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The Biggest Mistake Baseball Players Make When Playing Catch

Over my career, I’ve been fortunate to work with a wide variety of baseball players.  I’ve worked with everyone from youth to MLB Cy Young winners, and I’ve also worked with hundreds of healthy and injured baseball players.

I have found that many baseball players make the same mistake when playing catch, and I think this mistake can cause a lot of soreness, decreased performance, and maybe even injury down the road.

But more importantly, I’ve found that most big leaguers do NOT make this mistake and most injured players DO make this mistake.

The Biggest Mistake Baseball Players Make When Playing Catch

The mistake is simply that they start throwing too hard too early.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve started a throwing program with someone coming back from an injury and their first few throws are near max effort at my knees from 45 feet!

Throwing a baseball is such a dynamic activity, it’s very stressful on the arm when this happens.  It’s the equivalent of waking up, getting out of bed, and then immediately running sprints.  You’d never do that, you’d maybe stretch out, go for a jog, then start sprinting.

I’ve always used this simple phrase when starting to teach players this concept:

Let distance dictate your intensity.

This is very similar to Alan Jaeger’s concept of stretching out and compressing on the way back in when long tossing, but something I apply to any throwing situation.  The arm needs to get ready for the upcoming demand.

Luckily, this mistake is easy to fix.

Watch my video below to learn how.  I discuss this common mistake and how I teach baseball players to warm up their arm.

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Defining Long Toss

A recent study out of Wake Forest in the Orthopedic Journal of Sports Medicine looked at the perceived definition of a long toss program by pitchers, pitching coaches and athletic trainers associated with Major League Baseball. The ultimate goal was to see the differences, if any, in how players and teams incorporate these programs into daily programs, including rehabilitation.

The study showed that long toss distances were longer if utilized by the pitcher or pitching coach compared to when an Athletic Trainer employed the program. Also, there was considerable variation in throwing mechanics when throwing on a line and when the athlete would utilize a crow hop.

One possible explanation between these differences may be that players performing a long toss program designed by an athletic trainer were likely rehabilitating back from a pitching injury, while pitching coaches were just performing daily long toss between outings.

The results of this study show that there is considerable variation in the use and rationale behind a long toss program. Players, coaches and athletic trainers need to understand the implications  and demands of a long toss program in order to maximize their use between starts and in the rehabilitation setting. It may be most beneficial to use multiple variations of long toss programs that best suit the athlete and the goals of the throwing program, such as one form for rehabilitation and another for healthy players.

 


 

Defining the Long-Toss: A Professional Baseball Epidemiological Study

Austin V. Stone, MD, PhD, Sandeep Mannava, MD, PhD, Anita Patel, Alejandro Marquez-Lara, MD, and Michael T. Freehill, MD

Background: Despite widespread use of long-toss throwing in baseball as a component of arm conditioning, interval throwing programs, and rehabilitation, long-toss distance and throwing mechanics remain controversial.

Purpose: To ascertain the perceived definition of long-toss throwing through a survey of professional pitchers, pitching coaches (PCs), and certified athletic trainers (ATCs) associated with Major League Baseball.

Study Design: Descriptive epidemiology study.

Methods: Pitchers, PCs, and ATCs associated with 5 Major League Baseball organizations completed an anonymous survey that collected demographic data, personal use of long-toss throwing, and their perception of the distance and throwing mechanics that comprised long-toss.

Results: A total of 321 surveys were completed by 271 pitchers, 19 PCs, and 31 ATCs. For all respondents, the mean distance considered as long-toss was 175 ft (95% CI, 170-181 ft). Respondents categorized the throwing mechanics of long-toss, with 36% reporting throwing “on a line” and 70% reporting long-toss as “not on a line.” Of those throwing “on a line,” 28% reported using crow-hop footwork while 60% used crow-hop footwork when throwing “not on a line.” Interpretation of long-toss distance significantly varied by position: pitchers, 177 ft (95% CI, 171-183 ft); PCs, 177 ft (95% CI, 155-200 ft); and ATCs, 157 ft (95% CI, 144-169 ft) (P = .048). When asked when long-toss throwing is used, pitchers reported using it more frequently in preseason (P = .007), during the season (P = .015), and in the off-season (P = .002) compared with that by ATCs. Functional goals for long-toss throwing demonstrated that pitchers and PCs use long-toss for shoulder stretching more frequently than ATCs (P < .001 and P = .026, respectively). ATCs used long-toss more than pitchers for interval throwing programs (P < .001).

