Warming up is something that all pitchers have to do, but something that we don’t put enough thought or purpose in to. Warming up to pitch should accomplish the same purpose it does for any other position or sport but tends to be more myth and habit than purpose specific actions.
While we’ve analyzed and torn the pitching motion to shreds the pitcher’s warm up is the area of pitching that we’ve put the least amount of thought into. Most of us leave how our pitcher’s warm up to our pitchers while most of them have no real clue what elements are crucial for a successful warm up. I’ve never understood why a softball pitcher needs 30-45 minutes to warm up while a Major League Baseball pitcher that throws close to 100mph will warm up for 20 minutes from cold to ready!
Warming up for any skill should achieve a number of things: it should help the player raise her body temperature, stretch her body parts thoroughly and increase her mental focus. In addition, a pitcher needs to warm up her motion, her fastball, each of her pitches as well as mixing her pitches briefly. All this without wearing herself out so much she can’t finish the game and yet making sure she’s ready for the first batter and the first inning.
Whenever I watch a pitcher warm up I’m constantly amazed at how long it takes, how many crazy drills a pitcher will include and how there really isn’t a purpose or a specific ending point. Think about it. A pitcher will typically start warming up by standing about 6-8 feet away from the catcher and doing some manner of wrist snaps. She’ll then move back about 5 feet and get into some kind of K position and throw a bunch of pitches before moving back to do some other kind of crane-like position throwing a bunch more pitches. The pitcher then usually moves behind the rubber and does a ton of walk-throughs before finally standing on the rubber, looking like she’s standing in cement, finally starting to pitch. Meanwhile, at least 20-25 minutes have elapsed before the pitcher throws one pitch from the rubber. When this pitcher goes into the game she really isn’t ready for the first batter or first inning, saying “it takes me a while to get going”, and yet she was “warming up” for over 40 minutes. Sound familiar?
The problem with this kind of warm up is that there really isn’t a purpose or a limit to it. While pitching drills done right are a great way to help a pitcher improve a specific aspect of the motion, their place is in pitching practice where improvement is the objective instead of in warm ups where getting ready to dominate in a game is the goal.
Below, we’ll look at some keys to an effective pitching warm up that will not only shorten the whole warm up process but will result in a better warmed up pitcher, ready to be her best from first pitch to last:
Let’s look at 4 keys for having an efficient and successful warm up:
- It’s Not Practice
- Warm up isn’t practice so make sure your players are actually warming up their bodies, their minds and their pitches.
- Don’t waste time doing something that won’t improve one of these 3 things: warm up your body, better increase your focus, and improve your pitch.
- Stay on task and keep the practicing in practice and not in warm ups.
- Drill it Right
- If you’re going to do drills during warm-ups then make them as game-like as possible. This means the pitcher, while doing any of these warm up drills, needs to be in the same pitching position during the drill that she’s in during that same position in her pitching motion.
- Too many pitchers do all these crazy things during warm ups that have way more to do with practicing pitching than with warming up.
- The following pictures shows the 3 most common drills done during pitching warm ups – some type of close-up snaps, a K position and usually some type of Crane or Stork Drill.
If we look at these 3 drills and where they actually occur during the pitching motion we can see if these drills done in this fashion will actually be helpful for a pitcher and improve her motion, or not. Remember, your pitcher isn’t trying to warm up in order to win a drill-off, she’s trying to warm up to win a game! So make sure that if you’re using drills in warm ups (or at any time) that the drills are done in as close to the correct pitching motion position as possible.
- This drill is designed to work on the release of the ball and as you can see from the comparison picture, when a pitcher releases the ball (by snapping her wrist) her feet certainly aren’t next to each other nor is her entire body facing forward with her feet together and flat.
- So if you’re going to do wrist snaps then do them with your body in the same position it’s in when you actually let go of the ball (or as close as possible).
- This is a really popular drill that I’ve never really understood.
- As you can see from the drill position on the left side of the picture above, that this is not even close to the position the pitcher is in during this part of her motion.
- The pitcher does not have both feet flat on the ground but instead has her weight on her back foot transferring to her front foot.
- And the pitcher’s glove is not up making the top leg of the letter K but instead is forward and ready to move down.
Crane or Stork:
- Again we can see how very different the drill position is from the actual position within the pitching motion.
- In this drill the pitcher is very stiff and upright while in the real motion the pitcher is far more forward and explosive.
- The Role of SLOW
- There is HUGE value to the body when learning a skill in going slow. Doing so (and this means really, really slow) can anchor the correct motion in a pitcher’s brain, but also makes the pitcher start to feel and control all of her body parts. (to learn more about this concept of Slow read a Fantastic book: The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle)
- Going slow also creates a great warm up routine that not only helps the pitcher master the details of the motion but it also helps keep that pitcher’s arm fresher for the game and the end of the season.
- For a great warm up, try this:
- Start about ½ way and pitch ½ speed (half speed is REALLY half speed and not pitching as fast as you can as close as possible)
- Move back to ¾ distance and pitch ¾ speed
- Then move back beyond the rubber and throw full speed using the regular motion (not the walk-through as this gives the pitcher a false sense of speed and power) but using her regular motion.
- The pitcher then stands on the rubber and works on her locations. This same routine can be used for all of her pitches.
- Set a Limit
- The final piece of the warm up picture is to set a limit on how long a pitcher will stay at a certain point in her warm up before moving on.
- Typically, if you ask a pitcher how long they do their wrist snaps or the Crane or the K position or the Leg Swings and they’ll all tell you – “until it feels good”, or “until I’m comfortable”. Well, on some days, that could be forever and you don’t have forever to warm up.
- So, the better way to do it is to say I’ll do this particular thing for 10 pitches, so after 3 if you’re not getting it right or it doesn’t feel good then you better hurry up and make an adjustment because you’re running out of pitches.
- This forces the pitcher to make an adjustment and do it quickly instead of just pitching until things randomly get better.
- This also makes it much easier to know how long your warm up will take since each aspect has a definite limit. But, the most important benefit to having a certain limit on each part of your warm up is that it puts the pitcher into the game adjustment mode where the pitcher must make the adjustment since she can’t stand out there pitching “until it feels good” because she’ll probably be sitting next to you on the bench by then.
When I used this type of scaled down and more focused type of warm up with two different skill level pitchers it was amazing at how fast each pitcher got warm. I had a college pitcher and a 15 year old pitcher and I didn’t tell either one how to warm up or what to do, they each did the above mentioned warm up and limited each stop to 10 pitches. They started completely cold and they each stopped when they felt they were ready enough to go into a game and pitch.
The following figures are from 1st pitch to completely warm and ready to go into the game.
15 year old Pitcher:
- What: She warmed up her Fastball and a Changeup
- How Long: It took her 3 minutes and 23 pitches from 1st pitch to completely warm
- What: She warmed up her Overhand & Underhand, Fastball, Dropball, Riseball, Changeup and Combinations
- How Long: It took her 16 minutes and 57 pitches from 1st pitch to completely warm
I know it seems incredible but we need to examine why we do the things we’ve always done and see if there might be a better, and more efficient way to do them – pitching warm ups included.
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