As of late, lacrosse has emerged into the spotlight and drawn the attention of young athletes everywhere. These same young athletes often wonder how good of a workout lacrosse really is and whether it’s an effective way to get in shape.
Lacrosse is a great workout for people that are trying to get in shape. Players must sprint short distances and jog long distances throughout the game, drastically improving their cardiovascular fitness. Basic lacrosse movements also demand heavy muscle exertion, promoting body strength.
There’s a multitude of reasons why the majority of experienced lacrosse players are physically fit. We will take an extended look at eight of these reasons just in case you aren’t thoroughly convinced that lacrosse is a great workout.
1.) Exercises Both Fast Twitch and Slow Twitch Muscle Fibers
The first reason that lacrosse is such a terrific workout is that it activates both fast twitch and slow twitch muscle fibers, something that few other sports boast.
If you’ve ever spectated a lacrosse game before, you’ve likely noticed that the ball ventures all over the field. Possession bounces back and forth between both field halves like a ping pong match. Every time that the ball shifts positions, the players must adjust their position accordingly, even if that means running all the way to the other side of the field.
This constant shifting of the ball’s whereabouts is what works the slow twitch muscle fibers. Players have to be in continual motion to keep up with the gameplay, otherwise they’ll be left behind.
As for the fast twitch muscle fibers, the fundamental movements of lacrosse demand a certain degree of explosiveness to work successfully. Some prominent examples of this include dodging, shooting and checking. With each of these maneuvers, speed is of the utmost importance.
Take dodging for instance. When a ball carrier sets up for a dodge, they may jog into it initially. However, as soon as they reach their point of attack near the on-ball defender, they explode into the dodge in an attempt to get a step on their man, much like a crossover in basketball.
All of the elements involved in the dodge, from the shoulder fake to the quick jab step, have to be explosive to throw a defender on their heels.
These muscular movements are the work of fast twitch fibers, not slow twitch fibers. The fact that lacrosse works both muscle fiber types equally is a huge workout plus.
It grants athletes the ability to diversify their athleticism and attack areas that they otherwise would ignore. In sports like cross country or competitive swimming, you’re limited to exercising one muscle fiber type only.
2.) The Throwing and Shooting Motion Incorporates the Entire Body
In addition, you should know that the throwing and shooting motion is a full body movement, requiring activation of muscles all throughout the body.
Lacrosse players know better than anyone that passing and shooting are essential to the sport. They happen on a regular basis, so much so that players rarely even think about the motion as they do it. It’s ingrained into their muscle memory because of the sheer volume of throwing and shooting repetitions they’ve notched under their belt.
To those that are unfamiliar with lacrosse, the pass and the shot may appear to be a simple mechanism of the arms and nothing else. This is not the case.
Before I get into why passing and shooting is a full body movement, watch the clip below of Paul Rabil shooting a lacrosse ball, as his shooting form is a perfect example of how a variety of muscles work together to release the ball with power.
After having seen the video above, you can clearly see that Paul Rabil’s lacrosse shoot is not a simple movement of the arms. It’s a lot more than that.
For one, Rabil winds up his entire body in preparation for the shot, so much so that his back is practically facing toward his target. From here, he activates his core muscles to violently rotate his upper torso toward the goal. As soon as this rotation begins, Rabil uses his leg muscles to establish a firm base to translate all of his power into the ball.
Rabil then activates his back and arm muscles to snap the lacrosse stick forward toward the goal. The simultaneous activation of all these muscles together gives his body so much momentum that his body actually careens forward well after the ball is released.
In short, there’s no question that passing and shooting are terrific for total body muscle activation.
3.) Heavy Emphasis on Precise, Calculated Footwork
Playing lacrosse also strengthens footwork since players cannot afford to be clumsy with their feet. Regardless of whether a player is on offense or defense, they need to pay close attention to their footwork in order to give themselves an advantage over their opponent.
