Having a good pre-game pitching routine is essential for success on the mound. Although mental preparation for pitching is vital, physically preparing your body is equally important.
There are some baseball pitchers who do not require a significant amount of warming up, but for most, having an effective warm routine is a necessity.
I’m going to lay out some ideas and techniques that can be used as a pre-game warm up routine for pitchers. Remember, each of these recommendations are completely optional, but I believe many of them are necessary to pitch at your highest level.
Seven Excellent Pre-Game Pitching Suggestions
You can use each of the following steps together, modify them to your liking, or maybe only add a few to your current routine. The choice is yours!
1. Use a Foam Roller
One of the best ways to get your muscles activated and warm is through using a foam roller. This should be the first step in your warm up.
It doesn’t have to be long, but you should take your time rolling out your IT Band, quads and hip flexors, and focusing on the scapular muscles. Go to Foam Rollers for Baseball for more information on how to use this device.
2. Warm-up the Legs Before Stretching
Before any baseball pitcher begins stretching, players must increase the temperature of their body, increase their heart rate, and increase the blood flow into the muscles.
Immediately going into a stretching routine without warming up the body is dangerous.
The foam roll is only a preliminary warm-up method that prepares your body for the subsequent warm-up. There are several different methods for a pre-stretch warm-up, but understanding the conditions will determine how much effort you will need to put in.
For example, if you pitch in colder temperature areas, you will probably need to warm up much longer than a baseball pitcher who plays in California. Also, depending on whether you’re a starting pitcher or relief pitcher, you may not have the luxury of an extended warm-up time.
Many pitchers will perform a pre-stretch jog that is usually from foul pole to foul pole. Typically, 4-8 poles would be sufficient enough to warm-up the legs.
Keeping your body warm is important, so another strategy is to make sure that you keep your warm-up gear on. Once you complete your pre-stretch warm-up, you will then proceed into a dynamic stretching routine.
3. Utilize Dynamic Stretching, Not Static
Dynamic stretching before pitching is a necessity. Since pitching requires a significant amount of movement, and explosion, dynamic stretching is the best way to properly prepare.
However, static stretching before a game can be detrimental towards your success because it can potentially decrease explosiveness, and does not adequately prepare the muscles for strenuous activity.
The initial portion of the dynamic stretching routine should target the lower half of the body. Pitchers should use exercises that focus on stretching the groin, hamstrings, and hip flexors because these leg muscles are heavily utilized in the pitching delivery.
Check out how Jimmy Rollins utilizes dynamic stretching before his workout:
Once you complete your dynamic stretching for your legs, you will then move on to stretching out your lower and upper back. This portion is very important because of the violent rotational movements involved in throwing a pitch.
Lastly, you will need to properly warm-up your rotator cuff and forearms. This section of the dynamic stretching is always last because as soon as it’s complete, you will have the option of going straight into throwing or using bands/cords to warm-up even further.
4. Use Resistance Cords
Some pitchers prefer to use cords proceeding their dynamic stretching routine. Using cords will warm-up the rotator cuff even further, and will properly prepare it for throwing.
However, as a pitcher, you must know the capacity of your arm. Make sure that you aren’t using an incredibly heavy resistant cord that will fatigue your rotator cuff rather than warm it up.
This is a completely optional addition to any pre-game pitching routine, but many pitchers believe it’s a necessary component. It’s purely preference, and you must decide what works best for your arm.
Some typical resistant cord exercises before a game include internal and external rotation, single-arm rotations, and front raises.
5. Start Sprinting
Once you have completely warmed-up your body, then it’s recommended you perform some sprint work before throwing. I believe it’s best to run sprints following the warm-up to avoid any unnecessary injuries.
Make sure you don’t overdo it, but make sure that your legs are getting the explosiveness they need.
Throwing a pitch is similar to a sprint if you’re comparing it to the level of explosiveness.
Typically, you can perform five 90 foot sprints at about 70-80%, and then finish with five more sprints at a decreased distance around 60 feet with 90% or more effort.
You must decide how conditioned you are, how many sprints is too much or too little, and how warmed up you need to be to effectively perform on the mound.
At this point, your conditioning level should be at the stage when running ten sprints before pitching shouldn’t be incredibly difficult.
6. Pre-Bullpen Warm-Up
Once you feel that you’re rotator cuff and throwing arm are properly warmed-up, then you can begin throwing on the foul line. This is the stage when pitchers make mistakes.
Remember, it’s a WARM-UP. The purpose of throwing on the foul line before going into the bullpen, is to ensure that the arm is prepared, stretched out, and most importantly, fresh. Do not spend more time out on the foul line then you do in the bullpen.
Here are some suggestions for the initial throwing stage:
Begin by light tossing. Even at this early stage of throwing, you need to work on hitting a target. By doing so, you will prepare your mind for locating your pitches during the game.
Continually progress your way back. Some pitchers prefer to really stretch it out by long tossing, and others prefer not to. Either way, once you have thrown a sufficient amount of longer throws, progressively work your way back until you reach about 75 feet.
At this point, you can throw about ten changeups from this distance. This is a great drill because it forces the pitcher to maintain the same arm speed as their fastball by throwing it at a distance further than the mound.
The most important thing to remember is that you do not want to heavily fatigue your arm at this stage of throwing. Make sure your pitching arm is properly warmed-up, but do not spend an incredible amount of time at this stage.
Once you think your arm is properly warmed-up then you will proceed into the bullpen.
7. Focus on Your Pre-Game Bullpen Session
Now that your arm is warm, and ready to go, you will begin to throw off of the mound.
Your first 5-10 pitches are generally used to help you find the strike-zone. Once you are pretty confident about your pitch location, mechanics, and delivery, you can then begin to locate on the inner and outer halves of the plate.
When you’re comfortable locating your fastball and off-speed pitches, you can then simulate a game situation. You can do this by having your catcher call combinations of pitches that are typically used throughout a game.
One thing that can help baseball pitchers prepare more for the game situation is by having a mock batter stand in while you perform this sequence. This is the absolute best way to simulate what you will see while you’re on the mound, and will force you to focus so that you won’t drill your teammate.
The last 5-10 pitches of your bullpen warm-up should be at game speed or 100 percent effort.
Now that you are fully prepared, you should put on a jacket to make sure your arm and body stays warm.
If you have some spare time before going out to the mound, you can use this time to mentally focus for the game. Lastly, especially on warm days, make sure you drink water before heading out to the mound to ensure that you’re fully hydrated.
By utilizing all of these suggestions, you are putting yourself in a position to succeed in every game you pitch.
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One of the big misconceptions in baseball is that playing the game keeps you in shape to pitch. I wish that was true. It’s not. To get to the next level, preparation is everything — but you need a plan. Big league pitchers spend far more time preparing to pitch than actually pitching.
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