Kids today pitch too much and throw too little. This is one point upon which Tom House and Alan Jaeger, two of the most respected pitching coaches in baseball, wholeheartedly agree. Think about it. In decades past, boys and girls were outside until the streetlights came on, playing catch or wall ball or pickle, tossing a football or frisbee, skipping rocks across a lake or seashells on the ocean, generally throwing something at something else. Now, most throwing is organized, and if you’re a young pitcher, it’s predominantly done off of a mound.
This, House explains, overworks the decelerator muscles on the back of the arm. “We're a species that learned to throw things on flat ground, and doing that is the safest way to make sure you have parity in the accelerators and the decelerators in your arm.” The solution? Long toss.
But, how long toss is defined is up in the air, and really, up to the athlete. Max distance can be anywhere from 120 to 400 feet, throws can be on a line or with arc, and footwork can utilize a crow hop, a shuffle, a run-and-gun or a step-behind. The keys, House and Jaeger agree, are to be athletic, to experiment and find what works best for you, and to listen to your body and your arm, because they tell you different things from day to day.
Here, we discuss different popular ways to go about a long-toss routine, with input from both House and Jaeger, along with some professional pitchers. Read through it all, experiment, and decide what works best for you! And if you’d like more information, check out our extended conversation with House and Jaeger, which is available for free on Team Mustard's YouTube channel.
Throwing on an Arc Vs. Throwing on a Line
House believes that long toss should be done with mechanics that resemble those you use on the mound. This means throwing on a line, maintaining head position and arm angle, and keeping a firm front side. If you have to alter your mechanics to reach your target, you’re throwing too far. “I don’t want athletes to do anything other than GFF – go as fast as possible – and let the throw happen naturally,” House says. “If they have to change the way they throw, they're not in a position to learn or to have their arm adaptation take place efficiently. So, we say throw to a distance at which you can keep mechanical efficiency, or in other words, make a perfect throw.”
Jaeger believes that throwing on an arc to reach a long-toss target introduces variability that helps athletes tune into their innate athleticism, and says as much as 40 degrees of arc can be used. “We don’t mind if athletes are in positions that don’t look like what they look on the mound,” Jaeger says. “That means throwing the ball at different release points, at a different arc, at different angles, and moving in a way that is organic and intuitive for your body.” Jaeger finds that with many athletes, finding this freedom often helps them produce their best mechanics when they enter the pull-down phase, during which the throwing distance is gradually reduced while the athlete maintains their arm speed from their furthest distance.
How Far Should You Throw?
House believes that distance magnifies mistakes and exacerbates injury, and that long toss distance should only be as far as an athlete can throw with perfect mechanics. Once that distance is established, House recommends five sets of 15 throws at maximum intensity for an outside limit of 75 throws, and says it should be done in the offseason, during an endurance-building phase. “When you increase distance, you reach a point of diminishing returns,” House says. “You're not preparing yourself to have skill at throwing at 320 feet. You're preparing yourself to have skill at throwing 60 feet, six inches. So, is the extra distance and the extra launch angle worth the repetitions when the same thing can be accomplished more easily and efficiently at a shorter distance and lesser intensity? It’s a question of what is the most efficient way for the athlete to get the job done.”
Jaeger’s goal is to stretch athletes out as far as they can possibly throw, up to around 400 feet. He gives athletes no mechanical feedback at the start of this process, because he doesn’t want them to be tied to their mechanics, and doesn’t care if they miss their target at first. “I just want athletes to be free and athletic and we’ll see where the ball goes,” Jaeger says. “As athletes progressively build out to longer and longer distances, the magnification of mistakes actually becomes a huge benefit, because they are able to make micro adjustments, which tunes them more into their bodies and gets them into more of an intuitive state.” Jaeger says that as athletes throw with more and more arc to cover increasingly greater distances, they feel a visceral and positive effect in the core, pelvis and legs from moving the body in ways that are outside their normal mechanics. But if you don’t feel a positive effect, Jaeger encourages you to always listen to your arm.
Shuffling Vs. Step Behind Vs. Crow Hop Vs. Run-and-Gun
When it comes to generating momentum before a throw, House only cares that athletes GFF – go forward fast – to get their bodies moving. Whether the athlete chooses to do so with a shuffle, a step behind, a crow hop or a run-and-gun makes no difference to House. “When the whole body gets moving forward and the front foot hits, that weight transfer turns into energy translation, and that energy is going to travel up the body, into the arm and into the baseball,” House says. “The arm is just along for the ride. But if you don’t get moving forward as quickly as possible, you’ll recruit strength out of sequence, or have movement out of sequence, the energy is not going to be efficiently transferred from your body into the baseball.”
Jaeger prefers a crow hop to any other means of weight transfer, because he feels it most effectively loads the back side of the body and engages the glutes and hips so the arm is protected. He feels that shuffling allows energy to leak out of the system, putting the arm in jeopardy. He also feels the crow hop is most relatable to what athletes will do on the mound. “You’re not going to be able to shuffle to gather speed on the mound,” he says. “Rather, you’re going to load, get to a certain balance point, and then release the energy out in front.”
Mustard cofounder and CEO Rocky Collis pitched at Cornell and in the Seattle Mariners’ system, and trained with Jaeger while also reading House’s books. “When you shuffle, it can feel like you’re leaving your arm behind,” Collis says. “It feels that way for a lot of guys, and it was true for me.” But, House explains, as long as you are moving forward, your center of gravity is moving forward. When you feel your weight gather on your back leg, it’s typically the quad muscle in the upper thigh allowing the knee to bend, which stabilizes the body as weight is transferred and energy is translated.
Collis says he improved using both long toss programs at times, ultimately settling in with Jaeger’s program while in pro ball. He explains that Jaeger encourages athletes to step outside their normal mechanics to tap into their innate athleticism, while House wants athletes to build strength while hitting certain positions. But, both House and Jaeger believe feel is important, which is why all athletes must experiment to find out what works best for them.
What the Pros Say
Professional pitchers Clayton Kershaw and Lucas Giolito recently joined #TeamMSTRD In the Kitchen for live classes. Here’s what they had to say about long toss.
Clayton Kershaw, LHP, Los Angeles Dodgers
“I think long toss is awesome. During my junior year of high school, I went to the Area Code games and got incorporated with Alan Jaeger and the J Band routines and the long toss program. I saw immediate results with long toss. I think there's a lot of merit in throwing the ball as far as you can on a line. There's no better way to gain arm strength. And ultimately, when you screw back and you're throwing your four seam fastball as far as you can, it'll tell you if your ball is sailing or cutting. It’ll show you those inconsistencies. I do throw changeups to 90 or 100 feet, because I think it can really show some inconsistencies there as well, but I personally don’t do it with breaking balls.”
Lucas Giolito, RHP, Chicago White Sox
“I think long toss has been huge for building velocity. It helps you to know where your body is in space. When you crow hop and get your body moving, you really feel that extension, you feel the ball out in front, and that was a big thing for me. I still do it now, but not to the same extent because the season is long and you have to find ways to rest, but if I'm going to throw off a mound, I'm still going to throw it pretty far before I get off that mound. I’ll go out to 250 feet or so, from the foul line to the other side of the outfield. I progress back and then work my way back in. I really like the pull downs, because I'm a four seam guy, and I'm trying to ride that fastball to the top. With the pull down, I like being behind the baseball and spinning it and seeing it rise right through the target. Long toss just stretches everything out and gets the body moving, and then the pull downs really get you locked in, so when you get on the mound, it feels like you're 10 feet away from the catcher.”
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