About a year ago, I made my free ebook on weighted baseballs available to the public. Since then, we’ve had over 2,000 requests for the book, and many followed up on their results. Here’s a few of the responses I’ve gotten back:
I have followed your weighted baseball program with four of my students and I have had great success with increased velocity and overall arm strength. Great overall program and very well laid out, an excellent addition to my “toolbox.”
It works. My god does it work! I’ve picked up 8mph according to my own radar gun. I don’t get injuries… which is the best part. Started at 83mph, now I’m Consistent at 91.
We loved the approach and we’re hoping to apply it internally in winter ball. Please let us know when your book on training pitchers is available.
-National Crosschecker for an MLB team
I integrated it into our offseason training program with good results. The best results came from our relievers, who picked up an average of 3.5 MPH. Starters responded OK to it and none lost velocity, but our closer and our bullpen guys really took to it. I think it’s because they have a far more aggressive mentality. Thanks!!
-Division-I Pitching Coach
No one has reported injuries or loss in velocity, and many of the responses started off with: “Well, I missed a few weeks, but gained X MPH anyway!”
However, this blog post is about a special case study that warrants further explanation. Daniel Gacke responded to my initial request for feedback with this email on September 4th:
I am in the final week of phase 1, and my longest throw for long toss has increased by at least 30 feet, depending on the wind. Throwing the over and under weight balls is fun, and has helped, but I feel the biggest factor in my distance increase has been improved rotational mechanics of my left hip (I am a righty thrower).
On October 11th, Daniel followed up with this email:
Anyhow, when I was healthy and in college, I sat in the 82-85 mph range, and the fastest I ever threw was 88 once. Since my surgery, the fastest I’ve thrown was 82 until today. I just got done throwing a 6 oz baseball 90 mph! I would have thought it was a fluke, except that I also threw it 89 twice and 88 once. Now for the interesting stuff. My best throw with a 3 oz ball was 87, with a 4 oz ball was 86, and with a 5 oz also 86. In addition, the first few throws I made for the Jugs were with the 5 oz, and I couldn’t top 79. I was afraid at that point that all my hard work was wasted. Then I picked up the 6 oz ball and threw, and the guy with the gun told me it was 86. At first I thought it was wrong, but the next was 85, and the next was 89. Then after throwing that ball, I went back to the 5 oz, and was consistently 82-84, with an 86. Then after throwin the 4 oz and 3 oz afew times, Iwent back to the 6 oz, and hit 90 once.
He went on to say:
I’m wondering if the heavier weight is causing me to innately choose a more efficient movement pattern when I throw. Throughout working on your program, I always thought it just felt better when I threw the heavier balls, particularly the 6 oz, and the results showed that.
This is a fairly common sentiment. Personally, of all the baseballs, I really like throwing the 6 oz. baseball (though I do not throw it as hard as a regulation 5 oz. baseball) and hate throwing the 3 oz. baseball. Most of the athletes in our MaxVelo Program feel the same way. Daniel was even able to throw a 6 oz. baseball at 90 MPH – yet could not do this with a regulation baseball!
Daniel’s case, while not uncommon, has some interesting elements to it. As a former college pitcher with a long history of injuries (SLAP tears, frayed supraspinatus, bone spurs, etc), it can feel like you cannot tap into all your velocity. There are two major factors working against him:
- Ingrained motor patterns
- Psychological inhibition
Ingrained Motor Patterns
Very fine motor control develops over a long period of time when your brain has the strongest ability to acquire new skills. It’s why relearning how to walk is incredibly frustrating for those who suffer brain damage and is related to why it’s so hard to change your pitching mechanics once you reach the late high school level. A pitcher who has a long history of pitching with near-elite fastball velocities (upper 80’s) is going to have a predisposed way of throwing a baseball, and changing that pattern is going to be incredibly difficult.
When Daniel was in the high 70’s with a regulation baseball, I have no doubt he was reverting back to primary programming, which ultimately limited his velocity. He then picked up a foreign implement, threw it a few times, and then picked up a regulation baseball with that motor pattern imprinted in his brain – after which he was able to throw the ball 88-89 MPH! This is actually not a very common occurrence in most athletes; research suggests that this phenomenon is not widespread and is highly individualized (DeRenne, Blitzblau, et al). However, for athletes with a long history of slightly inefficient motor patterns, short-term “arm therapy” may prove to work.
Psychological Inhibition – A Contributor to Down-Regulated Intent
Daniel’s history of debilitating shoulder injuries, surgeries, and long periods of rehabilitation have psychologically scarred him – regardless of whether or not he is conscious of it. This is the biggest hurdle for most post-op pitchers who had major reconstructive surgery (Tommy John, labrum anchors, rotator cuff reattachment, even cuff debridement) – the physical part of rehab generally goes well, and mentally they are able to compete, but psychologically they know that throwing a baseball is what injured them in the first place, so the brain puts on the brakes.
Getting over this hump is not easy. Throwing at elite velocities (90+ MPH) requires massive intent to throw the ball hard, and anything that limits this will cause a degradation in performance. Using variably weighted implements to improve arm action, timing, and the physiology of the arm (bone cortex hardening, thickening of tendons, increased overall external rotation, and increased strength in posterior shoulder muscles) may very well grant psychological benefits.
So how does he throw a heavier weighted baseball harder?
Our hypothesis is that pitchers are able to throw a slightly heavier baseball as hard (or harder) than a regulation baseball because of increased intent in the delivery. They know that the ball is heavier, so they tap into a reserve of intent to try to throw it harder – it’s basically as simple as that. While a heavier baseball does invoke a physiological stimulus and this stimulus is partially responsible for increased fastball velocity, a major part is the organic improvement to the throwing mechanics of the pitcher. The pitcher learns to throw a baseball more efficiently and with more intent with the heavier baseballs and learns to not “push” the baseball with the lighter ones.
A break in the kinetic chain where the hand leads the elbow into the driveline will be immediately felt with a 3 oz. baseball (hence why most people hate the lighter ball – this is the most common flaw in pitchers) while a lack of intent will cause a 6 or 7 oz. baseball to wildly miss the target inside.
Overall, Daniel had this to say:
I know you are on the cutting edge as far as researching the act of throwing, and I wondered if you had any insight on the reason for me throwing the 6 oz ball harder than the 5 oz. If nothing else, you can take this as a ringing endorsement of you program. If you do have any ideas, I would really love to hear them.
Well, Dan, I hope this helps. And thanks for the kind words!
For everyone else: Our free ebook on weighted baseball training is a great way to get started training with weighted baseballs!