Softball Weight Training Template

While there are no one-size-fits-all training programs, most good programs will have similar basics.  The basics aren’t in the sets, reps, load, or rest periods, but rather are in the movements.  Balance between muscle groups and performing movements correctly is a good foundation for any weight training program.

Of course, every phase of ours will be different.  Pre-season and in-season lifts will be different from off-season developmental lifts, and agility-focused and plyometric-focused days will be different from strength days.

However the following is a good basic strength template to use for softball players (in order of importance), with these movements spread out between 2-4 sessions per week.

MAJOR

-Hip hinge pattern* (usually a deadlift variation)

-Horizontal pull (Row)

-Single-leg variation

-Push-up variation* (we will not do actual push-ups until I know the athletes can do them perfectly, to actually get some benefit from them)

-Squat pattern

-Vertical pull* (e.g. pull-up variation)

-Pressing variation (usually lower volume since push-ups are also a “press.” I like progressing to dumbbell floor presses since it limits excessive humeral extension that softball players can get with traditional bench pressing)

 

ACCESSORY

-Core work (and I’m not talking sit-ups and crunches- this will be another post)

-Cuff work**

-An extra posterior chain and/or horizontal pull if you’d like

*these exercises especially are where progressions are very important.  For example, if you jump directly into push-ups with an athlete who doesn’t have a good foundation, the exercise will be ugly- no question about it.  And likely very little benefit.  No amount of coaching will cover up an actual physical weakness.  So no matter how much you tell them to keep their elbows and chin tucked on the push-up, they will flare their elbows and reach their neck toward the ground as compensation.  This could be an entire post in itself, however we must be smart and make the athlete successful by giving them something they can perform correctly at first (e.g. push-ups on a raised barbell with perfect form, or eccentric push-ups only- “negatives”).  We don’t progress to actual push-ups until at least 4-6 weeks of working on progressions, sometimes longer.

**during times where we’re throwing/practicing almost every day, we will only do direct cuff work in the weight room maybe twice a week (three at the most).  Remember that throwing IS cuff work!  The rotator cuff’s job is to stabilize the humerus in the ball-and-socket joint, so every throw is working the rotator cuff with a 7 oz ball.  Doing direct work every single day before practice on a group of 5 tiny muscles (the rotator cuff) seems like the overuse risk would override any possible reward…who ever came with this idea and why has it been traditionally accepted without question?

ADDITIONAL NOTES

During some weeks I will just scratch the squat pattern and focus more on the hips, and as throwing increases and the season approaches we will swap the vertical pull for another horizontal pull (row).  Additionally we will scratch the pressing as throwing increases (we’ll keep the push-ups though).

Notice how we don’t have wrist extensions, bicep curls, tricep kickbacks, and other relatively useless exercises in our lift.  Of course, if an athlete has some postural issues, excessive weakness, or excessive stiffness, I will have an individualized pre-warm-up routine for them, and we do get a lot of good mobility and activation in our warm-ups as well.  Otherwise we spend our time doing exercises that will give you the best bang for your buck and get the athletes strong, healthy, and powerful.

Hopefully this post was useful, and if you have other categories that you use in your lifts, feel free to post in the comments below!

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Olympic Lifting and Softball Players

Olympic lifts have been shown to be great for athletic development.  Force production, speed, and power can be increased using Olympic lifts.  However what is so special about Olympic lifts?  Are there other modalities that can yield the same type of results?  One main component of Olympic lifting is the benefit athletes get from triple extension- full extension of the hips, knees, and ankles (ideally…if performed correctly).  Additionally, the powerful movement is more associated with the speed/acceleration variable in force = mass x acceleration.  So a high amount of force can be exerted with full lower body extension, specifically of the ever-important hip joint.

I know everyone has different opinions, and I respect those if they have put a lot of thought/studying into those opinions, so mine is just one among many. And that is as follows: there are so many tools in the toolbox, why choose the ones that may have some risk for a certain population of athletes (i.e. softball/baseball players)? Why not choose the ones that have virtually no risk, but still get damn close to the same benefit? What are those risks you say?

THE UPRIGHT ROW

First, the upright row is not something I want to mess around with softball players, primarily because it excessively internally rotates the humerus into the classic “empty can” position traditionally used in rehab settings but becoming a popular contraindicated exercise because of the impinged position of the rotator cuff.  The upright row is obviously a necessary component of cleans.

DIRECT OVERHEAD WORK

Think of a big, stiff, powerlifter, who is built like a house and can throw just about anything over his or her head with rock solid shoulders…that stiffness in the shoulder joint is usually the exact opposite of what softball players develop throughout their lives.  As we know, more mobility usually means less stability, and vice versa. The trick is to find a good balance of both. Additionally, usually college players have a) played their entire life, which can lead to bony growth changes around the shoulder socket to allow for better mobility to throw a ball hundreds and hundreds of times every summer, b) are very congenitally lax (especially females), and c) one of the rate limiting strength factors in females, generally, is upper body strength. So it may not be the safest to throw heavy weight over the heads of softball players. Here is a great Cressey talk on overhead athletes and overhead pressing:

Snatches & Jerks = direct overhead approximation stress.  Traction stresses, on the other hand…pull-up variations, med ball overhead throws, etc. are great.

