Should Lacrosse Players Run Long Distances? The Pros and Cons!

Should Lacrosse Players Run Long Distances: Pros & Cons

It’s no secret – conditioning is vital for lacrosse players. 

The game today is faster and more dynamic than ever before & while players understand the importance of speed and agility work – many players still sleep on the impact that truly elite conditioning levels have on their game. 

For example, players with higher conditioning levels:  

  • Burn defenders as they start to fatigue both physically and mentally. 
  • Make more impactful plays on both sides of the ball – maintaining their speed & sharpness while other players start to get slow and sloppy. 
  • Make less mental errors and turnovers. 
  • Get more playing time & get counted on at the end of the game because the coach knows you have gas left in the tank. 

But chances are if you’ve landed on this article you know that improving your conditioning levels would improve your game – you want to learn how. 

But the truth is, not all conditioning work is equal. 

As lacrosse training evolves, it begs the question – is running, jogging, or long-distance "cardio" work valuable for lacrosse players anymore? In this article, we're answering exactly this.

For the context of this article, we're going to be referring to all slow and longer distance work as "running" or "jogging". This can also be applied to cycling or hopping on a stationary bike – we just primarily get asked about "going for a run" so we decided we'd stick with that language.

Let’s dive in!

The Pros of Long Distance Running for Lacrosse Players

When it comes to lacrosse training, almost everything has its place. 

While some Strength Coaches might cringe at the thought of a lacrosse player going for a jog or engaging in some long/slow paced conditioning work, the reality is that there are some benefits to it.

#1: Jogging & Distance Running Creates an Aerobic Base

In recent years, there's been a strong shift from "long conditioning" work to sprint-based work. And for good reason, lacrosse players primarily utilize short burst energy systems:

  • The anaerobic Phosphagen System for work under 10 seconds such as sprints to chase a loose ball.
  • The Anaerobic Glycolysis (Lactic Acid) System for short term work in the 25-90 second range such as a lacrosse play.

But the last energy system is less commonly considered in strength & conditioning programs – the aerobic system. This is working through an entire game and is vital to maintaining performance. This is why we encourage players to build what we call an aerobic base.

Building a better aerobic base allows you to increase your aerobic threshold and therefore delay when your performance starts to decline. This means that you'll have a greater aerobic capacity for longer. 

In a practical context, this means that lacrosse players won’t feel the burnout late in the game.

#2: Long Distance Work Improves Stamina and Recovery

Research has shown that endurance work, like running, improves athletes tolerance to lactic acid. This essentially means better conditioned athletes feel less of “the burn” in their legs. 

While this is helpful for lacrosse players, the greater benefit is that research shows that it also improves their ability to clear lactic acid from their muscles. 

Both are huge for lacrosse players.

Lactic acid is the byproduct of the anaerobic energy systems discussed earlier and a build up of a lactic acid (and more so hydrogen) lead to the “leg burn” you’ve undoubtedly felt at the end of a long play. 

By improving your capacity to clear lactic acid from your muscles, you can recover more quickly from a hard sprint or play.

The Cons of Long Distance Running for Lacrosse Players

While long distance work has some valuable benefits for lacrosse players, there are likely more downsides. 

Let's dive into some of the downsides we want our players to consider.

#1: Lower Return on Investment

It's important for lacrosse players to consider the return on investment when it comes to training. 

This is both a time and energy investment. 

Going for a 5 mile run has some value – but probably not as much as sprint work, or a strength workout, or a speed session, or a shooting practice.

Elite lacrosse players prioritize the work that they know is going to be most impactful on their game. 

They understand that their time and energy isn’t unlimited and they need to choose high ROI training activities that will maximize their efforts. 

There are three things that reduce the return on investment with long distance conditioning work: 

  • If you’re playing or getting in team practices – you’re probably getting enough aerobic work. Focus your time/energy elsewhere. 
  • The added compound stress on joints probably isn’t worth the upside aerobic gains. 
  • Sprint training, when structured properly, will also challenge your aerobic capacity. 
  • If you’re comparing an hour of aerobic work vs an hour of strength training – you’re probably not going to get the same performance benefits.

Lacrosse players are busy. That’s why we want to make sure that you’re choosing high quality workouts and leveraging your time and energy with high ROI training activities that will actually make an impact on your performance. 

Wall ball, a shooting session, a strength workout, mobility and release session, and sprints work are all far higher ROI (ironically all of these can improve your aerobic base as well)

#2: Exaggerate Imbalances & Risk Overuse Injuries

Lacrosse players have dysfunctional bodies. 

They’re tight in their shoulders and upper backs. They have imbalances across their body from asymmetrical movement patterns. They have restrictions and range of motion limitations in their lower body. 

And while lacrosse players are elite movers (we say the most athletic athletes in the NCAA) – they’re not trained distance runners. 

Often we’ll see players who have shin splints, foot pain, or knee pain and they can’t figure out why. After some questions, nothing changed except they suddenly started adding 5 mile runs on their off days to boost conditioning. 

Essentially they’ve taken improper form to an activity that they’ll be thousands of reps for at one time. 

This is going to exaggerate any underlying imbalance or restriction and create a significant risk of overuse injuries such as sprains or tweaks.

This isn’t to suggest that lacrosse players shouldn’t run at all. But to add extra compounding on joints, especially on what are supposed to be “off-days”, is a recipe for disaster. 

#3: Neglects More Valuable Energy Systems

This point echoes our first one – but it’s worth reiterating. 

The main reason why we don’t like long distance conditioning work is that it truly only addresses one third of the conditioning demands of lacrosse. 

Going for a jog won’t improve your phosphagen system or the ability to repeatedly sprint at maximum capacity.  It also won’t improve your anaerobic glycolysis system or the ability to endure an intense 30 second battle. 

But doing structured high intensity interval training and sprint work can improve your aerobic base

If you structure your conditioning work to be high intensity and minimize your rest times – you'll leverage all three energy systems, and thus build an aerobic base. 

So Should Lacrosse Players Run Long Distance? 

We’re going to say no – lacrosse players shouldn’t spend time on low steady state work like jogging or distance running. 

As a Strength Coach, there’s definitely case studies where we’d suggest building an aerobic base such as a player returning from injury or extended time off, an injured player who can’t do maximal effort work yet, concussion recovery protocols, or when practice/game intensity is low (not getting much field time). 

But generally speaking, players would be better served with “higher ROI” off-ice training like strength work, sprints, or mobility exercises. 

Hopefully this has been helpful! While you’re here, we encourage you to check out one of our workout programs for lacrosse players. Each program goes beyond just workouts in the gym, and lays out the exact game plan lax players need to enhance their conditioning, develop explosive power, and take their game to the next level. 

kyle kokotailo hockey training
Kyle Kokotailo

Kyle is a Lacrosse Performance Specialist who’s worked with hundreds of lacrosse players including 100+ NCAA male & females players and dozens of NLL and PLL pros. A former elite hockey player, Kyle earned his degree in Kinesiology at the University of Toronto before becoming a Strength Coach that specializes in athlete performance. Today, he runs Relentless Lacrosse where he works with players across the world.


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