Conclusion: The definition varies for long-toss throwing distance and throwing mechanics. Pitchers and PCs believe that long-toss comprised longer distances than ATCs and employed long-toss differently for strength conditioning, training, stretching, and rehabilitation. This discrepancy highlights a potential lost opportunity for protecting the shoulder. While long-toss is an important tool, a more scientific definition is warranted to better elucidate its role in enhancing throwing performance and rehabilitation.

 

Source: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5315237/

Keys to an Inseason Throwing Program

A common concern we often hear at Elite Baseball Performance is pitchers not knowing what to do for an inseason throwing program.  We recently discussed how to perform a throwing program to prepare for the season.  If you’ve followed our recommendations and built a proper foundation of arm strength and endurance in the offseason, a correctly performed inseason throwing program will continue to facilitate a healthy arm.

Once the pitcher has built his pitch count leading into the season, I would assume that by the first game of the season, the pitcher is now in a position to throw 60-75 pitches or the equivalent of 4-5 innings, and 75-90 pitches by his second game. The key here is that the innings have been increased by maintaining a Long Toss program throughout the week. What has changed inseason is that the pitcher will learn to adjust the Long Toss program based on how many pitches they’ve made in a game, and how much recovery period they have until their next outing.

This is where inseason training gets a little tricky based on whether or not you are a starter or a reliever. So to address the inseason training mentality for both starters and relievers, I’m going to break them down into two categories. This way, whatever your role is as a pitcher you will have a clearer understanding of how to keep your arm in optimal shape throughout the year.

The following article will discuss how to develop an inseason throwing program.  If you are interested in learning more, we an online version of our Thrive on Throwing 2 video where we show you exactly how to perform the Jaeger Throwing Programs, as well as a downloadable Year Round Throwing Manual that builds off this information and discusses how to best prepare your throwing programs throughout the year for optimal success.  More information on these can be found below.

 

Inseason Throwing Program for Starting Pitchers

While relievers have to play with unknown variables as to when and how much they are going to pitch from day to day, starting pitchers have it much easier inseason. Starting pitchers know exactly what day they are throwing each week and therefore can plan the other six days (amateur) or four days (professional) around their game day. For this reason, setting up a starter with an inseason routine is much easier than a reliever.

Below, I am going to go through the format and workload for a basic 7-day routine, considering that more players are at the amateur level. Also, once you understand the principles to the 7-Day routine, adjusting to the 5-Day routine will be relatively similar. Keep in mind that the priority is to always “listen to your arm.”

 

In Season Throwing Program – 7 Day Routine

To make this routine very simple to follow I’m going to pick “Monday” as the reference point as to when you are scheduled to start your game. By establishing our “game day,” we can then focus on how we maintenance (cycle) the arm back in shape most effectively for your next start, the following Monday.

 

Monday, Game Day (Long Toss Day)

Game day is ironically your best Long Toss day inseason because you’ve had six days to rest, recover and rebuild leading into your game day from your previous start.

As a simple example, if you have been long tossing out of season in the 250-foot range, then that’s about how far your arm is going to want to stretch out to the day of your start. In essence, your game day is very similar to your best offseason long toss day, except that you may cut down on the amount of throws you’re making in both the stretching out (going out away from your partner) and pull down phases of Long Toss (coming back toward your partner). If you feel like cutting a little distance out of your throwing (especially if it’s later in the season) or you feel like cutting down on your aggressive throws coming back in toward your throwing partner, that’s fine.

