Anyone who has been around softball for some time has heard about running poles, mile runs, or 300-yard shuttles to get into shape. Hopefully, by now, we have moved on to determine what level of conditioning is needed to be an efficient softball player.
Softball is a sport that relies heavily on power, speed, and agility. Building up a high endurance with low output doesn't really register in the sport of softball. There is no denying that having a higher aerobic capacity will be beneficial whether you're playing softball, lifting weights, or running a marathon. Still, when we're working to achieve a higher aerobic capacity, we must consider the impact on joints and if it will transfer to the sport, which is the ultimate goal. It should make sense that getting good at running a 300-yard shuttle doesn't strongly correlate to hitting home runs or sprinting from home to first to beat out a ground ball.
In this article, I'll cover how we address conditioning for our softball athletes at Showtime Strength & Performance. These strategies cater to athletes from middle school to the professional ranks.
Adjust volume based on the athlete's fitness level and consider when the competitive season begins for the athlete. When our athletes are deep into the off-season, we generally stick to longer rest periods, giving them nearly full recovery since we expect a higher power output.
As we get closer to the in-season, we will cut rest periods down to mimic game work to rest ratios. This is important because softball is one of the few team sports where athletes are generally always near full recovery between plays. Fatigue can set in when playing 6-10 games in a weekend tournament, but that's a topic for another day.
Conditioning Strategies for Softball
Sled drags have been a staple at our facility for a long time because there are so many ways you can manipulate them based on the goals of the session.
We've used very heavy sleds as a main lower body exercise, long distances for time, power steps with moderate weights repeated, etc. Here are four main ways we utilize sled drags with our athletes.
Forward Sled Drag: 20-30 yards per trip. Weight moderately heavy but not enough to stop from moving continuously. Pull with the heel while leaning slightly forward but not bending over.
In-season: 2-4 trips 1-2x a week
Off-season: 4-8 trips 1-2x a week
Backward Sled Drag: The backward sled drag emphasizes the quadriceps. Get a full push-off with each leg during the drag. Depending on the volume, the weights will generally be 25-45 pounds lighter.
In-season: 1-2 trips 1x a week
Off-season: 3-4 trips 1-2x a week
Lateral Sled Drag: Lateral sled drags develop power for a lateral start position. This variation is great for developing power in the hips and helps strengthen muscles around the knee—crucial when dealing with female athletes. These will be the lightest sled drags and lowest volume as they're very taxing.
In-season: 1 trip x 15-20 yards 1 x a week
Off-season: 2 trips x 15-20 yards 1-2x a week
Farmer's walk can benefit any softball player at any level. The player's shoulders are pulled forward from constant internal rotation from throwing, use of phones and computers, and body type. All of these things can wreak havoc for teenage and college athletes, both in general health and performance. Farmer's walk can improve posture, strengthen upper and lower back, core, grip, and arms. It's really a great full body tool. You can use dumbbells, kettlebells, hex bars, or farmer's handles if you have them.
In-season: 1-3 trips 15-20 yards 1-2 x moderate but challenging weight
Off-season: 3-6 trips 20-30 yards 1-2 x a week up to as heavy as possible
Battle ropes are mainly used on our upper body days as a finisher. They generally help the athletes recover better and not feel as sore after their upper body sessions. These are great because you can very easily change work to rest periods based on their season. You can also pair ropes up with pre-hab or core training to save on time and number of ropes available to athletes.
In-season:- 3-4 rounds 15-30 seconds on 30-45 seconds off
Off-season: 6-8 rounds 30-40 seconds on 45-60 seconds off
Belt Squat March
The belt squat march is a great tool that can go anywhere in the training session. For some of our in-season athletes playing many games, this might replace their sprint work. We have used this to develop the muscles used during sprinting for athletes whose strength holds back their sprinting ability. We have done marches with our advanced athletes holding heavy med balls, Zercher harness, and safety bars, but these are very challenging and shouldn't be used with everyone. You can do these for time or reps; we have succeeded with both.
In-season: 2-3 rounds 100 steps or 40 seconds on 2 minutes off
Off-season: 4-6 rounds 100 steps or 60 seconds on 3 minutes off
When working with athletes of any sport, it's crucial to analyze what is truly needed for each athlete to reach optimal performance. It'll vary based on the sport and even the position they play. In softball, the pitcher doesn't need to be able to sprint as far as an outfielder, but the acceleration for a pitcher might be of greater demand. We used to take time off from sprinting our softball players, but it has become a year-round skill to train. Conditioning is pulled almost completely for the athletes who are playing later into the state tournament, and training will keep a higher intensity and drop the volume significantly.
If you're looking for help with training for softball players, feel free to comment below or reach out by email email@example.com.
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Showtime Strength & Performance owner Nick Showman has years of experience coaching youth, high school, collegiate-level, and professional athletes. Nick competed in powerlifting for six years while a member at Westside Barbell. His best lifts are a 942 squat, 700 bench press, and 760 deadlift. Nick lives in Granville, Ohio with his wife and dog.