The Importance of learning to stretch cannot be understated.
Ever hurt yourself during an early morning stretch while hopping out of bed? You know, that kink in your neck that doesn’t go away until lunchtime? Us too!
Stretching is harder than it looks. Under-estimating the body’s need for a regular, proper stretch is what leads, more often than not, to pre-season injuries.
Stretch, as much as strength, takes consistent practice. To help you get in shape for the new season we’re bringing you through a variety of stretching exercises aimed at improving the flexibility you’ll need when running, batting and throwing.
Today we’re going to be bringing your through a series of deep-muscle stretches, with a concentration on the backside of the body, to ensure your full body is warmed up before you hit the ground running.
Every sport requires you to utilize your muscles in different ways. To do what is best for your body, baseball and softball players need limber arms and shoulders.
You also need to keep your body warm and loose. Things like sprinting off home toward 1st, after twisting your body, and shifting your power, in the opposite direction on contact, takes work.
We’re confident you know the basic core and muscle stretches generally associated with the game you play. It never hurts to review them though. Think of this as your two-hands drill for stretching.
According to LiveStrong, your stretches before and after the game should be different.
Legs: 10 minutes of brisk walking or jogging. You can also substitute high-knee marching when working in limited space.
Arms: They recommend performing dynamic stretches. These are the standard stretches nearly anyone who has ever watched a pre-game knows by heart but here are three examples.
In addition to these they recommend starting with small arm circles gradually increasing to full windmills then continuing with those for at least 60 seconds before hitting the brakes and doing the same in reverse.
Torso stretches are also recommended. These will help you loosen the muscles surrounding your core, which is responsible for the rotation on your swing. You’ve likely seen players do this by hoisting the bat overhead, letting it drop behind their back then doing small wrist circles before turning their body, hips facing forward, from side to side for about 60 seconds.
Many players repeat this stretch each time they step into the on-deck circle. Seeing your field ready-positions often leave you in a springing stance, which shortens these muscles, it is a good plan of action.
Another suggested exercise utilizes a wall. Stand with your hand on the wall for stability then begin swinging your outside leg back and forth slowly, increasing the range over the course of a minute. Turn around, switching your hand/leg and repeat.
Now let’s get into some area-specific stretches.
Many people use a jog as their warm-up before a game but medical science begs to differ with you. According to, pretty much all the research, it is important to stretch before, as well as after, even something as mundane as a slow jog.
You’re young, healthy, why do you need to stretch? How many times do you see kids stretching before running after each other on the playground after all? Well, according to the docs, stretching keeps the body flexible so that the muscles and joints are capable of extending to their full range of motion. This is important because exercise, can shorten the muscle range, causing a decrease in your mobility over time.
So, what stretches are needed to keep the muscles happy and on-the-go? Well, they’re all the ones you’d expect. Quads, hamstrings and calves all need your attention. There are also a few other areas that could use your help though before you get started.
The biggest area is that surrounding your Iliotibial Band, also called the IT Band. This is a muscle that runs down the outside of your leg between your hip and shin connecting over your knee. It helps keep the knee in place as you move and, if you’ve ever had knee injuries, chances are know this muscle well – if not by name than certainly by symptoms.
Left unchecked injuries often cause issues in this muscle and those issues can create additional problems for your hamstrings and gluts. They all work together so we need to stretch them together as well.
IT Band Stretch
Cozy up to a wall or object you can use for balance.
Cross your left ankle behind your right ankle.
Place your right arm down by your side.
Lift your left arm over your head and lean forward leaning, toward your right side.
Hold for 30 seconds.
Repeat on other side.
The other muscle that needs some love this spring is your piriformis muscle. This lies deep in your hip helping to stabilize the bones. It is responsible for the external rotation of your hip. It starts at your sacrum and goes down into the top of your femur. The most common problem associated with the muscle is inflammation due to repetitive motion like, say, running.
Lay on the ground with your back flat and knees raised, feet flat on the ground.
