Why Distance Running Is Not The Answer

About the Author: Eric Cressey

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A New Model for Training Between Starts: Part 1

The management of pitchers between starts is one of the most debated topics in the world of baseball training. Some pitching coaches want multiple throwing sessions between starts, while others insist that a single bullpen is sufficient. Athletic trainers debate on whether or not a pitcher should ice after a throwing session. And, specific to my realm of expertise, there are differing opinions on what kind of running programs are appropriate for pitchers between bouts of throwing.

Not to toot my own horn, but I’m a pretty well-read guy – and I can honestly say that I’ve never read anything along the lines of a truly logical argument for or against a specific running program for pitchers. So, I guess that’s where I come in with this piece.

With that in mind, I’ll be very blunt with you: I despise distance running for pitchers (and the overwhelming majority of other athletes, for that matter). While many pitching coaches are probably reading this and cursing my name already for going against the norm, I’d encourage you all to hear me out on this. Below, I’ll outlined NINE reasons why distance running is not the correct course of action – and then, in my next installment, outline a new model for training between starts that we’ve used with great success at the professional, collegiate, and high school levels.

Why Distance Running is Not the Answer

Reason #1: Immunity Concerns

As a strength and conditioning coach, my number one priority in working with athletes is to keep them healthy. This refers not only to musculoskeletal health, but also general health. In an outstanding 2006 review, Gleeson wrote that “postexercise immune function depression is most pronounced when exercise is continuous [and] prolonged.” Interestingly, this review also noted that many of these symptoms are “attributable to inflammation of the upper respiratory tract rather than to infectious episodes (1).” In other words, distance running between starts is more likely to cause and spread sickness in your clubhouse than that tramp in the right field bleachers who wants to hook up with every guy in your bullpen. Strike 1.

Reason #2: Endocrine Concerns

Here’s a little excerpt from an email I got from a minor league guy I work with in the off-season:

Yesterday might have been the roughest day of my career. It started by getting back from our game Sunday night at 11:30PM. I couldn’t fall asleep until at least 12:30AM, and then we had a 3:30AM wake up call to catch a bus to the airport for our flight at 6:15AM. We had a layover for an hour and a half, then got to the next city at 11AM. We drove to our hotel and I got to my stinky room at the Sleep Inn and tried to catch some sleep – except we had to be at the field at 4PM.

Days like this are the norm for many professional (and particularly, minor league) pitchers: late nights, early wake-up calls, red-eye flights, long bus rides, and – as a result – completely warped sleeping patterns. And, as I’m sure you can imagine, the diet that accompanies these travels is less than stellar, particularly when clubhouse food isn’t exactly gourmet or healthy. And, let’s just say that a lot of ballplayers at the collegiate and pro levels far too much alcohol, and that has direct negative consequences in terms of sleep and tissue quality.

So, basically, we’ve got absurd sleeping hours, terrible dietary habits, too much alcohol – and one of the longest seasons in sports. Effectively, we’ve done everything we possibly can to reduce lower testosterone and growth hormone output, creating a mess of a hormonal environment. Frankly, you could get this same hormonal response by forcing pitchers to watch Golden Girls reruns while sitting on bicycle seats and downing estrogen tablets – and you wouldn’t have any incidences of plantar fasciitis.

Instead, you know what’s done instead? Distance running! Yes, the same distance running that is responsible for the markedly lower testosterone levels and higher cortisol levels in endurance athletes. It’s like putting a new engine in a car with square wheels: studying for the wrong test.

It almost makes you wonder if some guys used performance-enhancing drugs just to counteract the negative effects of their running programs!

Strike 2.

Reason #3: Mobility Concerns

As I wrote in a previous newsletter, one of the issues with distance running is that it doesn’t allow for sufficient hip flexion to truly activate all the hip flexors. Specifically, we get a lot of rectus femoris recruitment, but not much activation of psoas, which predominately is active above 90 degrees of hip flexion. Likewise, you really aren’t getting much hip extension at all.

So, on the whole, by using a repetitive motion like jogging for an extended period of time, pitchers are losing mobility in their hips – and that’s the very mobility they depend on so much to generate stride length and, in turn, velocity. Frankly, runners are the athletes I see with the most marked lower extremity dysfunctions due to the lack of range-of-motion in the jogging stride – and the fact that they pile so much mileage on this faulty movement pattern. I am a firm believer that we were made to sprint, not jog.

Strike 3. The batter’s out!

We’ll have Part 2 of this article in tomorrow’s newsletter.

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All the Best,