The majority of popular sports are specially geared toward one fitness area, either aerobic or anaerobic. For this reason, the majority of new athletes that transition over to lacrosse often ask which workout mold does lacrosse fit. Having played lacrosse myself, I can say with confidence that the answer is not as simple as it would seem.
Lacrosse improves both aerobic and anaerobic fitness, as players must run long distances and perform short bursts of quick movement during games. Certain positions emphasize aerobic or anaerobic elements more so than the other, but no position is completely exempt from either fitness area.
This is what separates lacrosse from many of the other popular sports out there. Below, we will discuss the exact ways in which lacrosse is aerobic and anaerobic. Read until the end to learn several useful tips on how to best prepare for the aerobic and anaerobic requirements of lacrosse.
How Lacrosse is Aerobic
Aerobic exercise revolves around cardiovascular fitness that allows oxygen to reach the muscles to act as fuel. In order for the muscles to be able to use oxygen, the exercise being performed must be done at a steady, low to moderate pace. This way, the oxygen being inhaled has adequate time to arrive at the muscles (source).
Long distance is one of the best methods of aerobic fitness, something that’s very prevalent in the sport of lacrosse.
Players Must Keep Pace with Wherever the Ball Goes
Lacrosse has been called The Fastest Sport on Two Feet for good reason. The ball rarely ever stays in one place for an extended period of time. It’s always bouncing all around the field because the basis of scoring is quick ball movement and diversification of attacking angles. Plus, possession is constantly interchanging between both teams during games.
As the ball moves, players have to keep pace as well, otherwise they risk leaving their team in a vulnerable position. This is easier said than done, mainly because the field space is so vast.
The Spacious Field Dimensions Cause Players to Run Longer Distances
The standard field boundaries of lacrosse are 60 yards wide and 110 yards long (source). This makes a lacrosse field slightly larger than a football field, since football fields measure 53 1/3 yards wide and 100 yards long (source).
Consequently, players are forced to run great lengths whenever they’re in the game. Unlike other sports, like baseball or football example, the running in lacrosse is not broken up with every play. The game is constantly moving at an up tempo speed, with no designated rest time in between possessions.
For this reason, players are forced to work their aerobic fitness because they have no time to sit back and watch the play unfold while they’re out on the field. They need to run at a nice steady pace to stay in the thick of the action. This is why it’s so rare to see a lacrosse player walking during the game.
Even just one player taking a play off can cost their team dearly.
It’s typical for a lacrosse player to run anywhere from three to five miles in a single game, with the exception of lacrosse goalies. After several games, these miles start to add up. This is one of the main reasons why players see a marked improvement in their aerobic fitness compared to when they first start.
How Lacrosse is Anaerobic
Lacrosse is unique in that in addition to being aerobic, it incorporates anaerobic components as well.
To reiterate, anaerobic exercise is based around, short quick bursts of muscle exertion. Since the muscle exertion takes place so quickly, the oxygen is unable to fuel the muscles in time, forcing the body to rely on stored energy instead (source).
The Majority of Lacrosse Skills Require Quick Bursts of Energy
Many fundamental lacrosse maneuvers are founded upon these quick, short explosions of movement. One of the foremost examples of this is the act of dodging. To initiate the offense, ball carriers have to beat their man in a one-on-one situation by manipulating defenders with deceptive jukes and top notch acceleration. Any dodge that’s performed too slowly grants the on-ball defender time to recover, rendering the dodging attempt unsuccessful.
Even after the dodge is performed, the ball carrier has to run at a dead sprint to get to open space on the field. These maximum velocity sprints are the very essence of what anaerobic fitness is about.
Aside from dodging, other prominent lacrosse fundamentals that place heavy emphasis on anaerobic fitness include shooting, checking, and fighting for ground balls.
Maximum Effort Sprints are an Integral Part of Lacrosse
At various points in the game, players will be forced to mix in some sprinting alongside the jogging. Otherwise, they’ll simply fail to keep up. This blend of aerobic fitness and anaerobic fitness is what makes lacrosse so special.
