Longtoss has been praised as a magic elixir of arm health and velocity. It has been demonized as over-aggressive insanity that puts the arm at risk for injury. In reality it is neither. It is a word that describes a variety of throwing protocols, each of which can be helpful if properly utilized or dangerous if abused. Depending on the person describing longtoss, the activity can range from playing catch at 120 feet, to launching a ball 360 feet, to throwing overload implements upwards into a net. See this Driveline article for a more detailed look into how people in baseball define longtoss. (Or this study if you want to get into the nitty-gritty.)
Because of this, and because every thrower is different, longtoss needs to be seen as a tool to be used when appropriate. (My personal opinion is that some form of longtoss is appropriate for most.)
The interesting thing is that the most prevalent knock against longtoss is also one of it’s most positive attributes. The results from this ASMI study (full study) state that, “At arm cocking, the greatest amount of shoulder external rotation, elbow flexion, shoulder internal rotation torque, and elbow varus torque were measured during the maximum-distance throws. Elbow extension velocity was also greatest for the maximum-distance throws.” The study also indicates that, “At foot contact, the participant's shoulder line was nearly horizontal when pitching from a mound and became progressively more inclined as throwing distance increased and that forward trunk tilt at the instant of ball release decreased as throwing distance increased.”
On the surface, these seem like bad things. More external rotation, elbow flexion, shoulder internal rotation torque and elbow varus torque combined with changes in the kinematics of the throwing motion make longtoss contraindicated (a bad idea) for a pitcher.
But let’s think a little more deeply - maybe even get into some second order thinking ….
If the goal of training is to expose the body to a stimulus that can create a positive adaptation towards an improved pattern of movement or enhanced skill, than we need to be reaching just beyond our current ability level. (More on reaching and having a growth mindset sometime in the future.) We need to challenge the body with slightly more forces than we are used to. We need to expose the body to throw the baseball with force and accuracy in slightly different ways at slightly different angles to slightly different locations. This will help build a pattern of throwing that is able to handle small perturbations to the system (Think: arm is tired, there’s a hole on the mound, it’s super windy, the ball is wet, etc.) while maintaining the important aspects of the motion. (More on attractors and fluctuators later as well.)
While it seems like longtoss is dangerous because it increases many of the markers perceived as vital to throwing, it can be a quality training tool for the exact same reason.
Here is how I suggest thinking about longtoss:
Always listen to your arm! Longtoss is a form of self-regulated throwing. The distance, duration, and intensity can be programmed, but the programming should never supercede how you feel on a given day. Always throw to tolerance.
Think of the part of the longtoss where the distance between you and your partner is increasing (Extension Phase) as the warmup and the part where the distance is decreasing (Pulldown/Compression Phase) as the time to let it rip (should your programming/arm dictate that this is appropriate). If you like to put air under the ball, do so on the way out. Either way, keep the throws flat on the way down. If you’re not feeling great on a given day, or if you programming doesn’t call for it, skip the pulldown/compression phase.
Know thyself! Some people do great with high, arcing throws during extension. Others prefer to keep their throws on a lower trajectory. Play around with both and figure out which one works for you.
Test out some weighted ball longtoss, especially if you live in a cold or rainy climate where you’re regularly forced inside. Start with the heavier balls (11oz and/or 9oz) to warmup. Extend with the 7oz and/or 6oz balls. And if you decide to pull-down, do it with a baseball or a combination of a baseball and a 4oz ball. Like with regular longtoss, play around with what feels good. Some people hate the 11oz and 9oz ball. Some people love them. If a particular ball doesn’t feel right, don’t use it! If it feels great, use it more. Listen to your arm!
Always compete with a baseball in your hand!
And that’s about it. Try out some different things. Listen to your arm. Pick what works for you. Work hard and enjoy it. That’s pretty much what development is all about.