The FOUR foundations that a player needs when using a weighted baseball throwing program.

Danh Ngo"Staying Active" Division, BaseballLeave a Comment

This article was birth out of a parent asking me to develop a program that incorporated weighted baseball. This is a tricky and hot topic currently in the baseball community. The touted benefit is the increase in throwing velocity, while the downside perception is the increased injury rate to the shoulder and elbow region. There is no debate that Tommy John surgery or surgery to the ulnar collateral ligament is on the rise. The shocking truth is that modern orthopedic medicine is full of great inventions such as othrobiologics or more accurate and better materials used during shoulder and elbow surgeries.

As a Sports Medicine Physical Therapist with a high interest in baseball rehabilitation, I was excited and felt a higher level of responsibility to make sure I produce results without sacrificing his health. I wanted to incorporate my holistic approach that combined physical tactics with the knowledge of Functional Medicine. There are some key principles that this article will talk about that. It was what was conveyed to both the parent and client of mine.

Before I started everything, I did not want to assume that my background was enough to ensure his physical safety. I dug to the researched and looked at the perspectives of a few of the leading baseball performance groups, such as DriveLineOnBaseUCressey Performance, and a landmark research article written by my colleague Physio, Mike Reinold. There are overlapping themes that I agree with and will present in this article. 

The overall answer with the weighted ball is that it is necessary for a player’s development.

That being said, you need certain fundamentals before starting, and once you start, all players need to have a system that allows them to adapt and evolve due to the use of a weighted ball throwing program.

This article is not about me telling you how many repetitions and sets you need for your weighted ball program. This article explains my logic in dosing and the holistic physical preparation that this player will need to throw successfully. I hope to show that there needs to be a sense of purpose and thought behind every exercise and baseball-related activities.  

The first step I did with this player and his dad was to explain that my role is to continue his baseball story. My job is to progress and allow the player to adapt, but for me to interject my expertise, I needed to spend the time to look at the three weeks of training he has done. Data collecting his work-out regime and baseball training will help me to know what his physical training “floor”. The training floor implies what his current capacity is. If he has been training properly by his trainer, his program will tell a story. The story of a novice growing up to develop into the athlete he is now.  

Take a snapshot of this picture on your phone for reference.

When someone looks at your baseball and physical preparation training history, is there a story that makes sense for you?

  • Is your physical training showing a thoughtful intention to build a solid foundation of any sorts, and an executed progression?
  • Is your baseball throwing and training program showing a steady increase in workload with a logical progression of foundation to complex skills?

My job is to see how his trainer was having him train, and use the training patterns I saw during the 3 weeks of data collecting, and fill in any training gaps. If you are reading this and you are under a trainer or yourself, you should have the purpose of every single exercise you are doing. Every repetition and sets should have a purpose. Luckily, I noticed a purpose and pattern with the player’s training program, which meant that he was under good physical care.  

The trainer mainly focused on sagittal plane strength, compound lifts, and footwork. He kept the variety up with a mixture of barbell lifts, TRX-suspension, and single-leg variations. I noticed that as a rotational power athlete, he could practice developing and progressing rotational power a bit more. Although there were speed and transferring kinetic type of exercises, I felt there could be another level of progression that will help this young athlete feel the specificity of the rotational power of a shortstop position.

Here are the 4 rules to live by if you want to develop the power that comes with weighted balls and makes sure you will not be another shoulder or elbow injury statistics. Another incentive to follow these rules is that Tommy John’s surgery will sideline you for 14-18 months! That is a long time and if you are not good at being practicing patience, you will hate it.

1. Stable midline cannot be sacrificed. Rotational power comes from a strong sagittal and frontal plane control.

Your body develops rotational power in a similar way as a sailor trying to steer a sailboat. What do I mean by this? Imagine your muscles are the sails of a sailboat that attaches to the mast. Your mast is your spinal column. There are two mainsails called the mainsail and the jib. To move the sails, you need a strong upright mast to fixate and pull the sails around. When you have good control of the sailboat, the boat moves according to your desire. If you have good control of your muscles to spine, you move with ease. Remember how well you can control your muscles is dependent on the spine acting strong and erect.

This is the foundation that must be built and luckily the trainer is doing a sufficient job building the mast. You cannot produce clean, joint-sparing, movement if your rotational muscles cannot fixate and leverage an erect spinal column.  

There are two types of rotational exercises that I added to his program: anti-rotation and ballistic rotational expression. Anti-rotation implies that he needs to learn how to decelerate the rotational forces that will be placed towards his joints. The lumbar spine and knee are joints that are not favorable to repetitive sloppy execution of rotational forces. As he is learning to protect his joints with these anti-rotation exercises, he will be juggling in medicine ball or wall ball rotational throws and slam.  

There needs to be a specificity of training. If you want to move fast, you have to train fast. You need to train fast that mirrors your position. Shortstop players are the acrobat of the baseball team. They have to dive and throw the ball with their legs in many different positions. We find many are not utilizing the wide split stance training position enough. His exercises will include a variety of classic strengthening exercises with a wide split stance position.

SAMPLE EXERCISES:

Planks: click to watch.

https://youtu.be/Fxc8-duxmkk

Side Planks:

Pallof press in 1/2 kneel position: click to watch

Pallof press in wide split stance position

https://youtu.be/1vKhwBEEqm4
https://youtu.be/qgqrG7yCeYA

Wallball Hot feet recoiled ball toss:

Wallball rotational slams:

Wall ball anti-rotational split stance ball wall loss:

2. Recover, recover, recover!

This topic will dictate how much and far he can push himself. The follow-up question that the player and parent asked was “How many repetitions and sets?”. My answer is dependant on how well you allow yourself to recover. The topic of recovery is equal to the idea of refilling your gas tank. How much fuel do you have? I gave him loose guidelines about the importance of sleep and eating an anti-inflammatory diet.  

You do not have a gas meter, but you do have the data of food you eat and the number of sleep hours. Look at the ingredient list of everything you eat and know there are two choices: one that depletes and one that gives you more sustainable energy.

He is still young, but if I can teach him healthy habits, it will allow his body to experiment without any push back from his body. What I find is that a player who sustained recurrent injuries or had surgery to learn that they cannot force his body like their younger days. They learn how to control and finesse their swing or pitch. The same goes for recovery.  

The goal was to get at least an average of 7-9 hours and his amount will be dictated by what his body tells him the following morning. He was told to avoid processed sugar and fats, as these foods will block or burden natural pathways for detoxing. You will get more tension or delayed muscle soreness from the workload.

I went over the importance of this factor when it comes to showcasing and during frequent baseball activities. During the week of high physical volume, you can perform like a beast by recovering like a beast. If his training sessions progressed with a level of difficulty or higher volume, he needs to recover more. There is an idea that you are in control of your body, even though, others are ordering and controlling how you are pushing your body to the limits.

Do you need help with a shoulder or elbow problem? You will be asked about your problem and your training, and we will let you know what are your best next step.

3. Every throw counts, even the ones done as an exercise.

The consensus with elite performance specialist and baseball rehabilitation professionals is that workload matters. A tissue can only handle so much tissue tension before it diminishes.  

Two factors will dictate the stress load to your shoulder, elbow, lower back, hip, and other parts of your body. You are only as strong as your weak link. If you do not boost the strength of your weak link, the stress intensity increases. So, every time you throw a ball, the stress load adds alongside the stress intensity.  That is a double no-no.  

If I test your left single-leg strength and you can only perform 8 repetitions, while your right single-leg strength is at 20 repetitions, there is a huge mismatch. This disadvantage translates up towards your opposite shoulder and elbow. Your shoulder works reciprocally with your opposite leg. If you have been able to throw 95+ mph, but you start to develop left knee tendinitis. You are still able to throw 95+ mph, but this time you have less assistance from your left leg.  

How can you still produce a 95+ mph throw? You do that with more force at your right shoulder and elbow. You maneuver your body to get a more fast whip-like stress at your shoulder and elbow that your legs-trunk would have provided. This is the stress intensity that occurs. You will fix this pattern by building an efficiently strong leg and midline (factors 1 and 4).

To summarize, an all-out 100% intensity throw, 50% warm-up throw, and a wall ball 10 repetition throw all counts towards your fuel tank. The answer to you is individualized on your physical floor, goals, and ability to recover. Are you noticing the holistic connection of all 4 factors within this article? If your shoulder and elbow are dependent on your leg-trunk connection, your pitch count depends on your ability to “steer the sailboat” effectively. If you have to force the steer because you have an inefficient connection to the sailboat’s mast, or your spinal and pelvis column, your workload stress intensity is increased.  

If you continue to focus on factor 1, you have leverage on your side to throw with less stress intensity. A pitcher with poor anti-rotation and rotational force that is throwing at 70% intensity will have a more stress volume workload than a pitcher with good rotational strength and throwing at 100%!

4. Your ability to produce power comes from how well you can leverage the ground surface.  

This is based on Newton’s Law of Motion. You get equal force produced back at you to what you produce. If baseball is about producing an end result of hitting power or pitching velocity, you have to learn how to utilize your body in a matter that can leverage the most power output. Our bodies cannot produce power without something of unlimited stability. 

The more stable the ground surface is, the better you can push back to build and ramp up the kinetic chain forces towards your upper body.  

If physics is not your strong subject, think about this scenario. You have a 20-pound rock. Which surface will give you the best chances of throwing the rock far? A solid ground surface, like a pier, or a rocky raft that is floating in the middle of going downstream? 

Try this. Which is easier to control your arm and body? Walking on a cement ground or a high rope? You are trying to express efficient movement that can harness the strength and power you are working hard at. The ground reaction force is an important factor that dictates your pitch velocity or bat power output.  

The exercise listed below are exercises that help you to learn what pushing into the ground feels like. Once you understand this feeling, you have to move quickly, while jumping high or far, while moving quickly with your feet.

Exercise 1: Step up and over and back.

Exercise 2: Single leg deadlift to squat.

Exercise 3: Box jump and over to rotational land.

Exercise 4: Box jump down and wide lateral jump with a medicine ball.

Exercise 5: Step forward to wall ball throw into a deadlift.

In summary, here are the four factors that you need to keep bridge the gap of gaining throwing velocity and minimizing risk of injury. Follow these four factors and check-in on a weekly basis. Use this article to map out every week for success.

Remember, weighted ball is another chapter to your baseball story. It should make sense and connect you towards the end goal of performing at a high level. Stay midline, grounded, and track your data!

Do you need help with a shoulder or elbow problem? You will be asked about your problem and your training, and we will let you know what are your best next step.

One LOVE,

Danh Ngo PT, DPT, OCS, SCS

Doctor of Physical Therapy

Board Certified Specialist in Orthopedic and Sports Medicine

Certified Advanced Movement Specialist – RockTape

Mind Body Health Results Coach

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