I know you don't want to read this article because it looks long and complicated and you want to be lazy but if you can just man up and take the next 5 minutes to read this, it will change your understanding of pitching forever!
Don't kill the messenger. I know the title, "The Dangers & Alternatives to Max Distance Long Toss" is provocative but this is strictly for promotion purposes, I promise! Yes, I want everyone in the game of baseball to know the facts behind this approach to training the pitcher so I am promoting this information and I am not ashamed as some may believe but honored to do this for the baseball community. I am also promoting the 3X Pitching Velocity Program as an alternative to max distance long toss because it affords me the time to put together this kind of research for today's young pitcher and it works!
The reason everyone gets so emotional and worked up when you talk about max distance long toss is because the majority of people believe you are talking about throwing the ball farther than 60 feet. Max distance long toss is not from 61 feet and beyond. I am defining max distance long toss at 180 feet and beyond and this article will show you why this distance is important and why all pitchers need to understand this.
The Dangers of Max Distance Long Toss
The definition of danger is, "The possibility of suffering harm or injury: "his life was in danger". I am not saying that max distance long toss will injury or harm the pitcher but I am definitely saying this harm or injury is very possible. Yes, there is a danger when pitching at a high velocity as well and there is nothing we can do about it but is this added danger from max distance long toss necessary for the high velocity pitcher? This is what the young pitcher needs to know.
The infamous case study by the American Sports Medicine Institute (ASMI) called, Biomechanical Comparison of Baseball Pitching and Long-Toss: Implications for Training and Rehabilitation, which has been the source of the long toss debate for the past few years, has some eye opening data. The case study recorded the forces that max distance long toss applies to the elbow (1). The unit used to measure this force was Newtons as represented with the N. ASMI recorded the forces during elbow varus torque. Varus is defining the direction of the elbow when the elbow is moving inward like during internal rotation of the throwing arm. Torque is the rotational forces acting on the elbow. Elbow varus torque is an important measurement for the pitcher because studies show the ulnar collateral ligament of elbow joint will fail and possibly rupture when the forces acting on the UCL exceed 34-Nm (2).
Before we go deeper into this long toss study you need to understand how the elbow generates pitching velocity without ripping apart. Let's start with the initiation of the acceleration of the throwing arm. When the shoulders rotate to the target the throwing arm roles back like a catapult. This means it is externally rotating while the shoulders are opening. External rotation means to roll back and internal rotation means to roll forward.
To prevent the UCL from tearing apart during this external rotation, the pitcher starts to apply force in the opposite direction through internal rotation, while the arm continues to externally rotate. The pitcher must match the external rotation forces with the internal rotation forces to protect the elbow during this late cocking movement. This counteraction of forces compresses the elbow and stabilizes the joint to help protect the UCL. Studies show that 54% of the varus counter torque comes from the UCL.
This means an 83 mph fastball on average places 64-Nm of elbow varus torque. If you do the math and take 54% of 64 you get roughly 34-Nm. This is the amount of force that has shown to rupture the UCL. I am sure you are asking what about the pitchers who throw 100 mph. Well, they have found that other mechanics can reduce the forces, particularly, the amount of elbow flexion during this elbow varus torque. More flexion increased the forces on the elbow. So pitchers who throw at speeds higher than 83 mph must have better mechanics. Studies also show the musculature around the elbow plays a significant role in helping reduce the stress put on the UCL.
Here is the problem and here is the connection to the long toss debate. The ASMI long toss study, chart above, showed that elbow varus torque forces went from 92-Nm at 60 feet on a pitching mound to 100-Nm during max distances of around 262 feet. The elbow flexion went from 101 degrees at 60 feet on mound to 109 degrees at max distance. The throwing velocity also went from 83 mph at 60 feet on the pitching mound to 80 mph at the max distances of 262 feet. Elbow varus torque did not exceed the forces on the pitching mound until the distance reach 180 feet. This means the possible UCL contribution was 49-Nm at 60 feet to 54-Nm at 262 feet. Obviously this is way above the 35-Nm that ruptured the UCL in the previous case study. Instead of getting into the math, it is most important to understand that the forces were increasing with the distances but the velocity was not. Also elbow flexion was increasing with distance which means the UCL is handling more stress. The question we are left with after learning this information is, "is the dangerous elbow various torque, with the decrease in pitching velocity and elbow flexion during max distance throws, improving the pitcher and is it worth it?
