In Part I of this series on long toss, we took a look at the broader debate: the Believers, the Naysayers, pros and cons… As promised, Parts II and III will dive deeper into each side. Today we’ll take a look at some of the arguments in favor of long toss, and why the Believers feel it’s an important component of a pitcher’s training regimen.

[h5]1. It helps you throw with your entire body, getting your mechanics in sync[/h5] Generally speaking, long toss means getting your feet moving, either with a shuffle, crow hop or step behind. This helps build momentum and rhythm, and gets your center-mass moving towards your target (all things you should be doing in your pitching delivery). An issue I see with a lot of young pitchers is a tendency to become mechanical and stiff when they get on the mound, because they think they need to have “good pitching mechanics.”

The other day I was talking to a friend of mine, a Division I pitching coach. He told me about their shortstop who had an absolute cannon, but when they asked him to pitch he was awful – wild with no velocity. So he got the kid on the mound and started flipping him balls, asking him to throw as if he was turning a double play. The result? All of a sudden he was throwing gas, and strikes to boot!

Put simply, when you get your your body moving aggressively towards your target, your arm is forced to keep up. And when you start stretching it out to greater distances and really get your feet moving, your body naturally finds more efficient mechanics, helping get your arms and legs in sync.

Nolan Ryan, one of the first big supporters of long toss, has called this “getting gathered,” basically getting his legs under him and throwing with his whole body.

The key is, once you get the feel for throwing with good momentum, how do you bring that natural athleticism and explosiveness into your pitching delivery? This is something we’ll discuss more when we take a look at the Pulldown Phase.

[h5]2. It helps condition the arm, building arm strength and endurance[/h5] One big benefit promoted by the long toss Believers is the idea of long toss as a means for conditioning the arm, improving durability and overall arm health. Nolan Ryan discusses this in a Baseball America article about his use of long toss and live BP with the Rangers organization (one point worth noting is that Ryan estimated his own “long toss” reached “somewhere in the neighborhood of 150 feet,” a far cry from the more extreme long toss practiced by many of today’s pitchers).

Here’s what some other long toss advocates have to say:

Tom House: “Arcing the ball is perfect from a training perspective — it opens joints up and leads to greater range of motion.”

Greg Maddux: “I think long toss is a great way to build your arm up, to get in shape to throw off the mound.”

Dylan Bundy: “I like to stretch it out (the day) after a start and usually two or maybe three times a week…
I feel like that is the best way to throw hard and feel good in all your starts. If you throw 30 to 45 minutes of long toss, you should be able to complete a game easy.”

Felix Hernandez: “I do it every day… I can’t imagine not doing it. I’ve done it since I was a kid throwing with my brother in Venezuela. Some days I’ll go and throw 300 feet, easy. Some days I won’t. It all depends. But I definitely think it makes me better.”

Much of the rise in popularity of long toss can be attributed to Alan Jaeger’s work and his success with his Thrive on Throwing program. And in recent years, more and more high school and college programs have been making long toss a part of their conditioning program.

This article on the Russell County High School (Seale, Ala.) baseball program (originally published in Collegiate Baseball, 2005) talks about how the team used long toss as a big part of their conditioning, helping produce 6 pitchers who could throw 90+ MPH, a team ERA of 0.77, and zero arm injuries.

Another great (and more recent) Collegiate Baseball article centers on the durability of the 2012 champion Arizona pitching staff. The Wildcats’ 3 starters threw 5,675 Pitches and 16 Complete Games (same amount as the entire SEC conference), yet “not one starter experienced elbow or shoulder pain through the season. In fact, no pitcher on the staff has suffered an elbow or shoulder injury the last three years…”

Now it’s important to note that neither of these success stories point to long toss as a sort of magic bullet, but rather as a piece in the puzzle. The Arizona program, for example, credits a four pronged approach, including 1) a long toss, bullpen and running program, 2) a strength and conditioning program, 3) post-practice and game care of pitching shoulders and 4) mental conditioning.

