Weighted Ball “Holds”… Oh No, Not Again!

By Nunzio Signore (BA, CSCS, CPT, NASM, FMS)

It’s time to start throwing and sure enough, here come the videos of pitchers performing weighted ball holds using mechanics that don’t come close to resembling proper throwing mechanics, no lay back, no whip action and poor hip rotation at finish to name a few. So why do many pitching coaches do them?

The supposed benefits of weighted ball holds are that they help strengthen the back of the shoulder, often referred to as the posterior cuff or decelerators. While this may be true we also have to think about the possible shortcomings involved in a drill like “holds” and try utilizing some better more throwing-specific options.

Weighted ball holds were made famous by Tom House and his group, the National Pitching Association, through studying the bio-mechanics of a tennis player’s serve. The concept was that tennis players do not lose as much internal rotation nor have as many shoulder issues as baseball pitchers. This was believed to be due to the fact that the act of serving a tennis ball while still holding the weight of the racket in your hand helps strengthen and condition the decelerators. Therefore, House had his athletes perform their throwing motion without ever releasing the weighted ball in their hand.  Ladies and gentlemen introducing the weighted ball “hold”…

Now, all good research should get its due respect, but I feel that this particular drill and the old-school pitching coaches that still use it (without even understanding it) need to be “called out” for jumping on a band wagon without fully doing their homework. Folks, the only difference is NOT just in the racket.  There are numerous differences between a tennis player and baseball player’s overhead motion, including:

  • The tennis player holds on to the racket throughout the serving motion while the baseball player releases the ball during his throwing motion.

  • Tennis players spend more time with their shoulder at or below shoulder height (under hand, back hand, side shots) something that is proven to relieve shoulder impingement, while baseball pitchers spend the majority of their time overhead.

  • Tennis utilizes a backhand stroke which appears to strengthen the rotator cuff and back muscles concentrically, in a way that the baseball throw cannot.

This creates some major deficiencies with using holds to train the decelerators in a “baseball-specific” manner. The most obvious disconnect with holds as opposed to actually throwing a weighted ball is that when doing the holds, the body’s primary concern is self-preservation. The body will always attempt to protect itself by contracting the forearm to maintain grip on the ball, which pre-emptively generates a braking force in the delivery and does not allow for the pitching arm to lay back in the dynamically achieved external rotation position in the delivery.

These are definitely not the type of mechanics we want to engrain in our throwers here at RPP. Too much risk of injury from teaching abhorrent motor patterns not to mention a velo-killer!

Here are a few options:

Reverse Weighted Ball Throws – After all, tennis players get concentric rotator cuff work from their backhands – shouldn’t baseball players as well? This is why we have our guys do “reverse throws”.

(Reverse Throws)

Wrist Weights – Dr. Marshall knew that being able to open up the hand and effectively pronate the forearm would be a problem, which is why he advocated the use of wrist weights to allow the hand to be opened up, relaxing the forearm and allowing layback as well as pronation at release.  While I do believe there is a place for wrist weight throws I feel there is a happy medium that is both safer and more specific.

Enter the Throwing Sock – A better alternative to holds is a throwing sock. With a sock, all the pitcher has to do is throw the ball with his normal throwing motion and release the ball as he would with a normal throw inside the sock. At release, the ball leaves the pitcher’s hand and is captured in the training sock.  This allows a pitcher to perform a full throwing motion with ball release so that his mechanics are game-like, including external rotation of the arm, yet it still forces the pitcher to decelerate his arm with the extra weight of the weighted ball, as it is still in the sock anchored to the pitcher’s arm.

(Throwing Sock)

People need to really think about why they’re doing what they’re doing. Doing a drill just because “people have been doing them for years” just doesn’t cut it. We don’t use holds in my facility. With a set amount of time in the tunnel, we just believe there are other ways to better strengthen the cuff. While weighted ball holds may seem nice, a high-quality rotator cuff and scapular stability program will produce even greater results without altering the throwing mechanics. So, spend your time… and money wisely.

See ya’ in the gym…

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