With softball players throwing more pitches than ever before the off-season is a crucial time to help athletes recover and prepare for the next season. Here are five of my top 10 priorities to place on the front burner.
Soft-tissue work on pectoralis minor and anterior scalenes
After a long season, some pitchers will have thrown upwards of 100 innings. With a high volume of throwing particular muscles such as pectoralis minor and anterior scalenes are called on by the body to play substantial roles in the pitching delivery. Over time, these muscles can become restricted (short) and gritty, causing a downward spiral of issues right around the corner. When these muscles are restricted it can cause athletes to have nagging anterior shoulder pain and sensations of numbness down the arm. I would advise pitchers in particular to spend a few extra minutes performing various manual soft tissue techniques such as this to improve tissue quality.
Increase overall training volume
For many athletes finding time to juggle softball, school, practice, and their social life it can be challenging to find their way to the gym during the in-season. Therefore the off-season is time to increase training volume to help reaffirm particular movement patterns, lifting postures, and address individual weak points. Depending on training age, beginners will need to capitalize on performing more sets and reps to work on technique. I particularly like using these rep schemes (3x12reps or 4x8-10reps) with athletes who have a young training age because it helps them learn and retain HOW to perform the movement through purposeful practice.
Improve both rotator cuff strength and Scapulohumeral rhythm
With pitchers being overused due to the lack of pitch count regulations, many softball players return after the long season with less than spectacular posterior cuff strength and a lack of scapulohumeral rhythm or knowledge of how the scapula and humerus should move along the rib cage. When athletes fail to move the scapula and humerus together, it routinely results in the humerus translating forward into anterior humeral glide (AGH). AHG is when the head of the humerus “glides” forward in relation to the shoulder socket. It is common for softball athletes to present with flat thoracic spines, shoulder blades tipped forward, resulting in a forward translation of the humeral head.
For instance, if your cuff strength isn’t up to par, you end up in poor positions like AHG, which could lead to anterior shoulder pain down the road. I tend to gravitate towards these particular variations to help regain strength and help athletes gain upward rotation.
Use Isometric holds
Applying longer eccentrics and isometric holds will force athletes to slow down and really pay attention to how to create and maintain tension. This is especially important when working with female athletes who commonly present with congenital laxity. These slower tempos will help build stability at joints and create self-awareness to stay away from end ranges.
Bring them back to the basics and own the saggital plane
Quite simply, players spend a substantial portion of their time in the frontal and transverse planes (hitting, pitching, shuffling etc.) and hardly receive any attention in the sagittal plane. Why does this matter?
Take this analogy for example; planes of motion are like the phases a child goes through when learning to move for the first time. For example, babies first need to learn to crawl (saggital). In this phase they slow things down and learn coordination and how to move their own bodyweight. Next, they master walking (frontal) and learn how to move a little faster and stabilize their body in space. Finally, they are able to run (transverse) due to the fact that they have built a solid foundation of stability and strength.
Mike Robertson, owner of I-FAST, says it best: “If you don’t move well in the sagittal plane, I can guarantee you won’t move well in the frontal or transverse planes!” Use variations of both the deadlift and squat to enhance qualities used in the other planes of motion.
Next week I will be discussing the second half of early off-season priorities. Here is a sneak peak.
To play softball at the highest levels you need to produce force and transfer that force extremely FAST. Just imagine this, if you had to choose between a Toyota Prius and an Audi R8 in a mile race which one would you choose?
Take time off from throwing the softball
The number one risk factor for arm injuries in baseball and softball is year around pitching according to world-renowned orthopedic surgeon Dr. James Andrews.
Improve alignment to improve range of motion
You don't have to crank at a joint to get extra range of motion. Most of the time when you improve alignment proximally it will improve range of motion distally.
Sleep and stay hydrated
Sleep and water are the most underrated performance enhancers due to their simplicity. By placing hydration and sleep at the top of your totem pole be ready to see some drastic changes in energy and performance.
Your eyes are a muscle and you need to work them. Spending a few minutes every day recognizing and reading different colors and numbers in a dynamic fashion can place you one step ahead of the competition down the road.