Regardless of whether you are a believer or non-believer in the practice of long toss for pitchers and/or position players, it appears to be here to stay. Most players use some form of long toss during the off-season, pre-season and/or season. Some organizations are staunch supporters and others permit it with restrictions related to frequency, volume, distance and angle of projection. While the administration and supervision of long toss programs are not the responsibility of strength and conditioning coaches, they should be familiar with the goals, principles and techniques of the organization’s long toss program to help ensure coordination between the training principles and exercises used in the weight room and those used in the long toss program.
There are almost as many unique long toss programs being used as there are professional organizations. While they may differ in terms of recommended throwing mechanics, how often players are allowed to long toss per week, when they are allowed to long toss, how many throws are permitted at each distance, the optimal angle of projection and the maximal distance allowed, they all have similar goals – strengthen the arm and shoulder, improve stamina, enhance recovery, increase velocity and reduce the risk of injury.
When looking at all training programs, including long toss, one of the main goals of strength and conditioning coaches, is to help the athlete improve the sequential production of force throughout the kinetic chain from the ground up. The principle of summation of forces says that there should be a sequential application of force in which body segments with the greatest inertia (mass) move first and those with the least inertia move last1. For the throwing athlete, this means that the forces used in the throwing movement are initiated in the segments with the greatest mass (hips and legs), then transferred through the segment with less mass (trunk) to the segments with the least mass (shoulder, arm, wrist, hand and fingers) where they are applied to the ball.
While most long toss programs follow this principle, they differ somewhat in how the force is initiated from the ground. In many programs force is initiated in the hips and legs with the player in an upright position and then transferred to the trunk following a step-behind or crow-hop technique. In the early 80s, George (Doc) Medich, a Major League pitcher with the Texas Rangers who was also enrolled in the University of Pittsburgh Medical School advocated a different way to initiate force. Medich, who pitched for seven teams in his 11-year MLB career before becoming an orthopedic surgeon in Pennsylvania, recommended that players start by putting the ball on the ground approximately 1-2 feet in front of the lead foot. As illustrated in the following photo, the player would then step forward with the lead foot, bend at the waist, squat, pick up the ball, step behind the lead foot with the back foot and throw the ball on a straight line. Medich’s approach ensured that players initiated force from the ground up, transferred the force up through the entire kinetic chain and helped reduce the risk of overstress to the upper body, especially the shoulder and arm.
The purpose of this post is to present another option for initiating the mechanics of long toss, not to recommend a specific program or programs. There is no consensus among medical and baseball personnel as to what is the best long toss program. Players should consult their medical staff and pitching coach/coordinator before starting a long toss program. Most authorities believe that in order to be safe and effective, long toss programs should be individualized. Some players are not ready or able to throw farther than 120 – 180 feet. Others are more advanced and receive less benefit from stopping at shorter distances. Long toss, like most things, can be beneficial in moderation. Done in excess and at maximum effort, it can lead to problems2.
- Hall, SJ. Basic Biomechanics, 5th McGraw Hill, 2007.
- Flesig, GS, et. al., Biomechanical comparison of baseball pitching and long-toss: implications for training and rehabilitation. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther, 41(5): 296-303, 2011.
Gene Coleman, Ed. D., RSCC-E, FACSM, was the Head S&C Coach for the Houston Astros from 1978-2012, has been a strength and conditioning consultant for the Texas Rangers since 2013 and is currently Professor Emeritus in the Exercise and Health Sciences Program at the University of Houston – Clear Lake.