Conditioning has not traditionally played a large role in softball, in the minds of the players or the coaches. However, it is a game that involves many distinct movements and skills, and general training programs are not good enough to address the many needs of softball athletes. Successful softball workout programs are specific to the requirements of the sport but varied enough to keep participants challenged and engaged.
According to Marc Dagenais of the website SoftballPerformance, the average softball play takes less than seven seconds to unfold. Consequently, while players do benefit from a sound cardiovascular foundation, anaerobic readiness is actually more important. Softball training programs should include a solid body of speed workouts, including traditional sprints, base running and intervals. Intervals are especially beneficial because they introduce both speed and endurance.
Softball requires many different movements and skills involving every muscle in the body. According to Brian Mackenzie, a coach with the United Kingdom's National Governing Body for Track and Field Athletics, one of the best ways to target multiple muscle groups in a short period of time is with circuit training. Players choose about 10 stations, each focused on a different muscle group, and perform each activity for a set number of seconds or repetitions. They repeat the entire circuit at least three times. Unlike traditional weightlifting, circuit training elevates the heart rate and builds stamina while also exhausting the muscles.
Marc Dagenais describes softball as a “ballistic” game. In other words, athletes on the field or even at bat are relatively idle until the play occurs. If muscles are cold, these sudden movements and muscle contractions can cause serious damage. Softball players should incorporate flexibility work into both practices and games in order to prevent injury. They should warm up before every activity and cool down before heading home. However, static stretching—holding a stretch without movement—actually can decrease performance. Instead, softball workout programs should focus on flexibility in an active manner, mixing it with speed drills or circuits so the body remains warm and loose.
Speed and strength are visible talents. However, the most gifted athletes are athletes with balance. Using balance boards and stability balls, players can force their muscles to react to unstable conditions. In fact, traditional weight training programs rarely target the muscles challenged during balance exercises, especially essential areas of the core and trunk. When a player performs a pushup with her feet on a stability ball rather than the floor, the abdominals are tested as much as the arms. Softball workout programs that focus on balance not only increase strength and prevent injury, but also develop coordination, an ability that is overlooked in most general training programs.