With the baseball season right around the corner, pitchers all across the country, at every level of baseball, will be logging mile after mile of slow long distance running. This cross country type training is done in an attempt to help their on field performance, conditioning, and recovery from pitching. I have gotten many questions over the years in regards to how much, and how often pitchers should run to help with these issues. Today, I would like to discuss some of the reasons why I am not a proponent of pitchers performing this type of conditioning and the reasons behind my beliefs.
3 reasons pitchers do long distance running and why they shouldn’t
1. Pitchers are often the first ones done at practice.
This means that coaches are often at a loss when it comes to finding work for them to do after their bullpens and fielding drills are done.
Yes, pitchers don’t have as much skill work to do during practice as position players. However, there are many things pitchers could do in place of a tremendous amount of long distance running. They could be involved more in situation drills. They could be doing more fielding drills. They could be working on pickoff moves. Most importantly, pitchers could be spending this time training the way that pitchers should train for baseball. More on this later.
2. To reduce lactic acid build up that creates muscle soreness after pitching
I’m not quite sure where the belief that running after a pitching outing will reduce lactic acid buildup in a sore arm, but it is certainly a very prevalent thought. We have known for years that lactic acid is not the cause of muscle soreness after a game or workout. In 2006, John Hanc wrote an article in the New York Times displaying the most recent research on the subject. He states that lactic acid levels return to normal resting levels by the time you feel any soreness. He goes onto explain that the real cause of muscle soreness is micro tears in the muscle tissue and the inflammation in response to that trauma. In a 1992 study, Potteiger et. al stated that lactic acid buildup during pitching was not significant and played no role in pitching performance.
Throwing a baseball is not a natural movement for our bodies. We take our bodies, especially our arm through incredible ranges of motion at incredibly high speeds. Just look at a pitchers arm when he throws a baseball.
During the throwing motion, the arm accelerates between 6,000 and 8,000 degrees per second, the fastest motion in sports. No matter how we throw a baseball, if you do it enough, your arm will be sore. The best way to recover from this is to increase blood flow to the arm with some soft tissue work and regain lost range of motion after an outing.
3. To increase endurance so pitchers can go deeper in games and achieve higher pitch counts before fatiguing.
Every sport falls on a spectrum from endurance sport (marathon, triathlon) to the other end of power sport (Olympic weightlifting). Sports on the endurance end require the largest contribution from the aerobic energy system which uses oxygen to help produce energy. Sports on the power end require their energy come mainly from the phosphogen system that requires ATP to be converted to energy for max effort activities lasting less than a few seconds. Baseball is not an endurance sport. Baseball is a power sport. Throwing a baseball is a maximum effort skill that requires a tremendous amount of strength and power, so why train like a marathon runner?
People associate the word endurance in baseball for the same type of endurance needed to run a marathon. Potteiger et. al found that oxygen consumption was not a limiting factor in pitching performance and that the time between pitches was more than adequate to recover. The study found that the % of Vo2 max, which is a measure of the amount of oxygen used during an activity, was insignificant during pitching. This shows that there is no value in training pitchers to increase their aerobic capacity. In addition, doing too much long distance can cause muscle degradation and decrease power.
So how do we increase pitching endurance? We train strength and power. We run sprints. We make sure that pitchers have sound mechanics which allow for less stress to be put on their bodies. We ensure that they have and proper mobility and stability throughout their bodies to ensure that they are being as efficient as possible.