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Conditioning Lacrosse Players

By Pete Koeniges, M. Ed, ATC, CSCS

When you watch a game from start to finish, you probably think to yourself, “Boy, they run a long way…we need to get our players to run that far.” And usually what happens is the players are asked to run distances of 1-3 miles “just to get in shape”. Although it may be true that certain players can run 3-5 miles during a lacrosse game, it’s how they run that distance that is important.

I suggest the next time you’re watching a game, pick one player and watch how often they run, how fast, and how far. What you’ll notice is that the distance they run during a typical game is broken down into sprints ranging from 20-50 yards at a time. Between these sprints they will either be resting in the bench area, playing defense, or running their offensive set.

While on the bench, you are obviously resting and recovering. But if you’re on the field playing either defense or offense, you’re body is accelerating, decelerating, changing direction, passing, shooting, checking, maintaining good defensive body position. All of these movements require expending a certain type of energy, and it’s NOT using the same energy system used while running long distances!

The human body has three types of energy systems that are all utilized at one time or another. The oxidative or aerobic system burns oxygen for fuel and it used mostly when running longer distances. The anaerobic/lactate system is used for higher intensity activity up to around 1 minute. The anaerobic/ATP system is used for very intense activity lasting up to 10 seconds. The latter two energy systems are the ones used by lacrosse players. When classifying the sports, the ratio for lacrosse athletes is approximately 60% Anaerobic/ATP, 20%, Anaerobic/Lactate, and 20% Aerobic. Taking this into account, your conditioning drills should focus more toward sprinting or more specifically interval training.

Some interesting studies have been published regarding the difference between interval training and endurance training. The most notable was a study published the Journal of Physiology in 2006 called, “Short term sprint interval training vs. traditional endurance training: similar initial adaptations in skeletal muscle and exercise performance”. The subjects were either in the Sprint Interval Training (SIT) group or Endurance Training (ET) group. The SIT group performed 4-6 “all out” sprints on the bike for 30 seconds with a 4-minute rest interval. The ET group did 90-120 minutes of continuous cycling. Over the course of two weeks, the SIT group exercised 2.5 hours and the ET group exercised 10.5 hours. The result showed similar improvements in muscle oxidative capacity, glycogen content and muscle buffering capacity. The SIT group got the same effects on 8 hours less work!

Interval training has also been known to increase EPOC, exercise post oxygen consumption. This means your engine continues to burn fuel long after the exercise session is complete, where with endurance training, you only burning calories during exercise. Therefore, there is a greater potential to loose excess body fat while using interval sprint training.

Noted sprint coach Charlie Francis reports the need to provide enough power related work, like intervals, for athletes from 13-17 years old. This could help them genetically shift their muscle fibers from intermediate-red fibers to white, or maintain genetically determined white, or power fibers.

Interval training is alternating periods of work to rest. Interval sprint training, for instance, requires an athlete to run say 30 seconds, sprint 10 seconds, then run 30 seconds. That gives you a sprint recovery ratio of 3:1, which is close to what you’d like for conditioning a lacrosse player.

The modes of exercise can vary depending on your circumstances. Sprinting on a track or field is the best mode of interval sprint training, but there are certain weather conditions that may require a change. For instance, I live in the northeast, where the winters can keep us inside. So the next best thing to training on the track or field is the treadmill. You’re giving up the ability to produce your own power, but at least you are still going through similar hip/knee/ankle ranges of motion to track work. Additionally, you can increase the difficulty by raising the grade of the surface. My next choice can be the Schwin Airdyne. I like that you can use both arms and legs with this device. Also the wheel can provide wind resistance to make it more challenging. Next, I’d choose a stair mill, bike, stairmaster, then elliptical, in that order. Again, the best choice would be sprinting on the track or field.

The following is an example conditioning session:

Sprint the width of the lacrosse field, touch the line and sprint back. Time: 20-26 sec.
Jog/active recovery (45sec-1min)
Sprint (18-24 sec.)
Jog/active recovery (40-50sec)
Sprint (16-22 sec)
Jog/active recovery (40-50sec)
Sprint (16-22sec)
Jog/active recovery (45-1min)
Sprint (18-24 sec)
Jog/active recovery (45-1min)
Sprint (20-26 sec)
Jog/active recovery (1min-1: 30)

This is just an example. The times can be modified based on the current fitness of your athletes. The number of intervals can also be increased or decreased as you see fit.

Another example would be to adhere to the principles above, but have your intervals utilize more stop and go, deceleration/acceleration activities. The sprints can be 6x20yards and jog/active recover accordingly. The stop and go requires greater stress to the body and provides more of a game-situation feel to the activity.

To try to work into the anaerobic/lactate zone, longer runs can be used. A good example would be the distance cone drill. Set up a cone on each corner of the lacrosse field and at both midlines. Label the cones 1 through 6. A 50-yd drill would consist of sprinting from cone 1 to 2, jogging to cone 3, sprinting to cone 4, jogging to cone 5, sprinting to cone 6, jogging to cone 1 and resting for 2 minutes. Repeat.

A longer drill could be a 100-yd drill, sprinting cone 1-3, jogging 3-4, sprinting, 4-6, jogging 6-1, rest 2 minutes. Repeat. The distance of this drill can be increased by 50 yards until you’ve sprinted 250-yds, cone 1-6 and jog 6-1. The distance used should be relative to the current fitness of your athlete. Work from 50-yd sprints at the beginning to 250-yd sprints when your athletes are capable.

One drawback to this method of training is that time is an arbitrary number. The rest interval may be too long for some athletes and too short for others. An alternative to the timed rest element of interval training is using physiological rest. Basically you’ll be using recovery heart rate to determine the rest component.

Using heart rate monitors and the appropriate heart rate formulas, have the athlete do a set of shuttle running on a 25-yard course for six sprints. The athlete can recover until their monitor reads 60% of their max heart rate, when they should start another set of sprints. This style of interval training is highly individualized and will stress each athlete appropriately.

Interval training does not have to be limited to sprinting. Utilizing various circuit drills can also improve VO2 max and strength while varying the modes of exercise. The following circuit has been used successfully indoors while dealing with inclement weather.

Using stations set up around a basketball court:

Corner – Push-ups
Half court – side shuffles between two cones 10yds apart
Corner – prisoner squats
Corner – two-foot lateral hops
Half court – Burpee’s
Corner – Planks
Rest

These stations can be timed 15-30 seconds per drill, with a rest at the end. This type of set up works best with 10-12 athletes. Anymore, and you’ll have to have two athletes per station at a time. Of course, you can also add stations, or create a second, separate course.

Interval training has largely been shown to be the optimal method for getting lacrosse players into better cardiovascular shape. It is more efficient because you can get a better training effect in less amount of time. It is also safer because you will have fewer foot contacts to get a better effect, therefore less of a chance to develop an overuse injury. The previous exercises are just ideas to get you going in the right direction. How you group the exercises or the timing of the training is entirely up to you and dependent on your athletes and their current situation.

Give them a shot and let me know what you think – pete@lacrossestrength.com


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About The Author:

Pete Koeniges, M. Ed, ATC, CSCS is the athletic trainer and strength coach for the New Jersey Pride of Major League Lacrosse. He trains local lacrosse athletes and runs lacrosse based speed clinics. He also runs a lacrosse conditioning website at www.lacrossestrength.com. You can also keep up to date with posts and podcasts by subscribing at http://feeds.lacrossestrength.com/Lacrossestrength

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