Thrive on Throwing
Throwing is a lost art. Throwing isn’t something that we should do “just” to get our arms loose. Throwing should be done to maximize that skill, to develop it like any other skill to be a strength rather than a potential career threatening weakness.
There isn’t any reason why a player should have a chronically sore, weak, or injury prone arm. If the arm would get the same kind of attention that our hitting, defense or pitching gets than it too would have a chance to thrive on a daily basis. Unfortunately, most baseball players neglect their arms or take them for granted.
The reality of it is that a baseball player needs to have a strong, well conditioned and healthy arm to play baseball. Period. There is no substitution. Baseball players can simply not afford to allow their arm to be a liability it must be an asset. In case you forgot, you can’t play baseball if you can’t throw a baseball. For example, how many players do you know that are drafted as Designated Hitters? How many pitchers do you know that are drafted out of a rehab facility?
Well I have news for you your arm is your life line if you are a baseball player no matter what position you play. If you question this at all then why do you think that scouts have an entire section on their player information cards devoted to arm strength, accuracy, mechanics etc It’s because it is an integral part of your package as a player. It can be the deciding factor as to whether your arm allows you to move on to the next level (by maintaining its skill level relative to your other skills).
On the other hand wouldn’t it be nice to show up to the field every day and appreciate your arm , I mean really love to throw, love taking a pre-game infield/outfield everyday, love putting your arm on display, love throwing the ball with authority through (not to) the cutoff man’s target, from deep in the hole, when turning the double play, from behind the plate??? Wouldn’t it be nice if the arm thrived on throwing everyday?
The arm is a skill and like any other skill it just needs committed attention. However, as long as we neglect this area of the game we are going to be limited as players. What could easily become an asset in this wonderful game can ultimately become a liability and limit your baseball career.
Though we haven’t grown accustomed to putting this much emphasis on throwing you now have been given an opportunity to make a difference. Your arm can either complete you as a player or something that you try to hide.
The following arm strength and conditioning program is designed to build a strong base or foundation in the off-season (Fall/Winter), and to establish a maintenance program in season (Spring) through arm circles, surgical tubing, mechanics and a committed long toss throwing program.
Note: The amount, timing and pace will vary from player to player.
When: In vs Out of Season
The most important time to establish a throwing program is “out” of season. There are several reasons why, so let’s examine these first:
- When a player is “out of season” there is an extended period of time that can be devoted to throwing only for the purpose of conditioning (i.e. building arm health, strength and endurance). Through the conditioning phase, pitchers can establish a much needed base that can be “drawn on” throughout the season. Likewise, throwing can be easily regulated and monitored when there aren’t the demands of game situations or consistent throwing on sore, tired or depleted arms (especially for pitchers in bull-pens and game situations). This freedom allows players to throw on a daily basis according to the needs of their arm. Finally, it is an optimal time to work on a players mechanics because the freedom from game situations provides an extended period of time to change potentially unhealthy and limiting mechanics.
- When a pitcher is “in” season, bull-pens and game situations put a tremendous amount of wear and tear on the arm , which creates a great deal of swelling, slows down recovery period time and virtually eliminates optimal time to throw distance and sustain strength and endurance. This is even more magnified for pitchers who don’t have a base from the off-season.
Comment: Because few players actually know how or when to long toss in the off-season, few players have the ability to sustain their velocity and endurance throughout the season. Then the domino theory goes into effect. The arm has to throw a bull-pen on a sore or tired arm sooner than it wants to. It goes into the next game situation without the needed recovery period. And soreness creates soreness. Tiredness creates tiredness. Aches creates aches. Irritation creates irritation. All of a sudden a player finds himself extremely vulnerable to an arm injury. And the last thing on his mind is to throw distance (throw at all) between bull-pens or game situations. This is a common cycle that can go on all season for arms that are not properly conditioned in the off season (that lack a base from which to work from). The arm is in a degenerating cycle that makes it much more prone to a serious injury.
