Softball Strength and Conditioning Part 2: 10 priorities to address in the early off-season

Continuing off of last weeks article containing part 1 of this series. Here are the final five priorities to take into consideration for softball athletes.

Part 2: 

Eat More

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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? Obviously the Audi R8 because it has the bigger, stronger, more powerful engine. When looking to upgrade your engine size you need to have a surplus of calories that can be used to help your body build a stronger more powerful engine. The combination of hard training and crushing quality food will set you miles apart from the competition. When planning to prepare for a long tournament weekend here are some considerations on what to bring. 

- Protein is the magical macro and helps build muscle, burn fat, and boost recovery and your immune system. A quick and delicious form of protein to have on the go is beef jerky. It also comes in various flavors and is quick and easy to eat. 

- Carbohydrates are the MVP of macronutrients. Eating enough carbs ensures stress hormones stay low, muscle is built or preserved, high intensity performance can be maintained, and you sleep and recover well. At the field I love consuming various fresh fruits such as apples, bananas, and oranges. They are easy snacks on the go and taste delicious on a hot day. 

- Fats are the backbone of macronutrients. Getting an appropriate amount of healthy fats helps burn body fat and build muscle, communication between cells, absorb important nutrients and builds a strong immune system. I would suggest brining a healthy trail mix filled with various forms of nuts and seeds. 

 

Take time off from throwing the softball

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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. Many athletes not only practice year-around but they compete year around. This continuous cycle of traveling and pitching takes time away from the body to fully rest and recover. Let me ask you this, what happens if you never bring your car to the garage for a regular oil change or have the tires rotated?

 

Exactly, your car breaks down because you ignored routine maintenance and pushed the car past its limits. When we ignore the small problems, they can ultimately cause other parts of the car (elbow, hips) to be affected, resulting in more time off and more money spent to fix. We know cars break down over constant wear and tear just like your arm breaks down when you accumulate time on the mound. As a pitcher, you need take time off from throwing to perform regular maintenance and address weakness such as movement proficiency, strength qualities and regular soft tissue work. If it’s ok for professional baseball pitchers to shut down, it’s good enough for you.

 

Improve alignment to improve range of motion

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Our pelvis and rib cage play a vital role in performance, breathing, and posture. When our pelvis starts pointing towards the ground (anterior pelvic tilt) while our ribs start to flare up this can cause players to lose range of motion at joints above and below the pelvis, typically in the hips and shoulders. Due to the nature of the sport, softball players tend to sit in this extended posture making it extremely hard for the body to breathe, perform, and move at its best. While people will  never ever truly be “neutral” you can use various exercises and cues to help people gravitate more towards a neutral position (getting our ribs to lock down and create posterior tilt of the pelvis).

By shortening the distance between our hips and rib cage (zone of apposition) good things happen. People can take deeper breaths, perform better, and increase 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. Below is a common breathing drill to help people shift towards the center of the spectrum. 

 

 

Sleep and hydrate  

Sleep and water are the most underrated performance enhancers due to their simplicity. In the off-season you are lifting more and should be sleeping more to recover. Without enough sleep (seven to ten hours) various areas can suffer such as mental health, muscle recovery, hormone balance, and energy levels. To get the most our of your sleep

 

-       Set a bedtime: By setting a regular bed time your body will create an internal body clock (circadian rhythm) which will help you fall asleep faster and have deeper slumber. 

-       Sleep in cool dark room: No one likes to sweat while they sleep. 

-       Mediate: Mediation is a great way to shut off from the outside world and switch our bodies from a sympathetic state (high energy) to a parasympathetic state (relaxation). 

 

Water is essential for energy and transporting nutrients throughout the body. Choosing to fuel your body with loads of coffee and surgery drinks is going to have the exact opposite effect you intended to have. Replace the sugary drinks with some good ole water and you will feel better and think clearer.

 

-       Drink a glass of water before your coffee: Water helps transport nutrients throughout the body. If you drink a nice glass of water before your coffee it wake up the body and soak up some of that caffeine. 

-       Carry water with you everywhere you go: If it's near you, you will drink it. 

-       Try to drink at least 10 oz ever hour: Drinking water is not a sprint it's a marathon. Consuming a little bit of water each hour will help you stay hydrated and avoid dehydration. 

By placing hydration and sleep at the top of your totem pole you’ll see some drastic changes in energy and performance.  

 

Visual Training

Softball is very dependent on the eyes. Batters watch for the spin of the ball, outfielders need to track the trajectory of the ball through different backgrounds (sunlight, cloudy, stadium lights) and pitchers need to read the fingers of the catcher. 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. 

 

To polish this off,

Over this course of two weeks I have addressed the most important ten things to focus on in the early off-season. That being said there will always be exceptions to the rule. Because ever player has a different body type, injury history, and mentality, it is important that you give them a unique and individualized approach to training. Lastly, educate your athletes and let them learn by doing not by watching. 

Sources: 

Andrews, J.R., & Yaeger, D. (2013). Any given Monday: Sports injuries and how to prevent them, for athletes, parents, and coaches: Based on my life in sports medicine. New York: Scribner. 

Postural restoration.com