[h5]3. Long toss gives you instant feedback[/h5] Along the same lines of point #1 (getting your mechanics in sync), one benefit of long toss is the instant feedback it provides. The farther back you go, the harder you have to throw, and you can see and feel instantly when you are implementing more efficient mechanics.

Dr. Marcus Elliot, Director of Sport Science and Performance for the Seattle Mariners, has taken a very progressive approach to conditioning – here are some of his thoughts:

“Nothing prepares a thrower for the exact loads of baseball except throwing maximally, and nothing provides the high level feedback of a well-constructed long toss program. The ability to get direct feedback on how to most efficiently connect from the ground through the hand while not overloading/over stressing the rotator cuff muscles are the two pieces that anchor me as a long toss advocate. The fact that limiting throwers to 120 feet is still a discussion in baseball amazes me.”

That first phrase also relates directly to velocity – you could just as easily say nothing trains a thrower to throw harder than throwing maximally. To throw far, you have to throw hard, and your body begins to know what that feels like.

And that’s the big key for me when it comes to long toss and the direct feedback component. Just working on developing “clean mechanics” doesn’t teach that intent to throw hard.

The other big direct-feedback benefit has to do with command and feel. If you’re off with your release point, the impact is magnified when throwing long toss. You can see it, feel it, and learn what you need to do to get the ball back on track.

For some pitchers, long toss helps them find their arm slot since it allows them to really see the movement on the ball, and they can adjust with each throw to get that consistent slot.

[h5]4. The Pulldown Phase[/h5]

The Pulldown Phase is specific to the Jaeger method of long toss (often referred to as “extreme long toss”), where guys stretch it back gradually, and then work back in with harder throws, essentially pulling that arc down and throwing on a line. The first phase is about opening the arm up, the Pulldown Phase is about max effort (or close to it) throwing and bringing that 300 ft throw into a 60 ft delivery.

During this process, as his partner gets closer and closer, the pitcher is forced to get his release point out in front more, and he regains the feel for “getting on top of the ball.”

Dylan Bundy: “I’ll get out to about 320 or 350 feet and I don’t really strain the arm at all. We throw it high to put less stress on the arm, but just kind of get it loose. Once we work it back in, you start throwing more on a line to get the release point back.”

Barry Zito: “The pull down phase of the “long toss” has actually solidified my release point on all three of my pitches, especially my curve ball.”

When you do long toss with this Pulldown Phase, your body learns what it needs to do so you can get on top of the ball. Then in a game situation, if you’re missing high in the zone, you have that feel and it’s easier to make the adjustment and get the ball down.

Bringing that explosive, max-effort long toss throw back into a 60 ft delivery is really critical when it comes to maximizing velocity off the mound. This is something a lot of guys struggle with. It’s not uncommon for guys to throw 300+ ft long toss, but not break 90 MPH off the mound. That’s why learning to create that same sort of momentum in your pitching delivery is so important.

Demonstration of the Pulldown Phase (around the 4 minute mark)

[h5]5. It’s a great way to deal with Specificity, Variety and Pattern Overload[/h5]

One big argument you’ll hear from the Naysayers is that long toss isn’t specific enough to the act of pitching. That as you stretch it out and begin to throw on an arc, your release point changes, and your mechanics begin to change with it. Dick Mills, for example, seems to be of the belief that pitchers should spend all of their time pitching, and that any time throwing away from a pitching mound is time wasted. We’ll discuss his views, (along with the other Naysayers) more in Part III.

There’s something to the argument. Nothing is better for developing the specific skill of pitching than actually throwing on the mound. But you don’t need a PHD to realize it also places extreme stress on the arm, and if you spend all your time throwing on the mound you’re bound to break down.

Shh, don’t tell anyone… Pitching is not very good for your arm

Dr. Glenn Fleisig: “The best training for baseball pitching is baseball pitching. If you train from a mound at maximum effort, your muscles and neurological system would benefit. That being said, you cannot train from a mound (continually) because you would get hurt. You want a training program that is similar, but different enough to simulate pitching. A long-toss program is a good part of conditioning.”

