Home Blog Making the Case for Long Toss in a Throwing Program

Making the Case for Long Toss in a Throwing Program

Written on December 12, 2010 at 12:05 pm, by Eric Cressey

Long toss may have been scorned by quite a few baseball traditionalists, but I am a big fan of it – and our guys have responded outstandingly to the way we’ve used it.  Perhaps it’s just my “1+1=2” logic at work, but I just feel like if you can build up the arm speed to throw the ball a loooonngggg way, then you’ll be able to carry that over to the mound as soon as you get your pitching mechanics dialed in.  And, this has certainly been validated with our athletes, as we have loads of professional pitchers who absolutely swear by long toss (both off- and in-season).

So, you can understand why I got excited when my good buddy, Alan Jaeger – a man who has devoted a big chunk of his life to getting long toss “accepted” in the baseball community – was featured in this article at MLB.com about what a difference it makes – including for the Texas Rangers on their road to the World Series a few years ago.

I was, however, not a fan of this paragraph in the article:

“Former Red Sox pitcher Dick Mills has a business built around teaching mechanics and maximizing velocity, and he is a staunch opponent of long tossing. He has released countless YouTube videos angrily decrying this practice. In his latest, ‘How Long Toss Can Ruin Your Pitching Mechanics and Your Arm,’ he says, ‘Why would you practice mechanics that are totally different and will not help a pitcher during a game? And why would you practice throwing mechanics that are clearly more stressful where the arm does most of the work?’”

Taking it a step further, here’s a Dick Mills quote I came across a few years ago:

“Training will not teach you how to apply more force…only mechanics can do that. And pitching is not about applying more effort into a pitch but is about producing more skilled movements from better timing of all the parts. That will help produce more force. No matter how hard you try, you will not get that from your strength training program…no matter who designed it, how much they have promised you it would or your hope that it will be the secret for you.”

While I agree (obviously) on the importance of mechanics and timing, effectively, we’re still being told that long toss, strength training, and weighted balls are all ineffective modalities for developing the pitcher – which leaves us with what, bullpens and stretching? It sounds like every youth baseball practice in the country nowadays – and all we’re getting now are injured shoulders and elbows at astronomical rates.  Something isn’t right – and the message is very clear: specificity is a very slippery slope.


On one hand, when it comes to mechanics, you need to throw off the mound to get things fine-tuned to achieve efficiency.

On the other hand, research has shown that arm stress is higher when you’re on the mound (there is less external rotation at stride foot contact with flat ground throwing).  Additionally, every pitch that’s thrown is really a step in the direction of sports specialization for a youth baseball player – and something needs to balance that out.  Why?

Well, specializing at a young age is destroying kids.  As a great study from Olsen et al. showed, young pitchers who require surgery pitched “significantly more months per year, games per year, innings per game, pitches per game, pitches per year, and warm-up pitches before a game. These pitchers were more frequently starting pitchers, pitched in more showcases, pitched with higher velocity, and pitched more often with arm pain and fatigue.”  And people think that kid need more work on the mound?  What they need are more structured throwing sessions (practice, not competition) and a comprehensive throwing and strength and conditioning program to prepare them for the demands they’ll face.

But those aren’t specific enough, are they?!?!?!  Well, let’s talk about specificity a bit more.  Actually, let’s read – from renowned physical therapist Gray Cook, a guy who certainly knows a thing or two about why people get injured:

The physical presentation of differently trained bodies often provides a signature of the type and style of activity that developed it. Those who are exclusive in their activities seem more often be molded to their activities, and sometimes actually over-molded. These individuals can actually lose movements and muscles that would make alternate activities much easier.

Specialization can rob us of our innate ability to express all of our movement potential. This is why I encourage highly specialized athletes to balance their functional movement patterns. They don’t so much need to train all movement patterns, they just need to maintain them. When a functional movement pattern is lost, it forecasts a fundamental crack in a foundation designed to be balanced. The point is not that specialization is bad—it only presents a problem when the singular activity over-molds to the point of losing balance.

While there are probably 15-20 awesome messages we can take home from the previous two paragraphs, here’s the big one I want to highlight: it’s our job as coaches to find the biggest window of adaptation a pitcher has and bring it up to speed – while simultaneously keeping other qualities in mind.

If he’s stiff, we work on mobility.  If he’s weak, we get him strong.  If he’s a mechanical train wreck, we get him more bullpens.  If his arm speed isn’t good, we work more on weighted balls and long toss.  If you just take a 5-10, 120-pound 9th grader and have him throw bullpens exclusively, he’ll get better for a little bit, and then plateau hard unless you get him bigger and stronger.

