Movement Prep Made Simple: Evolving the High School Baseball Warm-Up

I still remember jogging out to the centerfield fence with my high school teammates at the start of every practice to begin our “warm-up”. After reaching the twelve-foot fence and jumping up to touch as high as we could, we proceeded to create the same a sloppy circle each day in deep center — the stretch circle.

We’d stand with our feet together, and bend down to touch our toes. We’d cross our right foot over our left and hang low again, switching feet after a short time. One player would yell out the instructions, “Lean to the left!” and we’d all stretch the inside of each leg. Then we’d grab each ankle to stretch our thighs.

We’d then squat down to “p**p in the woods — in order to stretch out the groin area. We’d do some trunk twists, followed by a couple stretches on the ground.

Finally, we’d finish by pulling our arm across our bodies or overhead, and then out in front of us to get our “wrists loose”. Each of these was held for 10 to 30 seconds a piece, and the entire process was completed in shear boredom and lackluster monotony.

This is what just about every team was doing at the time. Unless, of course, the other team did a “show and go”, whereby they simply laced up their spikes, played catch, then started the game with little to no additional preparation.

Although this wasn’t too long ago (I played high school baseball from 2006–2010), the boom in information on warm-ups on the web for coaches has increased in availability at an exponential rate since then. Thanks in part to fitness and coaching blogs, Twitter, and a push for strength and conditioning professionals in the high school setting, information and research are now at our fingertips, and as a result the warm-up at the high school level has evolved some, and many teams have begun to adopt different approaches to preparing for competition.

Yet, despite it now being 2016, I still see many baseball programs (even highly competitive ones with great resources at their disposal) simply arrive to the field, roll out some baseballs, and allow their players to neglect proper physical preparation — whether it be a static stretch, a show and go, or some other inadequate methodology in between.

Keep in mind, the 2016 season has only just begun, and the weather has been quite cold at 7:00pm (when most high school games start) here in Florida, providing a prime environment for soft-tissue injuries. Yet they still do little to actually prepare their players for the game or practice.

While my warm-up has never been something I considered a perfect process by any means, what it has done is evolve with the research available, while also remaining true to the end goal — prepare our players for performance. Unfortunately, many coaches and programs have not allowed their warm-ups to evolve, as they continue to circle up for a static stretch, thus accomplishing very little.

Effectively Preparing for Performance

It should first be known that I am not completely against some mild static stretching, especially when it is left up to the player and they prefer to add it to their own routine. If the static stretching isn’t done to end-range of the joints and is only held for 10–15 seconds, I really don’t mind it. In fact, if it will make my player feel better about their preparedness to do some additional stretches after the dynamic warm-up, then I see a definite benefit. The caveat, though, is after the dynamic warm-up.

While we may need to worry about the negative affect that can be experienced as a result of prolonged static stretching prior to performance, we need not worry about this when it comes to the dynamic warm-up. In fact, our athletes can only stand to benefit from a thorough dynamic warm-up, so long as we go about it in an appropriate manner.

Simply put, the main goals of a warm-up — or movement prep, which may be a more beneficial way of looking at it — are as follows:

  • Gradually increase core body temperature and heart rate
  • Increase blow flow to skeletal muscles
  • Progressively take the joints through full and safe ranges-of-motion
  • Prepare the muscles, joints, and central nervous system for ballistic movement
  • Encourage the athlete to mentally prepare for competition

You could go a step further by saying that a dynamic warm-up can also help restore any discomforts caused by travel as well.

Whether it’s a cold night early in the season (soft-tissue injuries are commonly seen early in the season) or a hot day in the summer, the dynamic warm-up/movement prep will universally accomplish more of the above goals than a simple static stretch alone.

With a progressive increase in movement intensity and difficulty during an active or dynamic warm-up (examples are included below), there will be an increase in core body temperature, heart rate, and blood flow to the working skeletal muscles. The athletes will have also put their joints through safe and thorough ranges of motion, while also preparing the body and nervous system for ballistic movementPsychologically, the player should also be primed and ready to go as wellWhat’s more, the athletes will have undergone a variety of movements similar to what they will be required to do on the field, all prior to actuallycompeting, thus preparing them for the game or practice ahead. In other words:

An athlete shouldn’t encounter many movements for the first time during a game if they are going through an adequate warm-up.

Following the dynamic warm-up (or within it) you can include some exercises that are more stationary in nature, such as trunk twists, light upper body stretches and/or seated movements, but when they are placed near the end of the warm-up (or within it) we are ensured that the player is already loose, heated up, and ready for these stretches.

