Stretching and staying loose are important for all baseball players, but especially for pitchers. Tight shoulders, biceps, hips and glutes will limit a pitcher's ability to execute the windup and the pitch—and leave him susceptible to a number of muscle-related injuries.
To stay loose and effective throughout the long baseball season, players should practice yoga, which is increasingly popular among athletes [read more on yoga for athletes].
Here are three yoga positions that are particularly beneficial for pitchers.
1. Cow Face Pose [Shoulders]
This pose stretches the shoulders. Yoga for Sports expert Gwen Lawrence calls it an obvious choice for pitchers, because "it opens and clears the rotator cuff while strengthening the supporting back muscles to add power." It will help you fire fastball after fastball without increasing your risk of injury.
Sit with your bent right knee on top of your bent left knee. Flatten your butt to the floor and align your hips with your straight spine. Raise your right arm, bend the elbow and place your right palm on your back. Lift your left arm to the side, palm facing back and thumb pointing down; bend your left elbow and move your left hand behind your back, palm facing out. Try to hook your fingers together behind your back while energetically lifting your right elbow toward the ceiling.
If you cannot hook your fingers together, hold a towel in your right hand and grab it with your left. “This pose may be frustrating in the beginning,” says Lawrence; “however, the shoulders have a tendency to open quickly, so stay focused and determined and results will come quickly.”
Hold the pose between one and five minutes; switch sides.
2. Table Pose [Biceps]
Stretching the biceps is critical for pitchers. The bicep on your throwing arm must comfortably lengthen with each pitch. Use Table Pose to stretch your biceps while strengthening your back.
Start by lying on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor, hip-width apart. Place your palms on the floor behind your hips and under your shoulders. Press both your palms and feet into the ground while lifting your hips until your thighs and torso form a straight line. Hold for two or three deep breaths, then lower back down softly. Repeat.
3. Pigeon Pose [Glutes, Hip Flexors]
For ace pitchers, the arm isn’t everything. Flexible hips and legs are also essential. The Pigeon Pose will take care of those tight glutes and hips, so you can powerfully push off your legs and follow through without pulling a muscle.
Start on all fours with your hands under your shoulders and your knees under your hips. Slide your right knee forward between your hands while sliding your left leg straight back, until your left hip and right heel are in line. Press down with your hands and lift your chest. Look up, roll your shoulders down and arch your back. Keep stretching the left leg back. Hold for two or three deep breaths, then release. Repeat on opposite side.
For an additional challenge to your hip flexor, bend your left knee and raise your left leg off the ground. Raise your left arm, reach back and grab your left foot with your left hand. Gently pull to deepen the stretch in your hip flexor.
These three poses can be performed within 10 to 15 minutes, easily fitting into your busy schedule. Include them into your post-workout and/or post-game cool down.