Jaeger/Sullivan Return to Throwing Manual & Schedule
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The Missing Link: The Magic That Happens Beyond 120 Feet 

One of the most beneficial and revealing aspects of our throwing philosophy is what happens “beyond 120 feet”. In fact, one of the main catalysts to writing this Throwing Manual is due to the distance restrictions that some of the most influential, and standardized Return To Throwing Programs cap out at (e.g. 120 feet). From our perspective, what happens beyond 120 feet is where the real Health, Endurance, Strength, Athleticism and Feel is optimized, and the real magic happens.

One of the ironies of “only” throwing the ball out to 120 feet is that there isn’t much room to get air under the ball, or Arc. As mentioned earlier, arc is something that happens innately simply because it promotes a number of major benefits, including, relaxation, range of motion, greater athleticism, feel, and freedom.

Because athletes going through rehabilitation are typically training for 4-5 months in a Physical Therapy Clinic setting without throwing, and anywhere from an additional 2-3 months of throwing often in a relatively linearfashion simply because the proximity of their throwing partner caps at, e.g., 120 feet – which makes it difficult to get air underneath the ball – they can become quite rigid, restricted and mechanical.

Now when you contrast that number – 120 feet – with the distance an average Major League fastball (93mph) will travel (330 feet) with a 35-40 degree arc, you can begin to understand just how limiting and restricting 120 feet is to the capacity and capability of the arms range of motion, and the natural movement patterns of an athlete that is accustomed to training at 200 feet, 250 feet, or 300 feet or more (for more info, please see Ben Brewster’s Distance to Velocity Chart here: https://twitter.com/TreadAthletics/status/1040365778598412288).

Now this isn’t to assume that every athlete that throws 93mph is throwing the ball 330 feet – it’s just to say that there is a lot of available “Range of Motion” and “Energy” in the arm and “Athleticism” in the body that has to be contained and constricted in order to “only” throw the ball 120 feet. And though some have argued that you can “throw the ball 300 feet on a line and get the same effect” of throwing it 300 feet in the air, this couldn’t be further from the truth – they are two completely different throws and effects on the body and mind (as you will see below).

Another way of saying this is that throwing the ball in a linear fashion out to 120 feet not only prevents the athlete from finding out what is in the arm, but restricts the athleticism that comes from throwing the ball higher and farther. Therefore, it’s easy to understand why a player may feel especially rigid and limited if they are capped at 120 feet in their rehabilitation program…especially when their pre-surgery distance was at 200, 250, or 300 feet or more.

On the other hand, throwing the ball with Arc, gradually, as you move further away from your throwing partner provides several vital benefits, including, 1) Optimal Range of Motion – gradually throwing the ball uphill allows the arm, and its corresponding muscle groups, to progressively and incrementally stretch out (“open up”) in the most optimal way, 2) Proprioception/Variability – gradually throwing the ball uphill gradually changes the release point and promotes feel, variability and adaptability), 3) Optimal Glute, Hip, Pelvic Load – throwing the ball with greater arc promotes a greater activation of the glute, hip and pelvic load, 4) Ground Forces – throwing the ball uphill promotes staying connected to the ground longer (especially when you crow hop off the back leg as discussed earlier).

Also, by throwing with arc, you are supporting your body because you are promoting low impact, low intent throws from the onset of throwing – especially as you gradually begin to introduce more effort. Throwing uphill also sends a signal to the body to “relax,” “loosen up” and be “free.” So, simply by throwing with arc, the body (and mind) are learning (relearning) what it feels like to throw with relaxation, looseness and freedom – which is an essential aspect of what we want athletes to focus on for the entire stretching out phase in Long Toss (as you gradually move away from your throwing partner), and eventually, the Pull-Down Phase (as you gradually move back in toward your throwing partner).

A Summary of Major Benefits that occur beyond 120 feet include:

Volume/Conditioning – simply put, the further out you go, the more throws you are going to make. And the beautiful thing about this is that you are increasing your Volume in the most ideal way…with low impact throws. Low impact throws allow the arm to condition in the most optimal way because you are adding progressively lighter loads without “shocking” the arm. This is the best way to build endurance and the most ideal way to progressively build an arm into shape.

Recovery – better endurance provides for better recovery, so the next day of throwing is greatly benefitted. And optimal recovery is one of the most essential aspects of any type of training, promoting resiliency and long term health.

Athleticism – arc throwing leads to more distance, which leads to more athleticism. The more athletic you are, the more you activate your legs, core, pelvic tilt and ground forces. And the by-product of going out to further and further distances is the body gets more dynamic…and the further out you go, the closer these dynamics resemble who you are on the mound. 

Cross Training/Blending – because you are training your body to go uphill and downhill, you are positioning your body to access a different level of variability and adaptability by activating different muscle groups. This is the same reason why sprinters blend their training by running uphill and downhill, and baseball and softball players over and under load with lighter and heavier balls. This also helps you avoid issues with overuse or repetitive movement scenarios. 

Mental Freedom – From a mental point of view, arc throwing frees up the mind. Just as you are “opening up” the arm by expanding your distance, you are also opening up and expanding your mind. And this makes a lot of sense when you consider that 120 feet promotes a more linear throw, or “narrow focus”, which is akin to the logical side of our brain, or left brain. On the other hand, “open focus” has to do with space, and is very akin to the creative side of our brain, or right brain. That’s why by simply freeing up your body by throwing higher and farther, you are similarly freeing up your mind – you are tapping into your right brain, which, not so ironically, activates your instincts, athleticism and creativity. 

Though the majority of the benefits beyond 120 feet come from the first phase of Long Toss – what we call the “Stretching Out Phase” – there is still another massive benefit that happens once the athlete gets to their “peak” distance, and makes their way back in toward their throwing partner. This is what we call the “Pull-Down Phase” of throwing. Pulling-Down does not come into play until the last part of the Conditioning Phase of our Throwing Schedule, but at some point, the arm is going to be ready to start making semi-aggressive to aggressive throws on the way back in toward your throwing partner from the Stretching Out Phase.

What is vital about Arc Throwing and the Stretching Out Phase – because you are going beyond 120 feet – is that the arm and body are in the most optimal position to make aggressive throws because it’s been fully stretched out – because it’s been well-conditioned – because the athlete has been fully woken up – becausethe legs, core and pelvic tilt have been optimally engaged – and because of optimal ground forces that are best activated as a by-product of throwing it higher, and crow-hopping off the back leg. Additionally, throwing uphill promotes a type of leverage to throw downhill that is hard to access at 120 feet.

The bottom line is there are countless benefits that are simply not accessed and experienced when an athlete is capped at, e.g., 120 feet…countless benefits that can be accessed as a by-product of going beyond 120 feet.

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