But if you conditioned your arm well throughout the off-season, your arm is going to want a pretty thorough long toss session the day of your start.

 

Tuesday, Day 1 after start (Recovery/Stretch)

Depending on how many pitches you made, Day 1 is all about blood flow, range of motion and “stretch throwing.” If you threw 90 pitches the day before you may only want to go out to 90-120 feet of really low impact, light catch. If you only threw 50 pitches, your arm may want a distance closer to 150-200 feet. Again, the priority is RECOVERY.

The focus is on positioning the arm for the next day, and in fact, the next start. There should be little to no “downhill” or aggressive throwing on Day 1.

 

Wednesday, Day 2 (Recovery/ Stretch)

Ironically, Day 2 is when most pitchers are the sorest after a start. Thus, Day 2 is often a continuation of the stretch out, low impact mentality. Again, keep in mind that your arm is going to tend to have a tremendous recovery in general due to your off-season throwing program, but to be safe, I tell players to let the arm breathe again on Day 2. Again, I would suggest minimizing downhill or aggressive throwing unless the arm tells you differently.

 

Thursday, Day 3 (Extension, Pull Downs)

Day 1 and 2 have now set you up for a more normal Long Toss session on Day 3. This is the beauty of having a 7-day routine — you can use an extra couple of days to recondition your arm inseason. The arm is positioned on Day 3 to both stretch out to it’s normal Long Toss distance and to pull down relatively aggressively. How far you go out again depends on the individual, but for someone who throws 85mph, your probably looking at about 250 feet. Harder throwers again are looking at 300 feet or more.

So we’re both extending the arm on Day 3, and we’re beginning to integrate the pull-down or aggressive phase of Long Toss. The key here is to still use Day 3 as a conditioning day and to prep for Day 4, which is your bullpen day.

 

Friday, Day 4 (Long Toss/BullPen)

Now that you’ve used the first three days after your start to do nothing but progressively and effectively build the arm back into shape you are now set up for your bullpen day. The key here is to not “save your arm” by minimizing your throwing before the bullpen.

It’s actually to do the opposite.

You have set your arm up for another great Long Toss day, and that is your priority. Again, your bullpen tops off your workout as opposed to being the focal point of it. It doesn’t mean that you have to have an epic Long Toss before your bullpen, it just means to be sure that you have a pretty thorough Long Toss before getting on the mound.

Remember, your arm is programmed now to condition before it gets on a mound, and that’s the way you want it to be.

 

Saturday, Day 5 (Stretching/Optional)

Day 5 is a bit like Day 1 after your start. You’ve been on the mound the day before, you’ve had a lot of workload leading up to this point in the week, so I advise pitchers to go lighter on Day 5.

Again, listen to your arm, but you may find that you are only interested in a minimal amount of throwing, or you may find that you want to stretch it out to 120-150 feet without any aggressive throwing, or you may want another good day of stretching the arm out pretty far. This day is dictated by how you feel and the timing within the season.

Listen to your arm.

 

Sunday, Day 6 (Stretching/Rest/Optional)

The day before any pitches start can truly be a personal preference. So, I always advise pitchers to do what’s comfortable. Some pitchers like to take the day off, some like to play light catch, and some like to stretch it out to about 75% of their max distance, but with little to no aggressive throwing downhill. It is the core principle of our program to listen to your arm, and this day is no different. Do what feels right.

 

Monday, Day 7, Game Day (Long Toss)

Now you can see how your “start day” is your best day to Long Toss. You’ve spent the previous six days resting, recovering and rebuilding in the most optimal and effective way. You’ve allowed the arm to progressively build itself back into shape and positioned it for what it wants most, a great Long Toss/conditioning session before getting on the mound.

 

Inseason Throwing Program for Relief Pitchers

Because relief pitchers don’t have a set rhythm throughout the season, it can be a little bit harder to figure out when to Long Toss and when to rest from outing to outing.

