When I was coming up as a young pitcher, it was pretty well accepted that pitchers should run long distance. So in college and in the minors we ran poles, poles and more poles… For those unfamiliar with this, running poles usually consists of slow or moderate running out on the warning track, foul pole to foul pole (pretty tedious stuff).
And on one hand, it seemed to make sense. As a pitcher, you want to be strong for 9 innings (or 6 or 7, whatever level you’re playing at), so you need to build up your endurance… and what’s the best way to do that, steady-state cardio (i.e. jogging), right?
[h5]Well, turns out maybe not (more on that in a minute).[/h5]
Even if it sounded like a good idea for starting pitchers, what about relievers? They don’t need the same endurance as a starter, do they? True, so the common approach: relievers would still run poles, just not as many…
For a long time this was the prevailing mindset among most pitching coaches. And so, when pitchers weren’t pitching, shagging BP or doing PFP’s (pitchers fielding practice), they would run, run, run.
But recently, more and more has been written about the drawbacks and potential harmful effects of distance running when it comes to pitching performance.
Basically, long, slow distance running and pitching are two very different athletic activities. Pitching involves high intensity, explosive movements repeated again and again – short bursts of power, followed by short periods of recovery between pitches. In many ways, pitching is much more similar to sprinting than it is to distance running…
[h5]You’re training the wrong energy system![/h5]
Now this is a little outside my comfort zone (I’m a former pitcher turned pitching coach, not an athletic trainer or strength coach), so I’ll defer to some experts in a minute. But put simply, distance running is an aerobic activity, pitching is anaerobic (if you really want to dig into energy systems – aerobic, anaerobic, ATP – give this article a read).
Bottom line, you don’t need to be able to run 9 miles to be able to pitch 9 innings. Just ask David Wells and C.C. Sabathia…
One of my favorite David Wells quotes: “You don’t run the ball up to the plate.”
Disclaimer: please don’t take this as license to eat like crap and get overweight.
So as I mentioned, aside from my direct experience with running in my playing days and its effect on my own performance (usually a drop in weight, power and velocity over the course of a season), I’m not an expert on this. So for more on why distance running isn’t a great idea for pitchers looking to maximize performance, I highly recommend giving these a read:
A New Model for Training Between Starts: Part 1 – Eric Cressey
Should Pitchers Run Long Distance? – Joe Meglio
Now to be fair, this understanding was making its way into pro ball when I was still playing. In the minors we did a lot less long-distance running and a lot more sprint work. But there was still some form of running pretty much every day, and the day after your start you were expected to do a 20-30 minute jog… in the 90 degree heat (and 1000% humidity) of Columbus, GA, that takes a toll.
[h5]So, does this mean pitchers should ditch long distance running completely?[/h5]
This is a tough one for me, because personally I’ve always enjoyed running. Not so much the monotony of running poles, but more the endurance challenge of a good long run appeals to me – it’s great mental toughness training. I almost always feel better after running, both mentally and physically….
So it was refreshing to read an article recently that actually talked about the benefits of aerobic conditioning! This is a fantastic piece by Mike Robertson, well worth a read for anyone serious about their health and athletic performance:
See, while maybe not the best thing for maximizing explosiveness during the season, some level of cardio training has some serious benefits.
I’m mainly talking about the effects on your heart and your mind… two pretty important things for any pitcher!
Some key benefits of distance running:
- It leads to positive physical changes to your heart
- It can lower your resting heart rate, helping you stay calm and relaxed.
- It builds mental toughness.
So while it isn’t ideal for building and maintaining power on the mound, and should probably be kept to a minimum during the season, I still think distance running has its place…
And in closing, I leave you with some words of wisdom from Will Smith.