How does this work?  It’s a little principle called Delayed Transmutation that Vladimir Zatsiorsky highlighted in Science and Practice of Strength Training.  Zatsiorsky defines delayed transmutation as “the time period needed to transform acquired motor potential into athletic performance.”  In other words, expand and improve your “motor pool” in the off-season, and it’ll be transformed into specific athletic performance when the time is right.

And, as I wrote in The Ultimate Off-Season Training Manual, “the more experienced you are in a given sport, the less time it will take for you to transform this newfound strength and power [and mobility] into sporting contexts.”  This is why professional pitchers can find their groove each year MUCH easier than high school pitchers in spite of the fact that they probably take more time off each year (2-3 months from throwing) than the typical overused kid who plays on 17 different AAU teams.

That said, there’s a somewhat interesting exception to this rule: really untrained kids.  I’ll give you two examples from the past week alone at Cressey Performance.

We had a high school senior and a high school junior who both just started up their winter throwing programs to prepare for the season.

The first told me that he was sore in his legs after throwing for the first time in his life.  Effectively, without throwing a single pitch or really doing any lesson work (or even throwing off a mound), this kid has managed to change the neuromuscular recruitment patterns he uses to throw the baseball.  Strength, power, and mobility took care of themselves: delayed transmutation.

The second told me that his arm feels electric.  Ask any experienced pitcher, and they’ll tell you that your arm is supposed to feel like absolute crap the first 4-5 days after an extended layoff, but it always gets better.  However, when you’re a kid who has gotten more flexible and packed on a bunch of muscle mass, it’s like all of a sudden driving a Ferrari when you’re used to sharing a minivan with Mom: delayed transmutation.

Specificity is important in any sport, but a it really is just the work as far to the right as you can go on the general to specific continuum.  Elite sprinters do squats, lunges, Olympic lifts, jump squats, and body weight plyos as they work from left to right on the general-to-specific continuum to get faster.  So, why do so many pitching coaches insist that pitchers stay as far to the right as possible?    Symbolically, long toss is to pitchers what plyos are to sprinters: specific, but just general enough to make a profound difference.

In a very roundabout way, I’ve made a case for long toss as something that can be classified as beneficial in much the same way that we recognize (well, most of us, at least) that mobility drills, foam rolling, strength training, movement training, and medicine ball drills to be excellent adjuncts to bullpens. In the process of learning to throw the baseball farther, we:

1. push arm speed up

2. train in a generally-specific fashion

3. improve contribution of the lower half

4. realize another specific, quantifiable marker (distance) of progress

5. keep throwing fun

6. train the arm with just enough LESS specificity to help keep pitchers healthy, as compared with mound work

The question then becomes, “Why don’t some pitchers respond well to long toss?”  In part 2, I’ll outline the most common mistakes I’ve seen:

When I told Alan Jaeger that I was sending this article out, he graciously offered to set up a 25% off discount code on his Thrive on Throwing DVD set for my readers. This outstanding DVD set thoroughly teaches players and coaches how to approach long tossing, and Alan has also applied a discount to his J-Bands and his Getting Focused, Staying Focused book for pitchers. Here’s a link to the discount page.

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  • bill

    FOr pitchers who live in the northeast do you think its ok to Long toss in the Cold? Whate are your thoughts about that

  • Jon

    I was in a long email debate with Mr. Mills over this same topic a few years back. It may have been over some of the same quotes you used in here, before I had even the slightest clue as to what I was talking about (some might think I still don\’t!)… but he seemed to be trying to sell a product more than argue his point that it was apparently a complete waste of time to do ANY strength training as an athlete/pitcher.

  • John G

    @ Bill It all depends on what “cold” is. If it is above 35* and sunny it’s probably fine. Most importantly is that muscle performance decreases as temperature decreases (I can’t find the article right now but it is on pubmed). Your body fights to maintain your core temperature so it diverts blood flow from active muscles to your core to conserve heat. So if they are outside, make them wear cold gear.

  • John

    Eric,

    Good stuff. I agree on early specialization.
    My son plays soccer,basketball and baseball. I removed him from elite travel baseball team due to the fact they play and practice year round.

    We did some body weight strength work to get ready for basketball and will do the same for baseball. He just turned 11 and will not pitch this season. I believe he needs to get stronger and we will wait til he gets older.

