Softball Stretches and Flexibility Exercises
Softball stretching exercises to improve your performance and do away with softball injuries for good.
The sport of softball was conceived on Thanksgiving Day, 1887 in Chicago. A group of young men had gathered in the Farragut Boat Club’s gymnasium following a Harvard-Yale football game. One of the men – George Hancock – tied a boxing glove together, drew a diamond outline on the floor with chalk and threw the glove toward another man who hit it with a broom handle; thus softball was born. The invented game is a close correlate of baseball. Hancock followed up his casual invention of the game by formalizing rules, creating an oversized baseball for play, and setting permanent boundary markers on the gym floor.
If you’re looking to improve your softball game or just seeking to prevent softball injuries it is important to follow the information in this article. In addition, adding a few simple stretches to your fitness program will also help. To get started on a safe and effective stretching routine that’s just right for you, check out the Ultimate Guide to Stretching & Flexibility.
The game rapidly gained popularity, achieving international status in 1897, when a league in Toronto was formed. In 1888, softball became an outdoor sport, played on a small diamond and renamed indoor-outdoor. Hancock went on to publish an initial set of indoor-outdoor rules in 1889. The game underwent further modification in Minneapolis, where Lewis Rober, Sr. introduced a softball variant. Soon, women’s softball was underway; with the first women’s softball team was formed in 1895 at Chicago’s West Division High School.
Softball is played in two forms; fast-pitch and slow-pitch. The rules (as well as strategy) of each differ somewhat from baseball and the game of softball is more broadly adaptable to different age groups. Differences between fast pitch softball and slow pitch softball concern the dominance of batters and the relative significance of defense.
Scoring points is accomplished by the batter, who runs around a series of three raised markers or bases before touching the final base, known as home plate. An offensive team, which does the batting, faces off against a defensive team, which occupies the field. Teams switch play between offense and defense. The objective for the defensive team is to score three outs against the offensive team. These may be received in a variety of ways. An outfielder may catch the ball after it has been hit, or he way throw it to a defensive team mate standing on base ready to tag the offensive team’s runner as he attempts to round the bases. The pitcher may strike out the batter, should the latter fail to hit the ball after three pitches.
While players rely on running bases to score points (and are therefore subject to sprains, fractures and other running-related injuries), the upper body anatomy is also critical in the game. Pitching in particular makes use of a variety of muscles belonging to four complexes: scapular, glenohumeral, elbow and forearm, and wrist and fingers.
The pitch in softball differs in style from the baseball pitch, placing somewhat different demands on the upper body anatomy. The fast pitch is carried out with an underhanded windmill motion. The supraspinatus muscle comes into play, particularly when the arm is maximally elevated from the 6 to 3 o’clock position, which centralizes the humeral head within the glenoid. The posterior deltoid and teres minor muscles are maximally engaged from the 3 to 12 o’clock position during the pitch, continuing to elevate the arm and externally rotate the humerus.
In the next phase, the pectoralis major muscle accelerates the arm from the 12 o’clock position up to the point of ball release. The serratus anterior muscle typically acts to properly align the scapula, providing glenohumeral congruency, while the subscapularis muscle functions as an internal rotator, also acting to protect the anterior capsule.
While the windmill softball pitch differs significantly from the baseball pitch, broad anatomical similarities exist. The serratus anterior and pectoralis major muscles work together and appear to function in similar manner in both pitches. The infraspinatus and teres minor muscles are both posterior cuff muscles, though they become uncoupled during the 6 to 3 o’clock position phase of the softball pitch, with the infraspinatus muscle performing more independently when the arm is below 90 degrees.
Most Common Softball Injuries
Softball players are vulnerable to a range of acute injuries. A few are potentially serious, though the game is generally considered less dangerous than baseball. Collision with the ball or another player can cause contusions or fractures in the face, upper or lower body.
Acute injuries in the lower body include:
- Twisting the knee during running with injury to the anterior cruciate ligament or ACL
- Tearing of knee cartilage or meniscus
- Spraining the ankle while running
More commonly, softball players suffer from a range of overuse injuries, including:
- Rotator cuff tendonitis, an acute irritation of the tendons and muscles of the shoulder. The injury is most common in pitchers.
