Weighted Balls and Strength Training… You Can’t Have One Without the Other

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

There is tremendous misinformation in the market place about weighted balls and I certainly don’t want to create a social media frenzy.  This article isn’t about the pros and cons of weighted ball programs. However, there are many weighted ball programs out there with no regard for the anatomical side of things. This article is about the importance and reasons why you should include and implement a monitored strength and conditioning program alongside a weighted ball program.

First, let me begin by answering a few quick questions. Yes, I believe weighted ball programs work but as with any protocol, the “dosage” (volume and intensity) is paramount to maximize their effectiveness safely.

“Maybe the problem isn’t the weighted balls… Maybe it’s one coach giving an entire team of 14-year-olds the exact same weighted ball program.”

– Eric Cressey

For us, it is important that the athlete is:

    • At least 16 years of age
    • Anatomically mature (growth plates)
    • At an adequate weight to be able to disperse the stress of throwing weighted balls
    • Pain free

And has:

    • A decent foundation of strength (training age)
    • The movement quality of an athlete (assessment)
    • Not participated in any other velocity programs in the last 3 months (90 days)

If you would like to read more on the topic of weighted balls click here. Now, let’s get into it with weighted balls and strength training and why we believe they should go hand-in-hand.

1. Forces Us to Assess – The benefit of including a strength and conditioning program first and foremost is that it forces us (or at least it should) to perform a thorough initial assessment on the athlete’s baseline movement capacity. This helps answer a few important questions that address the athlete’s durability to even take part in a weighted ball throwing program.  These include but are not limited to the following questions:

    • Are they lacking scapular upward rotation?
    • Can they get their hands overhead without compensating in the lower lumbar?
    • Do they have sufficient hip IR?
    • Do they have adequate anterior core control?

2. Absolute Strength is the Foundation for all other Faster Types of Strength – Absolute strength is paramount in any high performing athletic endeavor.  In this situation, the analogy is that strength training helps increase the size of the cup that you can fill with other faster types of strength, as in with weighted balls.

3. Helps Disperse Stress on the Body from Throwing (ligaments and joints) – The increases in lean muscle mass from strength training help absorb much of the force that comes with throwing hard and in this case, with throwing weighted balls as well. Otherwise, with lighter less muscular athletes we can get into a “Humpty Dumpty” situation.

4. Teaches Proper Movement – Every athlete needs to be able to perform movements like squats, hinges (deadlift) and lunges.  This helps longer, and looser athletes learn stability, while the shorter and tighter guys get to increase their mobility.

5. Ensures a Daily Serving of Mobility and Arm Care – All of our strength and conditioning programs include a 15-20 minute warm-up which focuses on soft tissue work and mobility. This will help ensure that all movement and mobility issues found in the initial assessment are being addressed daily.

(1/2 Kneeling Band Stabilization)

Putting it all together

With weighted balls comes a responsibility to educate athletes as to how and when is the best way incorporate strength training into the program. A great program should incorporate throwing and strength training as ONE and not view them as two separate entities.  While strength training should never be out of the equation for a pitcher, it should share the spotlight with the throwing side of the program such as correcting mechanical issues and high intent weighted throws.

This will allow us to focus more on improving mobility and increasing force production through lighter lifts.  While plyometric training will allow the athlete to focus more energy on the ramped-up intensity and volume of the throwing portion. Remember when something gets added (throwing), something needs to be taken away (heavy lifting).

(Deadlift Triples)

(Heiden and Stick)

Any strength training program that’s combined with pitching / throwing needs to be highly coordinated to be effective.

A throwing program utilizing weighted balls can and will help improve coordination of muscle contraction and the development of a more efficient kinetic chain in the throwing motion helping the athlete stay connected. This, combined with increasing physical size and strength through weight training, is the best of both worlds creating a much greater result while reducing the risk of injury.

See ya’ in the gym…

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