The key when using MD balls to improve strength and power is to keep the volume low (2-3 sets of 5-6 reps) and the intensity high (max or near max effort on every throw). For best results, train for rotational strength and power at least twice and no more than three times per week with at least one days rest between workouts using progressively more movement-specific exercise postures. Each exercise should start from a tall-kneeling position and gradually progress to a half-kneeling, lunge and eventually a standing position.
Working from a tall- kneeling position simplifies the exercise movements, eliminates the contributions from the ankle and knee joints and exposes energy leaks and compensation patterns that may not be visible when performing standing throws. The half-kneeling position teaches players how to use their glutes, incorporates more joints, and requires more hip movement and trunk rotation than the tall-kneeling position. Using a split-stance with the back knee off the floor (lunge position) increases tri-planer stability demands in both the core and lower body, and standing makes the exercise a ground-up, total body movement. As players move from tall-kneeling to standing, the link between the hips and the hands should show rapid improvement.
Start with a set of 10-12 warm-up throws from each side using a light to moderate weight ball (4-6 pounds) performed from the posture to be used in the workout. Use a heavier ball (8-10 pounds) when training to overload the core. In each progression, work from one side at a time, i.e., make all throws on one side before making throws from the opposite side. The two basic MD ball rotational exercises are the front-twist and side-twist throw. A description of each progression in the side-twist throw is presented below.
1. Tall-kneeling side-twist throws. Kneel 2-3 feet from a wall or partner with hips and shoulders perpendicular to the target (wall or partner). Hold a MD in front of the waist with one hand under and the other behind the ball. Keeping the trunk upright twist (rotate) the trunk away from the target, taking the MD ball behind the hip. Initiate the throw by attacking the back hip toward the target, followed by the trunk, arms and ball. Use the hips to generate the force needed to throw the ball into the wall or to the target and throw it in a straight line from the hips. Catch the return bounce or throw with arms slightly bent, reset to the starting position and repeat for the desired number of reps. Switch sides and repeat. Stay tall with perfect posture, back flat and chest up, and initiate the throw from the back hip.
2. Half-kneeling side-twist throws. Kneel with the hips and shoulders perpendicular to the target and the inside knee up. Starting with the MD ball in front of the body at waist-height, set the abs, keep the trunk erect and rotate away from the target until the ball is behind the hip. Initiate the throw from the back hip and throw the ball in a straight line to the target. Catch the return bounce or throw, reset to the starting position and repeat for the desired number of reps. Switch sides and repeat.
3. Lunge side-twist throws. Start in an athletic stance with the hips and shoulders perpendicular to the target holding a MD ball in front of the body at waist-height. Set the abs, keep the trunk erect and step back with the outside leg (leg farther away from the target), lower into a lunge position and rotate the away from the target as you lunge backwards. When the ball passes behind the hip, explode out of the lunge position, driving the down knee up so that the thigh is parallel to the ground and throw the ball across the body to the target. Catch the return bounce or throw and repeat for specified reps before repeating on the opposite side.
4. Standing side-twist throw. Stand in a ready position with the hips and shoulders perpendicular to the target, holding a MD ball in front of the waist, with one hand under and one hand behind the ball. Keeping the trunk erect, rotate the torso away from wall, taking the ball behind the hip before initiating the throw by driving the back hip toward the target, followed by the trunk, arms and ball. Catch the return bounce or throw with the arms slightly bent and immediately repeat for the prescribed number of reps before switching sides. To make the exercise more explosive, jump backwards 6-12 inches, land on the back foot and then drive forward off the back foot before releasing the ball.
Javair Gillett, RSCC, is Head Strength and Conditioning Coach for the Detroit Tigers.