It is widely accepted that the most important practice routines for players and teams happen in the pregame warmup routines on game day. Coaches who establish a good warmup routine help reduce game injuries and prepare players mentally and physically for the stresses of competition. Perfecting a pregame warmup routine can be the deciding factor in the outcome of the game. It can also help prevent player injuries.
A balanced pregame warmup routine should be split between a full team warm up, and drills that vary by position. A proper warm up routine before the game lets players loosen up muscles and prepare the body to throw at top speed, swing with power, sprint to bases and maximize reaction time. These routines raise the body up from inactive and stationary to active, able to explode with bursts of energy.
The popularity of J-Bands has exploded over the past few years to become a core part of practice and pregame warm up routines. They are used for stretching, forearm and side extensions and many more, and have been found to build up rotator cuffs, limiting arm injuries. While these warm up routines can be performed with or without J-Bands, their use has spread to become part of most team regimens. Coaches need to decide whether or not they want their team to exercise with J-Bands.
1. Light Jogging (Team)
Typically the first drill a team performs is jogging, because it’s a great way to get players’ muscles warmed up and ready for the game. Coaches gather the team together at the field. Find a good area to jog for three to five minutes, such as the inside or outside of the fences or in a round circuit around the perimeter of the ball field. Jog in a straight line through the outfield from left to right then back to start if the other diamonds are in use.
Light jogging targets mainly the leg muscles and core area, but it also works on arms and upper body. It speeds up heart rate as blood flows through the whole body, which is why it’s a great way to start a warmup. Doing light jogging is a great habit to get into before a game, practice, or personal exercise routine. Players should be encouraged to jog on their own every day, and should be the start every practice during the week. Light jogging on a daily basis over time helps players get into active game mode faster.
2. Stretching (Individual or Team)
Stretching is another important way to loosen players’ muscles, and it’s critical to stretch before and after any physical activity. The goal is to stretch as many muscles in the body as possible. Starting with the lower body and working upwards, stretch ankles, calf muscles, shins, and thighs. Then, move on to the core and upper body. Arm stretches and neck stretches will be very effective. Dedicate about 10 to 15 minutes to this part of the warmup routine.
The most effective stretching exercises are dynamic, rather than static. An example of a static stretching exercise is pulling the arms over the chest and holding it there for 10 seconds. Dynamic exercises include forward bends, rotations, knee lifts and squats and lunges. If a single warm up routine were chosen as the most critical for getting players ready for the game, then stretching is it.
- Trunk rotations: Players place feet in a wide stance, hands extended to the sides and parallel to the ground. Rotate the upper body to the right, then rotate to the left. With each successive rotation, players should try to go a little bit further. Recommended: 3 to 5 times.
- Squats: Squats are great to build muscle behind the upper legs and back up to the hips. Strong glutes, quads and hamstrings help prevent pulled muscles that can take players out of commission for weeks and even longer.
To do squats, players stand with feet about shoulder width apart. Bend the knees and slowly lower the body until the thighs are parallel to the ground, then stand back up. Go up in a fast and controlled motion. Three to six squats at each practice is recommended.
- Knee lifts: This dynamic stretch loosens up the legs and hip flexors. Players stand with their feet about shoulder width apart. First, lift the right foot off the ground, bringing the knee up to the chest. Then lower it back down and now bring up the left knee. Go back and forth three to six times.
Knee lifts can also be done in a walking march. Players march in a line, lifting the left foot to the chest, then down, followed by right foot to chest and down. After taking two normal steps, lift both knees up to the chest.
- Crosses: Arm crosses help loosen up the chest and rear shoulders. Standing with feet about shoulder width apart, arms out to the sides and palms down, players extend their arms behind them and then cross them in front of the body. Go back and forth three to six times, then turn your palms up and repeat.
- Drop Lunges: Drop lunges loosen up the hips. Players start with their feet together. Place the hands in front of the body similar to a boxing stance. Next, the player steps back behind his body at an angle with the left foot. Come into a squat, then rise up and bring the foot back to the starting point.