 

ANTERIOR SHOULDER INSTABILITY

This one is a no brainer that is obvious from the above examples.  While I love front squats, and we will do them at times during the year, the bar is pushing directly down on a bit of an already unstable shoulder.  Usually I prefer doing dumbbell goblet grip work instead of front squats, or I will just give the players the option: if front squat grip hurts their shoulders, grab a dumbbell and do a goblet grip (see my article Front Squats or Back Squats for Softball Players).  The catch on cleans results in an aggressive punch and landing on the anterior shoulder, which is great!  …That is, if you’re a football or basketball player with solid shoulder stability…

Football, soccer, basketball, track, etc. would be a perfect fit for Olympic lifts.  Relatively little risk and a great reward.  Softball and baseball players on the other hand have issues that lead me to perform movements very similar to Olympic lifts, only without the risks.  Kettlebell swings, jump shrugs, medicine ball “pull through” throws, squat jumps, speed deadlifts, and more, are all great alternatives to use for softball players.

Deadlifts for Softball Players?

Deadlifts often times scare coaches because a) to be performed correctly they require lots of coaching b) the athletes are picking up a bar off the ground that is very heavy (at least should be if you want to get benefits from the deadlift), and c) you always hear about people hurting their back doing deadlifts (most likely when performed incorrectly).  So, are they worth doing with softball players?  If an athlete has been progressing up to the deadlift via other exercises, is being coached on how to correctly perform the deadlift, and has sufficient hip mobility to avoid lumbar flexion, then I will answer this emphatically with two words: HELL YES! As Gray Cook (one of the most knowledgeable coaches in the world) says, it’s one of his favorite exercises for the core and hips…two vital areas for softball players.

Furthermore I’d rather find out down the road that I am wrong about something I’m being proactive with because I really believe in it, rather than avoiding it out of fear.  Now obviously with this statement, one has to use logic as well.  I don’t do traditional Olympic Lifts with my players, so one can rightfully ask: isn’t that “living in fear” instead of being proactive and trying something? My answer is, no- not if I already believe that it’s probably not worth it (see my philosophies on Olympic Lifting).  The deadlift does not fall under that category.

A junior and senior from our 2012 record setting team each pulled 295 lbs. on a 1 rep deadlift max.  “Unofficially” over the summer of 2011, one of those athletes pulled 315 lbs. (when she was really focusing on maximum strength).  This player, a second basemen slapper at a body weight probably somewhere near 130 lbs, led the conference in stolen bases and was near the top of the conference in batting average and runs scored.  The other player led our team in home runs.  A senior pitcher who pulled 240 lbs. was our ace and had her best year in college.

Now, do these kids pull heavy amounts of weight because they are great athletes, or does pulling heavy weight lead to becoming great athletes?  My answer is, if there’s a correlation between strength and performance*, then who cares?  Get them stronger either way.

When we are talking strength, we are not talking 10-12 reps of little pink dumbbells.  We are talking getting your butt over a bar loaded with a ton of weight, and picking it up off the ground with perfect form, using the glutes, hips, core, and even lats and lower traps.  Most people reading this will know, but correct technique is A MUST.  I hate hearing about herniated disks and strained lower backs due to terrible deadlift technique.  Players need to progress up to this point, and if you do start using deadlifts, and they still can’t straighten their back when getting down to the bar, then do something about it…for example raise the bar with bumper plates stacked underneath or do rack pulls.

 

*A quick and easy search shows numerous studies pointing toward yes, strength helps big time.  Here is just one on the effects of throwing velocity when increasing strength- Derenne C, Ho KW, Murphy JC. Effects of general, special, and specific resistance training on throwing velocity in baseball: a brief review. J Strength Cond Res. 2001 Feb;15(1):148-56.

On the Field Performance Improvements and Records

2012 SCHOOL RECORDS

     School record for homeruns (tie) (14)

     School record for hits (422)

     School record for doubles (66)

     School record for RBI (210)

     School record for stolen bases (85)

     School record for wins (24)

2012 INDIVIDUAL RECORDS

     All-time School Doubles Leader (17)

     All-time School Stolen Bases Leader (40) (also led conference)

     All-time School Hits Leader (69)

     All-time School RBI Leader (41)

     All-time School Runs Leader (54)

     All-time School Pitching Appearances Leader (32)

     Tied for 2nd in All-Time School Wins (Pitcher) (13)

Strength and Power Improvements & Records

2012

Strength 2 athletes with a 295 lb. deadlift 1 Rep Max 1 athlete with a 245 lb. deadlift 1 Rep Max 1 athlete with a 240 lb. deadlift 1 Rep Max Team average increased from 203 lbs. to 229 lbs. Top improvements: 1 athlete with 70 lb. increase, 1 athlete with 47 lb. increase , 1 athlete with 44 lb. increase Power 1 athlete with a 26 inch vertical jump 1 athlete with a 23 inch vertical jump 1 athlete with a 21 inch vertical jump Team average increased from 17.5" to 19.5" Top improvements: 1 athlete with a 5 inch increase, 1 athlete with a 4 inch increase, 1 athlete with a 3.5 inch increase Speed 1 athlete with a 2.86 20 yard dash 1 athlete with a 2.93 20 yard dash 1 athlete with a 2.96 20 yard dash Team average increased from 3.17 seconds to 3.08 seconds Top improvements: 1 athlete with a 0.23 second increase, 1 athlete with a 0.18 second increase Notes: Went from only 1 athlete below 3 seconds, to 6 athletes below 3 seconds Tested with brower system; softball stealing stance, started timer immediately upon foot leaving the ground and an automatic brower finish