The Effects of Graded Weighted Baseballs on the Velocity & Accuracy of a Thrown Baseball
By Dr. John Bagonzi
While it's been quite some time since I've written about weighted baseballs, I have never lost my zest for the positive effects of overload training on the velocity of a baseball. . . and with good reasons -- both objective and subjective. Several years ago, I did my doctoral thesis on the improvement of pitching velocity through resistive forces and came up with very solid evidence that working out with weighted balls markedly improves one's velocity. Though not looking for such, I was also struck by the discovery that weighted ball use improves not just speed but accuracy as well.
I have used weighted baseballs for a good bit of my coaching career with high school and college pitchers, and with pitching aspirants of all ages and levels in my pitching camps. But while they have been part of my training over the last twenty years, it's only recently that they have received significant attention in the world of pitching. Over the last decade or so, we've come to a much greater understanding of a pitchers biomechanical development and with that understanding are taking a new look at some old exercises, including those once thought taboo for pitchers, such as weight lifting. It only follows that interest would migrate for better or worse to weighted balls.
When used properly, and with patience, the weighted ball can be an extremely effective aide. I've had nothing but success with them and several of my subjects who've gone on to the pros, swear by them and are absolutely dedicated to them. Unfortunately though, for every piece of good information, it seems there exists an even greater amount of misinformation and rumor that leads to condemnation, resistance or as with the case of weighted balls, misunderstanding about when they are called for and how they should be used.
Simulative Isometric/Isotonic Exercise
Weighted balls are not a shortcut or a magic panacea. They are an aide and only one part of a complete pitching program. To be useful, they must be thrown correctly -- and while one can see an increase of velocity almost immediately with the introduction of weighted baseballs, to be truly effective, they must be used consistently over an extended period of time.
Guidelines and Caveats
Variations in the sequential throwing regimen are certainly possible, but I strongly feel that the best way to gain results with the weighted baseball is to utilize them in conjunction with the Wrist Drill and the Stride Drill as outlined below. These drills should be done every other day during the off-season. In-season they can be done between assignments, maybe once or twice a week depending on your workload, but never with a fatigued arm.
The Wrist Drill
The sequence should be
The Stride Drill
4. Finish with ten reps with regular ball - every other one maximally.
Concept of Overload Training
Weighted balls have been around for a long time. In doing my study I quoted and referred to over forty studies, published and unpublished, on weighted balls and overload. My study combined other factors such as free weights and isometric exercise, each of which seemed to increase velocity. For those familiar with statistical analysis, the study utilized a multivariate analysis of covariance. Scheffe's Test for Multiple Comparisons of the Mean suggested very strongly that weighted balls alone did improve velocity more than the other variables.
This conclusion has been supported subjectively hundreds of times in my pitching camps. With very rare exception, every pitcher placed on weighted balls in these camps improved his or her velocity over the course of a single day.
Some of my pitchers after years of experience have found ways to tailor weighted ball use to their benefit, including as a pre-game warm-up. I myself will loosen up with the black weighted ball (12 oz.) when I want to throw -- which incidentally I can still do quite well thanks to my consistent and constant demonstration of technique during the camps.
Weighted baseballs as a form of overload, along with rubber tubing and integrated with a systematic throwing program (which includes long throw) is surely a menu for pitching development. When and where these items become an irrelevant point in the career of a pitcher is an arguable point. Obviously the 95 m.p.h. thrower does not need accessories if his velocity is a consistent expression emanating out of arm speed, strength and good mechanics. However, the marginal pitcher who is trying to maintain effective velocity would do well to explore the mysteries of overload. I see it as another weapon in the development and fulfillment of the serious pitcher.
Information vs. Good Information:
Setting the Record Straight
My feeling is that those who advocate against weighted ball use are either misinformed about the of the nuances of overload and simulative exercise or are enmeshed in what they believe is a contrary philosophy or are just simply resistant to making changes in their throwing programs. Fear of arm strain and a disruption of mechanics are often cited by resistant players or coaches. Ironically, both of those fears are not only irrelevant but are actually in direct contradiction to the truth. Of the hundreds of pitchers I have trained, none has experienced arm strain as the result of correct use of the weighted ball. In fact I have found that those pitchers who maintain a consistent year-around throwing program that includes weighted ball use, develop stronger arms and are indeed less prone to injury. Furthermore, the drills when done properly will reinforce proper mechanics. As with any type of neuromuscular activity, the prescription is correct form times repetition
If one is predisposed to disbelief and/or is predisposed toward miraculous happenings, he should not attempt to utilize weighted baseballs as a training device.
Weighted balls are never the first thing I employ in a training camp. I do not use them with pitchers until I have gone over mechanics thoroughly, particularly the stride drill. If someone has weak mechanics -- and unfortunately this condition does exist in large numbers at all levels of play -- then they are not candidates for weighted baseballs until their mechanics improve. Those with poor mechanics are injuries waiting to happen, not necessarily from weighted balls, but from poor body alignment, lack of proper arm deceleration, lack of balance, and from the kind of overthrowing that results when the whole body is under utilized and the full burden of throwing lies with the arm.
There are few people that teach pitching mechanics correctly and fewer yet that understand the primary fundamentals in the act of pitching. All the same, many profess to knowing much more than they do and their handiwork has led to a plethora of underdeveloped arms, poor control, lack of velocity, absence of movement, and incorrect style as evidenced more often than not in youngsters aspiring to be pitchers today. Arm injury it seems is accepted as the norm in pitching today, and to my mind this is just unacceptable. We live in the information age and hopefully soon in the world of pitching we will learn to make that ultimate distinction between any information and good information. I know I am doing my darn'dest to see that this happens.
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