[h5]Can’t We All Just Get Along?[/h5]

The long toss debate has been getting more attention lately, and it seems like things might be coming to a head. You’ve got some guys that swear by it, claiming it helps build arm strength and increase velocity. Others flat out reject it, claiming it puts too much stress on the arm and leads to bad mechanical habits. Even the Wall Street Journal weighed in with an article earlier this year about the new crop of young pitchers who’ve grown up with extreme long toss as part of their throwing routine (if you missed it, was actually a pretty good little piece, and if you read it online you’ll see a nice fiery debate between Dick Mills and Dan Blewett – a couple stubborn SOB’s). Meanwhile, some MLB organizations go so far as to ban long toss completely. As a young pitcher, parent or coach, all the conflicting opinions can all be overwhelming – who are you supposed to believe?

First lets make sure we understand what we’re debating. If you found this site, you probably don’t need much explanation. But for those who may be unfamiliar, long toss is exactly what it sounds like: the practice of throwing over long distance, well beyond the 90-120 ft. range of more conservative throwing programs. A variation of long toss (and the most controversial one) is extreme long toss, where pitchers will extend the distance as far as possible, leading to significant arc on their throws. For elite pitchers, this can mean stretching throws out to 350 feet and beyond.

[h4]The case for long toss:[/h4]

The Believers: Some of the most notable advocates for long toss can be found in the ranks of today’s young and rising stars. Two that have been getting a lot of attention lately are the Diamondback’s Trevor Bauer and Orioles prospect Dylan Bundy. Both have huge upside and have been noted for having tremendous work ethic and rigorous training regimens. And there are plenty of others in favor of long toss including the likes of Greg Maddux, Nolan Ryan and pitching coach Leo Mazzone, whose Braves pitching staffs were among the most durable and consistent the game has ever seen. Some other big proponents of long toss include prominent trainers and instructors like Alan Jaeger, Ron Wolforth and Eric Cressey.

According to the Believers, some benefits of long toss are:

[circle_list] [list_item]Helps get your mechanics in sync: to throw the ball a long way you need to throw with your entire body. Stated another way, the intent to throw farther leads to more efficient mechanics.[/list_item] [list_item]Helps condition and stretch out your arm: builds endurance and develops better external shoulder rotation (important for velocity).[/list_item] [list_item]Gives you instant feedback: thrown well, the ball goes farther. You can also see the flight of the ball and the effect of arm slot/hand position.[/list_item] [list_item]Helps develop better control – hitting a target farther away becomes more challenging, requiring greater precision.[/list_item] [list_item]And here is the big key benefit that most point to: the pull-down phase – as you bring it back in gradually to 60 ft. this phase teaches your body what it needs to do in order to get on top of the ball and get your pitches down in the zone.[/list_item] [/circle_list] [h4]The case against long toss:[/h4]

The Naysayers: The voices against long toss are fewer these days, but many MLB organizations continue to impose distance limits in their throwing programs. And it’s understandable. With pitching injuries so prevalent, organizations are focused on doing anything they can to protect their investments and keep pitchers healthy. These throwing programs were originally designed for pitchers rehabbing from injuries, limiting the distance to 120 ft. Since organizations view these programs as safe, they simply use them as the guide for all of their pitchers. Today some of the loudest voices against long toss include online pitching authorities Dick Mills and Brent Pourciau.

According to the Naysayers, the dangers of long toss are:
[circle_list] [list_item]Throwing on an arc alters your mechanics and interferes with developing good mound mechanics: when you throw long distance you release the ball more upright behind your front foot vs. getting over your front foot with more forward trunk tilt when pitching.[/list_item] [list_item]Throwing long distance puts more stress on the elbow: more torque on the joints = greater risk of injury.[/list_item] [list_item]Extreme long toss is involves max effort throwing: anytime you throw at full intensity you pushing tendons and ligaments to their limits, increasing the risk of injury. Therefore, max effort throwing should be reserved for throwing off the mound where you can work on pitching specific skills.[/list_item] [list_item]When throwing for max distance, the emphasis is not on good mechanics, making it more likely to fall into bad habits that may put more stress on the arm.[/list_item] [/circle_list] * It’s important to note a 2011 study by ASMI that supports many of these claims.
Here is an excerpt:
“At arm cocking, the greatest amount of shoulder external rotation (mean ± SD, 180° ± 11°), elbow flexion (109° ± 10°), shoulder internal rotation torque (101 ± 17 Nm), and elbow varus torque (100 ± 18 Nm) were measured during the maximum-distance throws.”
You can see their other findings here: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21212502