This is where we get into something called pattern overload. It’s beyond my scope of expertise, but here is a great article by Paul Chek if you really want to dive into the subject. In laymen’s terms, the more you train or perform the same movement pattern over and over, the greater the risk of injury.

Eric Cressey: “Symbolically, long toss is to pitchers what plyos are to sprinters: specific, but just general enough to make a profound difference… In all of my years I have had only one guy who did not like long toss and he really never dedicated himself to doing it correctly. It’s helped guys tremendously”

In addition to giving the pitcher another way to train to throw at high intensity (without the same exact stresses as pitching), incorporating long toss into your routine also adds a little variety and breaks up the monotony of the standard 60/90/120 throwing program. Over the course of a long season (not to mention off-season or pre-season), this is a very real factor to consider. You need to stay motivated and committed in your throwing.

[h5]Okay, so that’s a look at the Believers’ point of view… So what’s my take?[/h5]

To me, long toss clearly has some benefits, and the success of so many pitchers and programs speaks for itself, but you have to be smart about it. Some things ton consider:

You better be conditioned: Max-effort throwing of any kind increases stress on the joints, so it’s important train properly. Dylan Bundy can throw 30+ mins long toss because he’s a beast with an insane work ethic.

Is it the best use of your time? If you can’t command your fastball at 60 ft, you’re probably better off doing more bullpen work to develop feel and command of your pitches.

Context matters: It can be great for conditioning, but aggressive long toss as part of your pre-game routine doesn’t make much sense to me. Why do you want to fatigue your arm prior to pitching, which places the highest demands on it? In your warmup you want to wake up and activate the muscles, not max out before you even take the mound.

Mechanics matter: If you’re delivery is a mess at 60 ft, the problems will be magnified at 300 ft, increasing the risk of injury.

Does it really help increase velocity? Long toss itself doesn’t increase velocity… but it does train the intent to throw hard, an important factor for increasing velocity. This is the single biggest benefit to long toss as a training method, in my opinion. But this can also be accomplished at 60 ft, heck even 20-30 ft with a backstop and a bucket of balls (a radar gun can help if you need that extra motivation and instant feedback).

One way to simulate long toss when you’re stuck inside
So what are your thoughts on long toss? Drop a comment below!

[hr] Other Sources:
“Making the Case for Long Toss in a Throwing Program” – Eric Cressey

“Rediscovering The Lost Art of Long Toss” – Alan Jaeger
Originally appeared in Collegiate Baseball Magazine May, 1999

“Going long to help keep pitchers healthy” – Doug Miller,

“Dylan Bundy on long toss, expectations and working with a former MLB catcher” – Steve Melewski

[h3]Congenital Laxity, Dinosaur Burgers, and “Poop Arm”[/h3] On Sunday, Oct. 28th (pre-Sandy, feels like a long time ago now), I was fortunate to attend the Cressey Performance Seminar at Eric Cressey’s training center in Hudson, MA. First off, the facility itself is awesome – no wasted space full of fancy machines or treadmills. Just hardcore training equipment and plenty of room for moving around a building power. They’ve also got two lanes for bullpens, a long turf lane for sprints and sled drags, and (maybe my favorite) a big reinforced cement-block wall for med ball throws.

The day’s presentations were definitely geared more towards the strength and conditioning crowd, but I still came away with a ton of ideas for working more effectively with my pitchers. All the guys presenting did a great job, and I drove home that night energized and ready to get working on typing up my notes for you guys.

[h4]Something about a hurricane coming this way…[/h4]

But then my focus quickly shifted to bracing up for hurricane Sandy, getting everything inside, making sure we were stocked up, etc. And like a lot of people in this neck of the woods, we lost power the next day and I was effectively out of commission for the next week (it gave me a chance to spend some extra time at home with my two little ones, though, so it wasn’t all bad). Nothing like a “Super-Storm” to put things in perspective.

