“Hold” up with this Weighted Ball Program

When Jamie Evans was hired by the Toronto Blue Jays earlier this year, it was welcomed with open arms. For those of you who do not know, Evans was the man given credit for rebuilding the career of Steve Delabar with the Velocity Program after Delabar had undergone many surgeries and was more High School Teacher than Professional Ball Player.

The more I research the now famous program, the more skeptical I become about certain areas of it. The program was developed by pitching legend Tom House and Evans, with the idea coming from tennis and how it is a perceived injury free overhead motion sport. House theorized that the reason there aren’t as many injuries is because tennis players do not release the racket like pitchers release the ball. This of course comes down to what is called deceleration training, because the deceleration when releasing the object compared to when not releasing is obviously different.   The National Pitching Association(NPA) uses four pieces of equipment to enhance and refine the deceleration phase of pitching, with the main focus being on weighted balls. So why use weighted balls, you say?

Weighted balls range from 3 oz. – 12 oz. A lot of people in the industry are against weighted ball training because they feel it alters mechanics and creates cracks in the structure of the body due to increased torque. This is all true which is why weighted ball programs should never involve playing catch or pitching the balls. Weighted balls should be thrown into nets or against a wall without thinking about mechanics or throwing perfect strikes. They are designed to increase strength and arm speed.

One of the key elements for all athletes in the off season is to rest, get healthy and get stronger. For pitchers, the offseason is extremely important for arm care. There should be an 8-12 week period in the off season where a pitcher doesn’t throw at all. One major part of the shoulder that is often ignored in strength training is the decelerators. The kinetic chain in the pitching motion can be broken down to these main parts: the pitcher taking his stride, trunk rotation, elbow extension, shoulder rotation and wrist flexion. These motions create a tremendous amount of kinetic energy flowing through the body into the ball. With all that momentum and force something has to hit the brakes so the humerus doesn’t rip right out of the socket. Therefore, strengthening the posterior musculature should be a major goal for pitchers in the off season because the stronger those decelerators are, the more acceleration a pitcher can get. To use a car analogy, most pitchers try and get the most powerful engine and fancy car but have no brake pads.

My main issue with Evans program is what are called holds or sock/towel drills. The pitcher will take a weighted ball and simulate a throw without releasing the ball.

This is Evans using the tennis raquet analogy. By not releasing the ball you are fatiguing the arm more quickly by cutting off the blood flow in the forearm.It is also hard on the tendons and forearm muscles. The problems don’t end there. By holding on to the ball the arm is forced to “brake” like a car trying to stop on a dime. This prevents proper external rotation

Example_ScapularLoading_Good_RogerClemens__Yankees_001

and is more like pushing the ball instead of the arm laying back.

RogerClemens_2006_019

These are some mechanically flawed nasty habits pitchers shouldn’t be doing. This is a huge fundamental problem with the program. Repeating mechanics is such a huge part of being a successful pitcher. The program itself is sold as a velocity program. Any throwing program that involves weighted balls should theoretically increase velocity. You would really have to screw up training to not see even a small amount of velocity increase. Having said that, the reason the program was created was to strengthen the decelerators and help prevent injury. Due to poor research methods, there isn’t even evidence that the holds part of the program strengthen the decelerators.

There are other proven methods such as

Glute Ham Pull Aparts

decel1

 

Reverse Band Patterning

decel2

 

There is a lot about this program that is misleading and confuses people. I believe it is the velocity part that does it. For Jays fans we see the Delebar story and think any pitcher with a velocity dip can sign with Toronto, get on the program, gain velocity and be perfectly healthy. People have to realize that weighted balls are a must in any throwing program, but they are just one small part. Pitching is an unnatural event that occurs at an explosive moment. The training a pitcher does in the off season must focus on that fact. Core strength, leg strength, improved thoracic spine mobility, hip abduction mobility, hip and core stability, lower body power, scapular stability and overall strength are all vital pieces to the off season training schedule.

Now I’m not trying to take anything away from House or Evans. In my opinion Tom House is one of the greatest things to happen to baseball. He revolutionized pitching methods in the 70’s and has helped develop thousands of pitchers over the years. The man is a pitching genius, I’m just concerned about one part of this program because the Jays organization appears to be all in with it. I love the progressive approach the Jays are taking here with this program. I have spoken a lot about my distaste for the pitching targets this team goes after. I love that the pitchers on this team will have access to a program like this.

Unfortunately it’s not going to be magical injury cure if the pitching acquisitions don’t change.

Research

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8784962

http://megliofitness.com/the-decelerators%E2%80%93strengthening-the-forgotten-part-of-the-pitchers-shoulder/

http://www.hardballtimes.com/main/article/getting-out-of-the-injury-zone-part-one/

http://issuu.com/mlbpitching/docs/effects-of-baseball-weighted-implement-training

Increasing Throwing Velocity (DeRenne, 1985)

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11708700

David J. Szymanski, MEd, CSCS, June 1998: The Effects of Various Weighted Bats on Bat Velocity – A Literature Review. Strength and Conditioning, pp. 8 – 11

DeRenne, C., Tracy, R., and Dunn-Rankin, P. 1985: Increasing Throwing velocity. Athletic Journal, April, 36 – 39.

