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Medicine Ball Madness

Written on February 17, 2009 at 11:09 am, by Eric Cressey

EricCressey.com Subscriber-Only Q&A

Q: My question pertains to medicine ball workouts for pitchers.   Are they only off-season training drills, or can I do them with my pitchers between starts? And, are there good ones for pitchers arms, in particular?  I know you mentioned doing some one-arm drills with your pitchers.

A: It’s safe to say that we probably do more medicine ball work than anyone on the planet.  In fact, we’ve broken 17 medicine balls (16 featured in this photo) thus far this off-season.

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Our destruction of medicine balls has been so epic that our equipment supplier actually asked us if we were throwing them against a wall with “jagged edges,” as nobody had ever had similar problems, much less with as much regularity.  So, suffice it to say that we hammer on medicine ball work a ton in the off-season, and the useful life of a ball around here is 4-6 weeks.  But, I don’t want to digress…

After the season ends, pitchers usually get a two-week break from anything that involves overhead throwing or rapid elbow extension after they are done throwing before we integrate any of this.  Position players start right up with it. I think it’s crucial to start up right away so that you can teach proper scap and hip loading so that guys will get the most out of it when the time comes to throw with more volume and complex exercises that help to maintain pitching-specific mobility, as Stanford-bound Sahil Bloom shows:

We typically go 3x/week medicine ball work with anywhere from 80 to 120 throws (never more than eight per set) per session from October through December (the last month overlaps with throwing programs where these guys are just tossing – nothing too challenging).  This continues right up through spring training for all our position players.  For pitchers, though, as January rolls around, we add in more bullpens and aggressive long tossing (and weighted balls, for some guys), and the medicine ball work drops off to two times a week with less volume and a more conservative exercise selection.  This twice a week set-up goes right through Spring Training.

We always pair our medicine ball work with various mobilizations so that guys are addressing flexibility deficits instead of just standing around.  It might be thoracic spine and hip mobility drills from Assess and Correct.  Combining these mobilizations with all our medicine ball work, warm-ups, foam rolling/massage, and the static stretching programs guys are on, we have no concerns about pitchers “tightening up” with lifting.  Blue Jays prospect Tim Collins doesn’t seem to be all “muscle-bound” here, for instance:

I don’t do a ton of medicine ball work in-season with my higher level guys; it’s usually once every five days.  A lot of the focus is on the non-dominant side.  So, a right-handed pitcher would do more rotational stuff from the left side to keep as much symmetry as possible.  With high school athletes, on the other hand, I see no reason why you can’t use a slightly higher volume of medicine ball drills in-season.  Kids are resilient and in many cases, undertrained, so there is always a big window of adaptation ahead of them.

With respect to the one-arm smaller medicine ball work, we use those two variations around this time of year.  It’s usually just two sets of eight reps right after throwing sessions twice a week.  I like the idea of consolidating the stress with throwing outings.  That said, there are some people that do them as warm-ups prior to throwing.  Here, Atlanta Braves prospect Chad Rodgers demonstrates a few with a 1kg (2.2lb) ball.

As a random aside, off to the side in this video, you’ll see how we tend to pair mobility/activation movements with power training, as Royals catching prospect Matt Morizio goes back and forth from clap push-ups to scapular wall slides.

This is really just the tip of the iceberg, so for more information, I would encourage you to check out our resource, Functional Stability Training; it is incredibly thorough, including plenty of options for both off- and in-season medicine ball work.

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  • Eric,
    The video’s really help with understanding! I’m guessing that was your solution to the issue of baseball players not doing any “backhanded” throws to even out post. capsule issues you were talking about months ago on the fitcast, etc?? Am I off-base there?

    Also I just want to say that I really enjoyed your presentation this past weekend at Mike’s seminar!
    Chris

  • Eric,

    Great newsletter-keep them coming.

    Any specifics on “slightly higher volume” med ball work with young, weak(er) high school pitchers?

    Thanks for the great work

    Jeff Blair
    M.S., CSCS, JD

  • Dave Uherek

    Question,

    My son is an excellent pitcher. Currently, he is a softmore in high school throwing around an 86-87 mph fastball. Problem: He also likes the QB spot in football, however, is it extremely bad for him to bench pree. I try to limit pressing movements, however, it isn;t easy. Can you help me out? or can I let him bench press anyway? Signed, Unsure, Thanks for any info.

  • Thanks Eric
    Most of those drills I have never seen before, and I can see the benefit for your pitchers. I just need to find a cement wall, I already put a hole in one of my walls with the med ball.

    -D-

  • Christian

    I was wondering if you could do a news letter on some tips for hockey players, thanks in advance your advice is always golden.

    I have knee pains commonly know, off season starts in about a week, email me if you would like more details, thanks you in advance.

  • Ben

    Great newsletter, but I’m abit stuck on medicine ball casualty rate. Can’t you use some padding on the wall. Bit of an initial outlay, but you’ll save some money in the long run. And it’s probably better for the environment!

  • My pitchers have enjoyed doing many of these medicine ball drills. I appreciate your knowledge about pitching workouts. Thank you for all you do for the baseball community Eric.

  • Jim

    Why do you never do more than 8 reps in a set and how long do you rest in between sets?

  • Ryan Morgan

    I’ve read that in order to promote velocity you should use lighter med balls because the rotational velocity of the movement is closer to that of pitching. When using heavier balls the rotational velocities are 50% slower than in pitching. Heavier balls 8-10 lbs are good for improving range of motion, stability, and endurance. Is it ideal to provide a med ball program that focuses on light med ball work as well as heavier med ball work?

  • Matt

    When you say to do 80-120 reps per session, is that including the throws on each side, or would it be 80-120 separately on each side for applicable throws?

  • Matt,

    That’d include both sides.


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