But I’m happy to say I’m officially back up and running, so as promised, here are my top takeaways from the Cressey Performance Seminar. I’m going to try to keep things concise, more bullet point format. If there are any points you want me to write more about just drop me a note in the comments section below.

Also, a lot of the info in the presentations was high level technical stuff that would probably be most interesting if you’re a strength coach or work in the physical therapy world. I’m not including a lot of that here, instead just focusing on what I think would be most helpful for you as a pitcher, coach or parent.

[h3]My Top Takeaways from the Cressey Performance Seminar[/h3]
1. Stop Assuming, Start Assessing
– Correct bad movement habits – don’t let athletes get really good at moving bad.
– Identify risk factors and movement faults at a young age BEFORE and athlete becomes symptomatic
“If you’re not assessing, you’re guessing.”
– As a pitching coach, this is where motion analysis comes into play. The pitching delivery is one of the fastest movements in all of sports. If you’re not using video to analyze mechanics, you’re just guessing.

2. Question what you are doing – is there a better way?
– Cressey’s presentation on pitchers and congenital laxity made me pause and think about the warmup I’ve been using with my pitchers. A lot of pitchers are already very flexible in their extremities (it’s part of what makes them successful). In these cases, over-stretching can make joints more unstable, increasing the risk of injury. Instead focus on activating the muscles and stabilizing the joint.
– Don’t over-stretch pitchers who are already loose to begin with (may leave them more prone to injury).
– “Get Long, Get Strong, Train Hard.”

3. Warm up smarter
– Don’t fatigue your rotator cuff prior to throwing. Warm up, activate the muscles, stabilize the joints. Overly long warmups with weights, bands, etc. can be counter-productive.
– Don’t overstretch guys who are loose to begin with.

4. “Poop Arm” (as opposed to “dead arm”) – Beckett, Lincecum, Zito
– A lot of pitchers go through periods of “dead arm” over the course of a season. But I’d never heard the term “poop arm” before. Essentially, it’s when your arm just stinks (low velocity, prolonged drop in velocity).
– Of course, Zito and Lincecum both stepped up and dealt this World Series, but there’s no denying their careers (and velocity) had been on a decline to that point. Cressey highlighted these guys, along with Beckett, as pitchers who have lost velocity, are past their peak strength years (late 20’s), and don’t have a strong work ethic in the weight room. Could there be a connection?
– Zito does a ton of yoga (may be overkill if he’s already loose?) and Lincecum (“the Freak”) has always been against lifting heavy weights. As for Beckett, I grew up rooting for the Yankees, so I’ll leave it to Red Sox fans to say anything about his work ethic.

5. Panda and Dinosaur burgers are right around the corner
Brian St. Pierre gave a great presentation on the future of nutrition, discussing genetically modified foods among other things. The idea that scientists are developing a way to grow animal meat in a test-tube was pretty eye-opening. All they need is the right genetic material and they could make burgers out of just about anything.
– This doesn’t have much to do with pitching, but if got me thinking about the future of pitching and how advances in science are coming into play in building the 21st century pitcher.

6. “Meet, Read, Learn” – The value of continuing education
– Nathan Triplady, gave a great presentation on Manual Therapy (ART, Chiropractics, etc.), in which he also discussed the value of continuing ed for trainers (and coaches).
– Look at people who are the best at what they do, and they invariably are people who are committed to growth and constant learning.
– Recharge, expose yourself to new perspectives, learn, grow, and connect with others.

