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Sport-Specific Strength-Training Exercises for the Sport of Lacrosse

Pistilli, Emidio E; Ginther, Geoff; Larsen, Jen

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Strength and Conditioning Journal: August 2008 - Volume 30 - Issue 4 - p 31-38
doi: 10.1519/SSC.0b013e31817d1cf7
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The sport of lacrosse has had a steady growth in participation at the high school and college levels for both men and women and is often referred to as one of the fastest-growing sports (2). Unfortunately, applied research and training theory for lacrosse has not had the same level of growth. A recent search of the National Strength and Conditioning Association journal database ( revealed a total of just 8 articles specific to training and/or research for the sport of lacrosse (1,2,10,13,14,17-19). With such a large growth of participation, it is important for strength and conditioning coaches to implement sport-specific training programs to increase lacrosse player performance and reduce injury risk.

Lacrosse is a physically demanding sport that requires athletes to sprint repeatedly and change directions quickly all while manipulating the ball with the lacrosse stick. A study outlining the physiological profile of lacrosse at the club sport level was performed previously in an attempt to identify the characteristics necessary for successful lacrosse performance (19). This study performed anthropometric measurements as well as laboratory tests for both aerobic and anaerobic parameters. Interestingly, maximal oxygen consumption (VO2max), which was measured during the Bruce graded exercise test, averaged 50 mL·kg−1 min−1 in this study group, indicating that lacrosse training and participation places a large demand on the oxidative capacity of athletes. When compared with other athletes, these values were similar to those obtained from college basketball athletes (19).

In addition, the blood lactate values obtained at the end of the VO2max test were greater than those noted in distance runners, indicating a well-developed anaerobic system in these athletes. Anaerobic performance, which was measured from a maximal 30-second Wingate test, indicated above-average values for maximal power and total work that were similar to those in soccer and rugby athletes. The conclusions of this study were that lacrosse athletes exhibited above-average aerobic and anaerobic conditioning and these physiological responses were similar to other high-intensity, interval-oriented athletes (19). This information can be used by strength and conditioning coaches to form the basis for a sport-specific training program for lacrosse athletes.

Training methods that focus on anaerobic conditioning and weightlifting have been used by strength and conditioning coaches for high-intensity interval sports such as basketball (9,11,15) and soccer (6,12,16). Because of the similarities noted here previously in physiological characteristics, similar training methods can be used to train lacrosse athletes to improve overall performance on the playing field. It has been estimated that approximately 70% of energy consumption during lacrosse activity occurs through anaerobic pathways whereas 30% occurs through aerobic pathways, although this percentage may vary slightly based on player position (8). In one example of an off-season training program specific for women lacrosse athletes, weightlifting and anaerobic conditioning (plyometrics and sprinting drills) compromised the majority of training volume. Compound exercises involving large muscle groups, including cleans, squats, jerks, and presses, were performed 3 days per week along with single-joint exercises to address smaller muscle groups (Table 1). Conditioning drills, consisting of various sprints drills, were performed 1-2 days per week (Table 2). Aerobic conditioning was addressed with approximately one day per week set aside for conditioning runs of 30-60 minutes (Table 2). The goals of this type of off-season training program are to increase the strength and general conditioning of lacrosse athletes and prepare them for more formal pre-season training.

Table 1:
Examples of weightlifting routines
Table 2:
Off-season conditioning

In the preseason, the focus of training will shift from increasing strength to increasing performance through sport-specific exercises. In addition to traditional forms of exercise, such as sprints and weightlifting movements, nontraditional exercises can be devised to more specifically develop movement patterns specific to lacrosse. According to the principle of specificity, training adaptations can transfer to better sport performance through exercises using similar movement patterns and movement velocities that occur during competition (22). The following strength training exercises have been designed after a careful analysis of the movement patterns specific to women's lacrosse at the collegiate level. A needs analysis was performed to answer 4 questions, as described by Fleck and Kraemer (7): (a) what muscle groups need to be trained, (b) what energy systems need to be trained, (c) what types of muscle actions are used, and (d) what are the primary sites of injury. On the basis of this assessment, 3 focus areas were identified as targets for increased training: the large hip and knee flexors and extensors; the muscles of the torso comprising the “core”; and the shoulders, forearms, and wrists of the upper body. The following strength training exercises can be classified as general conditioning exercises and sport-specific exercises. The general conditioning exercises can be performed by all athletes on the lacrosse team, regardless of position, to train the focus areas identified. The sport-specific exercises were developed to target specific aspects of the lacrosse swing, and/or specific movement patterns performed by players at each position.

It should be noted that some of these exercises require the use of resistance and/or weighted implements during the performance of the lacrosse swing, which have the potential to alter the mechanics of the swing. To the authors' knowledge, no previous studies have been performed with the use of resistance and/or weighted objects and the effects on lacrosse swing mechanics. However, previous studies have noted that the throwing velocity of collegiate baseball pitchers can be increased using weighted baseballs (3-5), without altering the mechanics of the throwing motion. Exercises using weighted objects need to be monitored closely and strength coaches should provide a specific weight progression (3,21). Increases in resistance or weight lifted in a particular movement should never come at the expense of maintaining proper lacrosse form. The following strength training exercises make up a large percentage of the preseason training program to help prepare collegiate level athletes for the upcoming season. Modifications in these exercises may be required if performed by athletes not at the collegiate level.