Brose, D.E., and D.L. Hanson 1967: Effects of Overload Training on Velocity and Accuracy of Throwing. Research Quarterly. 38:528-533.

Escamilla et al. 2000: Sports Med Apr; 29 (4): 259-272

http://www.drivelinebaseball.com/

Egstrom, G.H., Logan, G.A., and E. L. Wallis 1960: Acquisition of Throwing skill Involving Projectiles of varying Weight. Research Quarterly 31:420-425.

http://www.ericcressey.com/

http://www.uhasselt.be/Documents/UHasselt/initiatieven/2012/schouderklachten-3-3/Shoulder-Escamilla-

Shoulder%20Muscle%20Recruitm%20Patterns%20and%20Related%20Biomech%20UE-Sports.PDF

http://www.pitching.com/

Slider image courtesy of @James_in_TO via Flickr.

About Chris Sherwin

Chris lives in Windsor, Ontario and is also the co-host for the BlueJaysPlus podcast. He has played baseball since he was four years old, and started coaching in his teens. Chris has a passion for the game of baseball, and is particularly focused on pitching mechanics, catchers and scouting. He will give insight into bio mechanical research, injuries, fundamentals and strategical analysis. He can be found on Twitter @CWSherwin

  • Pingback: Blue Jays Morning Brew: J.P. Arencibia, Edwin Encarnacion and Sidearm Knuckleballs - Jays Journal - A Toronto Blue Jays Fan Site - News, Blogs, Opinion and More

  • Delabar’s Weighted Balls

    Interesting point with holding on to the ball passed the release point causing stress to the forearm (and shoulder) on the braking motion; Isn’t that the premise though, to strengthen those muscles/tendons, on the follow through, like in tennis?

    The jury is still out, but the boost in velocity & # of converts suggest that it’s a positive thing… (but I might be biased (as you can tell from my name)) =)

  • Will C.

    Hi Chris – great work.

    A few pieces of information to add:

    Deceleration training, Tennis vs. Baseball:

    Most injuries during human movement come during deceleration not acceleration (think jumping in the air vs. landing from a jump). However, anyone who claims that tennis has a lower frequency of deceleration injuries because we maintain contact with the racquet is simply wrong. In the case of deceleration in tennis, you have to slow down both the arm and the racquet (increased weight=increased torque), that is why there are so many forearm injuries in tennis (hence the term “tennis elbow”).

    The reason tennis is a relatively safer overhead throwing motion than pitching is quite simply due to a longer moment arm or longer lever (arm + racquet). Think of all those dog owners in the park who now use that plastic arm to throw a ball with. If we could pitch with one of those = more velocity and fewer injuries. Think Marcus Stroman with Randy Johnson’s arms.

    • Chris Sherwin

      Thanks for the comment Will. This is one of the better pieces I link to when people give me the tennis argument…

      http://www.warbirdacademy.com/holds-pitching-velocity-tom-house-tennis/

      • will

        Hi Chris,

        Thanks for your reply. Keep up the great work trying to dispense good information. I wouldn’t use that link for your argument however, it is well intentioned, but off the mark.

        For example his first point about the tennis serve being about elbow extension while the pitching motion is about internal rotation is incorrect. The mechanics of the two are actually very close. I say this as a former pitcher and current sports biomechanist who conducts motion analysis research. There would be a number of articles or any good biomechanics text that you could use as a reference to support this.

        To keep it simple, rotational force or torque is dependent on 3 key variables:

        1. Amount of force
        2. Angle the force is applied at
        3. The length of the moment arm (lever)

        So there are 3 ways to increase torque:

        3. Increase the length of the lever ….while attempting to maintain similar force and angle of application.

        Pitchers cannot do this (unless they grow longer arms) but recreational dog walkers have (via the ‘chuck it’) and tennis players have (via the racquet).

        The reason these two groups have less injuries than pitchers is due to a more efficient (longer lever) system. Period – end of story. Any arguments should be addressed to sir Issac Newton.

        This is also why you want tall pitchers and why tall tennis players serve so hard/fast (longer levers).

        2. Improve the angle the force is applied at…while maintaining force and length of lever arm. This is why efficient/effective pitching mechanics are so important.

        1. Increase the amount of force…this is why we lift weights and/or why you would use a weighted ball program. Simply put, more load/weight requires greater force.

        An exercise like heavy squats would be considered a high load, low speed, strength/power developer. A weighted ball would be considered a low load/higher speed strength/power developer.

        So if you are not throwing the weighted ball…i.e. moving a low load at a high velocity, there is no real advantage to using it. You could be using any weighted implement such as the old weighted tennis can exercises, a kettle bell, a dumbbell, chains, body weight or a band, etc.

        Will.

        • Chris Sherwin

          I don’t necessarily agree with all his training principles and theories. However, I appreciate the case studies and keeping up to date with current research. That is why I link to that article. My original point was not so much to debate tennis racquets, but to question the “holding” part of the NPA program. There is ongoing research on the matter. I plan on writing a follow up at some point.