Long toss has become a hotly-debated topic as it pertains to training baseball pitchers and position players alike. Popularized by Alan Jaeger, recent proponents of “extreme” long toss include 2011 MLB draft standouts Trevor Bauer and Dylan Bundy, who both have no problem getting the ball out there 300+ feet on a regular basis:
If you don’t know what long toss is or need a refresher course, I highly suggest consuming all of what Alan Jaeger has to say about the topic. You can find any number of videos explaining it, but this one is a nice summary of his methods:
The question on everyone’s mind seems to be: Is long toss safe and effective for developing pitching velocity? We’ll try to weigh in – along with our criticisms of how long toss is seen by many players and coaches.
Is Long Toss Safe on the Arm? Does it Work?
Detractors of long toss will immediately rush to ASMI’s 2011 study on the subject, titled Biomechanical comparison of baseball pitching and long-toss: implications for training and rehabilitation (pubmed link). The abstract of the study has this conclusion statement:
Hard, horizontal, flat-ground throws have biomechanical patterns similar to those of pitching and are, therefore, reasonable exercises for pitchers. However, maximum-distance throws produce increased torques and changes in kinematics. Caution is, therefore, advised in the use of these throws for rehabilitation and training.
They say “Aha! See, I told you – long toss doesn’t mimic mound pitching, and therefore is useless! Buy my newsletter and my pitching program!”
Of course, if you have an open mind at all, you’ll see that the conclusion says nothing about that. Additionally, right above the conclusion are the results, which say:
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. Elbow extension velocity was also greatest for the maximum-distance throws (2573°/s ± 203°/s).
Opponents will point at the fancy numbers that they may or may not understand and say “Uh yeah, the mechanical changes are big and the amount of torque is higher on the shoulder. So it’s less safe!”
Well… there’s more than one problem with that argument, but the main one is the fact that increased shoulder external rotation in the pitching delivery is strongly correlated with release velocity. Are they suggesting that throwing harder is a bad idea, too? (Note: ASMI actually does argue this from time to time, which is… interesting.)
The reality is far more complex, as it usually is. If a pitcher wants to throw 90+ MPH, he is going to have to:
- Increase overall strength
- Improve force application technique (mechanics)
- Increase mobility and stability in proper areas of the body
For reasons that should be obvious, these things are best done incrementally for maximum effectiveness and safety. If you take a pitcher capable of 80 MPH mound speeds with dynamic shoulder ER (MER) of 160 degrees and maximum elbow extension velocity (MEEV) of 2200 deg/s but can throw a ball at maximum intensity with MER of 165 degrees and MEEV of 2290 deg/s, isn’t he learning how to apply force to the ball in a controlled manner?
Note that this is exactly the technique that is used in our MaxVelo program – whether it comes from long toss (not much given the winter weather in the Pacific Northwest) or high-intensity weighted baseball throwing – and we have a stellar track record when it comes to velocity development and injury prevention.
An athlete is going to have to safely exceed the boundaries that he has set for himself if he is going to make steady progress, and long toss is just one of many ways that this can be achieved.
My Problem with the Long Toss Revolution
Now, given all that, I still have problems with the long toss “revolution.” Through no fault of his own, Alan Jaeger has created a group of people who think long toss is the end-all be-all of training programs, and the media tends to run with this idea. Media outlets have latched on to the idea that Dylan Bundy and Trevor Bauer perform long toss and that is what makes them weird, or different. The reality, of course, is that Dylan is also squatting 450+ pounds in the weight room while drinking broccoli shakes and Trevor is throwing weighted baseballs and using the Oates’ Shoulder Tube on national TV while pitching for UCLA.
When I spoke to Denver Bundy (Dylan’s father), we laughed about how Dylan’s “workout” is centered around long toss in the media. He told me that Dylan and Bobby (Dylan’s brother) would go out to a baseball field and play “long toss” out to 300 feet and stay there for 40 minutes! They’d be long tossing for over an hour, and then they’d come in, lift heavy weights, throw weighted balls, and finish their workout!
Long toss is not a substitute for other training modalities – it can’t replace an adequate strength training program and it can’t take the place of proper mobility/stability work. Long toss is simply playing catch. You should long toss for the fun of it and the fact that you will self-discover how to slowly change your mechanics to help you apply force to the baseball in more efficient ways than mound pitching and weighted baseball throwing can’t necessarily help you with. But don’t think of it as a panacea or something that replaces your other training – it’s not.