Warming up before physical activity is conventional for many sports and baseball is not an exception to this practice. The starting pitcher is considered by many to be the most important position and player on game day. It is also the impression of many that with good pitching, the likelihood of winning the game is higher. This is why pitchers should be encouraged to prepare their bodies for the competition ahead with a thorough and effective pre-game warmup routine.
An effective warm-up should increase blood flow, raise core temperature, enhance metabolic reactions and improve range of motion. These will consequently enhance oxygen delivery to the working muscles, speed up motor unit reactions, improve the rate of force development, maximize strength and power and prevent injury 3, 4.
Pitchers should use warm-up routines that activate the upper extremities, lower extremities and core. The hips and legs are key for effective pitching performance because they generate momentum that is transferred through the trunk to the shoulder, arm, wrist, fingers and the ball. The hips and legs also help decelerate and maintain dynamic balance after the ball is released 1, 2, 5.
The pre-game warm-up should be divided into three phases:
- Non-Sport Specific: Movements that increase body temperature and tissue plasticity such as foam rolling, jogging, riding a bike and stretching.
- Sports-Specific: Activities that prepare the joint and muscles for the loads that they will sustain during the game such as skips, squats and lunge patterns.
- Functional: Movements that focus on the pitcher’s balance, coordination and stabilizing muscles such as medicine ball tosses and band squats.
The warm-up routine should start 60 to 90 minutes before game time depending on the individual’s preference and taking into account that the pitcher has to play catch and then throw in the bullpen. Also, different pitchers have different individual preparations that they like to do before throwing such as sprinting, stretching, long toss, snacking, meditating and these should also be considered. The following is an example of a warm-up routine for a typical pitcher:
- Bike riding for 5-10 minutes: To increase body temperature and tissue elasticity.
- Foam Rolling: hip flexors, glutes, groin, hamstring, lats, quads etc.
- Glute Bridge: To activate gluteus maximus and hamstrings using body weight, sandbag or dumbbell for 1-2 sets of 10 reps.
- Monster walk with mini band: To activate gluteus medius and maximus, pelvic stabilizers. Perform 1-2 sets of 10 reps.
- Pallof Press: To activate the core muscles, obliques and rectus femoris using cable machine or elastic bands for 1-2 sets of 10 reps.
- Reverse Fly: To activate posterior deltoid, rhomboids, middle trapezius, and pectoralis major. Use suspension trainer or elastic band and perform 1-2 sets of 10 reps.
- Squat to row: To generate unity of lower and upper extremities. Use suspension trainer and perform 1 set of 10 reps.
- Medicine ball chest pass: To increase recruitment of motor units and ensure a smooth transfer of power from the lower extremity, through the core and to upper extremity. Perform 1 set of 10 reps with a 10-15 lb ball.
- Medicine ball side-to-side slam: This is a more functional activity that activate the core in the frontal and transverse planes. Perform 1 set of 5 reps to each side with a 10-15 lb ball.
Remember, the major purposes of the pre-game warm-up are to maximize the pitcher’s readiness and increase the potentiation of the muscles involve in the throwing motion, improving performance and decreasing the risk of injury. As a rule of thumb, the warm-up should be comprehensive but not so intense that it causes fatigue and/or increases the risk of injury.
- Buttifant, D. and C. Hrysomallis, Effect of Various Practical Warm-up Protocols on Acute Lower-Body Power. J S&C Res. 29(3): 656-660, 2015.
- Campbell, B. M., et. al., Extremity Muscle Activation During Baseball Pitching. J S&C Res. 24(4): 964-971, 2010.
- Hoffman, J. NSCAs guide to program design. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics, 2012.
- Kapalka, Z., et.al., An Overview of The Importance of Warm-Ups for Baseball Pitchers. NSCA Coach, 3(3): 34-49.
- Oliver, G. D. and D. W. Keeley, Gluteal Muscle Group Activation and its Relationship with Pelvis and Torso Kinematics in High-School Baseball Pitchers. J S&C Res.24(11): 3015-3022, 2010.
Jose Salas, MS, ATC, CSCS is a Minor League Strength and Conditioning Coach for the Philadelphia Phillies.