7. Don’t get complacent – you can always get better!
– Along the lines of #7, Triplady highlighted ART’s founder, who seems more interested in acquiring new toys than furthuring the field of study – case in point, his ElliptiGo…

8. Don’t be a jack of all trades
– Focus on your area of expertise and do it well.
– Understand other fields enough to recognize issues that need to be handled by experts in that field.
“Any fool can know. The point is to understand.” – Einstein

9. Don’t be a robot – adapt to the individual needs of your athletes
– Have a program, but emphasize different qualities depending on the needs of the athlete.
– Have your own philosophy

10. Get to the primary dysfunction
– Part of his presentation on Manual Therapy, but applies to pitching just as well.
– Oftentimes any problems you’re having with command, control or velocity can be pinpointed to one primary mechanical flaw or mobility issue.
– This is true with pitching mechanics, too. One major flaw in your delivery may be causing other flaws.
– Address that issue, and the other things fall into place.

11. Use funny images and quotes whenever possible.

This has nothing to do with anything, just a theme I noticed… but if you don’t like Bill Murray I don’t think we can be friends anymore.

12. Youth sports and having your priorities straight.
– Fun comes first, then fundamentals, then sports practice and training, then competition.
– Too often, coaches and parents get this backwards.

13. When are kids old enough to start lifting?
– If a kid’s ready to play sports at 10-14 years old, he’s old enough for strength training.
– It’s recommended to start out with Bodyweight workouts first. Joe Meglio has a program designed specifically for baseball players:Bodyweight Workouts for Baseball

14. Overuse injuries: the best pitchers are at the greatest risk.
– They’re most likely to get used more by their coaches.
– By throwing harder they’re putting more stress on their joints, even if they have perfect mechanics.

15. Being under-prepared is just as bad (or worse) than overuse
– According to stats from MLB, injuries are 10x more likely to occur in April than in September. Hmm… what does this say about these players’ off-season conditioning?
– Kyle Body of DriveLine Baseball wrote a great article on this topic recently (we disagree about how much rest young pitchers should get, but he makes some very good points).

16. Show more, talk less.
– Powerful advice for coaches, trainers and parents alike.
“Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them.” – James Baldwin

He had a better photo in his presentation, but I couldn’t find it.

To sum up, it was a great event and I’m glad I went. It made me question some things, and perhaps more than anything, it reinforced my belief in the importance of getting Assessed.

As a reminder, if you live in the CT/NY area, I’ll be conduction full Pitcher’s Assessments this off-season with Sacred Heart University Baseball Strength Coach Josh Heenan.

If you’re not in our neck of the woods, you can still send me a video for Motion Analysis, and I’d recommend checking out Cressey’s Assess & Correct program.

[h3]5 Steps for Maximizing Your Off-Season Pitching Workouts[/h3] In my last article on off-season pitching workouts I talked about how your off-season training can make or break your pitching career. Today as a follow up, I’m going to lay out 5 simple steps for maximizing your off-season pitching workouts.
[h5]But first, I again want to stress… Give your arm a rest![/h5]

Youth pitchers who throw year-round are at much greater risk of arm injury. I’ll again reference the 2006 study that found:

“Adolescent throwers who pitched more than eight months per year were five times more likely to be injured compared to those who pitched less.”
-Olsen SJ, Fleisig GS, Dun S, Loftice J, Andrews JR. “Risk factors for shoulder and elbow injuries in adolescent baseball pitchers” – Am J Sports Med. 2006

Playing another sport or working to improve your overall strength and agility will make you a better athlete, a better pitcher, and reduce the injury risk associated with what’s known as pattern overload.

Ok, so with the understanding that you need to first take a break from throwing, here are 5 Simple Steps for Maximizing Your Off-Season Pitching Workouts:

[h4]Step 1: Get Assessed (or Know Where You’re Starting from)[/h4]
“If you’re not assessing, you’re guessing.”

This is a quote I heard at the recent Cressey Performance Seminar. It’s a popular phrase in the fitness industry, but it can just as easily be applied to your pitching workouts. If you aren’t familiar with Eric Cressey, his website is an invaluable resource for baseball strength and conditioning content.

