The Difference Between Getting Warm and Warming Up

Many pitchers do not understand the importance of a structured warm-up before games. They may throw overhand, do a few drills, throw full speed, try each of their pitches a couple of times, and run to the mound. If everything happens to be in sync they will have a good outing.

If not, things can get ugly very quickly.
What is the main purpose for a pre-game warmup? First, it should be just that. To get very loose and comfortable. A great dynamic warmup is essential to this objective. Static stretching should be avoided or limited. Each pitcher may have specific needs, from stretching the hamstrings to the pecs, but everything in the body needs to be prepared for very explosive movements. There is a lot of great information available on the subject of dynamic warmups so we won’t address it here.
As the pitcher prepares for a game, she should begin with basic foundations. Make sure the form is precise and comfortable. If she can’t stay balanced, comfortable, and explosive on the fastball, she will be hard pressed to be efficient on the other pitches. Take the time to get it right. Being a bit obsessive is a crucial ingredient for successful pitching. Is it fast enough, can I hit spots, and is speed consistent?
Next, go through each pitch as if it were the only pitch you are going to throw today. Take the time to work on spins, footwork, and any other drills you would use to get it right in daily practice. Once the pitch is working, ask the same questions. Is it fast enough, consistent, and can I deliver it to the precise spot which will force a batter to chase? Does it move at the right time, is it in the right location, or does its change-of-speed make it difficult for a hitter to make solid contact? If this is the only pitch I will throw today, is it good enough to allow me to win? If not, get back to work.
If a pitch is not working well, take the time to get it just right or, better yet, build your confidence and rhythm with other pitches. Make sure you have some great weapons to take into the game, and then come back and try to fix the pitch that is giving you problems. If you are confident in the other pitches, you won’t feel as much panic if one pitch is not coming together as well as you would like.
Once the game has started, keep talking to your catcher. If a pitch is not working exactly right, there is nothing to prevent you from going to the bullpen between innings to make adjustments. Many pitchers fear this will cause fatigue, but it is far less fatiguing to go to the bullpen and spend 20 pitches getting it right than to throw 35 bad pitches every inning during a game. You will often see great college pitchers in the bullpen making adjustments between innings so pattern yourself after those who know how to be successful.
The pitchers who will struggle with this approach are often those who play on teams that have very little pitching, so these kids have to pitch 2-3 games a day. They feel the need to conserve energy. Always remember the purpose of tournaments. They are designed to help kids get better. If you are riding one kid so hard that she never learns to prepare like a college pitcher, never has time to make adjustments, and pitches so much that fatigue causes her form to suffer, she will probably never reach her potential. If her team can’t get her some help, she needs to find an environment which will nurture her dreams.
The length of a great warmup will vary by individual and the level of play. Sometimes a travel ball player has to start the game before she is ready because of scheduling or traveling from field to field, but ideally we like to see them have 30-minutes. Generally college pitchers will use 45-minutes or more, depending on the number of pitches they need to prepare for a game.
The length of time is not the only important part. What you are doing with the time is key. Make sure it is structured to give you the best chance of success in this game.
One other tip. Try to avoid warming up on grass or other surfaces which are far different from game conditions. This is hard to manage at tournaments, but it may be worth the effort to scour the territory to find that little piece of dirt somewhere around the edge of the field so she feels comfortable with the conditions she will be facing in a game.
Planning is the key. A great warmup increases the odds in your favor. As in all aspects of pitching, take the time to do it right and you will have far less regrets when the game gets underway.



  1. David Dorman says:

    Thanks Denny! What should my daughters approach be on the few warm-ups she gets on the mound in a relief situation? Is it just maximum leg drive and figure out the rest along the way or should she throw spinning pitches to see where she stands?