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By: Tammie Smith
Tennessean Staff Writer
Nashville Tennessean

In a few weeks, all of the Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire wannabes will take to ball fields. They may sit behind a desk during the week, but on the weekends, well, they dream.

If you're one of them, don't just get out there, twist at your waist a few times, play a few rounds of catch to warm up and think you're ready to play league softball.

To get the most out of the game, it helps to be at your physical best.

And in the game there are some muscles that get used more than others. During pitching and batting, it's the chest and shoulders, particularly the rotator cuffs, pecs and triceps. During pitching and batting you also need good torso strength, i.e., a strong back and abdomen. Leg power will get you going with those bursts of speed needed to run bases.

Jeff Holt, a fitness trainer and owner of Personal Health and Fitness Inc. in Hendersonville, says a training regimen for softball should focus on improving overall strength and flexibility.

"You really need to work on all major muscles," Holt says.

Since August, Holt has been working with Jordan Baker, a first-year student at Volunteer State Community College and a member of its baseball team.

"I'm looking to get bigger and stronger," says Baker, who plays right field.

Since he has been working with Holt, Baker has put on about 15 pounds, much of it muscle.

"Something that happens with a lot of ball players in preparing for the season, when they come out and first start throwing the ball, the tendency is to throw hard," Holt says. "It will hurt them if they are not ready.

"What I advise them is to do long tossing off season. Don't throw hard, but spread the distance you are throwing the ball. It loosens, lengthens and builds strength in the muscle. Eventually you will be throwing hard on a regular basis."

Holt had Baker demonstrate some exercises that should be incorporated into a training regimen for softball. Bear in mind, weight machines should be set to what works for you. Jordan actually trains with heavier weights than those pictured, but used lighter weights for demonstration purposes.

The exercises are grouped into four categories -- upper body, lower body, torso and shoulders, wrists and arms -- to make it easier to follow.

In the machine-based exercises, Holt's gym has Hammer strength equipment. If your gym has a different equipment line, select the corresponding equipment. Or ask a trainer at your gym to show you free-weight alternatives.

In general, start off with one set of 12-15 repetitions. Work up to two or three sets.

Upper body exercises

Incline bench press. Works pecs, anterior deltoids and triceps. Sit on bench. With arms at side and holding a weight in each hand, lean back on bench. Bring weights up and over chest so that they meet. Then slowly return to starting position.

Lat pulldowns. Works upper back, or latissimus dorsi. Set weight on machine. Grasp bar, with hands shoulder-width apart or closer. Pull bar down in front of you to about mid-chest. Maintaining tension in back, allow bar to rise to starting height.

Lower body

Leg extension. Works quadriceps and helps build knee stability. Set weights. With back against seat back, slowly lift weights and then lower without jerking or bounce. Use a moderately slow motion to get the best workout. If you have knee problems, use a more limited range of motion, that is lift and lower weight through a smaller range.

Leg curl. Works hamstring. Lay face down on machine bench. Keeping your torso and hips down, bring your feet toward your buttocks and then lower to starting position.

Squat or leg press. Works hip and leg muscles. With a spotting partner and working at a squat rack, set weights. Standing with back to bar, lift bar and place on shoulders. Slowly lower your hips as if about to sit down. Stop when your thighs are at a 90-degree angle to the bar. Make sure knees do not extend beyond your toes. Slowly rise to starting position, without locking knees.

Torso strength

Crunches. For abdominals. Lay on floor on your back with your knees on a chair or bench. Have knees bent at 90-degree angle. Cross arms over chest. Slowly raise shoulders off floor, being careful to keep lower back on floor. As you reach top of lift, hold for a second, then slowly lower. Do not pause at bottom, rather keep tension constant and immediately lift again. "If you use the right resistance, 30-50 repetitions three times a week will help you build sufficient strength," Holt says.

Lower back extension. Works lower back. Get into position on machine. With arms crossed over chest, lower torso and then lift to parallel or above parallel, depending on your capability and back strength.

Shoulders and wrists

Wrist rolls. Works forearm and flexes and extends wrists. With wrists down and holding a small weight, flex wrist down and back up. Reverse so that wrists are facing up, and flex wrist forward and back. Do high repetitions with light weights.

Rotator cuff work. Wrap rubber tubing around machine at chest level. Stand sideways next to machine. Using arm farthest from machine, pull rubber tubing across front of chest. Be careful to keep elbows at side. Alternate arms.

Next, hold rubber tubing in one hand, stretched over one shoulder and facing away from machine. Keeping upper part of arm parallel to floor, stretch rubber tubing up and over shoulder.

Next, hold a small weight at side. When holding weight, keep thumb pointed up (not curled around weight). Raise arm at side to eye level, then lower to just short of hip.

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