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4 Keys to Improving Pitching Warm-Ups

pitch pitcher pitching 4 keys improving warm ups

Warming up is something that all pitchers have to do, but something that we don’t put enough thought or purpose into.

Discover 4 keys to making sure your pitchers are making the most of their warm-ups.

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 the pitcher’s warm-up to our pitchers, and most of them have no clue what they need to do to get themselves game-ready. I’ve never understood why a softball pitcher needs 30-45 minutes to warm-up while a Major League Baseball pitcher (who throws close to 100mph) will warm-up for 20 minutes and then they are good to go!

Warming up for any skill should achieve a number of things: it should help the player raise her body temperature, stretch her body parts, and increase her mental focus. In addition, a pitcher needs to warm-up her motion and each of her pitches. All this without wearing herself out, and 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. Then she will move behind the rubber and do a ton of walk-throughs. Finally, she will get to the rubber, looking like she’s standing in cement, and start to pitch. Taking all this into consideration, at least 20-25 minutes have elapsed before she throws one pitch from the rubber. When she goes into the game she really isn’t ready for the first batter, saying “it takes me a while to get going”, 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. Not in warm-ups, where getting ready to dominate in a game is the goal.

Below, we look at some keys to an effective pitching warm-up that will not only shorten the warm-up process, but will result in a 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
    1. Warm-up isn’t practice so make sure your players are actually warming up their bodies, their minds and their pitches.
    2. Stay on task and keep the practicing in practice and not in warm-ups.
  2. Drill it Right
    1. 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.
    2. Too many pitchers do all these crazy things during warm-ups that have way more to do with practicing pitching than with warming up.
    3. The following pictures shows the 3 most common drills done during pitching warm-ups: 1. Some type of close-up snaps, 2. a K position and 3. the Crane or Stork Drill.
pitch pitcher pitching warm ups wrist snaps k position crane

If we look at these 3 drills and where they actually occur during the pitching motion, we can see if these drills will actually be helpful for a pitcher and improve her motion, or not. Remember, your pitcher isn’t trying to warm-up 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) they are done in as close to the correct pitching motion position as possible.

Wrist Snaps:

  • This drill is designed to work on the release of the ball (below left). As you can see from the comparison picture (below right), 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).
pitch pitcher pitching wrist snaps warm ups drill

K Position:

  • This is a popular drill that I’ve never really understood.
  • As you can see from the drill position in the picture below left, this is not even close to the position the pitcher is in during this actual part of her pitching motion (below right).
  • The pitcher in her actual pitching motion does not have both feet flat on the ground, but instead has her weight on her back foot transferring to her front foot.
  • And her glove is not up making the top leg of the letter K but instead is forward and ready to move down.
pitch pitcher pitching warm ups k position drill

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 (below left) while in the real motion the pitcher is far more forward and explosive (below right).
pitch pitcher pitching warm ups crane stork drill

3. The Role of SLOW

  1. There is HUGE value when learning a skill in going slow. Going slow (and this means really, really slow) can anchor the correct motion in a pitcher’s brain, and also makes her 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)
  2. Going slow also creates a great warm-up routine that not only helps the pitcher master the details of the motion, but also helps keep her arm fresh for the game and the end of the season.
  3. 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

  1. The final piece of the warm-up picture is to set a limit on how long the pitcher will stay at a certain point in her warm-up before moving on.
  2. Typically, if you ask a pitcher how long they do their wrist snaps, or the Crane, or the K position, or Leg Swings, they will say – “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.
  3. So, the better way to do it is to tell them can do a certain thing for 10 pitches. If after 3 pitches they’re not getting it right or it doesn’t feel good, then they’d better make an adjustment because they’re running out of pitches. This forces them to make an adjustment and do it quickly instead of just pitching until things randomly get better.
  4. This also makes it easier to know how long their warm-up will take since each aspect has a definite limit. But, the most important benefit to having a limit on each part of their warm-up is that it puts the pitcher into the game adjustment mode, where they must make an adjustment since they 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 scaled down and more focused 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 stopped when they felt they were ready 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.

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