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 > Little League Online > Learn More > Newsletters > Coach's Box Newsletter > 2006 > Coach's Box - October 2006 > Michele Smith - October 2006

Michele Smith - October 2006


Volume I, No. 7  

   October 2006


Training  for Softball
By Michele Smith
Olympic Gold Medal Pitcher

In order to become a better softball player no matter what your level, you need to train hard off the field. In years past, most softball players worked hard on the field for two hours of practice and thought they had put in their work load for the day. Today, the level of competitive play is increasing and in order to stay a head of the game, you need to work hard not only on your game, but also on your body. The stronger your body, the less prone you are to injury and the quicker and more explosively you’ll be able to play the sport. Let’s face it, everything about our game is fast and explosive, that’s why it called FASTPITCH! If you can not move your body in a fast and explosive manner, it will be difficult to improve your softball skills. Training helps you build strength, and strength helps you swing the bat faster, throw the ball further, and run down the base paths faster. Speed and strength in all parts of the game is our goal. Proper training, without a doubt is the single most important key to the success I have achieved during my career.

Before we start, let’s talk about two issues that cause some negative hype when softball and weightlifting were talked about in the same sentence. First, in years past many coaches thought it was bad for baseball or softball players to lift weights. They feared that weight training tightened muscles, and tight muscles were bad for the athlete’s game. Today we understand the body better and how it performs. Tight muscles should always be stretched, but only when they are warm. Stretching is a very important part of training and body maintenance. Second, the results from weight training and proper training for softball in general are very good for the body. Training is not just about lifting weights, or lifting as much weight as you can. It is not about women lifting weights and looking like men. That will never happen unless a woman is taking illegal drugs. Women naturally do not have high levels of testosterone, which is the male hormone responsible for building big muscles.

So what is Training?

Training for softball should include a couple of different activities. Some of them are a dynamic warm-up, agility training, plyometrics, core training, strength or weight training, conditioning, and a proper cool down.

The best way to start any workout should always be with a proper Dynamic warm-up. A dynamic warm-up gets the body moving and increases blood flow to the muscles. This warm up should include some form of a low intensity exercise (i.e., jog, bike, jump rope, etc.) and active stretching. One form of active stretching is known as dynamic flexibility. Dynamic flexibility refers to active range of motion in a joint or joints. It is a great way to warm up because it increases flexibility in a given range of motion, increases heart rate, blood flow to the muscles, core temperature, and stimulates the neuromuscular system to get into a state of readiness, as well as allowing for more sport-specific movements. Remember, a warm up is not static stretching of cold muscles. Static stretching of cold muscles is the easiest way to injure your muscles and your body. You should only stretch as a cool down, or any tight areas of your body that have properly been warmed up.

Agilities are activities that teach fast feet and help build speed as well as strengthen the little muscles in our legs. Agility is defined as “the ability to explosively brake, change direction, and accelerate” (Plisk, 2000). This is a concept used by virtually every sport. Softball, like most team sports, is multidirectional meaning the movements involve both linear and lateral motion and changing directions. Agility drills are very easy to incorporate into your softball on-field workouts.

Plyometrics help build explosive muscles for bounding type movements. This once again helps increase speed. Plyometric training, also referred to as jump training, is a method of linking strength and speed of movement to generate an explosive movement (Chu & Plummer, 1984). Plyometric training involves exercises that allow a muscle to reach its maximal force capabilities in the shortest amount of time (Baechle, 2000). The faster a muscle is able to change direction from a lengthened position to a shortened position, the greater the power output will be from that muscle (Glass, 1998). Take for example a rubber band. The more a rubber band is stretched, the further it will go when shot off your finger. Because in sport almost every movement involves a pre-stretch prior to muscular contraction (swinging a bat or pitching), plyometric training is an extremely important part of an athlete’s training program.
You should have an adequate strength base before participating in a plyometric training program. Plyometric training must be performed with maximum explosiveness to be effective. Due to the nature of the sport, upper and lower body plyometrics should be performed. Just like the strength training program, the plyometric program should progress from a low level to an advanced level. The intensity of the plyometric training should be kept low through the first phase of your strength program (for example, jumping rope) and increase as the athlete gets stronger. You should only increased the difficulty of the plyometric drills if you are able to perform the exercises safely and effectively.

Core strength is also very important. The core of the body is the midsection or better known as the abdominals and the lower back muscles. These areas are used often in throwing, swinging, pitching. The core muscles are used in basically every movement of most sports. This signifies the importance of developing those muscles. For example, most every sport involves some form of running, no matter how minute. During running, an athlete must keep his/her core musculature tight. Relaxation in the abdominal muscles and lower back muscles results in lost energy or wasted energy (Brown, 2001). By developing the core musculature, it will help in injury prevention, as well as increase strength and speed through improved capabilities to maintain trunk stabilization and balance during sport movements.

Weight and Strength Training is necessary in building strength for softball players. The stronger an athlete is the faster she will run, throw, pitch and hit. Weight training is specialized and a good program written for softball players should be followed. Never lift weights that are too heavy for you, and always lift with a partner. Lifting with a partner will promote safety and will help with motivation. Lifting programs are best when they are developed using the periodization method. Periodization is a form of exercise design that varies the intensity and volume of exercise, while also taking into account the seasonal demands of a particular sport (softball) and athlete. If you have never lifted before, it is very important to start slow and learn the proper movements of the lifts. Good form in lifting is a must. This approach will help build a good foundation, so to develop the connective tissue and bones along with the muscles.

Conditioning for softball is very important as we want to be a fit and strong athlete. Improved endurance or stamina, and weight management are the two main reasons for conditioning. I recommend conditioning away from the softball field. Jogging and cycling are great ways to build your fitness levels off the field.

Cooling Down is very important when you have finished a training program. Many softball players grab their gear and leave the field as soon as practice is over. It is important to take 5 to 10 minutes and cool down and stretch. It is also a great time to reflect on your practice or game to improve your mental skills as well.

For more information on training programs, check out my website and the new Dynamic Training DVD and year-long Training Guide that I developed with Division I strength coach Beth Spak. This package was developed to help all levels of softball players improve their training for softball. The DVD shows proper form in all the above mentioned categories as well as shoulder pre-hab, and motion simulation exercises. The year-long Training Guide gives you workouts for everyday of the year. The year is broken down into in-season, off-season, and pre-season. It also includes a journal to help you keep track of your training and softball performances.

Remember you have to work hard off the field, to continue to make gains on the field. Good Luck and train hard!

Michele Smith

For more information, visit Michele Smith's website at http://www.michelesmith.com .

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