weight training can be done post competition at minimal intensity as it would be a good cool down for the athletes and the would not have to worry about it the next day. Light plyometric activities can be done as part of the pre-game or pre-practice warm up however not too stressful to prevent unwanted stress on the joints.

Warm-up and cool-down plans for softball players, in a typical training session

1 The environment in which your warm-up is conducted
2 Individual components of your warm-up and the order in which they are conducted
3 Duration's for these components
4 Specific drills, movements and or activities you would implement for individual components

Pre – Competition Warm-Up and Cool-Down
*Use static stretching only to inventory muscle injuries
*Activity Purpose Time (minimum)

Slow aerobic jog 10-15 minutes
*light jog
*adapted game such as soccer, flag football etc.
*Heat muscles / Lubricate the joints 15 minutes

Dynamic Stretching 10 minutes
*side kicks
*butt kicks
*back pedals
*leg swings
*Increase range of movement
*Prepare the body for activity
*improve range of motion
*use static stretching to check injuries

Acceleration strides 2-3 minutes
*wind sprints
*side to side hops
*increase blood circulation and oxygen intake
*gradually increase intensity until game speed is attained
*can incorporate plyometric activities here

Event specific drills
*throwing and fielding
*batting and bunting
*coordination preparation for training/competition 10 minutes

Cool Down 5 minutes
*Activity Purpose Time (minimum)
*Slow aerobic jog – Lowers body, muscles

Light static stretching 15 minutes
*long duration
*some PNF stretching
*relax muscles
*improve flexibility
*mentally relax

Softball is a quick movement sport with many breaks in between actions. It is critical to ensure overall training rather than simply focusing on one aspect of physical training such as speed or strength. Designing a training plan within a yearly training plan will best assure that your athletes will be best prepared for when the main completion part of the season arrives. Include aerobic training to enhance recovery for back to back games and to assist in preventing injuries.

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Shannon McDougall Shannon McDougall Advanced Coaching Diploma (National Coaching Institute), 
Associate Sports Science Degree
Level 3 Softball Coach (Canada)
, Softball Facilitator (Softball Canada), 
Multisport Facilitator (Coaching Association of Canada)
, 20+ year Softball Coach at various ages and levels.

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