3. Walking Ankle Grab (Team)
This is a walking exercise following stationary stretch warmups. Players walk in a line, one step at a time, keeping their legs straight. As they walk, then grab their ankles and pull their feet behind. At the same time, they reach down and touch their toes.
This warmup and be done along the edge of the infield grass, back and forth, to last less than 10 minutes.
4. Agility Warm Up Drill (Team)
The pregame warm up routine has now progressed to more active drills, designed to get hearts pumping and adrenaline flowing.
I’ve recommended this produce before, but using an agility ladder (Click to view on Amazon) has many great benefits for footwork and speed.
If you don’t have one, you can use cones (click to view on Amazon) as well.
Coaches arrange the team into groups of four players each. Set up four markers using cones (or baseball gloves), and space them in a straight line with about 10 feet between each cone. The more groups of markers there are, the better. If possible, arrange the team into groups of four for this drill.
Have your teams line up in their groups with the first person standing at the first cone (or glove). Player 1 sprints from the first to the second cone, then back to the first, then from the first to the third and back, then to the fourth, and then back to the first.
Make each player do this at least twice, just keep an eye out to make sure they don’t expend too much energy here before the game. They should only run to the cones in a light sprint and not an all-out run.
5. Pregame Throwing Drill (Team)
The throwing drill is straightforward but variations can be tried. Basically, have the team get into groups of three or four, each team having one baseball. Have groups spread out in either a triangle or square anywhere on the field. Now, each throws the ball to each other, first normal throws, then ground balls, and popups.
After every few minutes or so, the teams increase the distance between them by 15 feet. Each team shifts to two straight lines and parallel to the other team. The player on the right can throw across to the player at the top of the line of the other team. Then that player throws back to the center player. Then the player at the top left on the line of one team throws across to the player to the left on the other team, then to the center, and so on. What’s most important is that the ball is thrown and caught as it is at the top of each inning.
6. Batting Practice (Team)
Start winding down the throwing drill by taking some of the players away to practice hitting. One of the players throws (preferably the pitcher), one bats and two field the hit balls. Use wiffle balls for pregame batting practice so batters can work through their swinging strokes and fine tune them.
The rest of the team can throw baseballs among themselves while they wait to bat.
7. Ground Ball Fielding Practice
The balls hit the most during games are ground balls, so players can’t really over-practice fielding them. After everyone on the team has had a chance to bat, the coach has the team spread out around the infield.
Place hit ground balls to each position and use a wiffle ball. Players work through each play completely so a ball hit to shortstop is thrown to the first baseman, second to fist, third to first and pitcher to first.
Make sure each player gets a chance at a ground ball. Aim hits as accurately as you can, not hitting the ball too hard while keeping hits on the ground. Mix it up a little and incorporate line drives into the drill.
Avoid hitting grounders and line drives too hard. Baseball games of 7 or 9 innings demands a great deal of energy from every player, the catcher even more so. Pregame warm up routines are meant to be light, and just enough to get players focused and ready for the real thing. Most important, coaches want to avoid player injuries during pregame warm up.
8. Outfield Training Routine
This drill works the same way that the infield ground ball fielding practice works, except now balls are hit to the outfield.
Spread your players to the end of the infield dirt and at least three in the outfield. Using a baseball, hit fly balls to the outfield and high popups to the infield players. Mix in line drives and ground balls.
Test outfielders with ground balls as well, letting them try out their throwing arms. Coaches should also hit between outfielders so they can work on calling the catch. Hitting to the corners of the outfield makes the player run and field the ball, then throw it to their cutoff man in the infield.
It can be seen that this pregame warm up routine is progressive, starting with running, then stretching, then fielding. Through each exercise the drills simulate game play with each successive drill.
