Building Aerobic Capacity with Mobility Circuits (Another Nail in the Coffin of Distance Running for Pitchers)
Written on November 23, 2015 at 9:10 pm, by Eric Cressey
If you've read EricCressey.com for any length of time, you're surely aware that I'm not a fan of distance running for pitchers. I've published multiple articles (here, here, here, and here) outlining my rationale for the why, but these articles have largely been based on theory, anecdotal experience, and the research of others. Today, I wanted to share with you a bit of data we collected at Cressey Sports Performance - Florida last week.
First, though, I should make a few important notes that "frame" our training recommendations and
1. Athletes absolutely must have a well-developed aerobic system in order to recover both acutely (during the training session or competition/games) and chronically (between training sessions and competitions/games). It's relatively easy to improve if approached correctly, and can yield outstanding benefits on a number of physiological fronts.
2. As long as the intensity is kept low enough during aerobic training initiatives, it won't compromise strength and power development. I wrote about this all the way back in 2003 with Cardio Confusion, but many industry notables like Alex Viada, Joel Jamieson, Mike Robertson, Bill Hartman Eric Oetter, Pat Davidson, Charlie Weingroff have done a far better job describing the mechanisms of action in the 12 years since that article was published. Speaking generally, most folks put the "safe zone" intensity for aerobic development without strength/power compromise at approximately 60-70% of max heart rate (Zone 2, for the endurance savvy folks out there).
3. It might be a large amplitude movement (great ranges-of-motion achieved), but baseball is a low movement variability sport. Pitchers are the most heavily affected; they do the exact same thing for anywhere from 6-9 months out of the year (or up to 12, if they're making bad decisions by playing 12 months out of the year). Distance running to me does not offer significant enough movement variability to be a useful training option for developing the aerobic system.
4. The absolute best time to develop the aerobic system is early in the off-season. For the professional baseball player, this is Sep-Oct for minor leaguers, and Oct-Nov for major leaguers. This is one more strike against distance running; after a long season of being on their feet in cleats, the last thing players need is a higher-impact aerobic approach.
With these four points in mind, two years ago, I started integrating aerobic work in the form of mobility circuits with our pro guys in the early off-season. The goals were very simple: improve movement quality and build a better aerobic foundation to optimize recovery – but do so without interfering with strength gains, body weight/composition improvements, and the early off-season recharge mode.
The results were awesome to the naked eye – but it wasn’t until this week that I really decided that we ought to quantify it. Lucky for me, one CSP athlete – Washington Nationals pitching prospect Jake Johansen – was up for the challenge and rocked a heart rate monitor for his entire mobility circuit. A big thanks goes out to Jake for helping me with this. Now, let’s get to the actual numbers and program.
Jake is 24 years old, and his resting heart rate upon rising was 56 beats per minute (bpm). If we use the Karvonen Formula for maximum HR (takes into account age and resting HR) and apply our 60-70% for zone 2, we want him living in the 140-154bpm range for the duration of his session. As you can see from the chart below – which features HR readings at the end of every set during his session – he pretty much hovered in this zone the entire time. The only time he was a bit above it was during an “extended” warm-up where I added in some low-level plyo drills just to avoid completely detraining sprint work (he’d already had a few weeks off from baseball before starting up his off-season).
When all was said and done, Jake averaged 145bpm for the 38 minutes between the end of his warm-up and the completion of the session.
He bumped up a little bit high in a few spots, but that’s easily remedied by adding in a slightly longer break between sets – or even just rearranging the pairings.
To that last point, I should also note that this approach only works if an athlete is cognizant of not taking too long between sets. If he chats with his buddies and heart rate dips too much between "bouts," you're basically doing a lame interval session instead of something truly continuous. Jake did 44 sets of low-intensity work in 38 minutes. You can't get that much work in if you're taking time to tell a training partner about the cute thing your puppy did, or pondering your fantasy football roster.
Think about the implications of this....
What do you think this kind of approach could do for the foundation of movement quality for a typical high school, college, or professional pitching staff?
Don't you think it might make them more athletic, and even more capable of making mechanical changes easier?
Don't you think they'd be less injury-resistant performing an individualized mobility circuit instead of one-size-fits-all distance running?
Do you think that maybe, just maybe, they'd feel better after an 11-hour bus ride?
Don't you think they'd bounce back more quickly between outings?
What is difficult for some coaches, though, is admitting that distance running to "build up your legs" is like changing the tires on a car with no engine, or studying for the wrong test. Just because "that's how it's always been done" doesn't mean that's how it has to stay.
Give some of these a try in the early off-season - and even during the season in place of "flush runs." They'll be a big hit with your athletes both in terms of performance and health.
And, for those of your looking for another Z2 training option, look no further.
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