For instance, taking advantage of fast break opportunities is a key element to winning lacrosse games. Teams have a far better chance of scoring when they have four offenses players going against three defensive players that aren’t even set properly. Consequently, as soon as there’s a turnover of possession, ball carriers are looking to push the break.
It’s very challenging to exploit a transitional opportunity when you’re carrying the ball at a brisk jog. You need to be running full speed in order to beat the rest of the defense to the offensive zone. Although this requires more effort, speed is the only way to catch the defense when they’re not ready.
Take a look at the classic fast break example below and observe how quickly Bernhardt runs the ball downfield to beat the defense.
This fast break wouldn’t be possible had he refused to turn on the jets. This is a clear example of how anaerobic exercise goes hand in hand with lacrosse.
Which Sort of Fitness is More Prevalent in Lacrosse: Aerobic or Anaerobic?
Some of you may be wondering which fitness is the more common of the two: aerobic fitness or anaerobic fitness? Unfortunately, the answer to this is not so simple, as each lacrosse position carries different responsibilities on the field that inherently involve varying types of exercise.
For this reason, we’ll discuss which type of fitness prevails with each individual position on a case by case basis.
You can find more information about the approximate amount of miles each position runs on average by clicking over to my article Do You Run a Lot in Lacrosse?
Far and away, middies are the players that run the most in lacrosse. Since they’re entrusted with both offensive and defensive responsibilities, they must travel between both field halves on a frequent basis. Consequently, they log in a considerable amount of mileage having to run back and forth between offense and defense.
Although middies do still partake in anaerobic movements, the majority of their workload is aerobic. Steadily pursuing the ball at both field ends is too aerobically taxing for this position to be considered primarily anaerobically oriented.
Unlike middies, attackmen do not need to traverse back and forth between both field ends. They’re stationed in the offensive zone only, so they don’t have to run nearly as much.
For this reason, the aerobic and anaerobic demands of attackmen is fairly split 50/50. These players have to jog around the offensive zone to settle themselves into position, but they also have to use quick bursts of speed to outmaneuver defenders.
Ultimately, the play style of the attackmen in question is what dictates which type of fitness is more prevalent to them. Attackmen that are extremely ball dominant—requiring speedy isolation work to create scoring opportunities—will likely lie on the anaerobic end of the spectrum. Attackmen that rely on slow, calculated off-ball movement to make plays on offense will probably lean more towards the aerobic side of things.
The aerobic and anaerobic demands of defensemen are similar to that of attackmen, since their primary duty is to follow their every move. They chiefly remain in the defensive zone and only crossing over sporadically into the offensive zone during clears.
It’s practically a tie between aerobic exercise and anaerobic exercise for defensemen. Again, which of the two is more common depends entirely on individual play style.
Aggressive defensemen that prefer to press out on their opponents and deliver a flurry of defensive checks whenever they’re given the chance will be more anaerobically active. Defensemen that prefer to hedge off their man and provide frequent defensive support will likely be in constant motion, which promotes aerobic fitness.
The type of fitness required for the goalie position is special in that it doesn’t quite fit into the category of aerobic or anaerobic fitness. Rather, their responsibilities are based around reflexive conditioning (source).
Goalies command the defense from the confines of the crease. The only time they ever venture out of this area is when clearing the ball from the offensive zone to the defensive zone. As a result, goalies don’t exercise their aerobic and anaerobic capacities nearly as much as their reflexes.
Superb reflexes are absolutely vital to goalkeeping as the lacrosse shot speeds can reach upwards of 80 miles per hour! They only have a split second to react to these oncoming shots, so their muscles need to be hardwired to move subconsciously.
Face Off Specialiast
The face off specialist is another unique lacrosse position that emphasizes reflexive conditioning above all else. As soon as the referee blows their whistle, face off specialists need to move like a race horse stampeding out of the gates. A split second delay could mean the difference between a win or loss of possession.
However, anaerobic fitness is also a key part to what the face off specialist does. If you’ve never seen a face-off matchup before, it’s akin to a wrestling match. Both players collide at center field, vying for possession of the ball. They rely on quick bursts of strength and speed to outmaneuver the opponent and get the ball to the offense.