    John

  • Jake

    Does anyone have any specific recommendations regarding a long-toss program for freshman in high school? One of the programs I’ve seen recommends throwing 8 throws starting at 90 feet and moving backwards in 10 yard increments until you can no longer make the throw in one bounce to your partner. In other words, you would throw 8 times at 90 feet, then another 8 throws at 120, etc., until you could no longer one-hop it to your partner.

    Any recommendations would be greatly appreciated. Thanks.

  • Brad

    Eric,

    Nice article. I am wondering though, on the idea of specificity, if there are any statistics for injured pitchers/players from the south (who play all year long) compared to that of the north (who play 4 months). They always seem to be better than the players from the north, and the classic response to this is, “they play all year round, of course they are better.” Do you think this is a valid reason? If not, the only other reason I could think of the southern players being better is I guess a larger pool, as baseball is more popular in the south than in the north (turning out slowly, though!). Good read.

  • Clay

    Eric,
    Great artical. What about the release point of the baseball being different during long toss (over 100\’) as the arm moves full speed? Wouldn\’t this cause motor nueuron confusion? We generally use long toss form about 90 to 100 feet and concentrate on the same release point as the pitch. 100 feet includes a slight crow hop.
    There also seems to be two schools of thought on relaese points. One being at the top of the throwing motion to create \"Tilt\", the other release point out if front of the throwing motion to get the ball closer to the plate.
    My son 6\’9\" has gone from the top of the throwing motion to the out in front method, and seems to be throwing the ball harder. Maybe it is because the ball gets there quicker being it has to travel less distance. Hard to throw a ball farther than 100\’ when the release point is out front.
    What is your thought about the motor neurons? Any effect?

  • Clay,

    Re-read the entire article. It’s not about specificity!!!!!

    A sprinter might do an Olympic lift and benefit tremendously even though the joint angles created don’t exactly replicate what happens when running.

    “Motor neurons” are smarter than you might think. 😉

  • Yes, Brad; it is a larger talent pool. However, the research shows that the lines at the doctors’ offices are definitely longer as well. Just check out this recent study in the AJSM; players in warm weather climates get hurt significantly more often than those from cold weather climates:

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21051421

  • We start all our guys at 20 throws at 45ft and 20 throws at 60ft and gradually work them back over the course of a few weeks. Our pro guys take six weeks to get up to 300+ feet.

    I don’t like the idea of just telling kids to go out and throw as far as they can on the first day.

  • Yes, as long as they warm up thoroughly and don’t push the limits.

    That said, most of our guys simulate it into the net.

  • Derek

    I completely agree I have always been curious though on children in other countries. For exanple, children in the Dominican Republic play baseball nonstop, or chidlren in Haiti will play soccer all year. Another example, could be inner city children that play basketball 24/7. I could be completely off base, but I feel like these kids get hurt much less frequently than say a kid from the US that plays and trains (as in practice, bullpens,etc, not strength training)in only one sport, for example baseball. Is there any truth to that? or simply completely wrong, and if there is what is the reason why?

  • Derek

    I completely agree. I have always been curious though on children in other countries. For exanple, children in the Dominican Republic play baseball nonstop, or chidlren in Haiti will play soccer all year. Another example, could be inner city children that play basketball 24/7. I could be completely off base, but I feel like these kids get hurt much less frequently than say a kid from the US that plays and trains (as in practice, bullpens,etc, not strength training)in only one sport, for example baseball. Is there any truth to that? or simply completely wrong, and if there is what is the reason why?

  • I was in a long email debate with Mr. Mills over this same topic a few years back. It may have been over some of the same quotes you used in here, before I had even the slightest clue as to what I was talking about (some might think I still don\’t!)… but he seemed to be trying to sell a product more than argue his point that it was apparently a complete waste of time to do ANY strength training as an athlete/pitcher.

  • A significant oversight to this discussion is NO ONE has actually defined “Long Toss”. Long Toss should be done with THE BALL THROWN ON A STRAIGHT LINE. Throwing the ball as far as you can introduces an arc to the throw, alters throwing mechanics and significantly increases arm stress WITHOUT any increase in velocity:

    http://www.pitchingdoc.com/index.php?p=251525

    The current recommendation by the National Pitching Association is DOUBLE YOUR MOUND DISTANCE so the max should be 120 ft, throwing as hard as you can on a straight line.