Lift your right knee to your chest.
Using your left arm, pull the knee to your left shoulder.
Hold 10-20 seconds.
Reverse the process on the other side. The stretch should be felt in your bum, near your hip.
Time to throw your shoulder into it. If you’ve spent more than a day on a bench you already know how to do windmills. Once those are done though, it’s time to call the shoulder to center stage.
Hold your hands at your side. Move one of your shoulders forward, then up, and finally back before resting and starting again. After 60 seconds, reverse the motion. Then, switch sides and start again.
Your middle is responsible for powering your swing so make sure you loosen it up to give your contact full extension. While we encourage movement on these next two, we also caution, make your motions deliberate. Don’t just sway back and forth like a bored 3rd grader. You’ll do more harm than good.
Give Yourself A Hug Stretch
Stand with legs shoulder width apart. Now cross your arms over your chest, like you’re going to hug yourself. Go on, no one’s watching! Rotate your body, from the waist up, as far to one side as you can – go slowly – it is not a race. Now, come back to center, pause and reverse direction. Repeat for 60 seconds. Remember, this is about extension, not speed. Take your time.
Back Scratcher Stretch
This one is an itch you’ll just have to scratch until you get it. Reach your right hand over your left shoulder. Move your left hand up the middle of your back. Try to touch your fingers. Having trouble? The hugs above, and standard arm circles, will help so do those first. This stretch will open up your chest cavity and provide some additional mobility for those torso muscles to do their thing at full extension.
When you’re about to go up to the plate to take some swings you do a few arm circles with the bat, maybe a torso twist or two and you call it warming up. What about the rest of the time?
A lot of teams considering playing catch their warm up for throwing. What about you? If so, you’re doing your arms a disservice. Your throwing arm needs flexibility to work its best. Without a proper stretch before the activity begins, you’re not allowing the muscle to gain full extension. This can lead to serious injury over time.
Before you pick your throwing or lifting partner, make sure you’ve done a series of stretches. You already know how to do arm circles and we’ve gone over shoulder circles and hugs too. You should also stretch your triceps.
Your triceps, along with several muscles that help the back of your body function, are often neglected. This is a huge mistake as our sports rely on full extension of your core for proper execution. You cannot fully extend the muscles in your core without using the deepest muscle groups in your body. As you’ve already seen in the running warm up, several of them attach to the parts of your body you don’t spend a lot of time looking at in the mirror. The same is true of the triceps.
The triceps lie under your biceps and together they make up an antagonist pair of muscles. That means, when one is working, the other is relaxed. So, when your swing or throw extends past what the bicep can do in front of the shoulder, you need the triceps warmed up and ready to pick up the slack to extend the motion through the back of your body. We’ve already gone over the back scratcher. Here’s another stretch along those same lines.
Grab a towel or theraband.
Hold the tower in one hand and place your arm over your back, behind your head.
Grab the other end, from the waist up, with your other hand.
Gently pull to stretch the triceps of the arm in the air.
When you can move from this position into the backscratcher, your triceps are loose.
Now it’s time to pick your throwing partner because the two of you have a few buddy stretches to complete before you’re ready for the ball.
It’s time for the trust fall of stretches. If you haven’t done it yourself, you’ve seen it done.
Have your throwing partner stand behind you.
Place your arms out at shoulder height with your palms facing forward.
Holding your wrists, your partner should pull back both wrists at the same time for no more than 10 seconds at a time. Longer can hyper-extend your shoulder.
Let’s move down the arm now. Most people know to do their shoulder extension – placing your arm across your chest straight out and holding it to your chest with the other arm. How many of you take the time to move down the arm though and work on your forearms?
Your forearm is that part your grandma was always telling you to take off the table at dinner. More important to your playing career, its what turns your wrist during a hit or helps you put just the right spin on a curveball. It is also the key to throwing harder because, as you already know from how you use your torso in a throw, or your wrist in your swing, rotation = velocity. It’s a science thing.