- Knee tendonitis, an irritation of the tendons and muscles of the knee. The frequent stops and starts involved in the game are particularly stressful.
Overuse injuries tend to produce sore or aching discomfort which worsens with continuation of the activity. Pain is due to inflammation and swelling. Rotator cuff tendinitis is one of the most common injuries in both baseball and softball. (Elbow injuries on the other hand are largely restricted to baseball, due to the different nature of the pitch.) Leg and ankle sprains and various contusions are quite common but often – unlike overuse injuries – do not require any significant time off the field.
Diagnosis of injuries may initially be based on the nature of pain involved. When upper body pain is stabbing or acute (rather than a dull ache), a mechanical problem is often to blame. Such pain is often the result of tearing injuries.
Mild overuse injury may be treated with anti-inflammatory medication, rest and analgesics, as well as with alternating ice and heat on the affected area. Chronic overuse injuries may require avoidance of stressful activity in the injuries region and in some cases, surgical intervention. Fractures and more severe sprains likewise necessitate medical care.
Injury Prevention Strategies
Musculotendinous overuse injuries; (particularly in the shoulder) are common afflictions for softball players. Pre-season training and conditioning are critically important in helping to prevent both overuse injuries and traumatic or sudden injuries like sprains. Strength training and attention to cardiovascular fitness are believed to reduce overuse injuries by over 50% while diminishing the severity of injuries which do occur. Attention to proper technique, particularly during throwing activity can help reduce the likelihood of overuse injuries as well as sudden injuries including muscle or ligament tearing.
The following tips can also help avoid injury:
- Always properly prepare before a game with warm-up and stretching.
- Comprehensive pre-season conditioning aids flexibility, endurance and strength, reducing likelihood of injury.
- Proper technique, especially in pitching, can help limit both traumatic and overuse injuries.
- Proper headgear protects the player from blows to the ear or temple area from ball impact.
- Proper energy absorbing chest padding should be used by catchers.
- Mouthguards should be used to prevent dental injuries.
- Fences, walls and posts should be padded to help prevent injury, should players run in to them, attempting to catch the ball.
The Top 3 Softball Stretches
Stretching is one of the most under-utilized techniques for improving athletic performance, preventing sports injury and properly rehabilitating sprain and strain injury. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that something as simple as stretching won’t be effective. Below are 3 very beneficial stretches for softball; obviously there are a lot more, but these are a great place to start. Please make special note of the instructions beside each stretch.
Lying Knee Roll-over Stretch: While lying on your back, bend your knees and let them fall to one side. Keep your arms out to the side and let your back and hips rotate with your knees.
Elbow-out Rotator Stretch: Stand with your hand behind the middle of your back and your elbow pointing out. Reach over with your other hand and gently pull your elbow forward.
Rotating Wrist Stretch: Place one arm straight out in front and parallel to the ground. Rotate your wrist down and outwards and then use your other hand to further rotate your hand upwards.
Looking at photos and watching videos on your computer is fine, but to really take advantage of all the stretching exercises on offer, grab a free copy of my Stretching DVD & CD-ROM.
The exercises and recommendations on this page are just a small sample of the many stretching exercises presented on my free Stretching DVD. In total, you'll get 44 video demonstrations of unique stretching exercises for every major muscle group in your body. Plus, over 80 printable stretching routines for 22 sports and 19 different muscle groups.
The DVD includes 3 customized stretching routines (8 minutes each) for the Upper Body; the Lower Body; and the Neck, Back & Core, plus a bonus CD-ROM that allows you to print out over 80 stretching routines that you can take with you where ever you go.
The Stretching DVD will show you, step-by-step, how to perform each stretch correctly. Plus, you'll also learn the 7 critical rules for safe stretching; the benefits of flexibility; and how to stretch properly. Check out my free Stretching DVD & CD-ROM for yourself.
About the Author: Brad is often referred to as the Stretch Coach and has even been called the Stretching Guru. Magazines such as Runners World, Bicycling, Triathlete, Swimming & Fitness, and Triathlon Sports have all featured his work. Amazon has listed his books on five Best-Seller lists. Google cites over 100,000 references to him and his work on the internet. And satisfied customers from 122 countries have sent 100's of testimonials. If you want to know about stretching, flexibility or sports injury management, Brad Walker is the go-to-guy.