The Alternative to Max Distance Long Toss
This is an important question and the information here is revolutionary but not conclusive. We still need more information to give a definite answer to the health risk of max distance long toss but the evidence shows it doesn't look good for max distance long toss. It doesn't look good because of the excessive amounts of force the UCL is having to tolerant at max distances. The counteraction of the muscles in the forearm which is adding the elbow varus torque and stabilizing the elbow with compression forces is why these arms are not exploding at max distances. This gives the impression that all the pitcher needs is a stronger arm to handle these forces but that is not true. Compression related injury is another risk factor in this long toss debate. The pitcher maybe able to have the arm strength to handle max distance but does his bones?
At this point in the debate, we can NOT say it is definite that max distance long toss is too dangerous for the pitcher but what we can do is come up with an alternative and this data is definitely encouraging the baseball community to do this. So, what if an alternative existed? A way to build arm strength and bone density without putting the throwing arm through the ringer in hopes it comes out stronger. Wouldn't the better approach to developing arm strength exist in an environment that wasn't threatening the integrity of the arm or the health of the UCL? An approach that developed the muscles around the joints without over stressing the joints to levels that could easily cause serious injury? This alternative exist and yes, it is the 3X Pitching Velocity Program.
I developed this approach because my years of max distance long toss and conventional pitching instruction had failed me and I found myself having arm surgery at 18 years old. The 3X Pitching Velocity Program strengthens the arm but first builds a foundation around an explosive lower half. It builds the big muscle groups to handle the loads, not the joints and the small muscle groups. It also has the most comprehensive understanding of high velocity pitching mechanics of any other pitching program in the world. The program uses a series of drills that train the motor coordination of the high velocity pitcher. This means the pitcher is learning to move as quickly as possible without putting massive amounts of stress in one particular joint like the elbow.
Let's face it! Pitching at a high velocity is dangerous to the arm but the smart road to a successful pitching career is learning how to reduce this stress on the arm while increasing performance, not adding more stress to the arm in hopes that it will survive and come out better. Max distance long toss is like playing rushing roulette with your arm in hopes that you become the next Dylan Bundy. I hope this article gave you more information on this heated debate and educated you on the possibility of an alternative to helping you reach your pitching goals without the threat of serious injury.
- Fleisig GS, Bolt B, Fortenbaugh D, Wilk KE, Andrews JR. - Biomechanical comparison of baseball pitching and long-toss: implications for training and rehabilitation. - J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 2011 May;41(5):296-303.
- P Langer, P Fadale, and M Hulstyn - Evolution of the treatment options of ulnar collateral ligament injuries of the elbow - Br J Sports Med. 2006 June; 40(6): 499–506.
The mean valgus stress per pitch in an adult is 64?N.m.10 Consequently, a 64?N.m varus counter torque is needed to resist this massive torque; a 64?N.m varus torque applied to the elbow is equivalent to holding 150 baseballs. The UCL provides 54% of this varus counter torque or roughly 34?N.m.11 Specifically the anterior band of the anterior bundle is the primary restraint to valgus stress at 30°, 60°, and 90° of elbow flexion. This restraint increases with greater angles such that, at 90°, it provides 55% of the resistance to valgus stress and 78% of the resistance to elbow distraction. This is relevant because the elbow is flexed 90° during the late cocking/early acceleration phases of throwing when valgus stress is the greatest. Because the ultimate valgus torque of the UCL is only about 33?N.m,10 every pitch approaches maximum torque on the UCL complex. Consequently the enormous medial elbow tensile forces generated during late cocking/acceleration may exceed the failure strength of the UCL, leading to attenuation or rupture. Despite the tremendous medial forces sustained at the elbow, injuries are still fairly rare, because the UCL complex is protected by arm muscle activity termed dynamic stabilisation, provided by the triceps, anconeus, flexor?pronator mass, and internal rotation of the shoulder.12,13,14,15 Recent biomechanical analysis has found that coupling of shoulder internal rotation and forearm pronation forms the physiological basis of varus acceleration to minimise valgus elbow load.16