  • I have an athlete that had all of tools; ++ Control, + Command of three pitches, athleticism, quickness. All the tools except velocity. He was 6’5″ 210 right hander who was topping out at 83 mph. He could not grasp the concept of intigrating force and quickness in his mechanics. We put him on a long toss program after 4 months he was able to throw comfortably at 300′ and walked him in throwing the same force as when he was at 300′, just lowering his arc. As well as strengthening his arm he learned what force and quickness he needed to put behind the baseball to throw at hi Max velocity which is mow 92 mph.

  • Greg,

    Specificity is less important than you think. Loads of guys in the big leagues with tremendous command long tossing day in and day out.

    RE: the National Pitching Association, I like how you said the “current” recommendation. That’s because all these self-appointed governing bodies change their mind each week. If they realized everyone was different, things would be a lot easier – but then their coaches would actually have to think rather than just regurgitate. I’ve had guys who long toss (Tim Collins, Corey Kluber, Curt Schilling, Chad Jenkins) and guys who don’t (Steve Cishek, Cory Gearrin). It’s important to work with guys and discover what’s the best for for them.

  • Amen, Skip!

  • john

    Eric your great in the science of a lot of things. That i will give you. Love some of your stuff but Jaegar and you on this subject are completely wrong. Dick Mills and James Andrews prove long toss and how bad it is. You say what is left to do, bullpen and stretching. No but close. I know a trainer who is against long toss, most heavy weight activities and his pitchers are easily 97mph to 102mph. With absolutely no long toss and heavy weight training. He is most sought after when it comes to pitching velocity in shortest time. If someone can throw in the top 5% of pitching velocity with no injury with way less training and time with good control, why would someone ever want to train with crazy doctrine that doesnt work????

  • John,

    By all means, please reveal who this magical trainer is who has all these “easy” 97-102mph pitchers who never get hurt.

    First, Dick Mills hasn’t proved a thing. All he’s done is been as controversial as possible to try to sell products.

    Second, if Dr. Andrews is so “anti” long toss, why did he invite Alan Jaeger to speak at the ASMI conference in January? Just because Andrews published a study on long toss doesn’t mean that he is adamantly against it. I think he’d be the first to tell you that we still have a ton of things to learn about how to manage pitchers.

  • john

    Whether he is controversial or not his info is still correct with science behind it.

    To be so smart i know your not that ignorant. You know that training outside of a skill set with not improve the skill itself. long toss has diff mechanics and cannot help a pitcher pitch downhill which he is teaching his body uphill mechanics. I know tons of people who can throw 350ft who cant hit 85mph on the mound. Zitto used to throw 90mph until he started that long toss. Now he is high school average velo. Its proven not to increase velocity. Trevor bauer could throw mid 90s flat ground but could barely throw 91mph on the mound. Not only that his control is horrific. That lefty in the pros you worked with, horrible mechanics. Throws 91 92mph. Thats average. I know kids throwing 98mph with no long toss and no heavy weight lifting. Its fact.

    Think about this. You dont see a tennis player who serves 120mph going out in a field and trying to hit it as far as he can to increase his serve speed. Neither should pitchers. Its common sense esp if you know anything about sports science as you do. You should do your research on Jaegar and see how many careers he has contributed too with injurys. You should also look at the amount of students he has who get released left and right because of lack of control.

    As far as that trainer goes i will look for his contact. He has trained pros to high school . If he can get guys to 95mph to 102mph with none of the so called “MUST DO’s” of pitching training it proves there are easier and better ways to train instead of just listening to hand me down doctrine with no proof of results.

  • You’re definitely right Eric- people get way too into the idea of specificity. There are things that should be part of a baseball strength & conditioning program because they are specific to the sport (frontal plane work, transverse plane work, etc.), but creating strong, powerful athletes who have less chance of becoming injured is the ultimate goal.

    John, careful with some of those bold statements. No one can “prove” that long tossing is bad. And guys who are throwing 97-102 will be at a higher risk of injury than normal- if they’re only stretching and throwing bullpens it’s probably just a matter of time for most of them. To have these guys NOT do any strength training would be like putting the engine of a Ferrari into a Geo Metro.

    There is no training solution that can guarantee elimination of injury altogether, sorry. Although Cressey Performance has a great track record.

    If you look at training research, it is pretty conclusive that strength training (if done appropriately of course) helps decrease risk of injury.

