Today’s post should concern those readers who want to minimize risk of injury while throwing a baseball this upcoming season.
As a former collegiate pitcher and current strength and conditioning coach, I have both played and worked with some incredibly gifted and impressive college baseball players. While succeeding in baseball can be achieved in numerous different ways, one habit of healthy and successful baseball players is their consistency in warming up before throwing a baseball.
This brings to mind a quote from a former pitching coach of mine, Wayne Courcy…
“A ballplayer warms up to throw, they don’t throw to warm up”
What this means, and how it is applied by good ballplayers, is that when you pick up a baseball, your body should be ready to throw it with some decent gusto. The hard throwers that I’ve been around are usually in a full sweat before they even think about throwing a ball.
Throwing a baseball is the single most injury-causing behavior that a baseball player can do. With a shoulder rotating at 7600 degrees per second, there’s a ton of force that travels through an arm. Guess what? You’re going to have to throw. This means that whatever you do, at some point you’re going to have to put your arm at risk. Minimizing risk is a better way of describing a successful thrower’s routines, and one way to minimize the risk of throwing a baseball is successfully warming up the body prior to picking up a ball.
One of my throwing partners in college reached velocities of 94, 95, and even 96 mph off of a mound. His pre-throwing routine would take anywhere from 10-20 minutes before he even looked at a baseball. Another partner of mine would warm up for a full half hour; stretching, running, doing band-work, and throwing drills without a ball.
Countless times I see high school players roll onto a field and just start chucking. I wince to think about the day where this horrendous habit will catch up with them. It’s like the old saying goes, “Take care of something, and it will take care of you”.
What are the goals of a successful warm up for throwers?
Increase core temperature: Stimulating blood flow and an increased heart rate can help prepare the muscles and ligaments in your arm to withstand the forces of throwing a baseball, while also improving range of motion and force production, making someone throw harder (that sounds fun doesn’t it?).
Solidify Motor Patterns: Throwing is a repetitive action, and the best do it with consistency. If a thrower has more range of motion when they’re warm, then throwing with a cold body/arm can be looked upon as a completely different motion. That’s like practicing layups in basketball to improve 3-point shooting. If throwing with a cold shoulder can only hinder your throwing mechanics, why do it?
Mobility/Activation: Muscles struggle to go from 0 to 60 in short periods of time. Incorporating mobility and activation into a warm up can help your arm acclimate to exercise prior to picking up a ball, which helps to safely prepare your arm to throw.
Psychological Preparation: As Yogi Berra so eloquently puts it “baseball is 90% mental, and the other half is physical”. A warm up can help to dial-in to a practice or game that is about to take place. Every time I see a player throw before warming up, they’re usually carrying on a conversation about some pretty gal in the stands, or how their math teacher is a total jerk for assigning homework over the weekend. This does a fine job of taking the mind away from throwing, which leads to bad throwing mechanics, bad throwing performance, and generally speaking, a bad baseball player. Use a warm-up to give your mind time to transition from the bus conversation, to “Time to Play Baseball” mode.
Below is a sample warm up that hits the basics of what is needed. Mobility, Activation, Movement Preparation, and Increasing Core Temperature. Use this to jump start your throwing and let your arm stay healthy for this upcoming season.
Warm Up to Throw, Don’t Throw to Warm Up!
Thanks for reading,
Sample Warm Up -
90/90 Crossover Stretch
Catcher Deep Squat with Elbow Pry
Hip Internal/External Stretch
Quadruped Thoracic Rotation
Lateral Shuffle x 10 yds
Carioca Step x10 yds
Bear Crawl x10 yds
Sprints 4x20 yds