Heavy Ball Warm Up


In this monthly series of articles, Mike will discuss the science and practice of physical training for Water Polo. Strength, flexibility, Water Polo science, rehab and other areas of interest with respect to the physical development of the Water Polo athlete will be covered.


Working with a heavier sport implement is a fairly common practice across many sports. For example, at higher levels of Baseball, it is common for athletes to use a weighted baseball as part of their throwing program. Unfortunately, it is also common for coaches and athletes to misuse  the heavier sport implements. Some common examples of this is using them too often, using an implement that is too heavy and using them with athletes who are either too young or do not have the appropriate physical development.

In this article, I am going to show you a progression you can use to warm up your body (particularly the shoulders) using a medicine ball or one of the Water Polo heavy balls. The progression is actually safe for everyone with the only difference being the weight of the ball. For example a well developed collegiate or national team athlete could use a ball in the 1-3 kg range while a younger athlete could do the same exercises but just with a regular game ball.


Something interesting happens when you use a heavier ball. Your muscle activity goes up as does your awareness of your body position or joint sense. This is often referred to as your proprioception or your ability to sense where you are in space.

What is Proprioception?

The body’s 3-D map of itself in space and time(our movement & awareness map).

Source: http://zhealth.net

When you move a joint, specialized sensory nerves are stimulated. These specialized sensory nerves are called mechanoreceptors and are located all over your body but in particular are very densely populated around your joints. They have one specific job and that is to sense movement. When you move a joint these receptors will fire, with the corresponding information going to the Central Nervous System (CNS) for processing. When you add load to a movement, more of these mechanreceptors are stimulated and hence sending even more detailed information down the line to the CNS. You are giving your body more detailed information on what exactly is going on at that joint which ultimately improves movement quality, can reduce pain and even improve performance.

“Joint position sense (JPS) is important in the maintenance of optimal
movement coordination of limb segments in functional activities.” (2)

Researchers have found improved sport performance after using a heavier sport implement during a warm up (1). But it is still unclear how much load above the actual sport implement is needed.  You can tell if the implement is to heavy if sport technique changes for the worse. For example, in the warm up I show in the below video, you can have athletes first use a regulation ball and observe how well they move, then do the same drills with the heavy ball. If movement stays the same or gets better then it is a good load for that athlete. Conversely, if the movement gets worse, it's too heavy.


All warm ups should fit a fairly simple and common sense model. Think of these basic progressions when designing a warm up.

Using the above principles, the video below demonstrates a progression of drills that could be used as a fairly sport specific warm up for Water Polo with particular attention to the shoulders and upper body. Doing the drills in the video plus some lower body drills like the ones in this article and you have a very good dry-land warm up for before practices or matches.

Heavy Ball Warm Up Video


Working with a heavier sport implement is fairly common practice across many sports. Although it is unclear how much they are used in Water Polo, they can become an important part of an athletes on land warm up.

Using the appropriate load for each athlete will be a key determinant if the heavy ball will have a positive or negative impact on the athletes performance. So be careful when increasing load and even with the most advanced Water Polo athlete, 1-3kg is more then enough.

If you have questions you want answered please leave them in the message board category “Physical Training with Mike Reid”.

I can also be contacted through my website: www.waterpolotraining.net


  1. Reyes, GF and Dolny, D. Acute effects of various weighted bat warm-up protocols on bat velocity. J Strength Cond Res 23(7): 2114–2118, 2009

  2. Suprak DN, Osternig LR, van Donkelaar P & Karduna AR. Shoulder Joint Position Sense Improves with External Load. Journal of Motor Behavior, Vol. 39, No. 6, 517–525, 2007

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strength training & conditioning experiences and his web sites.]