So, you want to throw harder, have better mechanics, and throw nastier pitches? Training (correctly) with weighted baseballs is the answer you’re looking for. When appropriately used in a well-thought-out training regiment, weighted baseballs can help improve pitching mechanics and help improve arm strength at all ages and skill levels.
But I heard that throwing weighted baseballs is terrible for your arm! There are a lot of people who think and say this. To them, I have one question: Does a regular baseball not weigh anything? All baseballs have weight to them (Regulation baseballs from Little League to the MLB all weigh five ounces.), so if you’re having a catch with a standard ball, you’re having a catch with a weighted baseball. If you approach weighted ball training correctly, it can be a safe and fun way to improve your throwing.
Where most go wrong with throwing weighted balls (or throwing in general) is a lack of a good training regiment (with constant measuring of skills) and a lack of periodization of exercises. You will need more than simply taking different weighted heavy/light balls and throwing them to see a benefit and growth.
It is essential first to identify where you are weak mechanically and then use the right weighted ball drills to help correct mechanical flaws. It is also critical to build up stamina and strength before going into the more “fun” weighted ball drills like run ‘n guns, turn and burns, and compression throws. Getting a good trainer can help with this immensely.
So, what do weighted baseballs actually do for you?
When we train with weighted baseballs at Momentum, we use a wide range of weights that are either heavier or lighter than the standard five-ounce ball. Most people in the baseball world call this overload/underload training. I’ll break this into two sections for you, one about each.
Overload (Heavier Ball) Training Benefits:
Muscle Adaptation: When you train with baseballs of heavier weights, it introduces an idea known as ‘progressive overload’ to your muscles. This principle involves gradually increasing the weight or resistance, forcing your muscles to adapt and grow stronger. However, It’s not just about raw strength; it’s also about endurance. Training with these balls helps your arm muscles sustain high-performance levels over longer periods, which is crucial for later innings in games.
Neuromuscular Adaptation: It’s not just the muscles that adapt; there are adaptations happening in your brain as well. Your nervous system learns to generate force more quickly, a huge factor in throwing faster.
Mechanical Benefits: Heavier baseballs demand more from your body to maintain proper pitching mechanics. This challenge can improve kinesthetic (body) awareness and mechanical efficiency. You will receive much more feedback when you make a bad throw/have poor mechanics using a different weighted ball than a standard five-ounce baseball. All in all, this helps pitchers use their entire body when they throw, improving the Kinetic Chain as a whole and reducing the risk of injuries.
Underload (Lighter Ball) Training Benefits:
Increased Arm Speed: Lighter baseballs, being easier to throw fast, can help develop faster arm speed. The reduced weight allows pitchers to move their arm more quickly, a key factor in increasing pitch velocity. Adaptations happen on both a physical and a neurological level. Athletes who throw lighter baseballs learn how to recruit (neurological) and fire muscles (physical) faster, leading to throwing harder.
Improved Coordination: Just as heavier balls train the muscles for strength, lighter balls train them for speed and coordination. This helps in developing a more efficient neuromuscular pathway for pitching. Switching between weights challenges the muscles and nervous system in varied ways, promoting greater adaptability and overall pitching dexterity.
Fine Tuning The Pitching Motion: With lighter balls, pitchers should focus more on the fluidity (flow/whip) and timing between movements of their throwing motion. When performed correctly, pitchers will be able to throw faster than they ever have before. Using the radar gun as feedback, pitchers can feel and see which mechanics are better, leading to better pitches and higher velocity.
What is periodization of training?
This can (and probably should) be its own individual blog post. I will break it down here quickly for you, but this can be a complicated topic.
Periodization refers to having a systematic plan for training. The goal is to reach the best possible performance in the most important competitions of the year (for example, travel ball players in the summer or college players in their conference tournament and playoffs). It involves progressive cycling of various aspects of a training program during a specific period. Sometimes, this means adding more exercises/stress; other times, this means backing off and doing less stressful activities. Athletes will see consistent growth and minimized injury risk when training with a correctly periodized regiment.
For example, at Momentum, we program exercises in 4-6 week blocks. When beginning the offseason, athletes typically start their “on-ramp” of throwing, aka their preparation for velocity work. The on-ramping period can vary in length and depends on multiple factors, including the amount of time the athlete has taken off from throwing, overall health, prior injury history, and physical fitness levels. On-ramping usually includes a lot of low and moderate-intensity throwing days.
After the preparation period, athletes enter the velocity enhancement phase, where we do a lot of high-intent throwing sessions, with medium and low-intent days in between for recovery purposes.
Following the velocity enhancement phase comes the mound prep phase, where we get used to throwing on the mound once again, followed by the mound velocity/game speed phase. At this point, we are throwing off the mound and working on our pitches and game planning.
Please keep in mind that this a very basic overview of weighted ball training as well as the periodization of training regiments. This blog post is by no means a definitive guide to gaining miles per hour on your throws. Hopefully, this helps answer some of the more basic questions that come along with weighted ball training and how it can help you. Just like everything in life, it is important to practice moderation when getting into weighted ball training. However, the benefits of using weighted balls are clear, and you are falling behind your competition if you are not using them.
As always, we are here to help you along your journey to become a better baseball player. Have any questions? Please feel free to hit us up via email or leave a comment below. We are also available for individual pitching lessons, pitching training, and pitching clinics where you can learn how to throw harder.