Building a Base
It is just this simple , if you want to have a strong and healthy arm that sustains itself throughout the season, then you have to establish a strong foundation in the off-season. When a player spends a minimum of four to six weeks developing his base, this base will begin to deepen and fortify through the Winter months and sustain itself through the demands of the season. Because his arm has been stretched out and his stamina built up over a period of time he can go into the season with a base that will greatly reduce recovery period time (swelling/tightness) and allow him to actually thrive on throwing distance (conditioning) between bull-pens/game situations. Aches, pains, swelling and irritation are virtually eliminated and so are the vulnerability to arm injuries. In fact, the majority of position players and pitchers that I work with feel as strong at the end of the season as they do at the beginning of the season.
Getting Started: Arm Preparation
There are two exercises that must always supercede picking up baseball: 1) Arm Circles and 2) Surgical Tubing exercises
A set of arm circles is the first exercise that is done to warm up the smaller muscles in the shoulder so that the subsequent surgical tubing exercises (i.e. Jobe exercises) can be maximized. Arm Circles will also build up flexibility, balance, strength and stamina in the rotator cuff muscle group (supraspinatus, infraspinatus, teres minor, subscapularis) independent of the surgical tubing exercises.
- Warms and oxygenates the shoulder (like any other muscle)
- Provides good flexibility and range of motion n Strengthens the smaller, weaker rotator cuff muscles by isolating them (the most vulnerable part of the shoulder)
- Provides muscle balance
- Creates endurance
- Promotes endurance and better recovery period
- Prepares arm for surgical tubing exercises
Surgical tubing exercises are an important part of setting the tone for long tossing. The surgical tubing exercises are designed to isolate specific muscles in the rotator cuff so that they can be stretch and strengthened. Because certain muscles in the back of your shoulder (deceleraters) are most vulnerable to breaking down, these exercises are designed to balance the rotator cuff muscle group. As a compliment to the arm circles, the surgical tubing exercises will provide you with a deeper, more efficient stretch that may not be attainable by physical methods.
These same exercises that are used to rehabilitate arms can be used to “develop” and prepare the arm before you throw. These exercises were made popular by the renowned orthopedist Dr. Frank Jobe.
- Surgical tubing exercises provides an even deeper, more isolated workout for the rotator cuff muscles (which are most vulnerable to breaking down)
- Strengthens the shoulder from “inside out”
- Maximizes elasticity, flexibility and range of motion
- Provides rotator cuff muscle balance, strength and endurance n Promotes recovery period in the short term (game to game) and long term (season)
- As a compliment to the arm circles, the surgical tubing exercises will provide you with a deeper, more efficient stretch that may not be attainable by physical methods
- Surgical tubing exercises are an important part of setting the tone for long tossing
Now that we’ve put the arm in an ideal space to throw, we need to make sure that our mechanics are going to further support, rather than inhibit the arm for our throwing program.
Though some players may be resistant to changing mechanics all players must learn that some mechanical adjustments may be essential to avoiding injuries and providing long term health. Without sound and consistent throwing mechanics a player can significantly limit the amount of strength, endurance and accuracy that can otherwise be greatly improved. (Note: throwing mechanics may be slightly different for position players rather than pitchers when long tossing).
- Maximizes arm health, efficiency (injury prevention)
- Provides support for the shoulder/elbow
- Creates consistency (accuracy)
- Arm should be loose and relaxed
Station 4 – Long Toss
The first key to conditioning your arm is learning how to build your base at the right pace. Because it will take you four to six weeks to establish a solid base (possibly twice that long if you’ve never been on a long toss program) you must learn how to “listen” to your arm. One of the most important things you can do as a player is know your arm. Long tossing will give you this opportunity because you have to follow the pace of your arm, rather than throw just for the sake of throwing.
For example, I will often give players three major check points:
- let the arm stretch itself out with loose arm action
- allow your arm to throw as far as it wants to throw provided that it “feels good”, like a massage
- be aware of keeping sound mechanics (for consistency and arm support).
For someone who is new to long toss it might take a couple of weeks at a relatively short distance (100-150 feet) to stretch and lengthen the arm, to where it feels good , before moving on to the more pivotal extension and strengthening phase.
As you learn how to throw through a stretch without extra effort you will notice that the arm has a chance to “open up” or “air out” without unnecessary strain or pressure. It is at this point that the arm can breathe, the muscles lengthen. The arm will thrive on throwing often at this pace. Because the arm is just stretching out there is little or no swelling from day to day. In effect, recovery period is virtually eliminated and the arm yearns for daily throwing.
