Top 3 reasons why you can't train for power and endurance

Power + Endurance = poor baseball/softball performance

The debate has been brewing for a long time on whether a baseball/softball player can have both exceptional power and endurance at the same time. In reality, I don’t think too many normal people are actually debating it, but I sure have been milling it over in my head for a few weeks now. I think the tipping point came last night when I was training an unbelievably talented group of 13-year-old softball players. As they hobbled in on sore legs, I asked what they had been doing. They went on to describe their “conditioning” workouts that a coach had been making them do before practice. The gist of it? Lot’s of running, situps, crunches and weighted squats. For your sake, I’m only going to focus on the running part in this article, and I’ll cover the other three once I’ve calmed down a little.  

In case you stop reading now, here is the most important part of the whole article: You cannot train both power and endurance successfully. Key word here is successfully. That means you can’t be an exceptional baseball/softball player as well as an exceptional marathon runner. This concept of concurrent training (training for both endurance and strength) has been debated for years. It seems researchers have finally settled this debate, so why are coaches training their athletes more like distance runners than baseball/softball players? 

I know many of you are thinking that this doesn’t apply to you. You can run a few miles a day and still be an explosive athlete. Don’t try to deny you’re not thinking that, because I was one of those athletes too. I thought I could be good at everything, and in reality I was good at everything. I could run a mile in close to 6 minutes, I could win almost all sprints during basketball practice, I played 2 sports successfully in college and I was still one of the strongest on the team. But don’t miss this part – I wasn’t great. I was a hybrid, and still am (but trying to change). I took plyometrics (a powerful exercise) and morphed them into an endurance exercise. I would take an exercise that was meant to be explosive and done in a few reps (like squat jumps) and do 20 reps of them. You might be thinking, “what’s wrong with that?” Let’s take a look at the top 3 reasons why you can’t train for both endurance and power/strength.

1.) You’re training the wrong energy system

Power and endurance activities stress different physiological systems. Bobby touched on this before in his article “A basis for baseball strength and conditioning”, but it seems like we need to revisit the topic. To summarize, we need to choose exercises that are similar metabolically to the sport of the athlete. Baseball/softball athletes rely mainly on anaerobic energy systems, specifically the ATP-CP energy system, also known as creatine phosphate energy system. This energy system is active within the first 10 to 30 seconds of exercise, which is the time frame for movements in baseball/softball. On the other hand, aerobic sports like distance running rely more heavily on the aerobic system. The reliance on this system causes a lot of changes to occur within the body. One of those is an increase in the activity of aerobic enzymes and mitochondrial density. Power/strength exercises decrease aerobic activity and actually decrease mitochondrial density, which can negatively affect endurance capacity. The muscle is therefore unable to adapt optimally to either the strength or endurance training stimulus.

2.) You’re negatively affecting muscle hypertrophy

Strength/power training causes muscle fiber hypertrophy. Contractile proteins increase, the cross sectional area of both type I and type II fibers increase, and also maximal contractile force increases. If your body is good at applying force quickly, then you generally jump higher and run faster. We see little muscle hypertrophy from endurance training, but we do see some conversion of type II (fast twitch) to type I (slow twitch) fibers. In simple language, if you convert your fast twitch fibers to slow twitch, then you get slower = not a good thing.

3.) You’re negatively impacting your ability to generate force quickly

Endurance training could reduce the capacity of the neuromuscular system to rapidly generate force. Several studies have shown a reduction in vertical jump height following several weeks of endurance training. One of the best examples of this was an 18-week study done on Division I baseball players in-season. The athletes were separated into 2 groups, both did the same resistance exercises and plyo’s 2x/week, but the first group incorporated sprints during their training, and the second group incorporated endurance into their workouts.

Group #1: Resistance exercise 2x/week, plyo’s 2x per week

-Sprint training 3x/week (15-60 meter sprints)

Group #2: Resistance exercise 2x/week, plyo’s 2x per week

-Endurance training 3x/week (45 minutes continuous jogging or cycling)

The athletes that did sprints during season had increased their power 15%, while the endurance group decreased by 2%.  The authors conclude that, “the game of baseball involves repeated power tasks such as sprinting, throwing, and jumping. Performance on such tasks is highly dependent on a player’s speed and power. Anything that decreases power can have a detrimental impact on performance and should be avoided. By keeping all conditioning on the power end of the muscular fitness spectrum, power can be maintained or even increased throughout a baseball season.”

So can someone tell me why baseball/softball coaches are having their athletes run distances, doing minute long circuits, or doing reps of 20 squat jumps? Stop and take a look at the research – anything that decreases power can have a detrimental impact on performance! Generally, coaches report that the purpose of doing endurance type training is for “conditioning” or to “get my athletes in better shape” or to “be able to last during long weekends”. Well, the good thing is that you can still get the benefits of endurance training with out actually having the negative impacts of distance training. The solution? Substitute long distance training with short, high intensity interval type training. If your goal is to improve aerobic endurance, here’s how you could program a practice or workout.

Sample Practice Schedule:

10 minute Dynamic warm-up – goal to increase flexibility

1-2 hour practice - goal to improve sport specific skills

20 minutes of conditioning – goal to increase anaerobic endurance

  • SPRINT 60 ft (for softball – 3 seconds) 90 ft (for baseball – 4 seconds)
  • REST 20 seconds (work to rest ratio of ≈ 1:5)
  • REPEAT 5-8x
  • SPRINT 120 ft (home to 1st and back - softball) 180 ft (for baseball)
  • REST 40 seconds
  • REPEAT 3-5x

We just looked at 3 ways endurance training can lead to obstructions in strength/power development. This sample workout is just one way you can transition from distance running to interval sprints, with the goal of maintaining the benefits of strength/power training. As an athlete or coach, the most important part of programming your workouts is to first look at the movements involved in the sport, and then look at the metabolic demand of the sport. To be a successful baseball/softball player, do you need to be able to run around the field 4x continuous without getting tired? Or do you need to explode out of the box quickly, have a powerful first step, and react quickly? Your training determines what kind of player you will be... if it doesn't include some type of explosive exercises, then it’s time to sit down and rework your programming. 


Rhea, M., Oliverson, J., Marshall, G., Peterson, M., Kenn, J., Naclerio Ayllon, F. (2008). Noncompatibility of power and endurance training among college baseball players. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 22(1): 230-234. 

Huber, C., Gopfert, B., Franz-Xavier Kugler, P., Tscharner, V. (2010). The effect of sprint and endurance training on EMG signal analysis by wavelets. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 24(6): 1527-1536.