I've seen it many times: A high school softball player has the best intentions to increase speed, power, strength and injury resilience, but an ill-designed training program derails those plans.
Softball workouts often fail to build actual strength, develop proper movement skills, and provide an effective warm-up.
Here are three key elements of effective softball workouts, with recommended exercises:
1. Develop Posterior Chain Strength
The muscles of the posterior chain, particularly the glutes and hamstrings, make a better, more resilient softball player, yet they are often overlooked. The high incidence of knee injuries in female athletes can largely be attributed to a lack of posterior chain strength. Weak glutes, hamstrings and internal and external hip rotators can cause other muscles such as the quadriceps, hip flexors and IT bands to be overactive and dominant, compromising knee stability.
The glutes are the most powerful muscles in the body and undoubtedly the most important muscles in sports. They are also naturally weaker in females. Neglecting to strengthen them can lead to vast deficits in speed, balance, running, jumping and throwing power.
Suggested Program: Single- and Double-Leg Deadlift Variations, Glute Bridges and Hip Thrusts, Kettlebell Swings, Glute-Ham Raises, Sled Drags, Stability Ball Leg Curls and Pull-Throughs are great movements to include in softball workouts to cultivate stronger, more powerful backsides.
2. Incorporate Deceleration Skills
There's more to speed than running in a straight line. Softball players must be able to govern force production and quickly change direction to accelerate while maintaining body control. Putting too much emphasis on peak linear speed without first learning how to slow down and change direction quickly and efficiently can compromise performance as well as dramatically increase your risk of injury.
One of the most problematic issues with female athletes is their knees collapsing inward when they move. In addition to increasing posterior chain strength to clean up this issue, improving body awareness and teaching proper technique during athletic movements such as deceleration can go a long way. Programs focused on training deceleration, using proper hip height and knee position, have been shown to reduce the risk of non-contact ACL injuries by up to 72 percent.
Suggested Program: Progresssive, static drills that require repetition and proper position before moving on to drills that are more dynamic in nature. For example, a plyometric exercise like a Squat Jump teaches proper deceleration mechanics. However, this will eventually need to be applied to on-field drills, such as the Box Drill.
3. Perform a Proper Warm-Up
Softball warm-ups typically consist of running, static stretching and a progression of sport-specific drills such as throwing and catching. This approach ignores the short- and long-term benefits of mobility and movement training prior to workouts and practice. Before introducing complex movement or strength training, it's crucial for softball players to be able to move their joints sufficiently through a range of motion with control, stability and efficiency.
An optimal warm-up focuses on controlled movement through the full, active range of motion of each joint.
Suggested Program: Although each athlete's specific mobility needs should be considered individually, in general pre-workout warm-ups should consist of movements that are weight-bearing, multi-joint and which move the athlete through the full range of motion. The exercises should prepare you for the athletic movements that you're about to perform, not to increase flexibility.
RELATED: Kansas Softball's Warm-Up Routine
Gilchrist J, Mandelbaum B, Melancon H, et al. "A randomized controlled trial to prevent noncontact anterior cruciate ligament injury in female collegiate soccer players." American Journal of Sports Medicine. 2008;36:1476-1483.