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Baseball Performance in Cold Weather Facts and Recommendations

Baseball Performance in Cold Weather Factsand Recommendations

By Gene Coleman and Keith Duggar

FACTS WARMTH: 

    • Muscles perform better when they are warm than when cold.
      • Warm muscles produce more force, strength, speed, power.
      • Warm muscles move more efficiently with less energy expended.
    • Muscles are less likely to be injured when warm than when cold
    • There is a linear relationship between neuromuscular function (strength, speed, power, coordination, balance, efficiency) and muscle temperature.
      • Players warm-up before games and maintain body and muscle temperature between innings by remaining active and wearing protective clothing.
      • Active movement is the best way to ensure adequate warm-up before games.
      • Active movement and protective clothing are the best ways to maintain body and muscle temperature after warm-up and between innings.
    • Nothing lasts forever - pre-game warm-ups don’t last 7-9 innings. 
      • Players need active warm-up between innings.
    • Muscles protected by clothing, e.g., long sleeves, sweat shirts, jackets, etc. before games and between innings warm up faster. 
    • Muscles protected by clothing between innings stay warm longer and take less time to warm-up between innings than those that are exposed to the elements. 
      • Players, especially pitchers, should stay active and wear protective clothing between innings.
      • MLB pitchers say that it is almost impossible to get warm by throwing 7-8 pitches between innings in cold weather.
  • Warmth loosens muscles and cold tightens muscles. 
  • Keeping muscles warm between innings makes them easier to stretch. 


  • Pitching requires constant stretching in the muscles; therefore, it is essential to keep them warm at all times.

 

  • Pitchers who hit should wear a jacket on the bases to keep their arms warm between innings.

 

  • A jacket will help protect the body and muscles from cold ground surfaces and wind chill temperatures.

 

  • A jacket will help pitchers avoid getting too cold or sweaty, which could have a negative effect on performance.

 

  • Wearing a jacket between innings can help reduce muscle soreness the next day. 
  • Wearing a jacket can help prevent sweat from building up on the skin and causing discomfort later.

 

  • Wearing a jacket keeps the upper body — especially the pitching arm — warm while waiting to get back on the mound.

FACTS COLD:

  • Cold causes muscles, joints, and tendons to tighten up, reduces performance, and increases the risk of injury.
  • Cold reduces the rate at which muscles contract which reduces running speed, bat speed, and throwing velocity.
  • Cold causes players, especially pitchers, to work at a higher percentage of their max force production to produce the same or less velocity and power.
  • Cold significantly decreases muscle strength, and the colder it gets, the less power muscles can produce. 

 

  • Muscle contractions are less efficient in the cold, which lowers the amount of force that they can produce.
  • Cold muscles are less efficient, weaker, and have less stamina than warm muscles.

 

  • Muscles cool down faster between innings in cold and take longer to warm-up than in the pre-game.
  • A pitcher who cools down between innings can require 15-20 pitches to get back to his/her original state of warm-up; a number that is not allowed between innings.
  •  The hands and feet are the first segments of the body to feel cold.
  • Cold fingers and hands lose the feel of off-speed pitches.
  • The ball feels hard and slick in cold weather which makes the loss of feeling in the fingers and hands worst.
  • Starting pitchers who get cold between the bull pen and first pitch can’t get loose in 7-8 pitches. 
  • Cold, in combination with the loss of sensation in the fingers and hands, reduces pitch velocity by 1-2 mph and decreases spin rate.
  • Batters lose about 3.3’ in distance for each 10-degree drop in temperature below 50-degrees.
  • Dehydration is a major risk in cold weather because players don’t notice fluid loss due to sweat.
  • Players can cramp during cold weather just like in hot weather and muscle aches, muscle tension, cramps, and headaches are common.
  • Players should maintain a steady intake of water and/or electrolyte drinks prior to, during and after games.
  • When a player can see his/her breathe in cold weather it indicates a loss of water vapor with each breath that can be the same as sweating in the summer. 
  • It is not uncommon for athletes to lose 5-7 pounds of water weight within 4 hours of work in 45-degree weather. 
  • Caffeinated drinks and energy drinks are not fluid replacement drinks and can accelerate dehydration.
  • Recommended hydration schedule.
    • 2-3 hours before practice/game – drink 16-20 oz water as tolerated
    • 1 hour before practice/game – drink 16-20 oz water as tolerated
    • 15-20 min before practice/game – drink 4-8 oz of water as tolerated
    • During practice/game – drink 7-10 oz every 10-20 min as tolerated
    • After practice/game– drink 16-32 oz for every pound lost during games.

SUGGESTIONS:

  • Warm-up before games and wear protective clothing during warm-up in very cold temperatures.
  • Stay warm between innings by moving around and wearing protective clothing.
  • Use hand warmers and/or gloves, especially pitchers, to keep fingers and hands warm.
  • Swing arms and hands to keep blood flow and warmth to arms, shoulders, hands, and fingers.
  • Blow on hands to keep hands and fingers warm.

 

TAKEAWAY:

  • Cold can reduce performance and increase the risk of injury.
  • Warming-up and staying warm during the game and between innings can help improve performance and reduce the risk of injury.
  • Wearing protective clothing between innings can help players stay warm and reduce the amount of time and effort needed to get ready to perform between innings.

 

Quotes from former MLB pitchers:

“Most players have a limited window of opportunity to play the game. Failure to protect your arm against the elements can limit your performance and increase the risk of injury. In my 27 years in MLB, I never pitched a game without long sleeves and always wore a jacket or wrapped my arm in towels between innings to keep it warm, even in the Texas heat. Prevention is much easier than rehab.” Nolan Ryan, HOF 1999.

“I pitched in some cold places in April and May like Boston, New York, Cleveland, etc., and found that keeping my arm warm when going from the bullpen to the mound and between innings helped me adjust to the elements and stay healthy.” Roger Clemens, 7-time Cy Young Award Winner and 1986 AL MVP.

“I grew up in Colorado and my dad stressed the importance of keeping my body temperature up and my arm warm between innings. The arm care lessons that I learned in high school helped me have success when pitching in the Major Leagues. You get only 8 warm-up pitches between innings and it usually takes more than 8 pitches to warm-up when you let your arm cool-off than when you keep it warm.” – Scott Elarton, former MLB pitcher and Special Assistant to Player Development, Pittsburgh Pirates.

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Gene Coleman, Ed. D., RSCC*E, FACSM has over four decades as a head strength and conditioning coach (Astros) and strength and conditioning consultant (Rangers). Keith Dugger, ATC, is the Head Athletic Trainer for the Colorado Rockies and has over 30 years of experience in MLB.

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