Home Baseball Content It Needs to Be Said: Throwing Doesn’t Build Arm “Strength”

It Needs to Be Said: Throwing Doesn’t Build Arm “Strength”

Written on July 21, 2013 at 12:09 pm, by Eric Cressey

Today, I'm going to tackle one of my biggest pet peeves in the baseball world: people saying that throwing builds arm "strength."  Sorry, but it doesn't. 

What I'm going to write below might seem like wordplay, but truthfully, it's a very important differentiation to make.  If young athletes believe that throwing builds arm strength, they'll quickly convince themselves that year-round throwing is safe and acceptable, when it's actually one of the worst things they can do for long-term health and development. Here's what you need to know:

1. Throwing builds arm speed - which is power.  Power is heavily reliant on muscular strength.  If you can't apply much force, you can't apply much force quickly.

2. Throwing also builds muscular endurance in the arm.  Muscular endurance, too, is heavily reliant on muscular strength. If you don't have strength you can't have strength endurance.

If you enhance muscular strength, power and endurance will generally improve.  That's been shown time and time again in the research, both in throwers and other athletic situations.  However, if you train power and endurance, strength almost never goes up.  Otherwise, we'd see loads of athletes stronger at the end of seasons than they were at the beginning. In reality, if you check rotator cuff strength and scapular stabilizer proficiency at season's end, it's generally much lower.  As physical therapist Mike Reinold describes it, managing arm strength during the season is a "controlled fall."

Eric Cressey Shoulder_OS___0

This underscores the importance of using the off-season (including a period with no throwing whatsoever) to improve rotator cuff strength and optimize scapular control.  Simultaneously, athletes gain passive stability at the shoulder as the acquired anterior instability (secondary to increased external rotation from throwing) reduces.

Now, we need more research to see if it's the case, but I think that one of the hidden benefits of throwing weighted baseball is that doing so essentially helps us blur the line between arm strength and speed, as I outlined in this presentation a while back:

Of course, it depends heavily on the volume, frequency, load, and type of weighted ball drills utilized, as well as the time of year at which they're utilized.  However, as I mentioned, it is somewhat of a noteworthy exception to the rule of throwing a 5oz baseball.  Weighted balls surely still take a toll on arm strength over the course of time, but that might be a "slower fall."

Regardless, when you're talking about a throwing program, feel free to say that you're building "arm speed" or "arm endurance," but let's all appreciate that you definitely aren't building "arm strength." 

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  • Bill

    Very good video. How would you structure (time of year) these four pillars? Do you mix them together throughout the year or do you use some of them in the winter months and others in the spring or summer? Trying to figure out a timing plan..
    Thank you.

  • Good stuff

  • Jake LS

    Good stuff as always, Eric.

    When your more developed athletes are taking time off of throwing completely, what training variables are you most likely to manipulate? Is this a time when you focus primarily on more absolute strength to be converted to rotational power when they increase their throwing volume again? Thanks!

  • Bill,

    Sorry, but I’m not quite sure what you’re asking.  Also, which population? HS, college, or pro?

  • Andre’

    Great article and explanation Eric. Seems like the key, specifically with the weighted ball, is capturing the proper sequence, volumne and intensity.

  • Jack Colbert

    Any suggestions for the High school Athlete and weighted balls? My son is trying to get from 74 to 80 mph.

  • Andre’

    Eric
    What’s some of the criteria that you use to design a weighted ball program? Regardless of whether the program is for High School, College or Pro Players, the volume and intensity is what is difficult to determine. When do you end the throwing sessions with weighted balls? I have always closely monitored the mechanics, specifically when using weighted balls and it seems more of an art than a science on designing these programs. Unfortunately, I am often left wondering if the sessions had any value.
    Andre’

  • Clemens

    I uderstand that throwing won’t build strength. One thing to think about though is because the baseball is so light in relation to the body, you don’t have to produce all that much power and force to throw. The arm speed component however is very important.
    Granted, you need a good strength foundation and stability, but once you reach a certain point, more strength and power will not produce more arm speed and velocity.

  • Greg

    Great video.
    What would be your top 3 ‘Arm Strengthening’ resistance exercises?

