Strength training for a young athlete? Check with a fitness pro first

ASK CAL

December 03, 2006|By CAL RIPKEN JR.

DEAR CAL -- My son is a pretty good pitcher and throws fairly hard for a 9-year-old. Do you recommend any type of weight training for a young pitcher?

Bill Delp, Baldwin

DEAR BILL -- I get questions all the time about what type of strength training young baseball players should pursue and at what age young athletes should begin strength training. Since I'm not a fitness professional, I generally don't like to go into a lot of detail about these issues. So for more information please consult a certified strength and conditioning coach (CSCS), a certified athletic trainer (ATC) or a certified personal trainer.

What I can tell you is based on my conversations with fitness professionals as well as my own experiences. First, a young athlete must be mature enough physically and emotionally to handle a strength training program. He or she should understand the advantages of such a program, be able to perform the exercises with proper technique and have a desire to strength train (please, don't force it).

One component of every program for pitchers is a series of rotator cuff maintenance exercises that can be performed using inexpensive resistive tubing. Additional components of the strength training program for young pitchers, or any young athlete, should include body-weight resistance exercises that are safe and can be performed using proper technique. Again, please contact a fitness professional for a list of exercises and the proper techniques.

With that said, the best way for young pitchers to build arm strength is by throwing fastballs. Resist the urge to let your son throw breaking pitches. Introducing the changeup is fine, but at age 9 your son is still very much in the developmental stage. Even if he gets hit harder than some of the pitchers tinkering with off-speed and breaking pitches, he will benefit physically in the long run by throwing almost all fastballs. Long tossing in the offseason and between pitching appearances in-season also is a great way to continue building arm strength.

DEAR CAL -- We all want our young baseball players to do as well as they can. Metal baseball bats are quite expensive. Do the higher-end bats produce better results? Will the ball, for instance, travel farther, move faster if hit with the same impact by a say, $300 bat than a $100 bat? I really miss the old wooden bat days.

Myles Marken, Crofton

DEAR MYLES -- Bat companies spend a lot of money on research and development. They are constantly trying to find the best combination of materials and wall thickness to create a lighter, livelier bat that can withstand the stress of day-to-day use. I have seen how the testing process works, and I can tell you that the process is taken very seriously.

So, in my mind, the answer to your question is "yes." In general, I feel that the more expensive bats do outperform the cheaper models. However the materials in a bat are not going to help your child make contact better, so it doesn't make sense to go out and purchase a top-of-the-line model if your son or daughter is still developing the ability to actually make contact consistently.

Young people also tend to leave their equipment lying around, which can lead to someone else walking off with the bat or the bat being left behind and ending up in someone else's bag. As parents, it is our job to teach our children to value their possessions. If your child is not mature enough to understand the value a $300 bat and not responsible enough to carry that bat everywhere and guard it closely, I would not recommend making that purchase. Finally, kids grow so quickly that they may need a new bat every year from the time they are 8 until they reach high school. Until kids really begin to mature physically, I'm not sure that the performance differences between $100 or $150 bats and $300 bats will be noticeable enough to warrant purchasing the highest-end models on an annual basis.

Ultimately, the choice is yours. If you have the desire and means to buy the most expensive bat for your child, I can understand why you would want to provide the best equipment possible. But even if you do have the means, I would make sure that your child is mature and responsible enough to understand the financial investment and take care of the more expensive product.

Have a question or issue arising from your involvement in youth sports? Send it by e-mail to askcal@baltimoresun.com.

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