As you will find with our approach, “listening to your arm” is always the first principle to keep in mind because there are so many variables. For instance, you may have made 40 pitches in relief the previous day, or you may not have thrown in a game situation for a week. In either case, your plan should be to go out each day to do your arm care program and stretch your arm out.

This sensation of stretching your arm out is what I refer to as “opening the door,” meaning, you are allowing your arm to get the benefits of stretching, blood flow and range of motion each day, regardless of whether or not you are pitching that day. What you’ll begin to realize is the arm wants to stretch out every day (unless it needs a total rest), and that some days the arm will want to stretch out further than others. In fact, if a pitcher has gone more than 3-4 days without pitching in a game, the arm will probably want to not only “open the door” to a long distance, but it will want to come back in toward your throwing partner and “pull down” aggressively just like an ordinary offseason Long Toss session.

This feeling of wanting to “close the door” after some days off of the mound is essential in keeping your base strong throughout the season.  Having an aggressive Long Toss session may be critical for your base even if you are going to pitch in the game later that night. Remember, the point is to “condition” first when the arm needs it. Besides, you will probably throw harder and have better recovery period even if you do get into the game on a night that you had a relatively aggressive Long Toss session.

In short, relief pitchers should come to the field each day to “open the door” or stretch out the arm. How far, how long and whether or not you “pull down” aggressively depends on how much throwing you’ve done the previous day or days. The key is to always go out with the intention of stretching your arm out because, quite simply, your arm has been built this way from the off-season and it is looking to condition, even in season.

 

Keys to an Inseason Throwing Program

Inseason throwing is just as important as throwing in the offseason.  A proper inseason throwing program must build in both rest and recovery days, as well as long toss and pull down days.  As always, the key is developing a program based on your role, starter or reliever, and most recent workload.

When in doubt, “listen to your arm.”

 

Learn the Jaeger Long Toss Program

Jaeger Thrive on ThrowingFor those interested in learning more, we have teamed up with Elite Baseball Performance to offer a brand new online version of our popular Thrive on Throwing 2 video.  In this program, we teach you exactly how to perform a proper arm care, warm-up, long toss, and pull down program to maximize your arm.

We also have a more detailed Year Round Throwing Manual that builds off this article in much more detail and shows you exactly what to do for a throwing program throughout the entire year.

If you don’t have a structured throwing program that you follow, this is an essential place to start:

 

 

How to Throw to Prepare the Arm for the Season

One of the most important concepts when trying to prepare the arm for the baseball season is developing an appropriate offseason throwing program.  It is important that any throwing program consists of a rest period after a long summer, followed by a rebuilding period to prepare the arm for the upcoming season.

During the rebuilding period, it is important to stay off of the mound for an initial four week, base building period. The idea is that the better you build your base in the fall and winter months, the better you can maximize your health, strength, and endurance during the season.

The key to optimizing the health, strength, and endurance of your arm inseason is significantly reflected by how well you can maintain this base throughout the offseason months, and then how well it carries over into the season.

The following article will discuss how to transition your offseason throwing program into mound work to prepare the arm for the season.  If you are interested in learning more, we have our brand new online version of our Thrive on Throwing 2 video where we show you exactly how to perform the Jaeger Throwing Programs, as well as a downloadable Year Round Throwing Manual that builds off this information and discusses how to best prepare your throwing programs throughout the year for optimal success.  More information on these can be found below.

 

How to Throw to Prepare the Arm for the Season

After a pitcher has gone through the initial offseason phase of resting his arm and rebuilding his base correctly through among other things, arm care exercises and long toss, there are two more stages to go through before pitchers transition into the inseason training or maintenance phase.

  • Stage 1 involves the integration of mound work, bullpens, and live batting practice
  • Stage 2 addresses the transition into the spring inseason maintenance period

The goal of this article is to understand the importance of maintaining your base and optimizing your recovery time once throwing off a mound is introduced in the offseason. This is best accomplished by understanding that throwing off a mound is an extension of your Long Toss throwing program, rather than the primary focus. In other words, Long Toss is the key to your workload each day, and if you get on a mound, it is simply the culmination of your throwing program.

