Now that school has started it is time for players to get in shape for their upcoming spring seasons. It is baseball and softball conditioning time! Working hard during your conditioning program will pay huge dividends in the spring. During this time players should work on all facets of their game, arm and leg strength, speed, balance and flexibility. Improving the flexibility in your upper and lower half will allow for a better range of motion in your joints, therefore your arm and hip rotation will become more fluid. It is also important to have the proper support in your training shoes so you do not injure your legs and feet.
Long toss will improve arm strength and should be supplemented with upper body strength training under the guidance of your coaches and trainers. J- Bands™ are a great way for players to develop arm strength and prevent injuries.
It is very important to have a solid core and a balanced lower half. Therefore strengthening your lower half is first and foremost. Climbing stairs, leg squats, running long and short distances (sprints) or running in soft sand which is great resistance training are great ways to increase leg strength. This type of training will create a solid lower half which translates into a stronger drive off the pitcher's mound, catching up to fly ball that would normally fall in for a hit or being able to utilize your leg strength to become a more powerful hitter. Alternate your training, long distance running one day and sprints the next so you can recover and not fatigue the muscles in your legs. Squats and climbing stairs will build endurance in your lower half. As your leg strength improves so will your speed and quickness.
Wearing the proper training shoes is vitally important. I recommend wearing running shoes during your conditioning program because they will provide the best protection for your feet. Feet can often break down due to abnormal pronation which is flattening of the arch during running and become vulnerable to injuries during training. Running shoes are specifically designed to help protect feet during that process. They absorb impact load and shock from running on hard surfaces such as concrete, asphalt or dirt tracks. Running shoes alone do not provide adequate support for your feet. Custom made orthotics made by a foot specialist is the best way to support your feet while training. Over the counter arch supports can also be helpful as long as they feel supportive when they are placed in your shoes.
Agility training will help develop quicker reflexes and quick feet for stealing bases, playing defense or getting out of the batter's box. There are many types of agility drills you can perform that will enhance your performance. The ladder drill is just one of many ways to improve foot work and it is something you can do anywhere. The ladder can be found at local sporting good stores or on line. Flexibility can be improved by stretching exercises for both the upper and lower half and complements strength training. Stretch all muscle groups in your body before training begins each day and after the workouts. Pulling a hamstring muscle in the upper leg or straining a calf muscle in the lower leg will be less likely to occur if proper stretching is emphasized.
Foot and Leg problems
A few common foot and lower leg injuries that can occur during baseball conditioning are plantar fasciitis, arch cramps and shin splints. All of these problems usually develop because of abnormal foot bio-mechanics combined with repetitive overuse activities or over training. The mechanism of action that triggers these soft tissue problems is abnormal foot pronation, where the arch of the foot repeatedly collapses during the running portion of the conditioning program. Players that have arches that are collapsed have flat feet and are more prone to these foot and lower leg problems.
Plantar fasciitis is an inflammation along the long plantar ligament or plantar fascia. The plantar fascia is a thick firm band of tissue that runs from the heel bone to the ball of the foot. The player will experience symptoms of sharp pain originating under the heel bone and radiates throughout the plantar or bottom surface of the foot.
Arch cramps occur because of the plantar muscles in the arch fatigue and get tired during or after a workout and go into spasm. Tightness and soreness is felt in the arch.
Shin splints are a byproduct of poor training habits, worn out running shoes and flat feet. The lower leg muscles in the front and or back of the lower legs fatigue and become inflamed. The symptoms are pain and tenderness along the lower 1/3 of the inner aspect of the shin bone. They become aggravated when running on hard training surfaces.
Custom orthotics made by podiatrists or over the counter arch supports -- such as my own company's Instant Arches® Baseball and Softball -- are the best ways to eliminate these common foot and leg problems from occurring. Arch supports control abnormal foot biomechanics by allowing the foot to function normally when they are placed in your running shoes. By controlling the player's abnormal foot bio-mechanics (pronation) or flat footedness with orthotics, the muscles in the arch and lower leg will not fatigue, get tired or become overused.
The first sign of any pain or discomfort in the legs or feet should be addressed immediately. If these soft tissue problems are not treated quickly they can become chronic and nagging. Once the muscles become inflamed ice massage, over the counter anti-inflammatory medication, topical homeopathic anti - inflammatory creams like Traumeel® are ways to reduce the inflammation. Injuries that do not respond to self care treatments should be evaluated by a sports medicine podiatrist or orthopedist.
Although the information in this blog is sports specific for baseball and softball the same basic principles hold true for all sports. Whatever sport you participate in at the high school and college level, male or female, conditioning is paramount.
"As an athlete you can only control what you can control", working hard this fall and getting in shape will give you the confidence and edge you need for a successful season.