This article will address the many questions, facts and thoughts surrounding weighted balls and the mechanisms behind their success. I will also discuss their use, risk, reward, potential and practicality. I am not your doctor and you should consult with yours before doing anything mentioned in this article. Before we attempt to answer all of these questions, a quick preface:
Arm Health and Velocity Development are NOT Mutually Exclusive!
Does that statement stir up some questions in your mind? For many years, it has been commonly assumed that as throwing velocity increases, so does the risk for injury. However, that is far too simple and much too generalized of a statement to be considered true. Truth be told, often times increased velocity is coupled with a looming injury. However, with proper programming, training and recovery modalities the athlete’s injury risk does not necessarily increase, as one would traditionally assume.
For instance, if Pitcher A begins aggressive weighted ball throws without a proper biomechanical screening or without the proper base and maturity for it, then yes, the possibility of injury can certainly increase. On the flip side, if Pitcher B begins a well thought out and individualized weightlifting and weighted ball regimen that is coupled with mobility and recovery protocols while improving soft tissue quality, his chance for throwing injury does not necessarily increase as the it would in the first scenario. Conversely, more often than not, his durability, fitness, workload threshold and performance output will likely increase.
Velocity can increase from any number of contributing factors such as weight gain, weight loss, puberty, nutrition, weighted ball training and countless other ways. For someone to think that weighted balls are simply the biggest cause of significant velocity gains or even injury is incomplete at best. Weighted balls are just one element of training to be incorporated into a comprehensive program to benefit the athlete. Now, lets look at many of the surrounding questions regarding weighted balls, their practicality and their place in training.
What is The Overload Principle?
The overload principle states that the body will adapt when greater than normal forces are applied to it. To continue improving over a period of time increased stresses, load progressions and aspects of periodization are required. The body is the perennial adaption system the world has ever seen and is designed to be pushed to its limits.
Pitchers pushed to their bodies’ limits? Red lights often start going off in peoples’ minds when they hear that overhead-throwing athletes should be trained like other elite athletes. This is likely due to the decades old dogma that has emerged from simply not reviewing the research that is readily available today. Simply put, the overload principle is a basic concept stating that in order to get stronger, the athlete must increase workloads and volume of training. Mind you, in no way at all am I advocating aimlessly throwing around absurd weight without programming, but I am suggesting that most pitchers should in fact train to optimize athleticism and simple "arm care" like I’s, Y’s and T’s wont do that for everybody.
Why use the overload balls?
A regulation baseball is 5 oz. An overload ball is any ball with a weight above 5 oz. The stigma often surrounding overload training is that it is harmful. Unfortunately, those thoughts are rooted in unfamiliarity and naivety. In no way are those thoughts in line with today’s understanding of exercise physiology, kinesiology and the biomechanics of sport. Folks have long assumed that throwing heavy balls will get you injured, mess up for your arm action and negatively affect your ability to command the ball.
Why do folks think heavier balls increase the chance of injury? Well, maybe they assume that throwing a 5 oz ball is bad enough for the arm so throwing a ball with more weight must mean greater work loads which means more stress (to the elbow and shoulder) and more stress must mean more injuries. That line of thinking may be useful at times when dealing with basic objects, but the human body is far more complex than that. When well managed added loads and stresses are imposed on the body positive adaptations occur. When tissue types (muscles, tendons, ligaments, bones) take on added stress they respond by adapting and increasing their tolerance and stress intake threshold. As you read above, some aspects of the overload principle are also present in varying degrees depending on the movement and drill.