Many players work on their core rotation but those who know how to pop for power understand that the strength needs to escape through your fingertips and out your toes!
Extend one arm in front of you at shoulder height with your palm facing out and fingers up. Like you’re giving a stop signal to someone.
Using your other hand, gently pull back on the palm, not the fingers, of your extended arm until you feel the stretch.
Next, place your palm outward facing with the fingers facing down and repeat.
Finally, turn your palm toward your body with you fingers facing down and again, grasp the hand and pull in.
Switch arms and repeat.
For further extension, you can use a wall or table as your stretching mechanism.
Rock the Prayer Hands Stretch
We don’t know the official name for this one but we love these stretches! They’re great after a long day at the computer too.
Place the palms of your hands together at chest height, like you’re about to say your prayers. Keeping your palms touching the whole way, lower your hands toward your waist until you feel a stretch. At that point, stop and hold for 20 seconds.
To reverse the move, place your hands together at waist height with your palms touching. This time, your fingers should be facing the floor. Raise your arms until you feel the stretch then hold. Remember, your palms should always be touching.
One final move we like to do is, starting mid-torso, with hands back in praying pose, move the palms together toward your left side while keeping your torso facing straight ahead. When you feel the pull in your stomach and arms, stop and hold for 10-20 seconds. Come back to center and then repeat on the right side.
Before we get specific with pitchers a couple of things. Everyone can benefit from the following exercises so it doesn’t hurt to take a look and use what works for your own personal fitness. We found a Stacked video with two different stretches that is worth a look.
The first helps you open up your throwing shoulder for a fully-engaged stretch that takes in your back and oblique muscles. The second stretch is for your hips and specifically helps you get down lower into the groin to avoid injury. It works on the adductor muscle, the spot that is responsible for helping us move laterally. This one is great for anyone who spends too much time in their day sitting.
We’re no experts when it comes to keeping your arm healthy so we thought you’d prefer to hear from a few folks in the know.
Stackedtook the time to chat with a physical therapist about the best way to stretch for full rotation in the throwing arm of any overhead athlete using what they call the Sleeper Stretch.
When we talked throwing we discussed antagonistic muscles. Your hips also have antagonistic muscle pairs. Seeing they are essential to a pitcher’s power, we wanted to take a minute to help you get your stretch on. Let’s start with the basics.
Your hips have internal and external rotators. They are your antagonist muscle pair. So, when the internal is working, the external is relaxed and vice-versa. Often times, the external pair needs a bit of help stretching. If not properly stretched, the arm bears the extra burden on delivery and that is definitely something you want to avoid. Additionally, Rotating against tight muscles affects the transfer of power causing loss in velocity.
Test Your Flexibility
In front of a mirror, or with a buddy, lie on your stomach and bend both your knees up at a 90 degree angle. Keeping your legs hip distance apart, let both lower legs fall toward the ground to either side of your body. If they don’t both fall in equal measure, one of your hips – usually your landing leg – is likely tight.
Caving Knees Stretch
Flip onto your back and place both feet flat on the floor with your knees at shoulder width apart and feet extended out slightly further to either side. Keeping your back flat on the floor, rotate your knees inward while also keeping your feet flat.
Crawling Baby Stretch
Start on your hands and knees like a baby in a neutral crawling position – both knees and arms parallel with one another.
Cross your tighter leg over the back of the looser one. By this we mean, if you were to stand from this position and sit back in a chair, you would be crossing your loose leg over your tight one with the loose leg on top.
Sit back, maintaining a neutral back, until you feel the stretch, similar to your backward motion in the adductor stretch from the Stacked video.
There you have it, a few stretches you might be doing some of the time. We suggest you make them habit, before a game, before a practice, before you lift and even on your days of rest. Flexible muscles are the key to on-field success. Consistent stretching helps your muscles work better for a longer time. That sure beats our reasoning of just trying to avoid that neck kink.