Rarely today do performance coaches have a training secret. Everyone learns from everyone so no one has to "reinvent the wheel."
I do have a training secret, and I believe it is why my athletes have been successful on the field. My training secret is something most athletes never think about: good posture.
Improving posture not only improves performance and reduces injury, it also creates the swagger most collegiate coaches are looking to instill. Good posture gives you that "look good, feel good, play good" mentality. The way athletes present themselves determines whether a coach considers them them collegiate caliber.
Achieving that swagger, confidence and body awareness starts with knowing what good posture looks like:
- Head in neutral position, earlobes directly over the shoulders, chin tucked
- Shoulder blades down and back towards your back pockets
- Spine with neutral curve
- Belly pulled up and in, creating a girdle effect
- Chest open with shoulders back; rib cage/sternum down
- Pelvis neutral; pubic bone in line with pelvis and sternum
- Feet and knees straight ahead, shoulder-width apart
Bad posture creates the opposite impression: someone with no confidence who seems uncompetitive. Definitely not a person whom a college coach would want representing their school and team.
Poor posture increases your risk of injury and hinders sports performance. It decreases hitting power, base speed, body awareness for fielding and even pitching velocity.
Kyphosis-lordosis (KL) is the most common posture that softball athletes exhibit. It is characterized by:
- Head too far forward
- Traps in ears
- Curve of the neck
- Shoulders forward and down
- Chest and rib cage collapsing
- Upper back rounded
- Lower back with increased curve
- Pelvis tilting forward anteriorly
This posture creates weaknesses in the core and glutes. Over time it also creates tightness in the low back and hip flexors, increasing your risk of injury.
Training for Posture
This is a never-ending task. You should never stop working on your posture. It's something I remind my athletes about constantly throughout the day, during sessions in the weight room and on the field.
Pilates and Yoga
Pilates and yoga are vital to making athletes better in the weight room, on the field and in everyday living. They share a philosophy of training based on creating a strong, stable and confident core before focusing on the limbs. (See STACK Yoga For Athletes: Yoga 101.)
It's the opposite approach from most of today's sports performance training. Core training consists of learning how to stabilize from the spine while fostering healthy and undamaged breathing patterns. This allows athletes to control their core while efficiently moving their limbs in a balanced state.
Although their focus is similar, pilates and yoga are two separate disciplines. Pilates teaches body awareness from the center out, emphasizing correct muscular sequencing to allow the athlete to move correctly automatically or unconsciously. Yoga approaches from the opposite direction, teaching athletes to have a sense of everything coming together to move efficiently and harmoniously. Body alignment and strength come from the center (spine) out to the limbs, with proper range of motion for each joint. (See Sarah Reinertsen's Core & Yoga Ironman Training.)
There are no flexibility standards for softball athletes. The only things that are important are proper alignment and range of motion. This ensures that the players can perform at a high level without tight muscles increasing their injury risk.
Bad form and technique stems from overloading athletes too early in their training. Combine this with bad posture and you're looking at increased injury rates because athletes cannot handle their bodies. To circumvent this requires an early emphasis on body awareness. In the weight room, we start with bodyweight exercises to set a foundation of strength. Once this is established, we add weight. (Check out Softball: Game Speed Training with Medicine Ball Throws.)
Lower body weight room exercises should include anterior and posterior work , multi-directional movements and hamstring and gluteal work. Upper body work should include the back as well as the chest. A training ratio of 4:1 back to chest will promote good posture, because it creates an open chest and the ability to control scapular movement, reducing the chance of shoulder injuries.
Full-body core work develops energy efficient stable athletes. Core work is done with every exercise, from the warm-up to the cooldown and into the rest of the day, emphasizing the coaching cues for good posture.
Texting, driving, sitting at a computer and carrying a backpack all contribute to posture deficiencies in most athletes. And without coaching guidance, they tend to get worse over the years, ultimately leading to loss of playing time due to injury.
Providing coaching cues throughout the day can increase awareness of body positioning and posture, while also improving the confidence and swagger of the athlete. While sitting in class, do random posture checks. It's as easy as reviewing the coaching cues and mentally fixing the spots that can be improved. Practicing correct posture throughout the day will create a habit, improving performance and ultimately that swagger on the field.
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