Let’s come right out of the gate and say, at 8020BASEBALL, we believe LONG TOSS can be a valuable part of a comprehensive throwing program. Long toss can be a useful component of a reliable arm-strengthening program. However, we do not believe it's the magic elixir for arm health, nor the silver bullet for arm-strength improvement.
For those of you newer to baseball, ‘long tossing’ is baseball lingo for a throwing routine that includes long-distance throws, usually to a maximum distance.
Traditionally, there have been two schools of thought regarding long toss. One group has put long toss on a pedestal and talked about it like it was the only ingredient in their magic sauce. The other group of coaches has backed away from long toss and avoids using it as part of their throwing routine.
Here at 8020Baseball, if you were trying to locate our position on one of those popular Venn diagrams from junior high, you’d find us somewhere in that overlapping part right in the middle. Years of experience using and studying both schools of thought leads us to believe that long toss can be an effective part of a productive throwing program.
In this article, I make the case that Long Toss has received too much credit from one camp and too little credit from the other. We will discuss how long toss can benefit players as part of a larger arm-strength routine. We will also discuss the limitations of long toss and why we recommend it simply be a part of a comprehensive throwing program.
My first experience with a restricted distance throwing program came during the summer of 2003. I had just signed a professional baseball contract and was flown out to North Carolina to join up with the team I was to report to. When I arrived at the field many hours before the game, two very unexpected things occurred.
IT’S A SMALL WORLD
When I arrived at my locker, I noticed it was located in a row of oversized lockers. Upon seeing the size of the locker, I turned to the clubhouse attendant (the clubby) and said, “Hey, this is super awesome; I get a jumbo locker!” He quickly chuckled and said, “No, these are the catchers’ lockers with space to store their extra gear, but since you’re a pitcher, you’ll be sharing, and in fact, your locker mate is on the way here from the airport right now.”
Well, when my locker mate came through the door 20 minutes later, my locker space might have been cut in half, but the world, as I perceived it, shrunk a lot more than that.
In the door came Matt, a Little League and high school teammate of mine. What a great surprise, and it got even better. In our first professional game, he hit the go-ahead home run in the late innings, making me the winning pitcher. His first professional home run and my first professional win. It was a really cool experience. Many years removed and thousands of miles away from home, I was sharing a professional locker with someone I grew up with.
As Matt and I were finishing our catch-up session, the coaches came into the locker room and announced that it was time for the pitchers to head out to the field for early work. My second surprise of the afternoon was just around the corner, and this surprise was long toss-related.
After the pitchers went through the warm-up routine, we moved into the throwing program. As I was extending my way back to the 150-foot range, I heard a stern yell coming from across the field. I held up the throw to look over to see the team’s pitching coach walking towards me. He took a few more steps and yelled out, “We don’t go past 120 here. Bring it back to the cone.” And just like that, my long toss, like my locker, had been cut in half. I was puzzled, but I did what he said; I moved back into 120 feet, and we never went further than that for the rest of the summer. The organization had put a tight restriction on the maximum long-toss distance.
Having spent the previous eight years playing for high-quality baseball programs at Esperanza High School and Long Beach State, I was very familiar with throwing programs. However, those programs never had distance restrictions. Over the following few years, I discovered that organizations across MLB were adopting this restrictive long toss approach, and some of the reasons for restricting the distance had some validity, but more on that later.
In this paragraph, we will outline the various ways LONG TOSS can help an athlete. First and foremost, if a player is going to make accurate throws at a maximum distance, the player must move optimally. There is no room for faulty or wasted movements. Successful long toss requires quality movement from start to finish. To throw accurately and powerfully at a long distance, there is no room for error and no room for a lack of intensity.
Another benefit of long throws is the obvious feedback they provide the thrower and the coach. The distance magnifies the errors. When throwing at a maximum range, the poor throws will be much easier to see because they will miss the target by yards, not inches and feet. If a set of throwing partners is spaced out 90 feet, and their throws are coming in two feet off-center, those same throws will be 5-10 feet off-center when traveling 200 feet. The poor throw at 90 feet doesn't look too bad, but the same shoddy throw at 200+ feet will significantly miss the mark. The feedback can be very eye-opening and very useful. It can quickly motivate players to find a better way to produce a more athletic, higher-quality throw.