[h4]The Middle Ground:[/h4] Believe it or not, there are actually some calm, reasonable voices amidst all the noise. While I don’t agree with everything Tom House says, I do agree with on his approach to long toss. Rather than putting limits on how far you throw, just go out as far as you can throw comfortably with perfect mechanics. Rick Peterson is another middle ground guy who believes in weighing the benefits and the risks. These two coaches have spent as much time working with ASMI studying injuries and the biomechanics of pitching as just about anyone. Now “perfect” mechanics is a bit of a stretch since we know that throwing long distance means a higher release point and less forward trunk tilt. But by focusing on good mechanics (good balance and strong front side) this approach takes away some of the risk you get with guys trying to just throw the bleep out of the ball, letting their mechanics fall apart and wrecking their arm in the process.

[h4]So should I long toss or not?? Ok, so here’s my official stance:[/h4] Like many things, long toss in moderation has its benefits. Done to excess, it can lead to problems. Drinking a glass of red wine at night (for those of age) can be good for your heart. Drink eight glasses of wine a night and you’re asking for trouble. I’m all for using long toss to condition your arm, build endurance and develop the feel of throwing with your entire body. That said, the 2011 ASMI study can’t be ignored. The bottom line is any time you engage in max-effort throwing you’re putting added stress on your arm, and the altered mechanics when throwing max-distance can amplify this. For this reason, long toss, especially extreme long toss, should not be an every-day thing. But if done the right way, there’s no reason it can’t be an effective part of your throwing routine.

Here are some guidelines for effective long toss:
[circle_list] [list_item]Put the emphasis on throwing with good mechanics. If you don’t have a solid understanding of good mechanics, do not do long toss – I’d also recommend checking out my free eBook “The 14 Biggest Mechanical Flaws” :)[/list_item] [list_item]Stretch it out as far as you can with good control (and good mechanics). If you can no longer hit your target consistently you are throwing too far.[/list_item] [list_item]Begin with a gradual high-arc phase (less than max effort throws) to work back to a comfortable distance. Then begin bringing your throws down on a line.[/list_item] [list_item]Use a crow hop or step behind to gain momentum and get your entire body into your throws.[/list_item] [list_item]Emphasize the pull-down phase: keep your throws on a line as you gradually bring it back in to 60 ft. Feel the adjustments your body need to make to get the ball down, finishing with good forward trunk tilt.[/list_item] [list_item]Finish with at least 10-15 throws at 60 ft. with an emphasis on bringing those elastic long toss mechanics back in to a delivery that will transfer well to the pitching mound.[/list_item] [list_item]Max-effort long toss should not be an every-day thing. Stretching it out to 200 ft or more at a reasonable intensity (80-90% effort) is fine, but when you go out to your max distance throwing at full intensity that’s when you will be risking wear and tear on your arm.[/list_item] [/circle_list]

Update: for Part II: The Benefits, Click Here

[h3]The Importance of Early Momentum in Your Pitching Delivery[/h3]

When I was a kid learning to pitch, conventional wisdom taught that getting to a good balance point was the most important part of the pitching motion. I used to practice it daily, lifting my leg and holding it at the top, over and over again, sometimes until my legs started to shake… What a waste! It’s simply not what successful, hard throwing big league pitchers do. Creating momentum by getting your center of gravity moving towards home plate early in your motion is critical for generating power and developing good timing in your pitching delivery.

