Heating Up for the Baseball Season – Warming Up for Baseball

Recently, myself and a colleague, Eric Marriott (Physiomoves/Bodyworks) did a short lecture series for Little Mountain Little League Baseball coaches.  We were graciously hosted by Aart van Gorkum, owner, at Main Street Physiotherapy clinic in Vancouver.  The two-part series included talks on (1) throwing mechanics for injury prevention and (2) warm-up and cool-down methods for baseball.  I’ve also hosted talks for coaches in Richmond and hope to have a few more at the clinic I practice at in Vancouver,  West 4th Physiotherapy.

First of two talks at Main Street Physiotherapy for Little Mountain Little League Coaches. Pictured (L to R): Aart van Gorkum, Peter Francis, and Eric Marriott.

First of two talks at Main Street Physiotherapy for Little Mountain Little League Coaches. Pictured (L to R): Aart van Gorkum, Peter Francis, and Eric Marriott.

After the talk all the coaches that decided to stay had some excellent questions.  Asking questions is a  great way to stimulate even more thought provoking self-reflection.

After the talk all the coaches that decided to stay had some excellent questions. Asking questions is a great way to stimulate even more thought provoking self-reflection.

The message that we’re constantly trying to deliver to coaches is the “why do I do what I do”?  Coaches who reflect in this manner have already started the journey in continuing to develop their own skills.  I truly believe that only when you start to understand the “why” can you hope to help someone else understand the same thing and adopt new behaviors.

Other sports, such as soccer (see FIFA 11+), have started to identify the true value of a warm-up and its usefulness in fostering good habits in players from a young age.  I’ve heard many people describe baseball as being an “archaic” sport and this could never be truer.  We are a traditional sport based on history but when it comes to player safety and health I really think it’s time to shake that mantra.

Let’s answer the question…

“Why do we warm-up?”

Warming up before playing has, in my mind, three main benefits.  Those are: (1) creating good habits, (2) addressing injury prevention strategies, and (3) movement education specific to the sport.

Why do we warm-up?

A warm-up is something we do, or should, before every bout of activity whether it’s a game, team practice, batting practice or pitcher/catcher session.  That being said, this should clearly underscore the opportunity presented for coaches to educate players and get them repeating a routine that fosters proper mechanics, tissue quality and movement strategies.  As a coach, when you identify strategies that will have a positive impact on health and performance of players, then this is precisely the place to implement them.

As mentioned, the warm-up is a place where we can address injury prevention as well.  We have to get joints and connective tissues ready to perform.  Research shows that moderate amounts of loading in joints stimulate synovial fluid and articular cartilage protective protein secretion (Leong, 2010).  What does that mean? When we warm-up at moderate intensity by loading the joints we are lubricating them and contributing to preserving the long-term health of the cartilage that lines the ends of our bones.

As everyone is aware, when we move more our heart rate increases.  How does a heart rate increase get our muscles ready to perform in an explosive sport like baseball?  Well with an increase in heart rate comes an increase in the amount of blood that is delivered to the muscles in a given time period.  With more warm blood comes an increase in temperature of the tissues and a greater volume of nutrients delivered to those same tissues.  When the temperature of a muscle increases it also becomes more extensible (or pliable/flexible) which offers yet another protective effect to muscle injury.  So when you’re designing your warm-up make sure that it always starts with some sort of moderate intensity aerobic, large joint/muscle group activity.  Just for a reference, moderate intensity is outlined as 40-60% of full effort.  Best to educate your guys what that means!

Finally, movement education, which I believe is the most important.  In any sport there are specific skills that require specific movements of our bodily joints.  So why not address the specific movements in a warm-up to make sure we maintain them throughout the course of a season?  For example, in baseball many of the skills (throwing, hitting) have a significant rotational component.  This rotation as a whole is the sum of rotation in a number of areas in our bodies.  One of those areas is the trunk.  Below is an exercise addressing rotation in the upper portion of the trunk, why not include it in the warm-up?

Lumbar Locked, T-Spine Rotation

I’m hoping to get a baseball warm-up template posted in my next article but please remember it’s only a template.  There is no right, wrong or perfect warm-up based off that template.  If after reading this you’re simply considering why you include what you do in a warm-up then that’s a major victory in itself!

As usual post any questions or comments below.  Also, feel free to contact me by email, peter@w4pt.com, if you think your association or group would be interested in hosting talks for coaches, players and parents that promote arm safety and awareness.

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