Why and How We Incorporate Long Toss in Our Programs

long toss program

Long-toss is a concept that we see many athletes under-utilize, misinterpret, or perform improperly. We use our long-toss program in a variety of ways to help our athletes maintain proper throwing volume and intensity depending on where they are during the season or their throwing program.  But generally, it is our belief that long-toss should be a staple in every pitcher’s routine, specifically to increase intensity in the throw and get the arm and tissue used to the stress of throwing (otherwise known as Davis’ Law).

Today, we’re going to review several topics related to long-toss, including:

    • Incorporating Long-Toss into Throwing Programs
    • Extension vs. Compression Throws
    • Indoor Long Toss
    • Incorporating Drills into Long-Toss

Incorporating Long Toss into Throwing Programs

We incorporate long-toss into all of our throwing programs, each with their own intensities (but always with a 5 oz. ball).  When it comes to a long-toss program, we first determine your max distance, and for us it’s dictated by your max velo.  So, a pitcher with a max velo of 90 mph will have a different stretch-out (extension) distance than one who throws 85 mph.  Once you determine your max stretch-out distance, you can then adjust that for different types of throwing days and intensities.

Let’s discuss how long toss is incorporated into different phases of our throwing programs:

    • On-Ramp
    • Velocity Phase
    • Bullpen Phase
    • In-season Phase

Long-Toss During the On-Ramp – During an on-ramp phase, we utilize long-toss to increase workload and volume. Using long-toss is crucial for prepping your arm for the upcoming velocity phase that will follow an on-ramp in most offseason programs. Here is an example of a typical long-toss program during the ramp-up:

    • Pitcher max velocity: 90 mph
    • Pitcher max distance: 330 feet
    • Long-toss intensity for on-ramping: 80% of max distance or 265 feet
    • Increments: 10-12 (depending on distance)
    • Long-toss notes:
      • Extension and brief cool-down only (no compression)
      • 10-15 minutes to completion
      • Get air underneath extension throws
      • Use cool-down to work off-speed
      • Throw more change-ups  during extension for pitch development

long toss program

The number of weekly sessions of long-toss will increase as the on-ramp progresses. For example, in week one of the on-ramp, there is only one long-toss session (extension only). In the second week, there are two long-toss sessions (extension-only). The amount of long-toss sessions increases up until the velocity phase.

It is important that the athlete is incorporating any drill work that we program for them into their long-toss sessions. During the on-ramp we are also trying to adjust any mechanical issues that we know are present. Performing drills during long-toss encourages learning newer movement patterns that they are trying to adapt to into a higher volume  session.

Long-Toss During the Velocity Phase – During the velocity phase, we program higher intent days during the beginning and end of a week. We generally use a maintenance 1 (long-toss, extension only) or maintenance 2 day (long-toss, extension and compression throws) in the middle of the week. The maintenance day allows the athlete to still maintain a high workload of throwing without getting off the mound. Because the intensity of the velocity phase remains constant at the beginning and end of the week, the long-toss day acts as a buffer in between those days where the athlete is not throwing at max intent.  The RPE of his throws should still be at a high percentage but there is no compression throws as in maintenance 2 due to the high RPE of the high intent days.

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Long-Toss During the Bullpen Phase – We have our pitchers long-toss prior to bullpens. The intensity of the long-toss is dictated by the type of bullpen that they are going to throw. A touch-and-feel bullpen requires a different intent level than a Rapsodo pitch design bullpen. The main focus of the day is the bullpen, and we use long-toss as a way to have them fully prepped for the type of day that they are about to do.

This bullpen phase is similar to starting a game during their season. Pitchers can prep with a long-toss prior to a start, to ensure that their arm is fully loose before their game. This prep will include both compression and extension throws.  Here is an example of a typical long-toss program prior to a bullpen session or game day:

    • Pitcher max velocity: 90 mph
    • Pitcher max distance: 330 feet
    • Long-toss intensity for on-ramping: 70% of max distance or 235 feet
    • Extension increments: 10-12 (depending on distance)
    • Compression increments: 7-8
    • Long-toss notes:
      • Main focus of the day is your bullpen
      • Use long toss and pull down phases to warm up for mound work
      • 10-15 minutes to completion
      • Get air underneath extension throws
      • Throw more change-ups  during extension for pitch development
      • Approximately 40 total throws

Long-Toss for In-Season Maintenance – During the season, most starting pitchers at the high school or collegiate level will only have one start a week. If that is the case, we can schedule long-toss whenever the athlete has recovered from their start. Depending on how the athlete recovers, long-toss can be scheduled for the day after a start or two days after a start. This long-toss day is strictly based on how the athlete’s arm feels following their start. We encourage our pitchers to listen to their arms and monitor distance and intensity strictly based off how they are feeling throughout the week.

Extension vs Compression Throws

Extension throws are when you and your partner are increasing the distance between you and you’re throwing on an arc (yellow line). Compression throws are used when the partner has reached their final distance and they begin to walk in toward each other (red line).

Long Toss program

During extension throws, each throw made should be thrown with an arc. Getting some air under each throw decreases the amount of stress applied to the arm, thus allowing for a high distance throw without as much stress associated within the throw.

A study done by Dan Kopitzke of K-Zone Academy showed that when long-toss was performed with a MOTUS sleeve, and performed with extension throws, the amount of stress on the throwing arm was drastically decreased as opposed to compression throws. This is why we only program long-toss extension throws during on-ramp phases, to limit the amount of stress that we have on our pitchers’ arms.

Towards the end of a ramp-up phase, as the athlete is prepping for more high intent throws (pulldowns or mound work), we begin to program more compression throws to allow for the arm to handle more stress during higher intent sessions.  Compression throws are considered high-output throwing and they can be used to get the arm back on a straight / downhill plane again after throwing on an arc during extension.

Indoor Long Toss

As a facility located in the Northeast, there are multiple times throughout a year when long-tossing is not doable outside. Instead of putting on multiple layers and throwing in the snow, we have our pitchers simulate long-toss indoors. Although it is difficult to simulate the distance of your extension throws into a net, we have some parameters that we can follow.

    • Mark out different locations on the net that you are throwing into and monitor the volume of throws into that location.
    • We have 60, 90, 120, 150, and 180 feet marked on the net that we throw into just to give our pitchers a visual on where the throw should be made. It’s not perfect but it’ll do when it’s 25 degrees outside and snowing.
    • It’s important that pitchers do not exceed a longer distance prior to making throws at the lower distances. For example, it would not make sense for a pitcher to have his first 5 initial long-toss throws at 180 feet if he did not work his way up to that distance.

Incorporating Drills into Long Toss Programs

Pitchers can incorporate any throwing drills that they frequently use into a long-toss.

    • The point of including drill work into long-toss is to continually pattern the part of the mechanics that we want adjusted into a more comprehensive throwing pattern
    • Most athletes will just perform their throwing drills into a wall or a target, so they do not truly get the feel of performing these drills with an extensive throwing session at an increased distance. Our recommendation is to start with the drills that are stationary and don’t require much movement with the lower half at closer distances. From there, progress to drills with more activation of the lower half when increasing distance. A longer throw requires more muscle recruitment of the lower half to reduce the amount of stress on the throwing arm. We can also use the heavier weighted balls at closer distances.

Here is a sequence that we recommend:

    • Marshalls at 45 feet with a 11oz ball
    • Walking Torques at 60 feet with a 9 oz ball
    • Step Backs at 90 feet with a regular baseball
    • Step Behind at 120 feet with a regular baseball
    • Progress to normal extension throws past that point

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