Old time pitchers knew this intuitively, that’s why they developed those big full windups, swinging their arms for timing and rhythm and then moving fluidly through their deliveries. Somewhere along the way we started teaching kids to stop at the height of their leg lift to “get balanced.” We then started teaching them to get to a good “power position” before throwing. We started focusing on all of these “points” in the pitching motion rather than looking at the pitching delivery as what it should be – a fluid total-body movement involving the efficient transfer power from the lower half to the upper half, out to the arm and into the ball at pitch release.

[h5]Do you see Koufax stopping here to get to a balance point??[/h5]

By getting to a “balance point” and pausing at the height of your leg lift you’re actually killing momentum and disrupting your natural rhythm and timing. To build early momentum you really want get your hips moving towards home plate as you get loaded up in your leg lift. This is where power starts! It’s about basic laws of physics, mainly inertia: a body at rest tends to stay at rest; a body in motion tends to stay in motion.

If you’ve ever tried pushing a car in neutral, you know the importance of gaining momentum.
When you first start pushing, it’s going to take some time and effort to get the car moving. But once you get the wheels moving it becomes easier and easier and you can get to a point where you’re actually running behind it because now inertia and momentum are working with you. The same principles are at play in your pitching delivery! You need to get things moving early to allow for a more powerful stride to maximize velocity.

I’m not suggesting you rush your motion, rather just work on getting your weight inside your back foot early to start building momentum towards home plate in your stride. You then use this momentum to assist your back leg drive to gradually accelerate down the mound and explode into ball release. All you have to do is take a look at the motion of any successful power pitcher to see the importance of a powerful stride. Achieving high velocity begins with your legs. A series of studies by leading sports research center ASMI, “Comparison of High Velocity and Low Velocity Pitch Deliveries” supports this with an interesting finding:

“…early in the pitching motion, the two groups were dissimilar in the timing of their movements, while their later movement timing was much more similar.”

You can read more of the study here:

This actually makes a lot of sense, since the early part of the pitching delivery, the stride phase, involves your legs and trunk while the later movements are more upper half, throwing arm dominated. High velocity pitchers do a better job building early momentum in their load to help them drive towards home plate with a powerful stride.

Not only does creating momentum early help you generate more power, it also promotes good timing and rhythm in your delivery, helping you get your arms and legs in sync. It’s not just the high velocity guys that do this, but you can look at guys like Greg Maddux, known more for their control.









Pausing at the top kills momentum, breaks your rhythm, disrupts natural timing, and hurts control.Getting your hips moving early leads to a more fluid, well synchronized pitching delivery. So just remember, as a pitcher, momentum is your friend.

[h5]Click below for a Complete System of Drills for developing
a Powerful, Dynamic Pitching Delivery[/h5] BP-Blueprint-Package-2
[h4]Why “Bring Your Chest to Your Glove” Is a Bad Coaching Cue[/h4]

Today I want to discuss an area of pitching mechanics that’s often misunderstood, and that’s the importance of good glove-arm action. I think it’s safe to say, any pitching coach who has a clue about mechanics knows it’s important to stay closed and not fly open with your front side. My college pitching coach used to love telling one of my teammates that he was “swinging like a rusty gate!” Despite the wide agreement on this topic, there’s been a growing debate in recent years around what exactly constitutes good glove-arm action in your pitching delivery.

For years, coaches taught young pitchers to tuck their gloves and pull back with their lead elbows as they threw to get better trunk rotation and velocity. Then not too long ago, the idea came along that you don’t actually want to pull back with your glove arm, but you should instead keep your glove out in front of you and just bring your chest to your glove, the idea being to get better extension with your release while maintaining good posture. And so the debate ensued.

Take a look at Chapman here. Is he bringing his chest to his glove, or is he actively bringing his glove elbow down into his ribs/hip area at ball release?