Furthermore, maximum distance throws require players to optimize momentum, body positioning, and the timing of the kinematic chain. Kinematic sequencing, simply put, is the order in which the body parts move, from the initial movement to the finishing movement. To optimize these linked movements in order to generate a powerful, accurate, maximum-distance throw, players must do the following:
1. Correctly use the hips, torso, and legs to create maximum linear momentum.
2. Maintain a synergistic rhythm with all the moving body parts, i.e., optimizing the sequencing of the kinematic chain.
3. Maintain proper body positioning throughout, including good torso and hip posture, an optimal arm path, and a naturally strong arm slot.
If any of these components is sacrificed, a quality throw cannot be completed. In sum, a successful long toss routine requires quality athletic movements, and any training method that mandates quality baseball movement is a training method worth using.
LONG TOSS should not be put up on a pedestal. Long toss is not a magic elixir. It by itself will not produce incredible arm health and pitching statistics. With that said, let's dive into the limitations of long toss.
First, long toss does not replicate the throwing angle of throws made during games. Maximum distance throwing requires a release angle much higher than that of almost all game throws. A player and coach must always be very cautious about using training methods that don’t carry directly over to the game. Training at high volume with methods that do not transfer exactly over to the game is not a sound strategy. The only time a throw would have that trajectory would be the rare throw an outfielder makes on a throw from the fence to home plate. And even the outfielder’s throw from the fence to home plate isn’t recommended unless giving up extra bases to the trailing runner(s) is something the defense is okay with.
While maximum distance throwing does utilize a higher throwing angle, those movement patterns can be offset a bit by including a phase of shorter throws following the max distance phase. The shorter, game-distance throws will help to recalibrate the timing and the movement patterns of the body and the arm. Thus allowing the player to benefit from long toss while reducing the side effects associated with the heightened release angle.
EASY THERE, TIGER
Many players like to use maximum-distance throwing before games. I believe maximum distance throwing before a game can be part of a warm-up modality, but it should be a one-rep max. Save your bullets for the game. Our preference at 8020Baseball is to cap the pre-game throwing distance at a point where the arm is fully warmed up and no more.
Do not use pre-game throwing as a means to condition the arm. It is not the time nor the place to build arm strength for multiple reasons. The main reason is that position players and relief pitchers can have a 2-3 hour gap between their pre-game long toss session and that critical throw/pitch that will come late in the game.
Stressing and then resting the arm is one thing, but stressing the arm and then waiting 3 hours to make the game-saving throw or the game-winning pitch is an entirely different story. Surely, some players will be able to do this effectively, at least for a little while, but if you’re playing the physiological percentages, the trade-off is not worth it. Players should not be allowed to complete an extensive long toss program before the game, but if they find it helpful, they should be allowed to go to the max distance for one repetition, and then they need to move back in.
IT'S A SLICE OF THE TRAINING PIE
One last limitation of LONG tossing that players and coaches must keep in mind is that long tossing is only part of a proper arm-strengthening program. When the goal is to maximize arm strength and arm health, long toss cannot stand on its own as the sole training method. When a player is trying to maximize arm strength and arm health, the player must be sure to include additional training modalities, such as med-ball rotational throws, dumbbell split-squat jumps with torso rotations, or plyo-ball throwing routines. Long toss can lead to improvements, but it must be combined with other training methods to maximize arm strength.
LONG TOSS has a place in the training routine and should be structured into a comprehensive throwing program. Understand the limitations of long toss and work around them to reap the benefits while minimizing the unwanted side effects. Lastly, be sure to couple long toss with a multi-faceted strength training program to achieve the optimum results come game time.
By: COACH BO
Photo Credit: Jose Francisco Morales