On offense, a clear example of the importance of footwork is presented during dodging. When ball carriers need to successfully dodge past defenders, they use their feet to manipulate their defender into moving away from where they intend to go. To perform a successful dodge, their footwork needs to be on point.
This also applies to defenders. If they want to even have a chance at staying in front of their man, they need to break down and shuffle their feet with short, small steps to immediately react to the movements of the ball carrier. One misstep is all that a ball carrier needs to gain separation.
This is a great workout aspect because it supports so many other areas of your fitness. Superior agility translates over into your performance in other sports and allows you to maintain better control and balance, which is crucial for injury prevention (source).
I find that building up my footwork through lacrosse is far more appealing than building up my footwork through an agility ladder or a jump rope. But then again, that’s just my personal preference.
4.) Steadily Builds Grip Strength Over Time
Furthermore, holding a lacrosse stick for hours on end inevitably builds your hand and forearm muscles.
Although lacrosse sticks are rather light, they still act as a form of resistance as you grip your lacrosse stick over the course of practices and games. Next time that you attempt a pass or throw, pay close attention to what your natural grip does. You will likely observe that your grip tightens up ever so slightly during these movements.
As we established earlier, the passing and shooting motion are staple movements of lacrosse that are done on a frequent basis. After performing thousands upon thousands of throwing repetitions, your grip strength is bound to go up, especially if you play wall ball regularly for practice. It’s hard to imagine that your grip strength would remain the same after years of playing lacrosse.
This is a subtle benefit, but an important one. Grip strength is one of the most overlooked components in fitness despite how significant of a role it plays in so many exercises. Every time that you pick up a dumbbell or carry around a heavy object by a handle, your grip strength is tested.
For many of you, this may be the limiting factor holding you back from fulfilling your true strength potential. Playing lacrosse for a few seasons will help you to address this weakness in your physique.
5.) Defensive Body Checks and Stick Checks Improve Functional Strength
Another set of fundamental maneuvers in lacrosse that we haven’t really touched on yet is the defensive body check and stick check. These are key defensive movements because they grant players a way of stripping ball carriers of possession. What you may not know is that these maneuvers are also a terrific way to hone in on your functional strength capacities.
In the fitness world, there is lifting strength and functional strength (source). These fitness components do overlap somewhat, but they’re distinct from one another at the core. Lifting strength solely has to do with the ability to move heavy weights, whereas functional strength pertains to the capacity to perform movements in real life scenarios.
Players that utilize their strength capacities to throw a forceful stick check or shove a ball carrier off their path toward the goal learn how to utilize their lifting strength in a functional capacity.
The stabilizing muscles must be extremely active in order to check a ball carrier in a precise manner. Without proper stimulation of the stabilizing muscles, a defender may miss their check entirely or hit the ball carrier in a dangerous place, such as the head or neck, drawing a penalty.
So many fitness athletes concentrate their efforts solely on lifting strength to the exclusion of everything else. Although this may help you to look good, this type of training will not yield as many benefits in real life situations, such as hauling around groceries or playing pick up basketball with your friends (source).
Lacrosse affords athletes the opportunity to branch out of their personal sphere of training and strengthen their stabilizers. Ultimately, this helps them to adapt to real life physical problems. This is a fitness benefit that cannot be matched by lifting weights purely on machines.
6.) Superior Development of Hand Eye Coordination
The next benefit has to do with hand eye coordination. The majority of workouts nowadays revolve around lifting heavy weights with no emphasis on hand eye coordination. Fortunately, lacrosse doesn’t fit this mold. It’s in a category all its own.
I say that lacrosse is in a category all its own because the hand eye coordination in this sport is unlike any other sport out there. With sports like basketball or football, players use their hands to make direct contact with the ball. Lacrosse players, on the other hand, use their lacrosse stick as an extension of their arms to catch and throw the ball.
Few athletes are used to this kind of hand eye coordination because it’s not natural.