  • Jake

    Hi Eric,
    Great article. This is a twofold question: (1) In your weighted baseball article, you said you have your athletes throw from 6-8 ft away into a net; why is that? Is that because of a timing/mechanical reason?(2) Where does long-toss fit on the continuum (absolute-speed)? Does it depend on how far the distance may be?

  • Adam

    Eric, my 13u son has not thrown a baseball for the last 6 weeks for rest reasons. He did ramp up a strength conditioning regimen over the same period. He had practiced for the first time yesterday and his throwing conditioning seemed weak compared to his team mates that didn’t take any time off. Should we have started long tossing leading up to practice and how long before? Are weighted balls appropriate at 13/14?

  • John Goulding

    Eric is there a way to have our strength, speed and agility fall program evaluated? Can I send it somewhere? I think we are doing the right things but would like an expert opinion.

  • DJ’

    Any plans on a Baseball training product in the future Eric?

  • marshall

    awesome article Mr.Cressey.

    I agree with not throwing for 8 weeks, but a high school incoming senior like me really cant afford the lost practice and arm speed that comes with the time off.

    What is the biggest thing you would recommend to prevent anterior instability?

    (I finished your show-and-go-program a month ago.)
    continuing to strength train, medball and soft tissue….

    Thank you very much. I Appreciate your time.

  • Joey

    So enhancing muscular strength through strength training will help build up “arm strength”? Kind of lost here, what does build “arm strength” then?

  • Bob

    Weighted balls for the high school athlete?

  • Bob,

    Yes, we’ve used them with high school guys with much success.  Not all of them go to it right away, though.

  • Joey,

    To me, it’s improving rotator cuff strength and scapular control.

  • Marshall,

    1. Don’t stretch the shoulder into external rotation.

    2. When doing external rotation exercises, don’t allow the humeral head to slip forward:

    Watch these three videos:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5pNj8HT4t7I

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=equHiqEk9yo

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QqkErY_Z2Dg

  • DJ,

    Not in the short-term.  Thanks for asking, though!

  • Adam,

    Sometimes, you have to take one step back to take two steps forward.  I wouldn’t expect him to be perfect in that first day back unless he was injured and throwing pain-free for the first time in a while.  Yes, give him a few weeks to build his long toss back up and he’ll be golden – and stronger in the long-term.

    I don’t use weighted balls in the 13/14 age group (at least not the way they’ve traditionally been used).

  • John,

    ec at ericcressey.com. I’ll have a glance.  Fair warning: sometimes it’s easier to overhaul something than it is to tinker with it.

  • Sofiane Remadna

    Great post.
    Was thinking about transfert of strength for a while. Each skill has it own force curve. Doesn’t motor learning acquisition and inter-muscular coordination increase strength production (arm strength being a part) of the throwing movement particularly (strength-skill quality)?
    Anyways, your continuum is great.
    I recommend vivly Ultimate Off Season Training Manual and Easy Strength.

  • Tim T.

    just wanted to say, INCREDIBLY interesting and thanks for writing on the subject.

  • Great post EC, our timing is impeccable as i wrote a similar post this morning on 5 Things You Must Understand About Baseball Long Toss Programs.

    I think this compliments your article well!

    http://www.mikereinold.com/2013/07/long-toss-baseball-training-programs.html

  • Luis Roman

    Mr. Eric my son is almost 9 he loves baseball and doesn’t wanna stop playing at all thru fall and winter .what would you recomend for a 9 year old regarding this should he rest and for how long.

  • Kevin

    Eric, very interesting post. Can the same be said for fastpitch pitchers? We are all led to believe that throwing underhand is a “more natural” motion and a pitcher can throw hundreds of pitches a day without worry. With all the shoulder injuries I’ve seen lately I tend to disagree with this sentiment. Have you worked with windmill pitchers and can you lend any thoughts in this regard?

  • Kevin,

    I’d agree; they aren’t as “invincible” as people seem to think.

  • Luis,

    At age 9, get him four months off from baseball each year.  Play another sport.

  • Jake

    On the speed strength aspect, how does weighted balls differ from standing/half-kneeling 1-arm deceleration catches? Is it simply LE involvement? Or is that oversimplifying?

