Softball loading is essentially the increase and decrease in work loads through periodization or an annual training plan, using volume and intensities of training.
The combination of physical, psychological and technical training at various levels through a planned progression. The amount of work imposed on the body in the process of softball training which increases over time. It is simply increasing the training loads over time.
A gradual and methodical increase in training loads depending on the athletes developmental and chronological age will provide a safe and successful increase in abilities. The amount of total hours that it requires to compete at the highest level is incredible. It does not all need to be done in 2 years when you consider it can take up to 10 years to build an elite athlete.
Four Types of Softball Loading
- standard loading
- step loading
- flat loading
Using a specific loading program without any deliberate changes in load for the entire season is standard loading. This loading is most beneficial during the preparation phase where anatomical adaptation is the goal. As a result you will see initial improvement which will then plateau. If standard loading is pursued through the competitive phase, the training results will plateau and create fatigue in the your softball players due to the demands of games and tournaments. This may even cause de-training during the most important phase of the season, the main competitive phase.
The difficulty with standard loading is that it is not as easy to increase training adaptations year to year due to the potential stagnation of the activities.
The practice of training athletes beyond their normal capacity on a regular basis without a recovery period is, known as “overloading”. It is believed that this type of training will ensure optimal training effects and will prepare the athlete for the tough competitions. The truth however is that without rest and recovery, athletes will experience fatigue and eventually burnout, preventing them from competing to their potential.
This type of training is not recommended for softball and in fact could be more of a detriment than a benefit. The potential of over training and extreme fatigue is not only counter productive, but can be dangerous for athletes. It can be used for a very short time with highly trained athletes but then must be changed in order to avoid injury and over training.
This method incorporates loading and unloading or regeneration steps to training through the use of volumes and intensities. It is the most efficient as it allows time for super-compensation and maximizing training effects without over-training and fatigue. These processes are done using macrocycles (periods of 2-6 weeks of training) which contain microcycles which are weekly periods of training.
Each step represents a microcycle (week of training) and each step up represents an increase in training. You see there are 3 steps up and one step down. The step down is the decrease in training where the recovery occurs. The next step after the recovery step will be higher than the first step of the previous loading phase. So using this model, the 5th week will be at the load of the 3rd week where you will step up each week again and then down for recovery again in the 8th week. The height of the increase generally depends on the sport and the athletes training levels.
As the load increases through the microcycle the player will experience fatigue which will be followed by an adaptation to the new load. They will experience supercompensation and an increase in softball performance as a result of the physiological changes to training. This continues through the yearly training plan. These adaptations will also vary from year to year and should be planned for.
Being that softball is a complex sport, training increases would be based on many physical, technical and psychological skills. This is where being creative and using the softball model as a guide. The following aspects of training can be manipulated to effect the training loads:
- number of training sessions per week
- number of hours of training per week
- number of drills, routines or distance
- intensity of training sessions
These training components can be manipulated within the microcycle.
When considering training plans some developmental considerations include (from Periodization, Methodology and Training, Tudor Bompa):
- flexibility improves day to day
- strength from week to week
- speed from month to month
- endurance from year to year
Loads should be increased based on the complexity of training. Athletes bodies need to be able to catch up to the adaptations not only for maximum benefit but also for confidence as well. For example, because strength gains increases quicker than endurance, if strength training is the goal the steps could be higher than if the focus was endurance training.
Variations in Step Loading
This method of loading should be used for junior athletes to prevent fatigue and burnout. They are not yet trained enough and their bodies are not yet developed enough to withstand the volumes and intensities of step loading so the steps are varied. For example there might be a low intensity training microcycle and then a medium or high intensity microcycle followed by a low microcycle. This facilitates recovery and regeneration and keeps the athletes energized through the season.
This level of training is for the most advanced athletes that can withstand the intensity of 3 weeks of high intensity training with one week of recovery. It is only recommended during the preparation phase after the anatomical adaptation phase. This type of loading is meant to get the most out of a short time period of training.
The goal of this training is to essentially compress as much technical, tactical and physical adaptation as possible to prepare for the next phase of training which might be the pre-competitive phase. Planning is critical in order to maximize the results from his short time period.