Long-Toss Part 2 – Mechanical Differences and Similarities

It’s been a long time between part 1 and part 2 of this series on long-toss, pun intended.  My two main excuses are that I got side track preparing for my presentation at Lantz Wheeler’s Pitch-a-Palooza in Nashville but it went well and it provided me with a ton of great info from the other speakers.  Check out the DVD sales here.

Pitch-A-Palooza-Logo

And my wife and I also got a puppy border collie named Saige (Satchel + Paige = Saige) and walking this high energy breed has become a part time job for me.

In part one of this series I stressed that long-toss is a tool that is classified as a specific exercise that coaches can use to help increase throwing velocity.  It however is not the only tool for the job.  General and specific exercises that can also be beneficial when the situation calls for it.

We also learnt that long-toss and pitching are not the same thing.  Long-toss is throwing the ball up and far with a crow hop versus pitching which is throwing the ball down and fast without a crow hop. While these differences are pretty obvious these two types of throwing do share some similarities.  After all they both involve throwing a baseball as hard as you can.

Knowing what’s different and what’s similar between long-toss and pitching is valuable.  This information can help coaches determine if and when long-toss should be used as a means for improving pitching performance.  If a pitcher needs help with a mechanical issue that has been shown to be very similar between long-toss and pitching then it would seem that it is a perfectly good idea to implement long-toss.

sim and diff

For now I am just going to present the research in a easy to understand manner, I hope.  I am going to save my opinions, thoughts and interpretations for the last part of this series.  Well I might go on one or two rants but thats it.

The study that I am going to be referencing is from doctor’s Fleisig and Andrews called:

Biomechanical Comparison of Baseball Pitching and Long-Toss: 

Implications for Training and Rehabilitation.

They published it back in 2011 and it is the only study that looks at the biomechanics for both max distance long toss and pitching.  There are a couple of other studies (Slenker et al. 2014 & Miyanishi et al. 1995) but they either didn’t look at the kinematics (motion) or didn’t have their subjects throw off a mound.

The subjects of this study on average were 20.6 years old, 6’2” tall and weighed about 195 lbs. Their velocity off the mound was 37 meters/second (85mph) while the long-toss was 36 m/s (82mph), this difference isn’t statically significant.  The max distance throws averaged 260 feet with a range between 213 & 315 feet.

When it comes to reading studies it’s important to look at the subjects to see what kind of players they used in regards to level of play, age, height and weight. Not every coach is going to have players that are similar to the subjects of this study so they must take this information and figure out how it applies to their specific situation with the athletes they are coaching.

This study looked at the biomechanics (aka kinematics) of each player at three different points of the throwing motion for both long toss and pitching: (1) front foot contact (2) arm cocking and (3) ball release.  They also looked at the kinetics (torque and force) but I am saving that for part 3.

wagnerIf you look up “arm cocking” in the dictionary you will see this picture of Billy Wagner.  Defined as the point of the delivery when the shoulder is maximally externally rotated.  It doesn’t get much more externally rotated that this!

Front Foot Contact: Differences

The chart below shows the exact differences that were labeled as significant between long-toss and pitching.

Front Foot Contact
Body Position Pitching Long Toss
Elbow Flexion (degrees) 78 86
Upper Trunk Tilt (degrees) 6 24
Front Knee Flexion (degrees) 47 42
Foot Position (centimeters) 25 5

Elbow flexion: if you were to make a perfect “L” with your arm you would have 90 degrees of elbow flexion.  Pitching had the elbow in more of a flexed position.  You can see a nice diagram below with elbow flexion in the top left corner (A) and Mr. Maddux (you get called mister when you win 4 Cy Young’s) looks to have about 90 degreesc of flexion.  While this Vanderbilt player is displaying less flexion.

Front knee flexion: the front leg landed in a more extended/straight  position during long toss.  Having your leg straight with the knee locked out would be zero degrees of knee flexion while being in a seated position with the tops of your legs parallel to the ground would be 90 degrees.maddux elbow at contact

long toss vandy

Upper trunk tilt: this is basically how much an incline your upper body is when the front foot hits the ground.  If you are leaning back you will have more upper trunk tilt and if you were to be straight up and down (head over top of your belt) you would have a trunk tilt of zero.  Obviously if you’re going to be throwing the ball high and far you’re going to be more inclined.  That being said hard throwers off a mound do a better job of staying back and not lunging or drifting out onto their front leg, which would produce upper trunk tilt scores in the negative. The amount of trunk tilt is very different between the two and is obvious in these pictures.

