Softball is an interesting team sport that involves throwing, catching, batting and sprinting. Successful players must have excellent eye-hand coordination and high levels of performance power. Although softball does not require cardiovascular endurance, muscular strength is a key factor for improved throwing, batting and sprinting. Let's look at the major muscle groups used in these actions, and the strength exercises best suited for their development.
Throwing is generally considered to be an arm action; and good throwers are said to have strong arms. While the triceps muscles that extend the elbow are certainly involved in delivering the ball, the shoulder joint muscles generate most of the throwing movement, particularly the pectoralis major and deltoids, with assistance from the latissimus dorsi. The propulsive force applied by the arm and upper body actually represents the final phase of a three-part total body movement sequence.
The first phase is primary power production by the leg muscles as you step forward and shift your hips in the direction of the throw. This action incorporates the large quadriceps, hamstrings, adductor, abductor and gluteal muscles of the hips and thighs.
Phase two is the smooth and efficient transfer of force from the lower body to the upper body. This is accomplished by the muscles of the midsection, namely, the internal obliques, external obliques, rectus abdominis and erector spinae groups. Working together, these muscles rotate the torso forward with high torque that initiates the whiplike action of the throwing arm. Table 1 presents the muscles, actions and recommended exercises related to throwing a softball.
Table 1. Muscles, actions and recommended exercises related to throwing a ball.*
* add compound row after super pullover and add chest press after chest cross for more comprehensive softball conditioning.
Swinging a bat is actually a very similar action to throwing a ball, with the bat serving as an extension of the arms. Like throwing, batting is a three-phase sequence of coordinated body movements starting with the step, followed by the turn and completed with the swing. In fact, the forward step and torso rotation use the same muscles and movement pattern as throwing.
The swing is a horizontal action that involves both arms and essentially all of the upper body muscles. For a right-handed batter, the left arm supplies most of the hitting force by powerful contraction of the rear deltoid, latissimus dorsi and triceps muscles. The right arm assists by means of the pectoralis major, front deltoid and triceps muscles.
To better address these muscles, I recommend adding two multi-muscle exercises to your softball strength training program. The compound row exercise targets the rear deltoid, latissimus dorsi and biceps muscles, and should be performed after the super pullover to obtain the most benefit from this exercise sequence that pre-exhausts the latissimus dorsi muscles.
The chest press exercise addresses the pectoralis major, front deltoid and triceps muscles. Perform the chest press after the chest cross to maximize the pre-exhaustion effect of the pectoralis major muscles.
While sprinting speed is largely an inherent neuro-muscular ability, strength training can definitely enhance movement power. The same leg exercises used for improved throwing and batting will also increase base-running speed and fielding quickness. To place greater emphasis on the hip flexor muscles used in sprinting, be sure to lock your feet behind the ankle anchor pads when dong the abdominal machine.
Strength Training Protocol
Two or three strength training sessions per week, performed on non-consecutive days, are recommended during the off-season, and one or two workouts a week should be sufficient during the season. Each training session should require less than 30 minutes to complete the 15 strength exercises.
Perform one set of each exercise in good form, emphasizing slow movement speed and full movement range. I suggest 6-second repetitions with 2 seconds for each lifting action and four seconds for each lowering action. Try to achieve positions of full joint flexion and full joint extension on every repetition, as long s you do not experience discomfort in the end ranges.
Use a weightload that can be performed between 8 and 12 repetitions. This typically requires about 75 percent of maximum resistance, and represents a safe and productive training load. Whenever 12 good repetitions can be completed, add about 5 percent more resistance for gradual progression and to ensure continued strength development.
Regular and sensible strength training should be highly beneficial for improved softball performance and reduced risk of softball related injuries. A few stretching exercises should complement the strength exercises for a comprehensive softball conditioning program.