Warmup to throw, Don’t throw to warmup
What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you hear that a pitcher has an arm injury? You probably thought “Tommy John surgery”. That’s because Tommy John surgeries are being mentioned almost weekly in the sports media and the medical literature is showing continued increases among teenagers and middle school aged children1 requiring this surgery. But what if there is an easy way to reduce this risk of injury AND improve performance?
As it turns out, there is! Studies have shown that a proper dynamic warm up reduces a pitcher’s risk of injury and improves performance. Previous studies have found that passive stretching of the lower body actually decreases your muscles’ power, and recent studies have shown that it can also decrease performance.2-4 What research from multiple disciplines has found works best at keeping pitchers healthy is performing a movement-based dynamic warm-up of the entire body before starting to throw.
The dynamic warm-up should begin by jogging one lap around the field at a medium pace to elevate the body’s temperature. Upon returning to the starting point, players should perform the following progression along the right or left field foul line, doing each exercise for 60 – 90 feet, depending on the age of the athlete. Move forward and backward and try to limit head movement.
A-skips forward and backward
Hip Close Gate moving forward, Open gate moving backward
Lunges forward and backward, stepping far enough where the knee does not go past the toes
Side lunges right and left
Lunges forward and backward with rotation to each side
The above exercises target all of the key muscles throughout the core and lower body while elevating body temperature and keeping it elevated for the next stage: active flexibility. Active flexibility focuses on flexing and then relaxing muscles to improve flexibility, rather than passively pushing a joint to the limit of its motion. Often, especially among youth and adolescent baseball players, the shoulder joint can be relatively loose, and forcing the shoulder to the edge of stability to stretch out muscles may not be the best, or most efficient way, to get the desired result.
Once the dynamic warm-up is completed, players can move on to flexibility work. Here, players should also progress through a series of exercises. These are performed standing, and each player should be a little more than arm’s width apart.
Saws – 5 times each of 3 hand positions – thumbs up, palms down, palms up
Scissors (5 reps per each of 3 hand positions)
Why Me’s (1 set of 15)
Anterior/Posterior Forearm Presses
Arm Circles (5 reps per each of 3 hand positions)
Once active flexibility has been completed, players can start throwing they have comfortably warmed up. Additional time should be given on a particularly cold day or early morning practice since the body needs this time to adjust. Whether it’s 7AM, 8PM, 40° or 80°, it’s always important to warm up before your throw, and not the other way around.
Cain EL, Jr., Andrews JR, Dugas JR, et al. Outcome of ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction of the elbow in 1281 athletes: Results in 743 athletes with minimum 2-year follow-up. American Journal of Sports Medicine. 2010;38(12):2426-2434.
Faigenbaum AD, McFarland JE, Kelly NA, Ratamess NA, Kang J, Hoffman JR. Influence of recovery time on warm-up effects in male adolescent athletes. Pediatr Exerc Sci. 2010;22(2):266-277.
McCrary JM, Ackermann BJ, Halaki M. A systematic review of the effects of upper body warm-up on performance and injury. Br J Sports Med. 2015.
Van Gelder LH, Bartz SD. The effect of acute stretching on agility performance. J Strength Cond Res. 2011;25(11):3014-3021.