One of the most frustrating things I hear coaches asking their teams to do is jogging during their off-season conditioning. Traditionally, coaches say to run a mile, then build up to two, or something along those lines. And, at the beginning of training camp, they do a “conditioning” test that uses a long, slow run as a barometer of conditioning. In actuality, this is one of the worst things you can do for performance.
The vast majority of sports value explosiveness, agility, top end speed, and maximal outputs. I call this “moment of truth” sports. Think of baseball - it’s all about how much force you can create at one, singular moment: hitting or throwing the ball. The same is true in most sports - in lacrosse, how quickly can you make that cut and fire off the shot? In football, how quickly can you get to the spot and then explode through the tackle? In soccer, how well can you manuever the ball through traffic then drive your leg through the ball? Perhaps they aren’t as singular as baseball, because they require a bit of movement before the “moment of truth” but they still require what we call anaerobic capacity.
Anaerobic capacity helps us fire up our maximal strength and power movements. And this is how we need athletes to condition for their sport. A good example would be sprint intervals - burst for eight seconds, then rest for, say, twenty two. Then, repeat that pattern for, say, five minutes. As that is easy, extend the time, so repeat the pattern for ten minutes, then twelve. We can also decrease the rest period, provided the athlete is still sprinting during the work period, so instead of a 8:22 ratio, we can go 10:20, then 12:18, etc. Alternatively, we can introduce resistance, so add a sled or parachute, and keep the pattern going. In this way, we simulate the demand of our sports. Think of soccer, where an athlete bursts for 5-10 seconds, then slows down to a light jog, walk, or perhaps even pauses all together. This pattern is the same in lacrosse, football, field hockey, and most team sports. Baseball and softball have an even more stark interval, where rest periods are very long and active periods are sometimes less than a second.
If you want to train for performance for your sport, don’t go jogging. As we’ve just noted, that’s a terrible simulation of the needs of your sport. Even more importantly, jogging may actually be HURTING your performance.
Jogging uses a lot of slow twitch muscle fibers, portions of the muscle that don’t create much output from a strength, power, or speed perspective. They are designed to use minimal energy, creating an efficient way to move for a long time continuously. We all have slow twitch muscle fibers, as well as fast twitch. We’re all born with some proportion of slow twitch to fast twitch fibers. What we need to realize and apply is the fact that we can change that proportion, and train our body to be more effective at one type of twitch over the other. If we do a lot of fast twitch movements, we can help ourselves be more explosive and “twitchy,” but if we do a lot of slow twitch movements, like jogging, we can quite literally train ourselves to be slower.
If you look at olympic sprinters, they’re massive. Immensely strong and powerful, shredded with muscle, and the ability to impart a great deal of force at that moment of foot contact with the ground. In contrast, you can look at olympic marathoners, and see a very different type of athlete, one that has trouble creating significant ground force in a sprint or explosive movement. This is partially what they are genetically better suited for, but also a result of their training. They have taught their bodies to work in slow twitch or fast twitch environments, and their body has adapted to that demand. So, an athlete who needs to play in a fast twitch, anaerobic, explosive sport, like most team sports, actually trains themselves to be slower by running long distances. Additionally, jogging does have a high prevalence of overuse injuries due to the repetitive nature.
So the final question is: why jog? There aren’t many groups who I would recommend jogging to, but there are some. The first group are people who participate in endurance sports. Since they are indeed working in long, limited explosion sports like cross country, then jogging makes sense. The second group is people who run for fun and who don’t need conditioning for another specific sport. If someone simply enjoys taking a long run, then they should continue to enjoy it. It’s still a good exercise, strengthens the heart, and improves overall health. And while yes, I do believe there are much better exercise regimens, if someone enjoys it and is working out for their long term benefits, then by all means, go take a jog.