As you will see throughout this article Long Toss is what most effectively replenishes the base and significantly improves recovery period after any form of “mound work.” Maintaining a strong base and optimizing recovery time are the key factors in optimizing health, strength, and endurance throughout the year. This article is written with this in mind.

 

Stage 1 – Integrating Bullpens into Your Offseason Throwing

After the arm has had a minimum of 4-6 week offseason period to rest and rebuild without throwing off the mound, the pitcher is ready to begin to integrate bullpens into his throwing program.

Because such a strong base was built from the previous phase, bullpens should have a dramatically less effect on producing arm soreness. The arm will recover faster, which in turn will allow the base to be minimally affected or “depleted.” This is a critical principle to understand because having great recovery is the essential ingredient to maintaining arm health, strength and endurance throughout the year.

In the case of a pitcher who has extended his Long Toss to 5 days a week leading into his first week of bullpens, the main priority on bullpen days is for the pitcher to think conditioning and long toss first, and mound work second.

Essentially, the bullpen is used to “culminate” the workout, rather than be the focus of the throwing that day.

The idea is that when the arm can “stretch out” through Long Toss, it is most effectively prepared to throw off the mound. To put it another way, the focal point of each day is to condition the arm, and then use the bullpen for pitching specific skills, such as working on mechanics or getting used to throwing with the decline of the mound.

Many coaches make the mistake of “saving the arm” for the bullpen by minimizing the amount of throwing on “bullpen days.” In my experience, this has the opposite effect on the arm — it is telling the arm to throw aggressively before it has been properly stretched out and conditioned. It’s like running only a mile each day to “save your legs” for a marathon at the end of the week. This mentality of “saving the arm for the bullpen” is the primary reason why recovery periods worsen, and the pitcher’s base becomes depleted.  The same principle also applies to inseason bullpens and game situations.

How often a pitcher integrates bullpens into the offseason months is a feel thing from player to player. But the bottom line is to integrate workload slowly and progressively into your bullpen sessions just as you worked slowly and incrementally into your Long Toss routine when you built your initial base. I would recommend two bullpens a week through the offseason months, separated by as many recovery period days as possible. For example, a Monday/Friday is an ideal format because you maximize your “off days” from bullpen to bullpen. These off days away from mound work allow the arm optimal time to recover and recondition itself for the next bullpen. The amount of pitches thrown in the bullpen and the intensity behind it again varies from pitcher to pitcher (and the workload that preceded it).

The priority is that the arm is stretched out thoroughly through a Long Toss program before any mound work.  Remember, the recovery period between bullpens is crucial because the better your recovery period, the more the arm is going to want to “stretch it out” from day to day.

Stretching the arm out is what replenishes the arm.

Having great recovery periods leads to what I call a “positive cycle” – a positive cycle because the arm wants to throw more rather than less from day-to-day because it feels good. Essentially, the arm can sustain it’s base throughout the offseason and into the season because bullpens and game action have a minimal effect on recovery period. If the recovery period between pens is poor, and the arm is unusually sore, the arm will need to rest more often, which further deprives the base from getting replenished.  This is what we call a “negative cycle” which exposes the arm to breaking down.

As you go through the offseason months, the primary goal is to stay in a conditioning mode as you increase the pitch counts in bullpen situations. As bullpens turn into game action, the principle doesn’t change. Bullpens and game situations are interchangeable. So if you throw a bullpen or pitch in a game situation on Monday/Friday, your goal is to continue to Long Toss at least one other day of the week. Remember, your bullpen/game day are also relatively thorough Long Toss days.

