Enhancing Motor Patterns with a Water Bottle
The throwing motion is the fastest movement in all of sports, with the humerus (upper arm) internally rotating at nearly 10,000-degrees/second. If done incorrectly, this can lead to serious injury.
It is important to analyze the individual components of the overhand throw. Insufficient strength or proprioception in any of the phases are what lead to injury. However, how can we effectively teach the throwing motion while using an implement? This is where the water bottle drill comes into play.
I came across the water bottle drill from High-Level Throwing by Austin Wasserman of Wasserman Strength and AB Athletic Development. This specific drill is excellent because it gives both a visual and kinesthetic cue to the athlete who is performing it.
The purpose of this post is to inform throwers on how to use this drill to hammer home the throwing motion.
How Does It Work?
Rather than throwing repeatedly and possibly adding an improper amount of volume to your throwing arm, the water bottle uses less resistance than a standard baseball. In theory, we can still enhance the throwing motion without using any excessive external load on the shoulder.
A proper arm path while performing this drill will give the athlete a kinesthetic cue: literally feeling what it is like to have proper timing of the arm with hip and trunk separation!
This is the reason why I like this drill. It’s all about timing of our body segments that makes the throwing motion look so “fluid” (no pun intended).
The only limitation to this drill is that it is not performed at a high velocity, so you’re really not getting the FULL benefit. However, not to mention this drill is brilliant and can certainly be very effective for certain populations!
How Do You Perform It?
For smaller athletes, use an 8-oz. water bottle. For high school and college athletes, a standard size water bottle should do.
Only fill your water bottle halfway. This allows for the athlete to feel the feedback of the fluid since there is some space for the water to travel.
The water should start at the bottom of the water bottle. To make this drill position-specific, pitchers and outfielders will start with their arm fully extended. Catchers and Infielders will start with their elbow flexed.
During the stride phase of the throwing motion, the lead leg and the throwing arm are synced up. Specifically, when the lead foot contacts the ground, the throwing arm begins to move into the arm-cocking (external rotation) position.
As your arm moves into this position, the water will shift to the top of the water bottle. The elbow should remain within the same plane of the scapula to ensure the muscles surrounding the rotator cuff are engaged. If you are a thrower who tends to hike up your throwing arm too high, you may not feel the fluid shift to the top of the water bottle.
While the trunk is accelerating towards its target, the throwing arm fully moves into external rotation. The fluid in the water bottle will then shift back to the bottom of the bottle before it begins to accelerate into the next phase of the throwing motion.
Finally, finish the throwing motion. You should feel the fluid “snap” back to the top of the water bottle. However, if you extend your arm too early, you won’t feel this snapping motion. It’s critical to make sure that your follow-through is just like any regular throw!
I would recommend following the link in the beginning of this article to watch videos of Austin Wasserman performing the drill.
I would also highly recommend to perform this drill as part of your warmup before you throw. Here’s a sample warmup you can use:
Arm Circles (forward and backward) x 20
Thumbs-Up Pulls x 15
Arm Swings x 15
Shoulder Slaps x 15
Wall Angels x 15
In-and-Outs x 15
Water Bottle x 25 throws
*quick side note, I think it would be cool to wear a Motus sleeve while performing this drill to see if there’s actually any validity to it…
Jarad Vollkommer, CSCS
“High Level Throwing: The ‘Water Bottle’ Drill. Understanding and Creating High Level Throwing Patterns”, Austin Wasserman.