Athletes who throw things should alternate between heavy and light
Walt Reynolds explains why athletes who throw things should propel both heavier and lighter than normal objects during their training
Athletes who throw a cricket ball, baseball, football, javelin, discus, hammer, or some other object, often train by hurling things that are heavier than their normal ball or implement in hopes of fortifying the muscles involved in throwing. Research concerning the effectiveness of this training strategy has yielded mixed results.
The failure of such "heavy object workouts" can probably be attributed to a lack of specificity of training sessions. When athletes fail to throw the heavier than normal ball or implement with the same technique they use during their actual sport, any gains in strength that are attained don't "carry over" into their sport. Supporting the idea of heavy ball training, several different studies have shown that baseball players who train by throwing a heavy baseball can indeed improve their pitching velocity as long as the practice throwing motion is similar to real-life pitching. Such training is the most specific and useful form of weight training which an athlete can conduct.
However, some scientists and trainers are now suggesting those athletes who throw things should propel both heavier and lighter than normal objects during their training. Because high throwing velocities are the result of both excellent muscle power and coordination, this idea makes pretty good sense. As mentioned, throwing a heavier object improves muscle power during the actual act of throwing, while casting the lighter ball improves coordination during quicker than usual arm movements and helps an athlete recruit and utilize fast-twitch muscle cells during the throwing motion. These two benefits should combine synergistically to dramatically boost throwing velocity.
But how should one carry out the heavy and light ball workouts? Research completed in Russia suggests that it might be advisable to go through a preliminary period of heavy implement training, followed by lighter work. The idea is to build basic shoulder strength before subjecting the shoulder joint and muscles to the high forces involved in whipping the arm forward at higher than usual speeds.
To evaluate the benefits of "heavy first and then light ball training" versus simultaneous heavy and light throwing, scientists at the University of Hawaii recently asked 45 high school and 180 university baseball pitchers to participate in a 10-week training programme which included three workouts per week. A control group utilized only a standard weight (five ounces) baseball, a second group trained with both a standard and heavy (six ounces) baseball for five weeks, followed by five weeks with only a standard and light (four ounces) ball. The final group worked out with standard, heavy, and light balls simultaneously throughout the 10-weeks. During a typical workout, the pitchers threw about 66 pitches.
For the control group, each pitch was made with a standard ball. The group which simultaneously used standard, heavy, and light balls would throw (in order) 11 times with the regular ball, 22 times with the heavy, 22 times with the light, and then 11 times with the standard baseball. The heavy first and then light group sandwiched 11 standard throws around 44 heavy throws during the heavy, five-week period and 11 standard throws around 44 light ones during the final, five-week light period.
After 10 weeks, the control group failed to improve pitching velocity, but the other two groups raised throwing velocities by a similar amount of about 6 to 8%. It appears that the use of underweight and overweight balls during training can indeed increase throwing velocity. However, it's not necessary to stagger the ball usage; heavy and light balls can be used simultaneously throughout a training period to achieve the best possible gain in speed.
The Hawaii scientists DeRenne et al. 1994 recommend using balls or objects, which are 20% heavier and lighter than normal. None of the athletes became injured during the study, suggesting that the use of reasonably over and underweight balls is safe.
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