Foot Position: This was measured in centimetres.  If your front heel made a perfectly straight line with the heel from your back leg you would have zero.  During the long toss the front foot landed in a much more open position compared to throwing off the mound.

Front Foot Contact: Similarities

The other mechanical positions that the researchers measured at front foot contact that were not significantly different between pitching off a mound and long toss were:arm angles

Shoulder External Rotation: pitching had 53 degrees of external rotation at front foot contact vs. 58 degrees.  This difference wasn’t significant enough but it is about 10% more with long-toss. Top right (B).

Shoulder abduction: how far the shoulder is away from the body which were both between 96 & 98 degrees angle from the body.  If you place your elbow perfectly at shoulder height you will have 90 degrees of shoulder abduction. Bottom Left (C).abduction

Shoulder horizontal abduction:  if you stretch your pec muscles by grabbing onto a post then moving your body forward and turning away you would be horizontally abducting your shoulder from your body.  Figure (D) shows horizontal abduction when the arm is going behind the body.  Pitching and long toss both had 21 degrees of shoulder abduction.

Pelvis angle: this tells us how “open” the hips are.  If have your hips perfectly facing home-plate that would be 90.  Pitching had 37 degrees while long-toss had your hips in a more open position, but only by 3 degrees at 40.

Stride length: this one surprised me a bit but I guess the momentum gained from the crow hop is equal to the amount of stride distance that you can get by going down the mound.  Both types of throwing had players striding 80% of their height.

Arm Cocking: Differences 

This position is critical due to the fact that many injuries happen at this point of the delivery.  The injuries might not be due to what your mechanics look like when your arm is cocked but it is the position that has a lot of stress and can very easily be the straw that backs the camels back.  The arm cocking position is occurs when your arm is maximally externally rotated and is making the transition between loading (going back into external rotation) and unloading (going into internal rotation).

Arm Cocking
Pitching Long Toss
Max Elbow Flexion 101 109
Max Shoulder External Rotation 174 180

Elbow flexion:  Just like at front foot contact the elbow is in more of a flexed position when pitching compared to long-toss.  The elbow was more flexed back when the front foot hit the ground.

bauer elbow 4

It wouldn’t be a long-toss article without some reference to Trevor Bauer.  He is close to the arm cocking position and looks to have more elbow flexion than the subjects in this study.

Max Shoulder external rotation: this is a big one because the amount of external rotation that you can achieve has been correlated to throwing velocity since it provides you with a greater range of motion that can be used to apply more force to the ball.  Check out this article to learn about another study that showed how the amount of external rotation along with a couple of other mechanical points were important in determining which pitchers threw fast vs. those that threw slow.

Quick rant/opinion:  Since long-toss as an exercise produces more external rotation (ER) compared to pitching might mean that it could be used as a training method to get more external rotation.  Which if you don’t have enough in the first place could be a good thing.  However there are some pitchers that have more than enough ER and they need to work on controlling their ER and improving the rate at which they go from ER into internal rotation.  This goes back to the fact that long-toss is a tool and in some cases this tool can be helpful.

machine_flyArm Cocking: Similarities

Only one of three mechanical points measured were similar and that was the amount of shoulder horizontal adduction.  If you were to perform pec flys on this piece of equipment you would be doing shoulder horizontal adduction as you bring your hands together.

I am just using the pec fly as an example since we have all done one or two sets of these but I am not recommending it as an exercise if your primary goal is to have a healthy throwing arm.

In both types of throwing the shoulder has gone from being horizontally abducted (behind the body) when the foot hits the ground to being adducted (in front of the body) to 17 degrees.

Ball Release: Differences

This table shows all of the significant differences between the two types of throwing at ball release:

Ball Release
Pitching Long Toss
Forward Trunk Tilt 34 18
Front Knee Flexion 37 31

Forward Trunk Tilt:  The ability for a pitcher to produce forward trunk tilt has been shown to be a major factor in separating fast from slow throwers.  When long-tossing it is pretty obvious that you won’t have much forward trunk tilt because if you did you would end up spiking the ball.  When your goal is distance the body is going to organize itself to accomplish this desired outcome hence less forward trunk tilt.

