By Dev K. Mishra, M.D., President, Sideline Sports Doc, LLC
It’s been believed for quite a long time that long toss training for young pitchers as well as professional pitchers will help the pitcher to improve ball velocity when pitching from the mound. Like many things in sports and performance this was one of those topics that was handed down from generation to generation but without proper scientific background. A recently published study suggests that maximal distance long toss does not improve ball velocity but it does result in abnormal stresses to the shoulder, elbow, and back. The problem with these abnormal stresses is that it can then translate to injuries for the young athlete.
Glenn Fleisig, a very well respected researcher on the topic of pitching biomechanics authored the study and co-authors on the study are renowned orthopedic surgeon Dr. James Andrews and physical therapist Kevin Wilk. The study is titled “Biomechanical Comparison of Baseball Pitching and Long-Toss: Implications for Training and Rehabilitation.” You can find an abstract of the study here.
17 healthy college baseball pitchers participated in the study. They were asked to throw fastballs off the mound, and then take hard horizontal throws from 120 feet and 180 feet off of flat ground. And finally they were asked to take maximum distance throws from flat ground but with no restrictions on the arc the ball could take. Three-dimensional motion analysis was then used to measure motions at the shoulder and elbow, as well as body tilt. Throwing velocity was also measured.
The main study results are these:
- Maximum distance throws (averaging 260 feet for these college pitchers) did NOT result in increased pitch velocity when throwing from a mound.
- The maximum distance throws had several potentially harmful biomechanical changes for the pitchers.
So what’s the point for the little league or high school aged pitcher? We always have to be a little bit cautious when translating studies performed in college players to young athletes, but there are still some reasonable conclusions we can make.
- If you’re a pitcher trying to increase pitching velocity, you should throw only at a distance where you know you can keep the ball on a straight line.
- If your throwing distance requires you to throw the ball with an arc, you could be putting harmful stresses on your shoulder and elbow that could lead to shoulder and elbow injuries.
And in the next post we will cover another important pitching topic: the pitch count or maximum innings…