Any face off specialist that’s lacking in the area of anaerobic fitness probably won’t make it far in high level competition.
How to Train for the Aerobic and Anaerobic Demands of Lacrosse
Now that you understand that lacrosse is a mix of aerobic and anaerobic exercise, your natural thought progression has probably brought you to the question of how to best train for these harsh fitness demands.
Implement a HIIT Running Program
The best way to get in shape for lacrosse is to engage in a High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) running program.
The premise behind a HIIT running program is that you incorporate short, maximum effort sprints with slow, light intensity jogs to act as recovery periods. This way, you’re always moving and never quite allowing your heart rate to rest fully.
A HIIT running program is suited perfectly for lacrosse because you’re always moving on the lacrosse field. There’s rarely ever a time where you aren’t actively moving somewhere. For this reason, your heart will always be elevated. If you want to handle the running demands of lacrosse, you need to mimic this running style to the best of your ability.
There are numerous ways you can go about a HIIT style running workout, but I’ve found that simplicity is often the most effective way to get started. So if you’re just trying to get back into the swing of things, do the basic HIIT running program below.
|Running Intensity||Time Interval|
|High Speed Sprints (80-90% Intensity)||30 seconds|
|Light, Steady Paced Jog (40-50% Intensity)||2 minutes|
If you don’t like this program, search up another one online. There are literally hundreds of HIIT running programs to choose from if you look hard enough. But once you commit to a program, stick to it! I would advise against bouncing around from one program to another because it’s hard to keep yourself accountable that way.
Follow a Strength Based Lifting Program
Another terrific way to prep for lacrosse, particularly for the anaerobic demands of the sport, is to follow a lifting program.
Lacrosse is a contact sport. With the legality of physical contact comes the inevitable clash of strength between opponents. You will need to have a proficient degree of strength under your belt in order to hold your own out on the field. Otherwise, you’ll be at the mercy of stronger opponents on the field.
The core is utilized in virtually every movement in lacrosse, from shooting to checking. There’s a reason it’s called the core. Without establishing a firm core, you’ll lose out on a great deal of potential strength and power in many facets of your game.
The leg muscles are equally important to the core muscles in lacrosse because they provide the explosive athleticism players need on the offensive side and defensive side of the ball. All speed movements on the lacrosse field are derived from the legs, from executing a dynamic dodge to delivering a forceful body check.
Just like the HIIT running programs, there’s also a considerable selection of free strength programs online that are specifically catered to athletes.
Personally, I followed the 5×5 strength program in my younger days when I was first starting to take lacrosse seriously. The 5×5 program did wonders for me, but then again, that’s just my own personal experience. If you don’t know where to begin your search, start there and then branch out.
Again, just be sure that once you select a program, you follow it. It’s far better to follow a mediocre strength program well than to constantly keep switching around strength programs because you want to avoid doing hard work.
Play Other Sports Alongside Lacrosse
Lastly, dedicating your time to playing multiple sports is another great way to prepare for the rigors of lacrosse. Committing to other forms of organized sport will force you to stay conditioned well into the lacrosse offseason.
It can be awfully challenging to force yourself to run and lift in the offseason, especially if it’s heavily reliant on your own intrinsic motivation. Everyone falls in love with the idea of working hard in the offseason at first, but eventually that passion begins to wither as the challenges presented by hard work settle in.
Playing in an entirely different sport with an entire team to encourage you to push your boundaries is the best thing you can do for your body. It takes the pressure off you having to retain the discipline to run or lift on your own. With a coach and teammates for support, it’s a lot easier to put in the additional work every week to remain in pristine condition.
And who knows? Maybe you’ll end up really liking the new sport that you went out for. That’s how my passion for lacrosse originally sprouted.
The Bottom Line
Lacrosse is neither completely aerobic or completely anaerobic—it’s a mix of both. So if you want to get in shape, join your local lacrosse team! You’ll get an effective workout that’s unlike anything else out there. Plus, you get to have fun while doing it!