9. Pitcher Warmup
Pitchers need to have their own warmup prior before the start of the game. Their warmup should begin around 15 minutes prior to their entry into the game. They can still be included in all the previous drills and exercises as long as they get these critical 15-minute practice warmups in first.
Have pitchers partner with their catcher. They should take this time to work on their signals and straighten out any confusion with them. The pitcher should go through his fastball, curve ball, breaking ball and sliders, and try to pitch all around the strike zone, high, low, outside and inside.
Resistance bands for pitchers are a great way to warm up before a game. I usually make it absolutely mandatory for all of my pitchers to do some quick resistance band work before they even think about throwing the ball to their catcher. This helps prevent injury to the pitcher’s rotator cuff.
I would recommend getting these resistance bands from Amazon if you don’t have any.
10. Pitcher and Catcher Throwing Arm Drill 1: External Rotation
The next two exercises are specifically for the pitcher and catcher, whose arms are worked almost constantly throughout the game. These exercises are designed to work out the major muscles necessary for pitching and throwing.
Stand near a fence to attach a stretch band. Both pitcher and catcher can stand by each other to do this drill, each with their own stretch band. If only one is available, they can take turns.
The pitcher and catchers arms are crooked 90 degrees and holds the stretch band by the handle. Pull out the arm keeping the elbow fixed at the side, at the 90 degree angle. Contract the stretch band slowly to starting position. Repeat ten times.
11. Pitcher and Catcher Throwing Arm Drill 2: Internal Rotation
Pitcher and catcher, each with a stretch band (or one after the other with the same stretch band), stand, elbows at sides and shoulder out. Each player grips the stretch band handle while the other end is fixed to a fence or a heavy, stationary object.
Pitcher and catcher each pull their arms across their bodies while keeping their elbows at the sides. Then contract the stretch band. Repeat 10 times.
The difference between this routine and the previous is, in this one, the shoulder is out from the body. In the previous, ninth routine, the shoulder is in its normal inside position.
Other exercises the pitcher and catcher can do prior to game time includes wrist extension and wrist flexing exercises. Holding a weight of 5 pounds or less, they lift it with their wrists, count to five and then lower it to starting position. These exercises not only build strength, they also loosen the wrists and help to prevent injury during the game.
12. Mental Warm Up (Coach to Team)
After the pregame warmups are completed, the team is ready take on the physical challenge of the game. But equally important is that each player is also mentally prepared.
Players don’t always communicate their insecurities about certain aspects of their play. A good hitter may fear striking out when he gets to the plate, or an outfielder worries about losing sight of fly balls that come his way.
The pep talk the coach gives to players rounds out their pre game regimen and should work to allay self-doubt, because if each player is mentally ready and healthy, then the team functions as one unit focused on winning the ball game.
Coaches who know their players are aware at some level what playing insecurities each player possesses. He can, with a little reading and consulting, come up with three to five keywords or short phrases that each player recites like a mantra.
The selected phrases should represent the sensations players have when they are playing at their best. Examples of some key phrases are, “being positive with my teammates,” “head held high,” “focus in the field,” and “having fun.”
Words are powerful and when used persuasively can overcome issues that actually do exist. A player who has a problem hitting, for example can repeat to himself “best self” or “see the ball”. Phrases like these will put him in a positive mindset and relax his mind, allowing him to focus on the pitches coming to him.
All players need to go through a low impact regiment before every ball game. When they arrive for the game, their bodies are in a relaxed state and need to be “awakened” with pregame warmups. These warmups are critical, not only to make players game ready, but also to shield them from injury.
A pitcher who focuses on arm drills strengthens his rotator cuff, and so does the catcher. Jogging is perfect for starting out pregame warmups because the body is brought slowly to a working state, so players can be prepared to stretch, bat and field afterwards.
Following the warmup routine and before the start of the game, huddling with players, giving a pep talk that is authentic and genuine sounding helps them greatly to focus. Using “best self” phrases helps players get into the right mindset to play at an optimum level.