What are plyocare balls?
Plyocare balls have become a popular training modality across all levels of throwing athletes. These plyocare balls are simple rubber-coated weighted balls that are filled with a sand-like material. The weights range from 3oz to 4lbs depending on company/brand you use. The style of use has a large variety, from “holds” to general throwing conditioning to high-intent throws. They have been branded by major companies such as Driveline Baseball amongst other companies and are used worldwide for all ages of throwers.
Why do we use them?
The easy answer for using plyocare balls is for arm strengthening and conditioning. The actual reason for using them is adapting better movement patterns while conditioning the arm.
When training with overload and underload balls, the movement patterns adapt to the load and task. With certain styles of programming, they can be used for arm strengthening. The volume and style of throw can vary, but some specific drills mixed into general training program can have an impact on throwing velocity and the overall condition of your arm.
Personally, I am a big believer in warming up to throw instead of throwing to warm-up. These “throwing” drills are restraint based drills that mix up the tempo, momentum, and allow important patterns to occur during the throw. By the time we are done with plyocare “drills”, the throwing “mechanics” should have already improved.
Another key reason is the improvement on feel and command. When throwing different balls of different weights, the body has to program release points each throw. Preaching the importance of commanding the plyo balls is key to their use. Athletes should retain the feedback on each throw from how they got to a certain release point.
The volume and effort within the throws is where coaching and programming become key. These weighted balls are not magical toys that will fix movement patterns or add velocity. Prescribing certain drills and managing the workload throughout the week around game days and bullpens is very important to healthy development.
How to implement plyocare to your program
Plyocare balls are best used as a pre and post throwing modality with different periodization of velocity training and arm maintenance. Warming-up with the basic shoulder activation drills and arm patterning throws are an easy add-in to your daily programming. This 5-minute pre and post programming can reduce injury and promote more efficient throwing patterns while leading to better catch play.
Basic drills include reverse throws, upward toss, rebounders, and pivot picks. These are widely used in programs across the nation. The main difference is how and when they are programmed at different age levels and programs.
We evaluate players movement patterns and prescribe drills specific to that athlete to attack their movements and feel. For example, an athlete who struggles with rhythm and tempo we will prescribe more walking wind-ups. If a player struggles with loading backside we will implement step backs or QB drops.
When and how much to use them is also a challenge that coaches face. This decision should be based of a few key variables. Time of year, athletes needs, and athlete feedback should be how you shape your programming.
Typically, off-season (winter) on-ramping should have more plyocare throws than in-season, with a bigger focus on high-intent. Tracking velocities and videoing movement patterns are great ways to develop throwers during the off-season.
Volume for off-season would typically be 5 days a week with 2 of those being velocity-tracking days. Volume for in-season would be 3-4 days with 0-1 velocity days depending on the athlete. Each day would consist of 2 or 3 movement patterning drills such as roll ins, walking wind-ups, quick picks, etc.
Athletes who are not competing on the mound regularly should add 1 day of high-intent plyocare.
Athletes who are doing pulldowns should limit high-intent plyocare to 1-2 days depending on comfort and conditioning level.
Give at least 2 days in between competitive bullpens and high-intent plyocare.
In-season pitchers not competing much should maintain 2 days of high-intent plyocare.
Athletes in return to throwing programs should monitor RPE and velocity closely as it should continue an upward progression.
Providing feedback with a radar gun and/or video is key to implementing plyocare properly. Some athletes struggle to control their RPE. Monitoring soreness week to week throughout return to throwing and off-season programs is key to manage stress workload with plyocare.
As stated before, a misunderstood aspect of using plyocare balls is the development of command and feel. Coach the importance of this to your athletes!
Take a deeper look
There are a few key components of plyocare use that often get overlooked. We know to focus on movement patterns, arm swing, etc. High-intent or low-intent, we gain feel for our arm, release point, and spin with the extra throwing drills within plyocare programming.
What we often miss is the spin of the plyocare ball. It is very common for throwers to cut (get around) the plyoballs. Pay attention to the spin off of the wall. The ball should bounce directly back to the throwing side if creating true backspin. When athletes throw the ball and it cuts across body, then the thrower immediately knows they got around the ball. If an athlete struggles with it during catch play, this can be a great time to work on staying behind the baseball.
Velocity readings for high-intent plyocare can be the best coach in the room. While managing different levels of intent, seeing feedback in number form helps both the athlete and the coach learn. There isn’t a magic formula for what to expect on velocity readings for different plyo drills, but you can learn from throw to throw and week to week how well you are moving and progressing. The simple goal should be to maximize the velocity of each ball between 1LB and 3.5oz on testing days. For Driveline PlyoCare balls, you should try to beat your positional velocity with the yellow ball in every throw.
Train the decelerators. The reverse throws and rebounders have become more commonly used because of this. Reverse throws are a great drill for posterior shoulder conditioning. Rebounds are equally important for force reception and training the forearm, bicep muscles. These are vital to controlling the arm during deceleration post-release.
Coach the deficiencies. When athletes struggle with specific movements in the throw, there are several drills to attack each pattern. There is a drill chart with a video playlist attached at the bottom of this blog for your use. For example; instead of telling a kid to drive his lead leg into the ground more (when he clearly struggles doing that), try having him do kneeling get ups or move the plyocare drill to going uphill (mound). This will challenge him to use the front leg better from adjusting the environment and task rather than listening to verbal cues.
Having a routine
There are a million ways to implement pre-throwing routines such as plyocare balls. The programming of drills, managing workloads, and individualizing drills is key but the comfort of your athletes going through a daily routine to improve their game is what matters most.
Be consistent. Be firm. Make it a priority.
Most programs get away from proper plyocare use simply because of practice planning and time management. There is always time, if it is a priority, to get the daily plyocare work in. Some days it may interfere with other important aspects, but the importance of arm health and having confident throwers often trumps the other practice modalities
Video it. Track it.
The radar guns and videos don’t lie. Use these as your direct communication to athletes on how well they are moving, managing their RPE, and monitoring their progress.
Plyocare has a large effect on the group of players for several reasons. Implementing a routine of “warming up to throw” or “earning the right to catch play” are key phrases I live by with my athletes. Developing movement patterns and arm conditioning with the same training tool is another key reason. For some athletes, is a great velocity training tool while most it provides another way to develop command.
Any way you look at it, plyocare use can develop more confident throwers by challenging them to throw more and throw better.
Free video playlist and drill chart below!
Plyocare Drill Demonstrations - https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL4zy_hzyhFTEx3Blr4XbN8HCeuoTgnMxT
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