  • James Monroe

    Hey Eric,
    Great video. I was wondering if you could help me out. I used to be one of those reactive guys and had arm problems. I got out of surgery and I’m real strong but feel slow on the mound and I went from 92 before to around 86-87 now. Should I start doing the med ball work and throwing weighted balls? If you could help if appreciate it.

  • James,

    Impossible to say for sure without seeing you in person.  First thing I would do is confirm with your physical therapist that you got your ROM back – particularly external rotation.  This can be done by comparing total motion on your non-throwing shoulder to total motion on your throwing shoulder.  If they’re the same, it’s likely something else.  If they aren’t, it’s something you need to address.  The tricky thing is that the surgeon may have tightened you up excessively either intentionally or unintentionally.  I can’t cover that in an online context, but your PT can.

    Could also be a strength thing, mechanical thing, or throwing program problem.  Lots of trees to bark up!

    Good luck!

    EC

  • Jake,

    Training different strength qualities (deceleration vs. acceleration).  Loading is comparable, though.

  • James Monroe

    Thank you

  • John

    Great article!
    My son turns 11 this week.
    He’s been pitching in spring leagues.
    Recommendations from baseball camp suggested long throwing for strength.
    Understanding the need not to throw year round, can you give 2-3 recommendations for this age group? I know growth plates aren’t fused at this age, so don’t want to do any damage.
    Thanks,
    John

  • Peter

    Eric,

    I work with young baseball players in Canada and everyone seems to have this idea that a strong RC is what makes them throw harder. I recently wrote a blog post for baseball BC about the need for slow and controlled movements as well as RC edurance.

    http://blog.baseball.bc.ca/?p=88

    Basically the role of shoulder stabiity that the RC provides is misunderstood IMO. How do we get the message across to coaches and players from a young age?

  • John,

    1. Play multiple sports.

    2. Keep things fun.

    3. Get involved in strength and conditioning work – even if it’s just body weight stuff – as soon as he’s psychologically mature enough for it.

    Give this a read: http://ecressey.wpengine.com/the-truth-about-kids-and-resistance-training

    4. At least 3-4 months off per year.

  • Daniel Malloy

    I think the concept of functional strength training also applies to the statements “If you can’t apply much force, you can’t apply much force quickly” and “If you don’t have strength you can’t have strength endurance.” If you dont have strength you cant have functional strength. I see so many people doing “functional” exercises and not doing basic strength building exercises. BTW Great site, thanks.

  • The greatest Olympic Coach/hammer throw coach of all time, Anatoliy Bondarchuk, has written about the “weighted and lighted method” a lot. The Soviets discovered that once an athlete was strong enough, making them stronger did not improve performance. Once they started using the heaver and lighter implements, the performance numbers increased. Given the fact that baseball players are the ones reading this and they are inherently weak and lack GPP as a population(not all but most athletes in general in the US), both of your points hold true. I only caution on not going crazy with the baseball being to heavy or to light causing the player to alter their mechanics. This obviously increases risk of injury but also wipes out the training effect of the special exercise.

  • Rob

    I’ve never taken to weighted balls because I found it screwed up my mechanics. I’d end releasing the regular baseball too far out front and down until I lost the feel of the weighted ball. Same thing happened to me when I tried using a cable in the gym to simulate throwing in an effort to build arm strength. The more I used it in between throwing, the longer it took for me to get the feel for throwing back. So as a pitcher I can’t say I’m a fan of throwing anything other than a regular ball. Control is #1, 2 and 3 in my book… velocity and movement are nothing without it, and over the years (I’m 49 and got back into baseball 19 years ago so I’ve got a LOT of mound time) I’ve learned numerous ways you can screw up your mechanics – like throwing BP with open shoulders. And weighted balls rank up there.

  • doug

    A strong arm does not make you throw fast – play catch with a body builder. Isn’t it the speed of the arm? And if it is the speed of the arm would it not make sense to throw lighter balls to increase arm speed?

  • Doug,

    You can’t have power (speed) without a requisite foundation of strength – especially in the context of building joint stability to allow for proper force transfer from the lower half. Lighter balls can help in some cases, but they’re not universally beneficial for every pitcher.


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