mad tilt

Front knee flexion:  again the amount of flexion at the front knee is different just like it was at front foot contact.  The interesting part is that the amount of knee extension that happens from when the front foot hits the ground to ball release is nearly the same but it just happens in slightly different ranges of knee extension.  This table will show you what I mean:

Amount of Front knee extension (front foot contact – ball release)
Mound Max Distance
Front foot contact (FFC) 47 42
Ball Release (BR) 37 31
FFC – BR = Degrees of Knee Extension 10 11

If you had a higher number at ball release compared to front foot contact that would mean that you went into knee flexion.  That has been shown to be a marker of slower velocity throwers while faster throwers exhibit the strength to handle the landing forces and produce knee extension. It helps send kinetic energy up the chain as they say in the world of pitching biomechanics.

Ball Release: Similarities

Shoulder abduction: both types of throwing had the shoulder abducted to 88 degrees which is close to the ideal 90 degrees which is stated as being the best angle to produce torque and force.  Based on where the shoulder was during front foot contact the elbow drops from about 10 degrees during the throwing cycle.

Lateral Trunk Tilt: This describes the amount of leaning towards your glove side.  I’ve written in the past about a research article that studied the effects of lateral trunk tilt and its relationship to both throwing velocity and torque to the throwing arm in a two part series here and here.

Personally I thought that there would be more trunk tilt for long-tossing based on how I see most people throw for max distance including outfielders and javelin throwers.

cespodis

Based on Yoeonis Cespedes’ amazing throw he made last year we should all just throw like he does.  Looks like a bit of lateral trunk tilt to me. 

In Japanese study back in 1995 (Miyanshi et al.) one of their major findings was that in addition to a more backward lean, similar to the findings in this study, was more of a left ward lean producing increased lateral trunk tilt.

This study did compare max distance throwing to max velocity throwing from a flat ground surface which is why I haven’t talked about it much.  That and I could only find the untranslated Japanese version of the study.

That however didn’t stop me from looking at the study which in addition to some pretty awesome stick figure drawings had some tables with numbers, which I can read in just about any language.

The more “leaned back and tilted” position resulted in the ball being released at a height of 1.78 meters (5’10”) at an upward angle of 30.3 degrees.  The distance they threw the ball was about 76 meters (250 ft) plus or minus 7 meters (23 ft).

When they threw as fast as they could (flat ground) the release height was 1.64 meters (5’5″) at a 6.3 degree angle.

Just like the Fleisig and Andrews study the stride lengths weren’t significantly different but were only 73% of their height.  These subjects were on average 20 years old and were 160lbs and 5’9″.  They only threw about 67 mph.

Digging a Little Deeper Into the Numbers

When I looked at the amount of knee extension in both types of throwing I started to look deeper into some of the other differences to see just how similar they were.

As it turns out the ranges of motion that we see in both pitching and long-toss are pretty similar, it just that they happen at different points within the range of movement.

The amount of “loading” that you shoulder goes through as it externally rotates from front foot contact to ball release were only one degree off from each other.

Shoulder External Rotation
Long Toss

Pitching

Arm Cocked (AC)

180

174

Front Foot Contact (FFC)

58

53

AC- FFC = Total ER Loading

122

121

The amount of elbow extension that happens when you elbow goes from a flexed position at front foot contact to a less flexed position during the arm cocking position are both exactly 23 degrees.  Weird, I know.

Elbow Flexion
Long Toss

Pitching

Arm Cocked

109

101

Front Foot Contact 

86

78

Difference

23

23

Even the total amount of trunk tilt in the sagittal plane (front and back) from front foot contact (upper trunk tilt) to ball release (forward trunk tilt) was similar.  During long-toss the subjects were leaning back to 24 degrees and moved their trunk forwards 42 degrees to the point of ball release when they displayed 18 degrees of forward trunk tilt.

When pitching the upper trunk tilt was much lower at front foot contact (6 degrees) but moved a total of 40 degrees to the 34 degrees of forward trunk tilt at ball release.

This picture of an overhead medicine ball throw shows you what I mean by how amount of trunk tilt that happens during the throwing motion from lean back to leaning forward.

 mb tossLots of trunk movement in the sagittal plane from the 3rd picture to the last one.

Since this now past the 2500 words mark, congrats if you’ve made it this far, I am going to end things here.  The next part will look at the differences in torque (kinetics) and the amount of stress on the throwing arm before I finish things off with some of my thoughts on how long-toss should be applied.

Graeme Lehman, MSc, CSCS

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