The Conversion to Power/Speed/Agility is where the benefits of the physical training done previously are put to work and is directly dependant on the gains attained during the strength training phase. The transformation to maximum power, speed endurance and agility is done progressively from year to year with good quality training.
Power / Speed / Agility
This bio-motor ability is essential for softball performance. The purpose of all of our training is to decrease the amount of time it takes to execute a skill with maximum power such as hitting. Shortening the time of motor unit recruitment involving the fast-twitch muscle fibres. Neuromuscular adaptation takes place during power training where the Central Nervous System learns when and when not to send impulses causing contraction of the muscles for movement.
Definition of Power:
- the rate of producing force
- the product of force times velocity
- the amount of work done per unit of time
- the speed that muscles can produce work
Power training must not be done with hypertrophy training which is common in many situations. It must be specifically designed for softball, training the prime movers for skill execution.
Exercises should be minimal, 2-3 exercises with a higher amount of sets, and be as closely related to the skills as possible. The actions must be performed as quickly as possible recruiting the highest number of motor units explosively. They also need to be sufficient weight to produce the power gains and does not cause a risk to the muscles.
Purpose of Power Training:
- increase the recruitment of fast twitch muscle fibres
- increase the discharge rate of fast-twitch muscle fibres
Agility is actually power. Power is required in order to maximize agility and to change direction quickly which is common in softball. It is not enough to simply participate in agility drills without improving strength and power. Fast-twitch muscle fibres must be recruited which is done during and towards the end of the maximum strength phase rather than the anatomical adaptation phase which when many programs will include agility training.
Agility gains are maximized toward the end of the conversion phase and continue to improve during the competitive phase even though the conversion phase ends as the competitive phase begins. Quick feet, agility and quickness are all the result of the firing of fast-twitch muscle fibres rather than separate entities in sport.
Training Activities for Agility:
- power balls- decrease weight and increase speed of movement
- medicine balls – decrease weight increase speed of movement
- plyometric exercises – increase intensity
This training is about the essence of power. Moving an increased amount of weight (external resistance) in the quickest amount of time using internal force (internal strength). The goal is for the internal strength to be stronger than the external resistance, again drawing on the strength gains from the max strength phase.
Parameters for Isotonic training:
- Cyclic sports load – 30-50%
- Acyclic sports load – 50-80%
- number of exercises – 2-5
- Number of reps per set 4-10
- Number of sets 3-6
- Rest interval 2-6 min
- Speed of execution – fast
- Frequency per week 2-3 times
When the internal force (strength) exceeds the external force (resistance) with ease, this is ballistic or dynamic action. Throwing a bat on the follow through of a swing is a ballistic training method. The important thing is to let go of the bat or deceleration training occurs instead of acceleration training which is the intended result.
The force application is emphasized from the beginning of the execution right through to the end of the activity. This is complete and fast recruitment of fast-twitch muscle fibres. With practice your softball player can learn to relax the antagonistic muscles while contracting the agonist muscles during this activity.
Plan these types of activities for the end of the training session or after the warm up.
- Load – standard
- Number of exercises – 2-5
- Number of reps 10-20
- Number of sets 3-5
- Rest interval 2-3 minutes
- Speed of execution – explosive
- Frequency per week 2-4
The speed of execution of this activity is critical to engage the maximum number of fast-twitch motor units creating the fastest muscle contraction. It is recommended that the athlete use an implement that is the weight of the bat or ball that will be used during competition. Do not use weighted balls for this type of activity.
Power Resisting Training
Performing a concentric movement slowly then being isometrically held for 2-3 seconds (loading) at some point during the movement and then being released to complete the movement as a ballistic or dynamic movement is power resisting. It is the ballistic movement after being is the portion of the movement that develops power.
- Load – dependent on exercise being performed
- Number of exercises 2-4
- Number of reps 4-8
- Number of sets 3-5
- Rest interval 2-4 minutes
- Speed of execution – explosive
- Frequency 1-2 times per week
It is recommended that power-resisting training be done with other power training methods.
Most sports requires some form of plyometric movement. The motion of stretching a muscle eccentrically and then concentrically exploding or contracting that muscle to perform the skill. Softball definitely benefits from this type of training. The easy definition for plyometrics used by many is winding up using an elastic effect.
As with most of the power training activities, an increased amount of fast-twitch muscle fibres are activated during this method of training. Here the series elastic component is what produces the elastic component of the action creating a loaded spring effect.
Some results of plyometric training:
- quick mobilization of larger innervation activities
- recruitment of all motor units and muscle fibres for the muscles being used
- increased firing rate of motor neurons
- transfers muscle strength to power
- appropriate nervous system development
Like most power training methods, a good quality strength training background will maximize the benefits of training and prevent injury.
Junior athletes younger than 14 should only be participating in low impact plyometrics that are included in their regular fundamental movement skills activities. Hopping skipping and jumping are fun and do not put stress on the joints that organized plyometric training will. Between 14-16, an introduction with a solid anatomical adaptation background can be done to prepare them for more serious training in their specialization phase.
Training plan considerations:
- age and physical development of the athlete
- skills and techniques involved in the exercises
- performance factors of softball
- energy requirements of softball
- training phase location
- long term training and preparation and progressions
Power Endurance Training
Sports such as hockey (accumulative effect) swimming and track use this type of power. The output of power continuously for an extended period of time is power endurance or HV (high volume) X HI (high intensity). With adequate training athletes in these sports will be able to avoid fatigue and prevent the slowing down effect toward the end of the effort. In Softball it would be more useful for pitchers and catchers who can throw over a hundred throws in a game. Tournaments will also tax the endurance system which will benefit from training.
- Load 30-50%
- Number of exercises 2-5
- Number of reps 15-30
- Number of sets 2-4
- Rest interval 3-5 minutes
- Speed of execution – very dynamic
- Frequency 2-3 times per week
There are numerous devices and activities that can be used to develop power. It is critical however that the training is specific to the needs of softball. Some of the considerations include:
- landing and reactive power
- throwing power
- take off power
- starting power
- acceleration power
- deceleration power
It is not recommended that youth (up to 14 years) should not be periodizing their training. They should remain in multi lateral training to ensure they are adapting their young bodies and preparing them for specialization safely and enjoyably. Injuries occur often in youth that are specializing too early and participating in training that more mature bodies are capable of doing.