How Cal Softball boosts explosiveness

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By: Chad Zimmerman

How the California Golden Bears softball team uses light plyometric exercises to boost explosiveness and roll over competition.

Coaches have long prescribed static stretching as a way for athletes to loosen up muscles and prevent injury. However, recent research shows that this type of warm-up is ineffective.

According to Scott O'Dell, strength and conditioning coach for the University of California softball team, "static stretching has been shown to decrease force production and do nothing to prevent injuries. We don't do it before our games."

Instead, O'Dell uses a dynamic warm-up to prepare his nationally ranked Golden Bears for another run at the Women's College World Series title. "It gets the blood flowing, which has been shown to be much more effective for performance and injury prevention," he says.

Cal is one of many college and professional teams that have switched to dynamic warm-ups. The Golden Bears' routine is unique though, because O'Dell has added a twist to give his athletes an edge. "We do some light plyometric movements after the dynamic stretching," he explains. "Light plyometric movements stimulate your central nervous system, so you can be faster and more explosive going into your game."

Fast and explosive is the name of Cal's game. The Golden Bears are one of the nation's best and most consistent teams. Over the past four years, they have been to the WCWS finals three times (taking the title in 2002), winning more than 75 percent of their games and compiling a record that is 143 games over .500. Despite their first-round exit in the 2005 WCWS, Cal cleaned up the competition last spring, outscoring them 316 to 96, posting a 52-15 record and stealing 100 bases versus opponents' 18.

Evidence of the effectiveness of O'Dell's methods extends beyond these impressive numbers. He says, "The girls are hitting the ball harder, throwing the ball harder and fielding more balls—all of which are power movements, explosive movements that are improved by a combination of a dynamic warm-up and plyometrics to stimulate the central nervous system."

Although many plyometrics are available, O'Dell recommends the Power Skip, Lateral Skip and Backward High Knee Skip in particular. These forward, lateral and backward movements incorporate as many muscle groups as possible and replicate the explosion and triple extension of Olympic Lifts.

Perform each movement for 20 yards at the end of your warm-up. Your game should start popping like never before.

FORWARD MOVEMENT

"Because of the nature of the movement, where you cover a lot of height and distance, the Power Skip is probably the most intense," O'Dell says. "It's like a regular skip, but you go for maximum height, maximum distance and maximum intensity trying to get all the air you can."

Power Skips

• Bound as high and far as possible off left leg

• Drive right knee and left arm up

• Point toe of right leg toward shin

• Land on left leg

• Immediately step forward and drive off right leg

• Bound as high and far as possible

• Drive left knee and right arm up

• Point toe of right leg toward shin

• Repeat

LATERAL MOVEMENT

Lateral Skips are performed without aiming for maximum height or distance. O'Dell says that because it is less intuitive, the exercise requires creative coaching. He suggests thinking of it as hopping laterally off the back foot. "The lateral skip is good for balance, stability and overall athleticism," he says. "Some girls come in and can't do it at all. But once they practice it a little bit, their athleticism improves."

Lateral Skips

• Bound laterally to left off right leg

• Land on right leg, contact ground with left leg

• Bound laterally to left off right leg again, repeat

• Repeat in opposite direction

Coaching Point: The movement results in two contacts of the back foot: one during the bound and one during the landing. After the second contact, you catch yourself with one contact of the front foot.

BACKWARD MOVEMENT

"We get our knees up above our hips to make sure the whole hip flexor-hamstring-glute area is warmed-up," O'Dell explains. "We model this skip off our running technique by keeping good posture and driving the arms with a 90-degree bend at the elbows."

Backward High Knee Skips

• Bound backward off right leg; drive left knee and right arm up

• Drive left knee up past hips, point toe toward shin

• Land on right leg

• Immediately step backward and drive off left leg

• Drive right knee and left arm up

• Drive left knee up past hips, point toe toward shin

• Repeat


Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock