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4 Keys to Improving
Pitching Warm-Ups

By: Cindy Bristow

If pitching is so important in fastpitch softball it seems like a pitcher’s warm ups would be crucial. Is your pitcher warming up properly and effectively? Find 4 Keys that all pitchers should include in their warm ups.


Fastpitch Softball 4 Keys to Better Pitching Warmups

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

    Fastpitch Softball Winning Pitching Warmup Routine

    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.

    Wrist Snaps:

    Fastpitch Softball Pitching Wrist Snap Warmups

    • 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).

    K Position:

    Fastpitch Softball Pitching K Position Warmups

    • 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:

    Fastpitch Softball Pitching Crane Warmups

    • 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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

College Pitcher:

  • 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.

For more help with all aspects of pitching, check out the following products:

Filed under: All,Pitching,Practice — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — Cindy Bristow @ 12:05 am

7 Comments »

  1. Thank You!! So much. I have for ever been frustrated with how long it takes my college pitchers to warm up. I call it their ritual. It really frustrates me on inter squad days, with pitchers that also play a position. Plus…to me it just seems that the underhand motion shouldn’t take more 5-10 minutes to get loose!!I most certainly will try this, thank you for the information.

    Comment by Ralph Baldenegro — October 6, 2009 @ 9:33 am

  2. My daughter is 12. Currently we are using 5 drills to get warmed up. I always thought that we were wasting arm strength on game day by using these drills. When we watched other teams warm up with only a couple of drills we didn’t know who was preparing better for the game. I am going to use your advice and keep the drills for practice and a better more effient warm up for games. Thanks

    Comment by Kevin Murnane — October 6, 2009 @ 2:43 pm

  3. Great Article I completely agree. I have noticed with teaching lessons and from pitching myslef that warming up for long periods of time is usually indicative of a pitcher trying to build up enough confidence to pitch in the game not a pitcher who needs aditional time to warm up their body. Great job Cindy!

    Comment by Megan Brown — October 7, 2009 @ 10:29 pm

  4. Cindy, thanks for a great article! I’ve wondered aloud for years why wrist snaps are done facing your target when the hips are 45 degrees on release using the pitching motion. I teach my daughter to keep her hips & shoulders at 45 degrees so the hand is at the release point when snapping the ball. In fact she does a modified wrist snap that includes a slight whipping motion to help reinforce this.

    Regarding game day warm-ups: I have my 13 YO daughter first loosen her upper body with some arm cirles, upper body pivots, etc, for a couple of minutes, then do the arm circle drill at 75% for 10 reps with feet planted, then 10 reps at 75% with a stride. From there she’ll begin pitching full motion 100% at distance 5 each of her pitches for a couple of cycles. Total time about 10 – 15 minutes and total pitches around 50.

    Comment by Gerry Boyce — October 8, 2009 @ 1:41 pm

  5. Okay, I can think of several possible reasons for a long warm-up. FYI, I don’t use a long warm-up ritual with pitchers that I instruct/coach/teach. The reasons have nothing to do with physiology… it has everything to do do with the mind. With all due respect to other contributors:

    1) Working out some pre-game adrenaline/jitters… I know one pitching coach that absolutely swears by this (he was a dominant fast pitcher himself and he’s been a pitching instructor for at least thirty years). He feels that parents and coaches themselves are often anxious and nervous; then inadvertently transfer their tension to their pitchers. Trying to rush a pitcher’s warm-up strikes me as a possible manifestation of his concern.

    In acknowledgment of his case: When I go to national and/or regional tournaments, I often see both pitchers hit the fence with high pitches during the count when facing the first batter, during the first games of the day. After they settle down, they have pin-point control. Personal, painful, example… I had a kid pitching for me at a regional, first game, that walked the first batter she faced… then she threw some wild pitching bringing the runner around to score… thereafter, my pitcher threw a perfect game and lost 1 – 0. Second example was an opposing pitcher that threw bb’s, but she also had very erratic control. We had spread her a couple of times in previous games. We faced her in a tournament championship game, after she’d pitched a couple of previous games on a hot day and she was fatigued… and, as a result, she was completely settled down, not over throwing and had good command of her pitches and beat us.

    2) Consistent routine: While it isn’t practice, doing everything the same in a ritual is important to certain people’s psyches. Everyone’s clock is different… what’s the hurry, you gotta a train to catch. If a kid has a warm-up ritual, what’s it to you? I will make a personal statement, I always like pitcher’s to work at a steady, unhurried pace (not slow)… breaking down every pitch prior to the pitch. Working at a brisk rhythm is great, if you’re having a great day… not so great when you’re having a bad day. Not to contradict myself, if a pitcher is my comfortable rushing, I let her work at her pace… I don’t impose my clock on her. I guess I would be more concerned, if the person that wants a faster warm-up was actually pitching the game. Since they aren’t pitching, I guess I am still questioning what exactly is the concern?

    3) Rituals aside, the psychology of why would you want to rush a pitcher faster than what she is comfortable going? You want your pitcher to feel in control… what is gained by pushing her at your pace instead of letting her warm-up at her own pace?

    Anyway, if you got a train to catch, or a game to lose, as the case might be, feel free to impose your pace/rituals on your
    pitcher. The same coach I first referenced above indicated that it takes a pitcher (or a good catcher) to understand a pitcher’s mentality. I do agree with him on that point completely (since I was a catcher)… there is a the game within the game… and it involves more than stretched muscles.

    Comment by Bob Martin — October 12, 2009 @ 5:51 pm

  6. Hi Bob -
    Thanks for the passion of your comments about warmups but I never suggested rushing warmups. I agree with you that warmups are vital for both a pitcher’s mental and physical preparation and that different pitchers will have different paces and different needs. Even so I still contend that most pitchers at all levels have far too much fat inserted in their warmups and aren’t focused enough on what it is they’re actually warming up for. Rushing anything isn’t a smart strategy but don’t confuse efficiency and focused effort with rushing. Cindy B.

    Comment by Cindy Bristow — October 13, 2009 @ 9:42 pm

  7. I am head coach of a 10U girls softball team, and I warm my pitchers up with the “snap” and the “K position” before EVERY practice and game. I also have them do knees about 3/4 way with full arm circles, which has helped tremendously before going 100% at full distance. I agree, some pitcher have a lot of fat in their warm ups, but I believe it is becuase they werent “properly” taught if you will. Not that they were taught wrong, but like mentioned above, maybe the coaches and/or parents were trying to “make sure” their pitcher has done every thing in her power to be on her game. Sometimes it quality and not quantity.

    Pitchers, batters, catchers etc all have there niche that they do, and sometimes it WILL take them out of their mental zone if you mess with it, but during the off season when they are learning the most is when this is a good time to “structure” the warm ups and give each pitcher the proper will and confidence.

    Much luck to you and your success!

    Comment by Vinnie Crump - Kendallville SWAT — July 18, 2012 @ 8:02 am

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