    Why would someone want to train with “crazy doctrine that doesn’t work?” Your trainer may have hard throwers, but apparently you haven’t seen any of the pitchers Cressey Performance has worked with. Keep your mind open, because the field is always changing. Rather than believe something just because tradition says it’s so, challenge yourself to look objectively at the research, and at both sides of the equation.

    As for me, I’ll let CP’s results speak for themselves. The awesome amount of research & theory that go into the decisions that they make has me fully on board with the benefits of long-tossing.

  • Paul

    Hey Eric,

    Do you recommend long toss for 10-12 year olds, specifically those who participate in a Cressey inspired conditioning program, play multiple sports, play baseball 6 months out of the year, and have a pitching coach that is a Wolforth disciple? I’ve read about the tragic tales, and am scared to death, but I feel we are doing what we can to mitigate the risks of baseball. They love to play the game, and especially love to pitch. I’m wondering if long toss is another piece of the protective puzzle in preventing another youth baseball injury…

    Thanks

  • Paul,

    I’m totally fine with long toss at that age. It’s all relative to their abilities. “Long” might only be 90 feet. That’s fine.

  • Alan

    I Pitched for the Rockies for 4 years each year my velocity went down, my training and work ethic improved actually as I became a professional. In trying to figure out how I went from 92-94mph in college to 88-90 mph by my last year and continuing actually with the mechanics Dick Mills teaches I wondered why my velo was dropping. The only difference I could find was in college I would long toss using the same program as jaeger suggests(not knowing at the time about jaegers program) and it opened up my shoulder making my arm loose and flexible. Now the Rockies and like most organizations put restrictions on distance 120 feet or less. This past year I got back to jaegers program and within 3 months my shoulder opened back up flexibility returned and my velo was back. If I would have been more stubborn and not have listened to the restrictions my velo not only would have maintained but I truly believe could have even gotten better. This past summer I played with a Jaeger disciple who got me back into long toss. This Jaeger disciple won’t name names but threw 96-98 at the age of 29 his hardest he’s thrown in his career. Needless to say he was picked up by the Blue Jays within weeks of our season. I can truly say being a Dick Mills guy in the way he teaches some aspects of mechanics, I still believe Jaegers program is a must have.

  • Alan,

    Outstanding contribution! Thanks for taking the time. People need to hear more stories like this, as they are all too common.

  • Was led to your site by Steve Englishbey, a mutual acquaintance.
    Checking to see if you have any data/testing/etc. relative to throwing programs….distance/speed for fastpitch softball pitchers.
    I am a proponent of distance throwing for increasing speed and overall strength/stability.
    Looking for some more input.
    Thanks

    Rick Pauly

  • Hi Rick,

    I don’t have anything on hand on the softball throwing front. What I can tell you is that I’ve never worked with a softball thrower who couldn’t throw harder just by getting stronger. Much bigger window of adaptation on this front for females, and it’s a huge competitive advantage.

  • Jason

    Hi Eric wondering what your thought was on players throwing there change up and curve ball while playing long toss at distances between 70 to 90 feet. I feel like that would develop some elbow and shoulder issues throughout the season but was just wondering your opinion since my sons high school coach wants him to do it.

  • Jason,

    I love long tossing the change-up, but not the curve ball.

  • Jason

    Perfect thank you very much Eric I was thinking the same thing hopefully see you at one of your seminars soon.

  • Josh

    Eric,

    Can you explain what you mean by simulate into a net. I have my HS guys throw in the gym wall and have it roll back to them, but I’m not exactly sure how to get them to “simulate” specific distances.

    Thanks

    Josh

  • Josh,

    You can see where we simulate long toss in this video:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vKfIEXv9S0Y

    It really comes down to gauging effort or changing the ball release angle (higher release point = more loft).

  • Andy

    Eric,

    What are some ways to make long tossing fun? I am trying to create throwing programs for my high school pitchers this year. This will be the first time they will be on a throwing program in their baseball careers and I want to make sure they increase their arms strength as well as their flexibility. I am introducing them to yoga as well as other back shaping work and hip mobility work too. I am trying to sell my other coaches (the head coach) on how these things will translate well to the mound and the field in general.

    Thanks,

    Andy

  • Andy?

    Not sure if “fun” is the greatest priority, but you could use radar guns during the pull-down phases on the way back in from long tossing to create some competition and energy at your practices.

  • Daniel Gittis

    Eric,

    I’m a freshman pitcher in college, and I was wondering how much I should long toss throughout the season? Should it be something I only do once a week, multiple times, or does that depend on my pitching schedule?

    Thanks!

    Dan


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