Training to gain throwing velocity is common practice. But one area pitchers often ignore in their quest to throw harder is the quality and structure of their warm-up.
If your warm-up is subpar or you’re the type to skip a warm-up altogether, you could be leaving both short- and long-term velocity gains on the table.
Let’s take a look at what I believe makes a great pitcher’s warm-up. The following is meant to be performed prior to a pitcher’s throwing-specific warm-up.
What Should a Pitcher’s Warm-Up Look Like?
Self Myofascial Release
Self myofascial release (SMR), or foam rolling, has some benefits when it comes to tissue preparation as well as recovery depending on when it is used. However, foam rolling should not become an all-consuming obsession.
Doing some foam rolling or targeted releases prior to training or playing can be beneficial, especially for athletes with specific mobility restrictions as a result of poor tissue quality.
According to a study by Beardsley et al., SMR may acutely increase flexibility and reduce muscle soreness without impeding athletic performance (Beardsley, 2015).
This is especially important for any pitchers who have range of motion (ROM) deficiencies or minor pain at specific joints. SMR prior to training or playing could lead to acute effects that could help improve specific ROM deficiencies and therefore improve velocity.
For example, if your horizontal abduction (think scap load) or layback is limited, some targeted pec minor work done prior to throwing may improve range of motion and lead to a looser (subjectively) arm action.
SMR may also acutely increase parasympathetic nervous system activity, which is why it may be beneficial as a recovery technique in the post-training period (Beardsley, 2015). There is currently no consensus on optimal SMR use. Therefore, if it is being used prior to training or playing, I would suggest limiting SMR to a maximum of 10-20 minutes.
Pitching requires the ability to access extreme ranges of motion in order to get into the positions necessary to throw at high velocities.
If stepping on the mound is the first time you’ve attempted to get into those positions that day, you’ve got a recipe for disaster. Not only are you possibly increasing your injury risk, you are unlikely to perform at your best. Activity-specific warm-ups, which include movements and dynamic ROM needed for the intended activity, may improve performance.
For example, significant hip extension, thoracic rotation and horizontal abduction are just a few of the movements needed during the throwing motion, therefore adding some of these drills into your pre-throwing plan may be beneficial to your overall performance.
Raising Body Temperature
Another goal of the warm-up is to increase your body temperature. Generally, you want to be sweating before you pick up a ball.
A study by Wright et al. found that performance metrics such as working memory, subjective alertness, visual attention and the slowest 10% of reaction times improved as a result of higher body temperature (Wright, 2002). Higher muscle temperature may also lead to improvements in muscle performance as well as an increase in muscle contraction speed and reduction in reaction time via an increase in nerve transmission velocity (Andrade et al., 2015).
It is important to remember however, that higher body temperature should not be achieved through high volumes of aerobic work, as this may have a detrimental effect on performance.
Neural drive is an extremely important part of baseball. The ability to throw hard, swing hard and run fast all require significant intent, which is a simplified way of saying neural drive. Preparing your body for high output by getting to the optimal level of mental and physical arousal prior to performing may be beneficial.
A study by Andrade et al. found that using jumps as a warm-up improved both slow and fast stretch shortening cycle performance, and specifically improved performance in the squat jump, countermovement jump and depth jump (Andrade, 2015).
What are some ways to do this in the context of improving throwing velocity?
Well, your warm-up should include some maximum effort movements, in low volumes, at the end of your warm-up. Some examples of these are max effort medicine ball slams or throws, lateral bounds, broad jumps or counter movement jumps.
Warm-Up, Throw Hard
This sample warm-up achieves many things that could help a pitcher unlock greater throwing velocity.
- Side-Shuffle w/OH Reach x15yds/side
- Carioca x15yds/side
- Lateral Bound x3/side
- Med Ball Shot Put x4/side
Overall, warm-ups tend to improve performance in the activities that follow (Fradkin et al. 2010, Andrade et al. 2015).
Depending on the quality and specificity of your current warm-up, including an overhauled or tweaked warm-up such as this may yield some velocity improvements. Give it a try!
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