This provides lacrosse players with an entirely new fitness angle that few other athletes have the privilege of being exposed to. Top tier athletes are always on the hunt for new training methods to challenge their fitness capabilities. Lacrosse is one of the most unconventional training methods for hand eye coordination that you’ll ever find.
Plus, the majority of these unconventional training methods are rarely ever effective. If they have yet to hit the mainstream, there’s typically a good reason for it.
Lacrosse still has yet to reach the public eye, but it’s slowly growing in popularity. This just goes to show that working on your hand eye coordination through lacrosse is catching on, slowly but surely, because it is actually effective.
7.) Flexibility Increases with Pre-Game Warmups and Stretching Sessions
Moreover, many lacrosse players see a flexibility increase soon after they join an organized lacrosse team. This is because virtually all lacrosse teams partake in a full dynamic warmup prior to lacrosse practices and games.
Teams make a habit of pre-game warmups mainly because of injury prevention. Consequently, the majority of lacrosse players overlook these flexibility benefits. Since players rarely ever measure their flexibility before and after their season, they fail to realize the extent to which lacrosse has influenced their range of motion.
Of course, the margin of this flexibility increase is contingent on how seriously players take warm-ups. Nonetheless, even players that do a lackluster job of stretching may still experience the flexibility benefits of warmups simply due to the fact that they’re performed before every lacrosse outing. The sheer volume of stretching is sufficient enough to make a positive difference. Stretching in a mediocre fashion is better than no stretching at all.
Flexibility is a critical aspect of working out because it keeps your body primed for physical activity. Without a sufficient range of motion, it can be challenging to perform even the most basic of physical movements. If you stray too far from your flexible capabilities, you may even overextend and strain your muscles, which will ultimately prevent you from working out.
Unfortunately, many people skip over stretching before their workout because they believe it to be too tedious and time consuming. Since lacrosse coaches force their players to warm up before live gameplay, this is never an issue.
8.) Forces You To Be in the Best Running Shape of Your Life
Finally, the most indisputable workout benefit of lacrosse is the vast improvement in running condition.
Lacrosse players are always on the move. Whether they’re jogging or sprinting, they rarely ever stay in the same place for an extended period of time. For this reason, the cardiovascular fitness of lacrosse players is off the charts!
The first time I ever played in a lacrosse game, I could barely make it thirty seconds on the field without being winded. Mind you, I played basketball and football prior to playing lacrosse, so I wasn’t completely green to conditioning.
Needless to say, I was extremely surprised at how exhausted I would be within such a short span of time on the lacrosse field.
The reason I wasn’t conditioned to the demands of lacrosse was because I was not used to being in continuous movement. With sports like basketball and football, you’re afforded small breaks in between stints of strenuous physical activity. In lacrosse, players are rarely afforded this opportunity.
Fortunately, I eventually pushed past this point and improved my conditioning to the point where I could stay on the field for longer shifts. Even so, it did take a while.
Having run both cross country and lacrosse in high school, I dare say that I was in better running condition during the lacrosse season. During cross country, I was only conditioned to run long distances. My top sprinting speed wasn’t nearly as polished as it was during the lacrosse season. Plus, I had the added benefit of being able to change direction, shift laterally, accelerate, and decelerate much better when lacrosse was in full swing.
Either way, it’s no debate that lacrosse has unparalleled running benefits, no matter what way you package it.
Participating in the sport of lacrosse is one of the best things you can do for your body, especially if you’re a young athlete. Establishing a fitness habit at a young age will help you to stay healthy for the rest of your life.
It’s difficult to maintain a solid workout routine on your own when you’re first getting started. Having a lacrosse coach to help guide the way along with teammates there to keep you accountable will encourage you to push your fitness boundaries. At the end of the day, we all want to become the strongest version of ourselves and have fun while doing it. Lacrosse does all of this and more. So if you haven’t already, go out and try lacrosse!