The idea with this offseason mentality is to keep the focus on Long Toss as you increase pitch counts for bullpens and game situations. Because a thorough Long Toss session is incorporated at least three days a week, the arm is best positioned to stay in a positive cycle through the end of offseason, despite the reality that pitch counts can elevate up to 45-60 pitches in game situations.

Once a pitcher starts throwing bullpens in the offseason, he will find that the days he is going to throw off a mound are his best Long Toss days because he will have the most amount of recovery period days between mound work. With that said, it should be noted that the day after a pitcher’s mound work, Long Toss will probably consist of only the “stretching out” phase and the distance may only consist of about 50-75% of a pitcher’s normal distance. This is important to understand because Long Toss after mound work should be less aggressive with the focus being on “stretching” the arm out.

If done right, the second day after mound work will lead to a more typical distance of Long Toss, and the “pull-down” or more aggressive phase of Long Toss can be added if it feels right. Remember, it always comes down to “listening to your arm.”  Once mound work begins, your focus is on stretching the arm out each day. How far you go out and how aggressive you “pull down” from day-to-day depends simply on how your arm feels, and how good your recovery period is.

 

Phase 2 – Transition Throwing from the Offseason into the Inseason

Once the Winter Holidays come and go (this is traditionally a 2-3 week window) and players return to school, pitchers need to be able to spend at least two weeks off the mound to recondition their arm. For the same reasons why pitchers use the first 4-6 weeks in the Fall to stay off the mound to condition, players need to “rebuild” the base for the first two weeks without even thinking about mound work. This is essential to understand because these two weeks allows the pitcher to reconnect to the base that was built all offseason. Fortunately, because the arm was so well “built” in the offseason, it only takes a couple of weeks to “re-catch” the wave, especially if the pitcher spent the Winter break doing his arm care program and playing some form of catch.

Once this two week period has been established the pitcher is ready to integrate bullpens and game innings into his throwing routine. This should come quickly. A pitcher should be able to go from throwing a 25 pitch bullpen in week 3 (late January/early February) to throwing 35 pitches in an inter-squad game by week 4.

Naturally, because High School and College seasons begin at different times, how you integrate bullpens and game situations depends on many variables. The priority here is still about learning how to prioritize your conditioning off of the mound for two weeks after the Winter break so the base is reinforced and the recovery period is sufficient once mound work is reintroduced. Remember, once the Spring starts getting close, the tendencies are to ramp up the pitch count and prepare for game situations. This is an even greater reason to use the first two weeks for base building — otherwise, you may be putting the pitcher’s arm in harm’s way.

 

The Key to Preparing the Arm for the Season

Remember, the ideal way to maintain an arm inseason is to have a great base in place from the offseason.

This offseason base is the key to having a great recovery period, which in turn allows the arm to recondition itself most effectively as mound work is integrated into the offseason months, and eventually into the Spring season. This ability to maintain good recovery periods and a Long Toss program as bullpens and game situations are integrated is the key to not only maintaining a healthy arm throughout the offseason but also to positioning your arm to get more durable and possibly even stronger throughout the season.

Finally, always “listen to your arm.”

Only it knows from day to day what it needs and what it wants. Because you have learned to condition and maintenance it so well the reality is you will probably find yourself wanting to stretch your arm out with Long Toss more often than you have in the past. But this is a great sign. It’s a reminder that the body responds best to activity rather than inactivity.  The arm wants to regenerate, not degenerate.  And when the arm gets into this “positive cycle,” the arm is in the best position possible throughout the year to stay healthy, strong and durable.

 

Learn the Jaeger Long Toss Program

Jaeger Thrive on ThrowingFor those interested in learning more, we have teamed up with Elite Baseball Performance to offer a brand new online version of our popular Thrive on Throwing 2 video.  In this program, we teach you exactly how to perform a proper arm care, warm-up, long toss, and pull down program to maximize your arm.

We also have a more detailed Year Round Throwing Manual that builds off this article in much more detail and shows you exactly what to do for a throwing program throughout the entire year.

If you don’t have a structured throwing program that you follow, this is an essential place to start: