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Throwing with Weighted Balls: Good or Bad?

Controversial topic alert! Some folks believe strongly in using weighted balls to improve their velocity, while others never use them as they believe it increases the athlete’s risk of injury. So, what’s the deal? I am going to give you a quick summary of the research and my recommendations at the end!




Reinold and team in a 2018 study and then a follow-up 2020 study found this about throwing with weighted balls:

· It does improve throwing velocity.

· It does significantly and immediately increase external rotation passive range of motion.

· It does NOT improve shoulder strength.

· The study found 24% of the group training with weighted balls had an injury during training or in-season compared to no injuries in the control group training without weighted balls.

· Take-away message: Throwing with weighted balls do increase velocity, but it may increase the risk of injury. Heavier ball should be used with caution and range of motion monitored.



But what about training with a ball lighter than the typical 5 oz baseball and ~7 oz softball? Erickson and team in 2020 conducted a 15-week pitching program using lighter balls and found:

· It did significantly improve velocity. 98% of participants had a mean improvement in throwing speed with fastballs by 4.8 mph.

· There were no shoulder or elbow injuries sustained during the program.

· Key takeaway: Lighter balls could be a potential alternative to weighted balls for improving velocity with less risk of injury.



Melugin and team summarized the available evidence on this topic in 2020 and created this nice graph which I have replicated below. The problem is, many of the studies did not report on injury rates during or after. Overall, we need more and better-quality research in this area.



My recommendations:

· Who should NOT use weighted balls:

o Those recovering from a shoulder/elbow injury or currently experiencing pain while throwing.

o Athletes 12 and younger. Encourage significant caution using weighted balls with athletes until they are 15-16 age range and up. Risk is likely greater than reward.

o Athletes who are IN-SEASON due to high levels of stresses already being placed on the arm.

· Who might benefit from using weighted balls:

o High school athletes who have good physical maturity, guidance with a structured weighted ball program, and are serious about maintaining healthy habits for their arms.

o College and professional athletes.

o A high school or college pitcher who has a slower arm speed, maybe throwing low to mid 80s, and needs a jump in velocity that has not come from other methods of training.

· Before starting a throwing program with weighted balls, I would recommend having at least 6-8 weeks of a progressive arm care program and build-up of a long-toss program.

· Start with a 6-8 week throwing program with weighted balls, ideally in the pre-season.

· Start with a lighter weighted ball, ideally in the 6-8 oz range. Continue using this weight range for the whole first throwing program. If the athlete tolerates this well without pain/injury, increase to a ball in the 8-12 oz range for their next program.

· If using weighted balls, do not throw further than ~15 feet or off of a mound. Throwing into a net 6-10 feet away is ideal.

· Come back to throws with a standard 5 oz baseball at the end of each workout.

· We do not know a lot about using lighter balls, but the risk of injury appears to be lower. It may be worth gradually progressing from heavier (6-12oz) down to lighter (<5 oz) balls by the end of a weighted ball throwing program as season approaches to lower risk of injury.

· Monitor range of motion, primarily shoulder external and internal rotation, to ensure a 180-degree arc remains and no significant increases in external rotation occurs.



Ultimately, I believe if programmed correctly weighted balls can be a great tool for throwers to improve velocity. But if you are not sure how to program and progress a throwing program with weighted balls, then don’t use them! Contact me at Outshine or find a qualified physical therapist/coach to help you.





References

1. Reinold MM, et al. Effect of a 6-Week Weighted Baseball Throwing Program on Pitch Velocity, Pitching Arm Biomechanics, Passive Range of Motion, and Injury Rates. Sports Health. Jul-Aug 2018;10(4):327-333. doi: 10.1177/1941738118779909.

2. Reinold MM, et al. Acute Effects of Weighted Baseball Throwing Programs on Shoulder Range of Motion. Sports Health. 2020;12(5):488-494. doi: 10.1177/1941738120925728.

3. Erickson BJ, et al. Training with Lighter Baseballs Increases Velocity without Increasing the Injury Risk. Orthop J Sports Med. 2020 Mar 26;8(3):2325967120910503. doi: 10.1177/2325967120910503.

4. Melugin HP, et al. The Evidence Behind Weighted Ball Throwing Programs for the Baseball Player: Do They Work and Are They Safe? Curr Rev Musculoskelet Med. 2021 Feb;14(1):88-94. DOI: 10.1007/s12178-020-09686-0.


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