And, their are long-term benefits for some of your players as well:

Though not all of your ballplayers will go on to play collegiate or professional baseball, some of them will. And, at those levels the players are expected to take part in daily warm-ups, often times more than once each day. This includes lifts, practices, and games.

At the college level teams generally warm-up together for practices and games. At the profesional level players will nearly always warm up for practices as a team, and warm up for games individually. At this point in their careers players are expected to learn their own routine, only using their strength and conditioning coach for guidance and any facilitated stretching/preparation.

While the strength and conditioning coach is specifically there for the sake of preparation, it’s refreshing for the coach to work with players that have come from structured training and competition backgrounds where they’ve already learned the importance of an adequate and appropriate pre-game routine. And, over the course of hundreds of practices and games, the player will learn to depend on this routine, as it physically and psychologically prepares them for that day’s workload.

Alternatively, it’s quite easy to spot a player who hasn’t had much guidance or structure in this department earlier in their career. Their body language and effort says it all during warm-ups.

So, why not hold your athletes to some semblance of these standards now to better prepare them? As high school coaches, that’s exactly why we are there: to provide our athletes with structure, guidance, education, and encouragement. We all certainly do just this during hitting, fielding, and throwing sessions to help prepare them for competition now and in the future, so why not in their warm-ups as well?


Developing Your Own Dynamic Warm-Up

There is no exact formula for the perfect warm-up. In fact, I’d argue it is just as much about efficiency and logistics as it is about science. While we all want the perfect warm-up for performance, it is about blending what the coach is competent teaching, what the time allows, what the players enjoy and will buy-into, and what is most effective.

EXAMPLE ONE: if your bus is running late to an away game (which is bound to happen at the high school level), and your squad arrives thirty minutes before game time, what are you going to do?
Rather than pack it in with a show and go or deciding to still use your standard warm-up (which may be 20 minutes long), you could instead opt for an abbreviated warm-up that still accomplishes your movement prep goals.
EXAMPLE TWO: say it is a frigid night of twenty degrees. An extensive warm-up will probably be necessary. In fact, a secondary and condensed warm-up might also be needed closer to game-time in addition to the extensive one prior to infield/outfield.

Regardless of how you choose to structure your warm-up, just remember above all else it is about preparing the body for the impending activity by increasing heart rate and core body temperature, while putting the joints through adequate ranges of motion.

Below are two examples of how to structure a dynamic warm-up that is simple yet effective:

Moving from slow and controlled movements to ballistic movements:

INITIAL HEART RATE:

  • Jog and Backpedal

SLOW & CONTROLLED:

  • Knee Hug Walk ->
  • Cradle Walk ->
  • Ankle Grab Walk ->
  • Straight Leg Kick ->
  • Hurdle Step-Overs

MODERATE:

  • Reverse Lunge ->
  • Lateral Lunge ->
  • A-Skip ->
  • Single-Leg RDL ->
  • Ankle Grab w/ Toe Touch

BALLISTIC:

  • High Knee Run ->
  • High Knee Butt Kick ->
  • Shuffle ->
  • Carioca ->
  • Backward Run

Moving from movement-specific slow and controlled movements to movement-specific ballistic movements:

HIP FLEXION:

  • Knee Hug Walk -> Cradle Walk -> A-Skip -> High Knee Run

HAMSTRING DOMINANT:

  • Neural Hamstring ->
  • Straight Leg Kick ->
  • Straight Leg Skip ->
  • Single-Leg RDL ->
  • High Knee Butt Kick

LATERAL:

  • Hurdle Step-Overs ->
  • Lateral Lunge ->
  • “Mini Band Walks” ->
  • Shuffle

HIP EXTENSION:

  • Ankle Grab Walk ->
  • Reverse Lunge ->
  • Backward Run

This is only the tip of the iceberg, as self-myofascial release (SMR) could be implemented, as could facilitated or passive stretching and other modalities. I’ve seen and personally used cones, mobility hurdles, foam rollers, mini bands, stretch bands, ladders, etc. But, the goal of this article was not to outline the ultimate warm-up, but give high school coaches a simple introduction to the importance of evolving their static stretching warm-ups in favor of a dynamic movement preparation warm-up.

Respectfully,

RJF

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One thought on “Movement Prep Made Simple: Evolving the High School Baseball Warm-Up

  1. Pingback: Why We Stopped Using Bands | Pitching Performance Canada

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