Cardio Fitness & Softball

Oct 08, 2023

I'm sure many of you monitor those heart rate zones on your watch. Often, we assume that to achieve peak fitness, we must consistently reach the highest zone—pushing ourselves harder and for longer durations. Sound familiar? I'm here to highlight a more nuanced approach to enhancing and maintaining your cardiovascular fitness, essential for our health and our sport.

Why does cardiovascular fitness matter, particularly for softball? After all, we aren't marathon runners, are we? I can still recall the groans from my team when I made them run laps. Sure, it's possible to excel in softball even with mediocre fitness. Some athletes from other disciplines even question the athletic intensity of softball. Just watch the MLB: there are players with noticeable beer bellies raking in millions. Here are three key reasons why cardiovascular fitness matters:

1. For Your Health: It's scientifically established that exercise acts as a preventive measure. It reduces your risk for a plethora of ailments, from metabolic disorders to cancer and neurological diseases. While this doesn't guarantee immunity from these conditions, it certainly reduces your vulnerability.

2. For Your Safety: Playing 3, 4, or even 5 softball games in a scorching summer day is not a walk in the park. Our bodies don't just adapt to such an intense regimen overnight. A solid fitness foundation is imperative to ensure you remain stable and resilient, be it under the blazing sun or during a standard practice.

3. For Performance Gains: Optimal cardiovascular fitness bolsters your potential for rapid strength gains in a condensed timeframe. In the contemporary athletic landscape, sheer hard work isn't the sole key to success. A foundational level of cardiovascular fitness is indispensable to harness your full potential and benefit from strength training. Consider this: your heart, by pumping blood, provides essential nutrients to muscles during workouts. These nutrients rejuvenate your tissues, letting them recover and fortify. A faulty pump, or, to put it another way, "underinflated tires", will unequivocally hamper your progress.

You might now be contemplating daily 30-minute or hour-long sessions on the elliptical. However, both in sports and life, there's a principle dubbed 'exercise literacy.' It underscores the importance of training our bodies to react instantly in every conceivable direction—whether it's forward, backward, sideways, vertically, or through rotations. It's not about monotonous routines but about dynamic, full-range movements that sculpt elite athletes. This holistic training, which simultaneously elevates our heart rates, promises multifaceted benefits.

Contrary to common belief, consistently hitting the maximum heart rate isn't the golden rule. In our sport, we typically function in zone 2, just under our lactate threshold. In this zone, our bodies predominantly burn fats instead of glucose. The bulk of our gameplay is situated in zone 1, gradually shifting to zone 2 as the day unfolds. Then, there are those intense moments that necessitate a surge of energy from our fast-twitch muscles, calling for our utmost effort. What's the most efficient training for our sport? It's largely about training in zones 1 and 2, peppered with zone 5 workouts once or twice a week. Regular zone 5 training is essential as it expands the scope of our zone 2, elevating our lactate threshold. In layman's terms, it's not about reaching zone 5 daily, as this can exhaust you. Yet, incorporating it regularly during the week optimizes your performance in zone 2.

For our high school and younger athletes, zone 2 typically equates to a heart rate between 120 and 140 bpm. How do you discern if you're in zone 2? You should feel exertion but should still manage a conversation with a workout companion. Keep in mind, your watch might provide an estimated value for zone 2, which is derived from 60-70% of your heart rate reserve. This reserve is the gap between the maximum heart rate (220 minus your age) and your true resting heart rate. However, remember, this is just an estimate. To pinpoint your exact zone 2, you either need to test your lactate thresholds or rely more on the "talk test" than your watch's predictions.

Training in zone 2 can significantly augment strength and amplify the size and density of our mitochondria. Intriguingly, prevailing cancer research indicates a mitochondrial genesis for the ailment. Regular zone 2 workouts, spanning 30 minutes to an hour, might appreciably mitigate cancer risks by fostering robust mitochondria—a delightful bonus to our workout regimen.

Our goal? Reside primarily in zone 2 and engage in zone 5 for about 30 to 45 minutes weekly, typically via interval training because maintaining this range nonstop for 30 minutes is a tall order.

In our next post, we’ll dive into improving your cardiovascular fitness, and how to track it.


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