Before we get too deep into the topic, we should establish some basic principles about good pitching mechanics. In simple terms, the first phase of the pitching delivery is all about creating momentum and driving powerfully towards home plate. The next step is transferring that force from your lower half to your upper half at front foot plant. This means bracing up well with your front side. This effectively creates a pivot that your trunk will rotate around. If you don’t firm up well and form a good pivot, you end up with an energy leak and lose some of that power, resulting in lower velocity. Most of this involves bracing up with your landing leg, but your glove arm also plays an important role.

If you don’t control your glove, but instead swing it out (towards 1st base for a righty) or let your glove drop as your throw, you will open early and lose the rotational power needed for maximum arm speed.

 Ouch! Don’t drop your glove!

This is when you’ll hear coaches say you’re “flying open.” Not only is flying open an energy leak, it’s also a major timing disruptor, which hurts control. If you consistently fly open with that glove arm, your throwing arm will drag, putting more stress on your shoulder and causing you to miss high to your arm side with your pitches.

Okay, now back to the glove-arm action debate…

I remember first learning about the idea of bringing your chest to your glove. I had just finished my third year of pro ball, and I thought I had a pretty good handle on pitching mechanics. But here was something new. On the one hand, when I was actually shown pictures of big league pitching deliveries, it seemed to make sense. At ball release, all of these guys had their chests out with their gloves right their in front of their chests.









It also made sense that pulling the glove arm back could disrupt a pitcher’s balance and limit his extension at ball release. I was a new pitching coach at the time and it seemed like these guys were really onto something, so I began using this cue with my young pitchers. It wasn’t long, though, before I began to encounter a major problem.

You see, it’s not that the idea itself is completely flawed, the mechanical theory behind it is actually pretty solid. You do want to maintain good balance in your delivery, and releasing the ball closer to home plate is certainly a good thing. The problem I was noticing had to do more with the way this cue was being processed by my pitchers. I started actually seeing these guys opening early with their front side, getting very rigid with their glove arm, and cutting off their follow-through. This is why today I’m not a big fan of “bring your chest to your glove,” because I feel like it places the emphasis on the wrong thing. You really want to be getting good trunk rotation in your delivery. By focusing so much on getting your glove out and bringing your chest forward, you tend to block yourself off, losing a lot of that trunk rotation that’s so critical for maximizing velocity and decelerating your arm with a good follow-through.

And it’s funny because the same guys who first established this teaching cue, also did some great work on a study that determined that as much as 80% of pitching velocity comes from rotational forces. So they know and understand the importance of good trunk rotation as well as anybody, and this is why I feel the concept of bringing your chest to your glove is more misunderstood than it is flat out wrong. The problem is coaches get a hold of a catchy teaching cue like that and run wild, hammering it home like it’s the only thing that matters. Today, when a pitcher comes to work with me for the first time, I can tell after two or three throws if he’s been taught by a coach using this cue. No trunk rotation, no follow-through, stiff.

Now the old school idea of pulling back with your glove arm isn’t exactly right either. That’s where the “bring your chest to your glove” guys were onto something. Being too aggressive with that glove arm and actively pulling back can easily lead to flying open or pulling yourself off balance, which as discussed earlier is a major velocity killer and timing disruptor. Opening early also leads to added stress on the arm and greater inconsistency, making it tougher to get to a good release point.

So having experience with both the old school approach and the newer “bring your chest to your glove” theory, I’ve come to the conclusion that good glove-arm action lies somewhere in between. You absolutely want to maximize rotational force in your delivery, but there’s also no denying the benefits and importance of bracing up well with your front side. That’s why today I’ve come to prefer the cue “control your glove.” The idea is you want to be athletic and active with that glove arm (not stiff), but control your glove and bring that lead elbow right down to your side as you rotate and throw. In my work with pitchers, I’ve found “control your glove” to be the most effective glove-arm cue, since it puts the emphasis on bracing up with the front side and creating a good pivot for full trunk rotation and follow-through.

[h4]Click below to download your free Ultimate Guide to High-Velocity Pitching Mechanics[/h4]

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