Why Are You Running?
Is it time to rethink one of the most long-standing pitcher training modalities ever employed?
Kevin was devastated.
Having been cut from his high school team and two junior college teams, he came to us seeking to add enough velocity to find a spot on a D1 roster so he’d have a shot at pro ball. After nearly 3 years of training he had finally figured something out and managed to have a good year as a closer topping out at 98 mph for a lower level NCAA D1 program. His performance drew enough attention to allow him to become a 12th round draft pick of the Boston Red Sox. But that didn’t quite go as planned either. He was never placed on an actual team and spent the better part of 2 years in extended spring training. Upon his release, he returned to the Ranch sporting an 85 mph fastball and a truckload of frustration and disappointment.
After 6 long months of hard work his agent had arranged a workout with a few pro teams. Ten days before the event, Kevin went outside with one of our trainers and three other minor leaguers for what I thought would be a session of battle ropes, medicine ball, or sledge hammer work. I retired to my office to answer a few emails and to work on a blog I was writing. After about 10 minutes, Kevin came limping back into the building holding his left thigh. “Can you help me Randy? I think I pulled my hamstring.”
“What were you doing?” I asked.
“We were running sprints.” He replied. “I was racing and I felt a pop.”
I can’t publish the words that came out of my mouth.
My examination of Kevin confirmed his suspicion. He had a grade 2 strain of his left hamstring. By the next day the bruising from the torn muscle fibers had covered the back of his thigh and with a regal looking purple hue. His hopes of showing well were dashed. He was forced to cancel the pro workouts.
Victor, a former major leaguer recovering from shoulder surgery came to the ranch to rediscover his 100 mph fastball. He trained hard for 2 months, then returned home to Texas to continue his comeback. When he got back up to the high 90s, a MLB team offered him a minor league contract. He pitched well and according to reports, he was days away from a call up. He crossed my mind one day and I texted him to see how he was doing. “Not so good.” He responded. “I was running sprints and pulled a hamstring.” Six weeks later, he still hasn’t gotten back to full readiness.
I have some questions…
First of all…
What the heck are we doing?
Why do pitchers run at all?
What’s our purpose?
The negative effects of long distance running for power athletes has been well documented. I won’t bore you with our stance against that inane practice. If you’re interested, I wrote about it in an article appropriately named “Why We Don’t Run Long Distances.”
But now I’m beginning to question why pitchers are even running sprints?
What exactly are we trying to achieve?
Spraining ankles, twisting knees, and pulling hamstrings… and for what?
What are we trying to gain?
This wisdom grenade was dropped on me by one of our minor leaguers right after the Kevin incident:
“I’ve never heard of a guy who said, ‘You know, I was in Triple A last year and I couldn’t get the call up, so this off-season I started this incredible running program, and THAT was the answer! THAT’S what did it for me!”– Will Shepley, FBR minor leaguer last winter
Will may be on to something.
Listen, I totally get it for position players. But for pitchers who never have to run unless they’re covering first or backing up third, I am beginning to wonder why we even run sprints.
I’m not saying pitchers should cease all running. I’m just asking a legitimate question. When we make our pitchers run sprints, what is the purpose? What is the physiologic adaptation we are trying to elicit? When I question FBR players and our own staff, I usually get a nebulous answer like, “It creates explosiveness.”
What does that even mean?
I get it, I think. It teaches the athlete to create force rapidly and it’s awesome at making them tired — especially when a coach can’t think of anything better to do.
But this isn’t cricket!
They don’t let us run the ball to home plate.
Moreover, sprinting is done in the sagittal plane and we don’t pitch in the sagittal plane! We pitch in the frontal plane, transverse plane and in diagonals. Sprinting in a straight line isn’t specific to the pitching movement. If we insist on sprinting as a primary modality for improving “explosiveness”, maybe it would make more sense to have our pitchers run like this!
Believe me, I know how stupid that looks, and I can accurately report that none of our pitchers has ever run in that manner as any part of our training process. But my point is this… if it’s “explosiveness” or rate of force production we’re after, I can think of dozens of ways to do that more specifically without putting hamstrings, ankles and knees at risk.
I’m also not saying we should put guys in a bubble and never let them do anything non-specific to pitching, or even marginally dangerous.
I’m just saying… when we prescribe training drills or exercises, we should always ask ourselves 4 questions:
- What adaptation are we trying to elicit?
- Will this drill or exercise elicit that specific adaptation?
- What are the risks (physical risks and risks of training corruption)?
- Is there a better way?
Usually, when I ask a pitcher why he’s running I get an answer akin to this:
Well, as Coach Wolforth likes to say,
“You can’t argue with research.”
Ok… that’s where I am right now.
Randy Sulllivan, MPT, CSCS
CEO, Florida Baseball Ranch
P.S. Our next Elite Performers Bootcamp will be held on August 19-20… and we will be doing exactly zero running. But we will help you develop an individualized training plan for adding velo, eliminating arm pain, improving command and becoming an all together frighteningly nasty pitcher! Call us at 866-787-4533 for more info.