Long distance running, such as running poles, has been discussed, blogged about, and been the topic of much debate in the baseball community. It seems as though most of the leading minds in baseball have reached a consensus that long distance running does nothing to help a pitcher. Yet here I am, writing a blog about this same topic. But there is a reason why I decided to do it. Long distance running, and running poles specifically, is still used by many coaches throughout the nation as a form of conditioning. Even some coaches I know very well and have frequent discussions with about training athletes for the specific demands of baseball still require their athletes to run long distance. It is really sort of unbelievable, but I suppose old habits die hard.

So why is long distance running such a bad idea? The short answer is because pitchers require a very specific type of “athletic motor.” What do I mean by athletic motor? A motor is a device that creates motion or movement. Every sport requires a unique type of movement. Some sports require motors that need to produce constant motion for a long period of time, yet the motion doesn’t have to be at top speeds. I equate this type of motor to what you will find in a Honda. It is incredibly efficient, gets great gas mileage, and is built to travel for miles upon end. Think of a long distance runner.

Other sports require motors that need to produce incredibly fast motion for a short period of time. I equate this type of moMarathoner v Sprintertor to what you would find in a Ferrari. It is insanely powerful, burns fuel like crazy, and is meant to go from 0 to 60 in no time at all. To keep my examples in track and field, think of a 100 meter sprinter. Just like the difference between a Honda motor and a Ferrari motor, a long distance runner looks much different physically than a sprinter. It all has to do with the demand of his or her sport, and the type of athletic motor the athlete has developed through training.

Given the polar-opposite examples I just provided, let’s examine which type of athletic motor is best suited for a pitcher. Pitching consists of a short, explosive movement followed by a rest and then another short, explosive movement. This is repeated some 100 times in a game for a starting pitcher. This type of demand is actually quite similar to the demands of football, where the typical play lasts only a few seconds followed by a rest before the next play. Given such a similarity in the demands of these two sports, you would think there would be similarity between the way athletes in the two sports condition. But how often do you hear of football players pounding the pavement for 30 minutes? I know I don’t hear of such training. Instead, football players are constantly doing sprint work, shuttle runs, and agility training such as ladders, hurdles, and cones.

This same type of training would also be phenomenal for pitchers (and all baseball players for that matter). A pitcher needs to build his motor to be able to go from standing still to a full speed explosive movement in a second or less. The more athletic a pitcher trains, the more athletic a pitcher’s delivery will be. This will translate into better velocity and also a better ability to repeat the delivery pitch after pitch for an entire game.

Long distance running does nothing to build the specific motor needed by a pitcher. Running slowly for a continuous 15-45 minutes does not replicate the movement required during a pitching delivery and it does not help prepare the athlete to repeatedly perform the pitching delivery. Long distance running requires no elongation of any muscles, nor does it require the type of output of energy at one time that delivering a pitch does. In my opinion, coaches often have their guys run long distance because it is an easy way to take up time at practice. Many coaches feel like they are working their pitchers hard simply because long distance running forces the athlete to sweat and breath hard. Unfortunately, this does not mean that this sweat is contributing to making the athlete a better pitcher.

So what should a pitcher do for conditioning instead of long distance running? Sprints are always a good option. Sprints require the type of burst of energy that more closely resembles a delivery. Sprints force the elongation of the hamstrings, quads, and hip flexors that more closely resemble a pitch. Plus, running sprints can be done in sets that resemble the demands of a baseball game. For example, a pitcher could perform 15 sprints, followed by a several minute rest, and then another 15 sprints. This is similar to a pitcher throwing 15 pitches in an inning before heading to the dugout while his team is at-bat. And remember, a sprint doesn’t have to be 100 yards, or 60 yards, or even 40 yards in length. A sprint could actually be shorter, such as 10 or 15 yards. Or it could be done where the athlete starts on his stomach and merely has to get up and sprint 5 yards as quickly as possible when he hears the beep of a sport timer.

Agility drills are another great conditioning option. Agility drills, such as ladders, cones, and hurdles, require a tremendous amount of energy output as the athlete is required to move his feet and legs as fast as possible in a short amount of time. It also can be used to teach the athlete to change directions as quickly as he can. In fact, any exercises that are shorter in duration (less than 12 seconds) followed by a short rest and then repeated will better prepare an athlete for the specific demands of pitching. Such exercises can be performed using the large diameter rope, handle medicine balls, or even a jump rope to name a few.

Some athletes come up with even more creative ways to train appropriately for pitching. For example, Mariano Rivera plays center field while his team is taking BP and sprints to track down fly balls. He doesn’t lazily shag fly balls like the majority of pitchers I see, but instead tries to run down the balls hit to the gaps. Even this type of workout will better prepare a pitcher for the specific demands of pitching. So whether you want to do something like Mariano, run sprints, do agility drills, or any other type of explosive exercise for 12 seconds or less, you are preparing yourself for pitching in a way that long distance running simply can’t do.

Until next time,

Brian Oates