This is critical because the arm wants to “stretch out” daily (can you imagine how good your hamstrings would feel if you stretched them out daily?). The problem has been that most players don’t know what the sensation of throwing daily (correctly/healthfully) is like because their arms are typically not in good condition, their arms are sore, irritable and tight from years of improper throwing.
Note: though the goal (out of season) is to throw on a daily basis it is typical that the arm will need to be rested periodically until a base is firmly established.
- Stretching Out: The goal here is to stretch or “massage” the arm as you move further away from your throwing partner. It is not based on the amount of throws you make or “timed throwing”. It is simply based on listening to your arm and stretching it out at its own pace like any other muscle.
- Be sure to stretch the arm out in a manner that promotes loose arm action and mechanical consistency.
A Word On Distance
As the arm begins to develop endurance it will not only want to throw more often but it will want to throw more distance. The stretching phase of throwing will commonly go from, per se, 150 feet to 250 feet in a few weeks time. Again, everyone is different and some players may take several weeks to stretch out to 250 feet or more. Either way, the length and distance will come in time as long as smart and consistent throwing is maintained. Also, it should be noted that when a player goes beyond 150 feet, he should use his legs to “crow hop”. This will help take pressure off the arm.
The stretching out phase of the long toss is critical for a number of reasons:
- stretching helps to heat and open up the arm properly
- with distance comes extension and length of the muscles
- arm speed can be better generated as a result of a looser arm
- the extra distance that has been created allows the arm to optimize the pull-down and strengthening phase.
II. Pull Down Phase
Where stretching out the arm creates warmth, length and extension, the pull down phase helps to generate arm speed, arm strength, lower release point and acceleration or “finish” through the release point.
Because the muscles have been lengthened, the arm loosened, there is more space and freedom for the arm to generate a quicker response. As the arm opens up there is more “freedom” in the arm to maximize a natural whip. In effect, pulling down is not a grinding action because the arm has length in it. The pulling down phase becomes an acceleration through a stretch.
Arm strength becomes a by-product of pulling down because the additional distance provides the arm with an opportunity to generate more arm speed on longer, looser and well conditioned muscles.
The amount of throws during the pull down phase will vary but a rule of thumb is to come in 10 feet at a time with each throw. That equates to about 19 throws from 250 feet. Once you get to about 60 or 70 feet, you are free to pull down as long as the arm “welcomes” the sensation. For some players this may last for several minutes after the base has been established. Naturally, you can take a few minutes to warm down once you are satisfied with the amount of pull downs.
After peaking out through your stretch, you will come back toward your throwing partner in a very methodical manner. This is to maximize the length that you have created in your arm (that will eventually lead to arm speed). As you come in you will notice that it will take a great deal of concentration to pull through your stretch without decelerating your arm. If you decelerate or ease up on your throw you will have missed an opportunity to increase your arm speed and enhance arm strength.
In order to pull down correctly you must learn to accelerate through your release point by taking your maximum effort throw (i.e. 300 feet) into each throw on the way back in toward your throwing partner. For example, each throw on the way in is still a “300 foot throw”, the difference is that the length of your throw is happening at a shorter and shorter distance. Though you will be throwing the ball a lot harder, if done correctly, you will be throwing through a stretch without any additional effort. For this to happen correctly you must stay relaxed over your balance point, have great downward extension through your release point and stay mechanically sound or you will launch the ball over your partners head.
- Your body language should be loose and relaxed
- Be aware of your direction and your mechanics
- Keep your back hip over your back heel (balance) as long as possible (avoid gaining ground)
- After your last peak throw come in approximately 10-15 feet per each throw
- Each pull down should have the same distance as your peak throw , a 120 foot throw should have the same “distance” as a 300 foot throw.
- Always finish through your release point and miss “lower” than “higher” when pulling down
- Your focal point should get lower or closer as you get closer to your throwing partner
- Work on finishing through your partners opposite knee without “flying open”
- Remember that each throw can “gravitate” or “deviate” your mechanics, release point and muscle memory At 60-80 feet take as many throws as you need to complete your work-out. Chances are that your arm will want to throw a great deal even at 60-80 feet because your arm will have a great deal of stamina once it gets accustomed to throwing through a stretch (even though you are pulling down through you throw). Warm down at your own pace and/or work on mechanics
A Final Word On Long Toss
Long toss is a systematic throwing routine that is designed to provide the arm with maximum health, strength, endurance, accuracy and recovery period.
