Strength training and physical preparation off of the baseball field are getting better on a daily basis. However, once baseball players step in between the lines, the old habits of warming-up still exist.
Warm-ups have evolved into a lazy, overlooked, aspect of preparation. Every player jogs to centerfield, touches the fence, and everyone proceeds to get into a circle or lines. Then, everybody goes through arm circles, a cross body posterior capsule stretch, hamstring stretches, flamingos (quad stretch), and all of a sudden, everybody is supposedly ready to throw.
While most think that this is sufficient, we wonder why there are so many guys “oohing and ahhing” as they start to throw with horrendous arm actions, practicing getting underneath the ball, a bunch of hip flexor and hamstring strains, and more injuries occurring on the field on a daily basis. Not to mention, most players start to feel like crap towards the end of the season, when it really matters most.
I have had a ton of success using my strength and conditioning knowledge, to create a method that gets my baseball players ready to go for practice and competition, even though it’s not the status quo warm-up you’ve seen time and time again.
There are foam rollers in just about every single strength and conditioning facility, and rehab clinic nowadays. We still don’t know exactly how it works, however, we do know one thing: IT WORKS.
Foam rolling daily, is the equivalent of giving yourself a massage. The quality of baseball players’ soft tissue, is important in performance and health, and foam rolling is one way to help this out.
Even though it’s not the sexiest thing in the world, I make every one of my baseball players go through a thorough foam rolling session at the field. That means that they have to show up 15 minutes earlier than the usual hour or three before practice or games.
There will always be a baseball handy at the field to use, and some major focal points I have them roll are subclavius, pec minor, infraspinatus, upper trap, levator scapulae, scalenes, glutes, hip flexors, claves, and peroneals. You can also have players buy a small foam roller for about $12, so they can roll quads, IT bands, adductors, lats, rhomboids, and maybe get in some thoracic extensions if they don’t have a flat thoracic spine.
Hypermobility runs rampid in baseball players, but there are still baseball players out there that have plenty of range of motion, that stretch everyday. You’ll see many players with laxity, stretching all of the time, because they like doing things that they’re good at, and it provides temporary relief from the trigger points they may be feeling, which their body is laying down for stability.
With this in mind, I like to give every individual about 4-8 warm-ups that are for their specific presentation. Hypermobile guys focus more on stabilization and exercises that build relative stiffness, while more stiff guys get mobility drills. Here are two examples:
• Quadruped Extension/Rotation – 6-8/side
• Kneeling Glute Mobilizations- 6-8/side
• Split Stance Kneeling Adductor Mobilizations- 6-8/side
• Prone Bridge w/ Alternating Hip Extensions- 6/side
• Squat to Stand w/ Diagonal Reach- 4/side
• Quadruped Extension/Rotation- 6-8/side
• Short Lever Side Bridge w/ Clamshells- 6/side
• Bowler Squats- 8/side
• Reverse Inchworm into Overhead Squat- 1×5
After my players take care of their individual needs, we go through a team dynamic warm-up. With this, I have them do some big bang for your buck exercises, that have multiple movements at once so we’re not warming up for an hour, all while trying to increase their body temperature to get them ready to throw. For those of you coaching or playing in colder weather climates, you may want to extend this out slightly, and have your players wear some extra layers.
Example of team dynamic warm-up:
• Walking Spiderman w/Hip Lift and Overhead Reach- 5/side then jog 15 yards. This drill mobilizes the hip, along with getting in a good thoracic spine mobilization.
• Pull Back Butt-Kick to Forward Lunge w/ Overhead Reach- 5/side then jog 15 yards. Quad Stretch, into a lunge for mobility/stability, along with an overhead reach component that teaches baseball players to control shoulder flexion without lumbar extension.
• Alternating Lateral Lunge- 5/side then jog 15 yards. Adductor mobilization, and hip stabilization exercise.
• Side Shuffle w/ Overhead Arm Swings- 5/side then jog 15 yards
• Carioca- 5/side then jog 15 yards
• Arms Overhead High Knee March- 5/side then jog 15 yards
• High Knee Skips- 5/side then jog 15 yards
• Power Skip Thirds-5/side then jog 15 yard. Every three skips, jump as high as possible, to start some explosive movements.
• 30-Yard Build-Up Sprints- 1@70%, 1@80%
• 30-Yard Side Starts- 1@ 80%, 1@90-100%
Once completed, most players will have a good sweat going, and almost be ready to go.
Getting the arm “loose,” in my eyes, is grooving quality scapular movement, and then activating the rotator cuff. The reason I say it in that order, is the scapula, thoracic spine, and shoulder girdle all work together. If the scapula is in anterior tilt due to a nonexistent lower trap, or the humerus is gliding forward in the socket, the rotator cuff (a posterior stabilizer of the humerus) is not going to work efficiently, if at all. Not to mention, we shouldn’t be teaching our shoulder to move that way right before we throw a baseball.
• Back to Wall Shoulder Flexion- 1×8. Control scapular movement, activate anterior core, for shoulder flexion without lumber extension.
• Wall Slides w/ Upward Rotation and Lift Off- 1×8. Scapular control, with a posterior tilt (lower trap activation component)
• Standing or Half Kneeling 90/90 Band External Rotation, Scapular Plane- 1×8.
Should be clean ball in socket rotation, without extending the lumbar spine, letting the head of the humerus glide forward, activating rhomboids, and most of all, keeping the lat inactive. The lat are is an internal rotator, adductor, and extender of the humerus. The exact opposite has to happen in the throwing motion. For this reason, I like to have my players perform this movement at 90 degrees of abduction, as opposed to at the side of the body.
With the increased demands on shoulders, elbows, and every joint in the body from long seasons and higher levels of performance, baseball players need to learn how to take care of their body throughout the year in order to limit the risk of injuries, and be able to perform at their highest level at the end of the season, when it really matters most. Proper warm-up techniques might be the missing piece of the puzzle that teams are looking for, to help propel them into a more successful season.