Softball Sports Performance- Injury Prevention
Softball has a long season that demands precision and excellence at every turn. You’ve got to time split second reactions, whip a throw to first, smack a ball out of the park or leap to keep it from sailing over the fence. How you train and play at a young age sets the foundation for performance in college, into the pros, or just pick up ball in the park. The longer you can outlast injury, the more you can work at honing your craft. While you want to get the reps, you also need to make sure you can play through the season unscathed. Sure, you’ll get some bumps, bruises, and maybe a few battle scars from a home plate collision. But if you do these four things, you can outlast any serious injury and stay in fighting shape.
Prevent Injury – Stay Mobile
With better range of motion, the further your muscles and tendons can stretch across a joint before injury. If things are all tied up in there, one wrong throw can lead to injury. If your muscles and tendons aren’t mobile, they won’t respond to sudden external loads as well. Therefore, all the pressure gets put in the joint – such as your AC joint or ulnar collateral ligament (in your elbow). Tendonitis and thrower’s shoulder are often attributed to a lack of internal rotation at the shoulder and general tightness down the kinetic chain. This altered range of motion, over time, contributes to more repeated stress on the elbow, shoulder and wrist during high velocity throwing.
Thoracic spine rotation, banded distraction stretches at the lats and pec, and regular soft tissue with a softball can do wonders. Spend a few minutes every day with your softball pinned between your chest and the wall to open up your overhead mobility.
Train for more than just looks
As teens are developing athletically, it’s also a time when training for looks can be tempting. While in some cases having more muscle can help protect you from injury, training solely for size can make you unbalanced. Excessive use and tightness can mean strains or chronic, overuse injuries. Rather than fighting your own body to produce force, create a balanced system that performs like a well-oiled machine.
Upper traps, lats and pecs will make your shoulders well-defined. However, athletes that are overly dominant in these areas risk too much tension in the wrong places. Doing just traditional strength exercises like pull ups, bench press, and shrugs can make things worse. Due to the high volume of throws, pitchers are at an even greater risk. Manage your pitch count and continue with flexibility and strengthening
Train your mid and lower trap to stabilize your scapular movement and allow for shoulder elevation. Start with bodyweight and bands first – light resistance but perfect form. Wall slides, band pull aparts, scap push ups and Y’s, T’s and W’s will improve your throwing mechanics. Add 2-3 sets of 10-15 reps of these exercises to your warm up. Set a strength foundation here, and then progress to reverse flys and face pulls.
Get Proper Nutrition to Perform
If I had to pick one area in which most young athletes are lacking, it would be nutrition. Sodas and sugary foods spike your insulin levels unnecessarily. Even “sports drinks” can cause problems if used outside of the training window. Over time, your body loses sensitivity to insulin and it starts to forget to respond to it. And that’s bad news for athletes, as insulin is what tells us to uptake the carbs we need for energy. Add to that the saturated and trans fats from fast and fried foods, and you’ve got a recipe for a slow metabolism. Since metabolism is what provides us with energy, ignoring good nutritional habits makes us feel worse, slows recovery, and lowers performance.
To stay at the top of your game, feed your body a good balance of whole grains, fruit and vegetables, lean protein and omega 3 fats. And make sure you’re getting enough food overall to fuel performance. A good softball game can last forever and demands your full attention while at bat or covering the bases – so keep those energy levels from spiking and dropping by feeding yourself well. Avoid fried or sugary foods and drink plenty of water. After the game, enjoy some chocolate milk to recover.. Attention to these details can make the difference between making it to the next level or not.
Avoid doing too much too soon
I know you want to be the next Jennie Finch or Cat Osterman, but give yourself the time to get there. Doing too much too soon can put you at high risk for a serious injury. The pressures from parents, coaches, teammates, colleges and more drives lots of young athletes to push beyond their limits. It’s okay to train hard, but be sure to listen to your body. If you feel like you’re breaking down, or something feels not right, train accordingly.
Too often I see young athletes burn out or get a career threatening injury before they turn 18. Get set up with a good strength and conditioning program, have someone monitor your throws and batting practices per week, and keep a balanced life outside of the softball diamond.
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