The key to a good throwing program is learning how to listen or “follow” your arm. Because your arm will eventually want to throw with more regularity you must learn how to build a base from which to work from.
Station 6 Post Throwing Conditioning
Conditioning is based predominately on arm care. If your throwing program completes your throwing for the day you should plan on running immediately after your last throw. If you plan on throwing a bull-pen or taking a pre-game than naturally it is not necessary to do your running until you are finished for the day. A light set of post-throwing arm circles and surgical tubing exercises (especially external rotation) may also be done. Running, arm circles and tubing exercises minimize swelling, promote better circulation and significantly improve recovery period.
(As seen on front page of Collegiate Baseball Magazine May, 1999)
Long Toss Programs Needed
“I’ll start playing long toss in January. If I can throw it 200 feet, I try to throw it 300 feet. I don’t stop at 120 feet, I throw it as far as I can” – Greg Maddux, Pitcher, Atlanta Braves
Kerry Wood, Matt Morris, Kerry Lightenberg, Alan Benes, Paul Wilson (twice), Jason Dickson, Jeremi Gonzales, Jason Isringhausen, Bill Pulsipher, Ben McDonald, Jeff D’Amico, Jason Bere, Mike Grace, Jeff Wallace, Mike James, Roger Salked , a who’s who of extremely promising pitchers struck down by a major arm injury — and that’s just the beginning.
Coincidence? I don’t think so.
For every famous case, ala Kerry Wood, there are those lesser known examples where arms are breaking down before they have the opportunity to reach the Big Leagues… to sign a professional contract… to step foot on a college campus… to finish their high school careers.
In your home towns, you will find the Dan Oppermans and Darren Kerkreits of the world. First round draft picks that you may never hear of. The Drew Pearces (Cal Berkeley) and John Phillips (UCLA) — promising college pitchers that never got the chance to play pro ball. The Joel Zamudios (Monroe High) and Justin Dunns (St. Francis High), high school pitchers who can only hope that their careers can be preserved.
“Last year (1998), three pitchers from my team all had major arm surgery (two “Tommy Johns”, one major shoulder reconstruction) on the same day ” – Anonymous Member of a Division I power
The numbers are mounting and the Dr. Frank Jobes, Dr. Lewis Yocums and Dr. James Andrews of the world are getting busier. As a baseball community, it’s time to WAKE UP. There’s a serious flaw in our system, a weak link in our development of baseball players’ arms, and it’s undermining their futures.
“Without the opportunity to long toss the arm isn’t able to gain the strength, length, and endurance it needs. Your arm will eventually reject you” – Seth Etherton, 1st Round Draft Choice, Anaheim Angels
There are many reasons a pitcher’s (baseball player’s) arm breaks down , why a ligament in the elbow detaches, all or part of the rotator cuff tears, or the shoulder needs to be reconstructed.
These could be the result of poor mechanics, a lack of monitoring [a relief pitcher at a Division 1 program told me that he threw in 14 consecutive games. Later that year he had Tommy John surgery], throwing with pain on a vulnerable arm, throwing too many pitches in one particular outing, throwing too many breaking balls, not enough recovery period time between games, or throwing curves in Little League.
The good news is that most of these problems are obvious and can be corrected.
What really alarms me is a seemingly growing trend that is not so obvious, and perhaps, even more responsible for a deteriorating arm and a career threatening arm injury. And it comes in an era when our levels of instruction and technology are at a all time high. This growing trend is what I refer to as “short toss” (as opposed to “long toss”) , a throwing regimen where players are advised not to throw beyond 120 feet.
The 120 foot phenomenon
“You do not clone pitchers. If an individual chooses to long toss, that’s fine. You don’t give him a distance. Why there’s a limit on 120 feet I do not know” – Leo Mazzone, Pitching Coach, Atlanta Braves
When I think in terms of a baseball players’ arm being deprived of throwing beyond 120 feet, I immediately feel a tight, tense, short and rigid sensation from my shoulder to the tips of my finger, the opposite kind of qualities I would use to describe a healthy arm – a healthy muscle.
When I think of a healthy arm I think of such characteristics as stretch, loose, length, strength and endurance. Qualities that are hard to attain when we’re shortening, rather than, lengthening our arms.