Here are three easy ways to accurately assess your current situation:

Video Motion Analysis: Get video of yourself pitching and have it analyzed by a knowledgeable coach. If you can get side-by-side analysis vs. a pro, even better. Seeing the difference between what you are doing and what elite pitchers do in their pitching deliveries can be an eye opening experience. With today’s technology there’s really no excuse for not using motion analysis – most phones nowadays will take quality video.

Strength & Mobility Screen: Sometimes inefficiencies in your pitching delivery can be fixed by simply learning new movement patterns. But other times (often) the cause has more to do with strength and mobility deficiencies. A good strength and mobility screen can help uncover areas that may be holding you back. Addressing these limitations will make a big difference in helping you maximize performance while reducing the risk of injury. If you don’t have access to a good baseball strength coach like Josh Heenan, I’d recommend checking out the Assess & Correct program.

Objectively Evaluate Your Season: Take an honest look at your past season. If you kept charts of your games, you can make this process more precise, looking at things like % of first or 2nd pitch strikes, % strikes on off-speed pitches. Did you struggle with command of your off-speed pitches or have a tough time putting guys away? In short, what did you do well, and what could you do better.

[h4]Step 2: List Your Biggest Strengths and Weaknesses[/h4]

Give this one some real thought, think back to your successes and failures on the mound. What do you do well, what could you do better. Is your velocity a strength, your control a weakness (or vice versa)? Do you have a good fastball, but lack command of your changeup? What about your breaking ball? How well do you control the running game and field your position. Do you pitch as well with runners on base as you do from the windup?

The idea here is to brainstorm a little, get it all on paper. Come up with 2 lists: Strength and Weaknesses. This, along with the Step 1 (Getting Assessed), will give you a good starting point for creating meaningful goals for your off-season training. Then you can get to work on enhancing your strengths and minimizing your weaknesses.

[h4]Step 3: Write Down Your Goals – There’s Power in Putting Them on Paper![/h4]

Come up with two sets of goals, short-term and long-term.

Short-Term Goals (3-6 months): These are your goals for this off-season. Use the results from Steps 1 and 2 to help you come up with focused goals to help you maximize your winter workouts. Maybe your goals are to improve mobility, strength and velocity. Maybe you want to develop a good changeup or a better curveball. Maybe you want to get more comfortable pitching from the stretch. Wanting to “make the team” is fine too, but just make sure you include some specifics that focus on doing the things necessary to make that happen.

Long-Term Goals (1, 3, 5, 10 years): Have fun with this one. You can put things down like “throw 90 MPH by my senior year” or “play pro ball.” Big, aggressive goals and dreams are great motivators. Write them down, make affirmations out of them (“I will play pro baseball”), pin them up somewhere you can see them every day. Your long term goals and dreams are your fuel for staying committed and putting in all of the hard work.

[h4]Step 4: Develop a Plan for Achieving Your Goals[/h4]

Once you have your goals on paper, the next step is coming up with a solid plan for achieving those goals. How many days a week do you need to train, lift, throw? What specific exercises and drills will help you make the necessary improvements? This is where working together with a good pitching coach and/or strength trainer can make a difference. If you don’t have access to either in your area, send me an email and I will be happy to help in any way I can:

[h4]Step 5: Stick to The Plan![/h4]

Whatever plan you come up with, it does no good if it just sits there on paper. Too often people start something with good intentions only to lose momentum or focus or both. I like the plans I’ve come up with for my pitchers, but there are plenty of other coaches out there who can come up with a good plan, too.

What you want to avoid is second guessing, where you try something for a bit, then try something else, then find another approach that looks interesting… this gets you nowhere. Persistence and consistency, those are the final ingredients for reaching your goals.

[h5]So if you’ve followed Steps 1 through 4, don’t overlook Step 5: Stick to The Plan![/h5]

This isn’t the only formula for creating a good off-season training program, but my goal is just to simplify the process and give you easy to follow steps that can really make a big difference for you this off-season.
[hr] And if you’re looking for a Complete System of Drills for maximizing your training this off-season, don’t forget to check out the Ballistic Pitching Blueprint!

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