Softball has become an extremely competitive sport and the physical demands placed on both pitchers and position players have grown drastically over the last decade. Many of these harsh demands are placed on the athlete’s core while pitching, hitting and sprinting. With many athletes coming to me with a less than optimal core stiffness and control, injuries and poor performance on the field have and, will be a common occurrence until addressed.
Dr. Stuart McGill, a professor of spine biomechanics at the University of Waterloo, has studied core training and its clearn benefits to both performance and injury prevention. After reading his newest book, Back Mechanic, here are 3 uncommon exercises to help softball players improve lower extremity function, reduce the risk of injury, generate power, and improve posture.
What is the Core?
Many people have a pre-conceived notion that the core is solely made up of the“the 6-pack” portion of our bodies. McGill and his research have proven the “core” includes our whole torso (lumbar spine, muscles of abdominal wall, back extensors, quadratus lumborum, psoas, latissimus dorsi, pelvic floor, and ribcage). The core’s primary role is to co-contract, stiffening the torso so all these muscles become strong synergists to produce power.
If your plan to play at the highest levels your going to have to learn how to "stiffen" your core to protect your spine and transfer power through your core. Take this simple analogy from Eric Cressey. Imagine a tree in a hurricane. The forceful winds represent both shear and compressive forces pitchers and hitters experience every repetition. The roots of the tree represent the athletes lower body and the branches up top the upper body. The only thing connecting the lower and the upper is the trunk of the tree aka your CORE. The stronger and thicker your trunk (core) is the more support is has to withstand those violent forces. The smaller and weaker your trunk is, the more likely those violent forces will win.
Here are three exercises to learn how to optimal create stiffness.
Side Bridge with Band Resisted Anti-Lateral Flexion
Good technique when cutting, sprinting, and changing direction demands that power be generated at the hips and transmitted through a stiffened core for optimal performance. This side bridge variation targets the both sides of the torso (quadratus lumborum and abdominal obliques) and is basically a horizontal farmers carry.
Tall-Kneeling Double Kettlebell ISO hold
McGill states that the core’s ninche is to transfer force from our legs through our core to our shoulders. For example, if we lack anterior core control when batting, it’s going to result in more motion from our lumbar spine (excessive motion here results in injuries). This exercise will help athletes learn how to create stiffness through their anterior core and prevent arching through the lower back.
*To make this exercises harder add full exhales
1-Arm Kettlebell Rack Carry
This simple-yet-effective exercise challenges your core to resist hyperextension and lateral flexion (side-bending).
Stuart McGill’s take on asymmetrical carries:
“The asymmetrical kettlebell carry uniquely challenges the lateral musculature (quadratus lumborum and oblique abdominal wall) in a way never possible with a squat. Yet this creates necessary ability for any person who runs and cuts, carries a load, and so on. The suitcase carry is another variation suitable for many advanced clients.”
Learning how to create good stiffness throughout your entire torso will lead to a decrease risk of injury and increase in both force production and transfer of energy through the core.