I’m not sure who started it or where it came from but it seems that in recent years this 120 foot theory has taken root at every stage of the development of baseball players. It seems to have become the rule rather than the exception.
“Actually, I realize that throwing 300 feet isn’t such a bad idea…in fact I used to do it myself , but the manual says to stay at 120 feet, so you must stick by it” – Head of player development for a Major League Organization to his first round pick after player pleaded with him to do a long toss program in the off-season.
The idea originally, behind the “short toss” was that if you keep a player at 120 feet, he’ll throw the ball on a line. This theoretically will serve two purposes:
- the player will be able to keep his shoulders level (avoid “dipping”)
- the release point will stay in similar place because there is minimal change in the arc of the ball.
Some even suggest that this “short toss” will save the players’ arms by reducing the amount of throws they make.
You make a living throwing a baseball so we encourage them to throw as often as possible – Leo Mazzone, Pitching Coach, Atlanta Braves
Mechanical reasons aside, there are two other major contributing factors to the evolution of the 120 foot throw: 1) timed throwing and 2) the influence of Major League Organizations.
- Timed throwing occurs because coaches are often pressed for practice time and pitchers have to be at a certain station by a specific time. But may I ask how, do you time throwing? After all, isn’t the amount of time that you need to throw a personal thing? Should your arm become a casualty because the bell rings or you need to go out and shag?
- Off-season training programs given out by certain Major League Organizations have contributed to the short toss phenomenon by specifically stating not to throw beyond 120 feet in the off-season (which then tends to carry over into Spring Training). They do this in order to insure that pitchers have a structured throwing program in January/February and that they come to camp under the same homogenous throwing program. But how can one regimen be good for all players? Players are unique, players have different needs – many need a lot of time or a lot of distance to get properly conditioned.The reality is that not throwing beyond 120 feet just so you can keep the ball on a line prevents the arm from getting stretched out, loosened up, and opened up to it’s potential. It deprives the arm and muscles of much needed length, extension and stimulation. It inhibits the growth of the arm by placing boundaries and limits on the arm. And for what reason? Because coaches value keeping the ball on the line. Because coaches have a packed practice plan and Major League Organizations have to keep everyone at a “secure” distance. But what could possibly be more important than the health and longevity of a pitcher’s arm?
The arguments against long tossing are that the back shoulder dips a little and the release point is slightly altered. Before we go any further, let’s take a look at these two misconceptions.
Pulling Down: Reinforcing A Lower Release Point
The pull down phase of the “long toss” has actually solidified my release point on all three of my pitches, especially my curve ball – Barry Zito – All American Pitcher, USC
When a player throws beyond 120 feet, granted, there does comes a point where his front shoulder must lift slightly and the release point is slightly altered. This must be done in order to get the much desired stretch and distance that the arm needs to build length, strength, endurance and health. It is unavoidable. But the irony is that the same slight adjustments that are created by the lifting of the front shoulder and the altering of the release point are actually regained and reinforced at a lower release point as the player works his way back in from the desired distance (pull down phase).
This is because when you begin to take a 250-300 foot throw into 150, 120, 90 and eventually 60 feet, the release point must get lower. This occurs because the pitcher must learn not to decelerate the arm as he gets closer and closer to his partner. In other words, he must take the arm action of his maximum throw that day (i.e. 250 feet) and “pull it down” into 60 feet.
A 300 foot throw at 60 feet (without decelerating the arm) will force pitchers to finish through their release point on a downward plane without trying to throw hard. Concentration skills are developed because the pitcher must learn to pick a very low focal point to pull down through (i.e. his partner’s shoe), otherwise the ball will end up going a long way over his partner’s head. There is no way around it.
A number of additional benefits take place when a 300 foot throw is correctly compressed into a 60 foot throw 1) The arm can generate natural arm speed and strength because the arm is throwing through a stretch, 2) The player must learn how to lower, and ultimately accelerate through his release point, 3) The mind must learn how to concentrate and finish through a specific focal point (accuracy), and 4) The looseness and power of an arm that’s been properly stretched out into a shorter throw (60 feet) takes sound mechanics, balance, rhythm and concentration. Further reinforcement for a pitcher in a game situation.
