Weighted baseballs are not a new phenomenon, in fact training with weighted balls is almost as old as the game of baseball itself. However, the high-intent, extreme weighted baseball velocity training programs that have become the pitching craze of late are relatively new.
Obviously it takes a considerable amount time and energy to conduct proper research and organize a formal study on a new type of training regimen. Weighted baseball velocity programs have essentially been operating ahead of the data and research. Within the last couple years, an independent group of baseball medical researchers, ASMI, conducted a study on the effects of a popular 6 week, high-intent weighted baseball velocity training program.
While early studies on high-intent, weighted baseball velocity training programs (usually done by creators of the programs themselves) appeared to show them to be safe, this more recent independent study may suggest otherwise.
While not all of the results were negative, the study clearly shows that that there is cause for concern for anyone considering a weighted baseball velocity regimen. Below is a breakdown of what the study showed were the pros and cons of a velocity program involving weighted baseballs.
- Astonishingly, the study determined that there is LESS stress on the throwing shoulder when throwing a heavy ball, as compared to throwing regulation baseball. This completely debunked the original hypothesis of the creators of the study.
- 85% of participants in the weighted ball program increased their velocity.
- The average velocity gain was around 4%.
- Under-load balls create more stress on the shoulder joint than a regular 9 oz baseball. During testing, the most stress came from a flat ground, “run and gun” style throw with an under-weighted ball.
- 15% of participants had NO increase in velocity.
- Arm strength and arm speed as tested in the study did not increase.
- External rotation, or “lay-back” of participants throwing arms increased an average of 5%.
- Finally, the most telling number was the injury rate. The injuries noted here took place outside the time constraints of the formal study, but were acknowledged by one of the creators of the study. While there was only one or two throwing related injuries during the course of the program, significant injuries began to pop up the following summer during the participants playing season. An astonishing 25-30% of the participants suffered throwing arm injuries during their season. The control group had ZERO injuries during the study or the following summer. These were not minor injuries, but significant, life-altering, injuries that required surgery. You can hear former Red Sox trainer Mike Reinold, one of the study’s creators, speak about the injuries by clicking here.
Are the rewards of a weighted baseball throwing program worth the risk?
In my opinion, weighted baseball training regimens should only be undertaken by athletes that possess skeletal and muscular maturity, and with the close supervision of a qualified physical therapist/personal trainer. Most of the time, however, this is not what happens. In order to sell to the masses, many of these programs are sold as one-size-fits all. It’s very often an eager high school pitcher, or even an entire high school baseball program undertaking these programs with minimal professional oversight.
The study clearly points to the velocity gains occurring in weighted baseball velocity training programs stemming from an increase in throwing shoulder lay-back, or external rotation, and not from an increase in arm speed or strength. An average increase of 5% throwing arm lay-back over the course of a 6 week program is significant and frightening. It is an extreme injury risk. A previous study determined that subjects with increased total range of motion in their throwing arm compared to their non-throwing arm, account for 78% of ALL pitching injuries. Read that again, 78% of all pitching injuries!
Let’s be honest, 100% of sport training regimens carry at least a small inherent risk of injury. But it is the type of injury risk that matters. Is the greatest risk a type of injury that will keep you out a few weeks (i.e. sprained ankle)? Or is there real risk of sustaining a career changing, life-altering injury (i.e. UCL tear)?
If you’ve read this far and you’re still dead set on taking on a weighted baseball velocity training program, PLEASE, get evaluated by a trusted physical therapist or strength trainer first. It’s imperative that your body is in peek physical condition. Also have a knowledgeable pitching coach evaluate your mechanics. Every person’s body is different, and not every pitcher has the same efficiency level in their mechanics. Take bad mechanics or vulnerable joints and add weight…it’s a recipe for disaster.
Finally, ask yourself this question: Is an 85% chance that I gain around 3 MPH to my fastball worth the potential 25% chance that I will suffer a significant arm injury?
Are there other, less risky options for increasing pitching velocity?
Instead of weighted baseballs, my suggestion is to first try increasing your body’s strength and athleticism, and work on developing more efficient throwing mechanics. There are many pitching velocity training programs that do not involve weighted balls. My favorite is the 3X Velocity Program. It is designed to get you into the best shape of your entire life through an intense strength program. It is specifically designed to keep you healthy while helping you gain velocity naturally, as your body becomes stronger and more athletic. The 3x Velocity program features both a beginner and advanced version.
Whether you are high school or college coach considering implementing a weighted ball program, a player wanting to throw harder, or parent looking for velocity training options for their child, I highly recommend you check out the 3X Velocity Program before purchasing a weighted ball program.
Have you or someone you know completed a weighted ball training program? We’d like to hear your results and your opinions in the comment section below.