Posts Tagged ‘shoulder injuries’

Dylan Bundy warming up with long toss

Dylan Bundy, long toss enthusiast

Baseball is a funny sport. Years ago, kids played baseball every day. No pitch count, no innings limit, just trying to throw the ball past the other boys in the neighborhood. Arm injuries were fairly uncommon, especially when compared to today’s standards. Tommy John comes along and returns to pitch in the big leagues after having a major arm surgery. The surgery becomes more common, and so a rehab protocol is put together. In this protocol, it is suggested that the player progresses back to 120 feet to conclude his rehab. The protocol does not state that the player should stop there or never throw a ball over 120 ft again, it’s just simply the end of the rehab.

And this is how the “120 ft rule” was born.

Someone thought it made sense that if an injured pitcher coming off a major surgery shouldn’t throw over 120 ft within 8 months of surgery, then by golly no one should.

The other major thought behind this rule is your mechanics start to change to put arc on the ball after 120 ft. I agree with this. Mechanics are slightly altered and the release point changes as a player begins to extend the distance. If you want to keep the same mechanics and release point that you have when you pitch, you should only throw off a mound to a squatting catcher. Throwing on flat ground at any distance will alter your mechanics when compared to the mechanics of pitching off a mound. But throwing from a mound increases the torque on your shoulder. Quite the conundrum.

Angles of flat ground vs mound

Angles of flat ground vs mound

Theoretically, I don’t mind the 120 ft rule. If a player could properly warm up his arm and throw each throw as hard as he could, properly using his entire body and not just his arm, I would be in favor of it. In fact, I wouldn’t see the need to go back to even 120 ft.

Realistically, that can’t/won’t happen. That distance isn’t sufficient to warm up an advanced high school or college arm, so chance of injury will increase if you really try to let a few go at 100%. Also, it’s human nature to do as little as possible to accomplish any goal. If the goal is to throw the ball 120 ft, it is difficult to use the entire body as much as you should, leaving the shoulder to make up the difference.

Finally, it is much easier to get feedback as the distance increases. If you ease up on a throw, the ball falls 10 ft short. If you get beside the ball, it moves more and doesn’t carry as well. It teaches the player, especially younger athletes, how to sync their entire body during a max effort throw and get the most out of their legs, hips, back, etc.

Two other reasons I am a huge fan of long toss:

1. It provides a longer arc for the arm to decelerate. If you have read any of my other articles on pitching, you know I am a huge proponent of training the body to decelerate. Long toss provides a longer arc for the thrower to slow down his arm, and encourages the rest of the body to help with it as well so it’s not just the shoulder and elbow bearing all of the distraction force. Fleisig and colleagues (1996) state, “The kinetic chain helps to reduce stress placed on the throwing arm by transferring most of the weight and momentum of the body to the lead leg.”

2. It encourages the rest of the body to help the shoulder and elbow bear the distraction forces (the force put on the arm after you let go of the ball, the arm pulling away from the body). Most shoulder injuries occur as the “rotator cuff muscles try to resist distraction, horizontal adduction and internal rotation at the shoulder during arm deceleration” and later recommends “exercises emphasizing eccentric contractions should therefore be performed with appropriate range of motions and speeds of movement. The best exercise for throwing is some form of throwing” (Fleisig, et. al. 1996).

Trevor Bauer warming up

Trevor Bauer warming up

I would never say that one training protocol is perfect for everyone. I’m sure you can find many successful major league pitchers, such as John Smoltz, that never long tossed and still does not believe in it.

However, I do believe that for the reasons listed above long toss can be a very important tool to utilize for the majority of baseball players, both pitchers and position players, when trying to improve arm speed.

Just like everything else, long toss is just a piece of the puzzle. It is important to continue to work on pitching mechanics on a mound and have a baseball specific strength and conditioning program in place. There should be a throwing program, much like a weight lifting program, that is designed to prime YOUR body for the season.

Like weighted balls, or throwing in general, there is both risk and reward with long toss. Consult a knowledgeable professional before you begin any throwing program to make sure it is right for you.

Reference

Fleisig, G. S., Barrentine, S. W., Escamilla, R.F., Andrews, J.R. (1996): Biomechanics of overhand                      throwing with implications for injuries. Sports Medicine, 21(6), 421-437.