To Long Toss or Not To Long Toss

The debate continues as to whether or not a pitcher should be doing long toss. Each side has both sports medicine and coaches claiming how wonderful or terrible it is to throw on a high arc for maximal distance as apposed to direct line throws of shorter distance.

In my opinion it's a debate in minutia when there are other considerations of greater importance. As I mentioned here, we should consider the number of months of rest from throwing per year, total throws per game, innings pitched per year, and about 20 other factors. Intelligent training of the entire body is the best way to spare the throwing arm.

That being said, with 6 out of 10 pitchers sustaining a significant shoulder or elbow injury, giving attention to minutia is completely justified.

This study is still cited as pure and clean evidence against long toss. The study does show that mechanics of long tossing are different than throwing for shorter distances, and that long toss throws cause greater torque at the shoulder and elbow.

  [Different intent, different toss.]

From this I conclude, "Oh really? Long tossing, like, where the athlete takes a skip and a crow hop and reaches way back, orients his chest to the heavens, grits his teeth, and launches the ball out and up..." 
The real surprise is that egg heads like me need data proving that this is different than throwing down hill off a mound. Any T-baller could tell you that. Any Little Leaguer with 5-minutes of exposure to a radar gun will determine that velocity (and therefore arm speed and kinematic variables like torque) is greater when you are free to move your body as much as you want just prior to a throw.

In the context of rehab after an injury, it's pretty clear that you do need to be careful. This study did affirm that long toss is probably not a wise choice for rehab or early return to throwing. But lets talk about someone with a relatively healthy arm who wants to gain velocity and the total body rhythm that actually helps decrease strain on the arm.

The differences between long toss and pitching from a mound are exactly why long toss is a valuable component of training. Why don't we simply think of long toss as a form of over-speed training? It's a great way to create some sport specific strain that's a slight variation from the forces and trauma of actual pitching.

Also, throwing is a total body effort that should occur in three planes of motion {rotation, front to back, and side to side), not just linearly (front to back). I would think that long toss is a good way to "fix" pitchers who are constipated in their delivery, "arming" the ball with a linear pattern or with poor transfer of energy from their legs.

So I'm pro long toss. But now the word of caution because I'm sure it can be overdone and used inappropriately.

The common sense that you would apply to pretty much every other situation should cover it. When beginning a long toss program, plan to gradually and systematically build the intensity and number of efforts. You can't just add stress indefinitely. With pitching, even in the best case scenario, micro-trauma occurs throughout the entire upper extremity. The risk of injury certainly goes up if pitchers simply add any type of maximal effort throwing.

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Do share your opinion on long toss!

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