I think long toss is a great way to build your arm up – to get in shape to throw off the mound – Greg Maddux, Pitcher, Atlanta Braves
So the pull down phase actually helps to reinforce a lot of the same principles that are critical for a pitcher on the mound: loose arm action, maximizing arm speed and strength through a properly stretched out arm, acceleration (finish) through a lower release point, maintaining concentration, balance and composure. A far cry from the criticisms of those who discount throwing distance.
The trade-off is simple. Promote health, length, strength, acceleration, and endurance by long tossing. Promote a shorter arm, tighter muscles, minimal endurance and vulnerability to arm injuries by throwing short distances.
Realizing your potential
Put a four foot snake in a five foot cage and its expansion is limited. Put that same snake in a twenty-five foot cage and an opportunity of growth presents itself.
My experience from working with pitchers is that if they can throw in the low to mid 80’s they can easily build up to throwing a baseball 250 feet. If they throw from the mid to high 80’s, they can build up to 250 to 300 feet. Pitchers who throw in the high 80’s to low 90’s should be able to build up to 300 feet without any problem. If we use 300 feet as a model for the potential distance a college or professional pitcher can throw, than a 120 foot throw equates to 40 % of a that pitcher’s potential distance.
That means his arm is only stretching to 40% of its capability. Now forgive me if I’m having a hard time with this, but how can it make any sense to suppress the arm’s need to expand? I mean, why do we stretch before we play any sport? Isn’t it to enhance our performance; to give us agility and flexibility; to avoid injury? So then why is it okay to stretch our arm to only 40% of it’s need. Would a sprinter only stretch 40% of his hamstrings before running a 100 meter race? Would a hockey goalie stretch only 40% of his groin before a game? Would a golfer enter a long drive contest after stretching just 40% of his back?
If you don’t stretch your arm out, you are more susceptible to an injury. I know that from experience – Rudy Seanez, Pitcher, Atlanta Braves
The point is that a pitcher who throws a baseball 80 to 100 miles an hour without properly stretching his arm puts himself in jeopardy. It may not be obvious because 120 feet is just far enough to feel like a stretch, but it is not a real stretch. It is not the kind of stretch that the arm truly needs to open up, lengthen out and establish a base.
Organizations, Coaches etc discourage pitchers from throwing or put so many limitations on them as to what they can do because they feel that they will get blamed if there is a breakdown – Leo Mazzone, Pitching Coach, Atlanta Braves
Can you tell I’m frustrated? Wouldn’t you be if you put a pitcher into a training program to stretch, strengthen and condition his arm, only to watch his arm regress because he’s been put in a throwing program that does not allow him to exceed 120 feet. Or worse, to watch him spend a year and a half rehabilitating his arm after a major arm surgery because he wasn’t given the proper time or distance that is necessary to keep his arm healthy. I haven’t seen the throwing program at every High School, Junior College and four year College. I haven’t seen every Major League’s Off Season throwing manual. But I have seen enough and heard enough over the past several years to be alarmed. If we don’t make an adjustment soon, we are going to continue to see this growing trend of major arm injuries. In other words, shattered dreams and broken hearts.
Long Toss is a very important part of conditioning and training for everyone – Dr. Lewis Yocum, Kerlan-Jobe Orthopedic Clinic
For those coaches who subscribe to distance throwing, to some form of long toss, I can only say that you are doing your best to insure that your players are optimizing their arms – and staying healthy. For those of you who have subscribed to the theory of the 120 foot toss or timed throwing I hope that you will take this article to heart and reevaluate your throwing program.
We are, after all, all dedicated to the same thing – the well being and success of our players.
Note — I would sincerely like to thank the Atlanta Braves Pitching Coach Leo Mazzone and Pitching Staff and all of those players who have contributed to this article and this cause.
Alan Jaeger is the founder of the Jaeger Baseball Academy in Los Angeles, CA and has worked with several High School and College players, including All Americans Seth Etherton (USC), Barry Zito (USC), and David Walling (Arkansas), and over 60 professional players including Major Leaguers Rudy Seanez, Steve Reed, John Snyder, Mike Lieberthal and Ken Caminiti. For more information about Alan’s long toss program or baseball academy, contact us at 310 665 0746 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Source: Jaeger Sports
Published: May 2017
By: Alan Jaeger