Initially, some operational definitions concerning the lacrosse swing should be presented that will aid in the understanding of the performance of the strength training exercises described below. There are different components of the lacrosse swing as well as different types of swings that an athlete can perform during a lacrosse game (20). The lacrosse swing, as defined in this report, includes all movements performed during an overhand motion of the lacrosse stick which usually takes place when shooting or passing the ball. We have further broken down the overhand lacrosse swing into two components: the draw phase and the release phase. The draw phase of the overhand swing includes bringing the lacrosse stick overhead and behind the shoulder in a ready position to throw the ball. The release phase of the overhand swing includes the forward and downward motion of the lacrosse stick as the ball is thrown forward. In addition to the overhand swing, lacrosse athletes can also perform underhand swings, backhand swings, and side-arm swings (20). Side-arm swings are similar to overhand swings, except the forward motion of the stick is parallel to the ground and at the level of the torso, not above the head. The strength training exercises described in this paper will focus on performance of components of the overhand lacrosse swing and as well as the side-arm swing.


Walking lunge

The first general conditioning exercise is a walking lunge holding a heavy sledge hammer (Figure 1A-E). This exercise is used to train the quadriceps muscles, hamstrings muscles, and gluteal muscles specifically. In addition, the heavy hammer is alternately lifted over each shoulder while maintaining the position used when holding the lacrosse stick. In this way, the lower body can be trained while, at the same time, athletes can build strength in the shoulder and torso muscles required for efficient throwing. A training progression has been devised that consists of multiple sets of lunges between 10-15 yards carrying heavy hammers of varying weights (4-10 lbs).

Figure 1:
Walking lunge exercise with weighted hammer. (A) Starting position. (B) and (C) Front view of lunge. (D) and (E) Side view of lunge.

Russian boxer

The second general conditioning exercise, the Russian boxer, targets the abdominal muscles of the torso, specifically focusing on the obliques to aid in the upper body rotation performed during the lacrosse swing (Figure 2A and 2B). To begin this exercise, a standard barbell is anchored in a corner and the athlete grasps the upper portion of the barbell. The barbell is then rotated from one hip to the other with the path of the barbell traveling over the athlete's head. The objective of this exercise is not speed, or how fast the repetitions can be performed. Rather, athletes should focus on feeling the obliques and abdominal muscles contracting as the barbell is rotated from one side to the other. A typical training session would include multiple sets of this exercise for 10 repetitions.

Figure 2:
Russian boxer exercise.

Wrist flexion/extension/rotation

The third general conditioning exercise that was developed targets the forearms and muscles that cross the wrist joint (brachioradialis, flexor/extensor carpi radialis, flexor/extensor carpi ulnaris) to aid in movements of the lacrosse stick during shooting and passing. A weighted PVC pipe is held in the hand with the shoulder joint flexed 90° and the elbow joint flexed 90° (Figure 3A and 3C). From this position, the pipe is brought forward as the elbow and wrist joints extend (Figure 3B and 3D). Another use of the sand-filled PVC pipe is to have one partner use the forearm muscles to rotate the pipe as the other partner resists the rotation (Figure 3E). A typical training session would include multiple sets of 10 repetitions.

Figure 3:
Forearm exercise with weighted PVC pipe. (A) and (B) Front view. (C) and (D) Side view. (E) Partner-resisted pipe turns.

Weighted jumps

The final general conditioning exercise is a plyometric-type of exercise in which athletes jump with a weighted PVC pipe. This exercise is performed either with each arm independently (Figure 4A and 4B) or with both arms together (Figure 4C and 4D). The athlete should start in a “semi-crouched” or quarter squat position and then jump explosively upward while reaching the weighted pipe directly overhead. Athletes should then land on the balls of their feet in a controlled motion and return to the quarter squat starting position with minimal rest taken between repetitions. A typical training session would include multiple sets of 6 jumps with each arm.

Figure 4:
Jump with weighted PVC pipe. (A) and (B) Single arm jump. (C) and (D) Double arm jump.


Inclined hitting wall

An inclined hitting wall was designed and built in an effort to provide a training stimulus that closely mimics the overhand lacrosse swing (Figure 5A). A triangular frame was constructed out of 4 inch by 5 inch fir wood beams that are jointed and held together by ½ inch thick bolts. There are 2 hitting surfaces on opposing sides of the frame and both are 28 inches high and 109 inches across. The hitting surfaces are made of 3.5-inch wood attached to the frame and are covered with three-quarter-inch dense rubber matting. The hitting surfaces are set at different angles and the center of each hitting surface at different heights which help accommodate athletes of differing statures. For example, the center of one surface is 50 inches from the floor and the other is 56 inches from the floor, with hitting angles of 50 degrees and 65 degrees. Each hitting surface can allow up to three athletes to safely perform the training exercises.

Figure 5:
Inclined hitting wall exercise with weighted hammer. (A) Inclined hitting wall. (B) Starting position of exercise with weighted hammer. (C) Finishing position of exercise with weighted hammer.

Athletes swing sledge hammers of various weights and attempt to hit the painted spots on the face of the hitting surface, while paying close attention to the mechanics of the lacrosse swing (Figure 5B and 5C). The objective of this exercise is to use the weighted hammer to provide additional resistance during the lacrosse swing, while maintaining as closely as possible the natural mechanics of the swing. This motion should include maintaining control of the weighted hammer during the deceleration phase of the swing (just before hitting the wall). In addition, heavier hammers can be used to strengthen muscles while lighter hammers can be used to increase power and velocity in the motion. During a typical training session, athletes swing hammers from 4 to 10 lbs for multiple sets of 15-20 repetitions.

Training the draw phase of the overhand swing

The mechanics of the lacrosse swing were analyzed and exercises were specifically designed to train the “draw” phase of the swing. In one variation, resistance tubing is attached to PVC pipe to provide resistance and then attached to a beam at a height just over the athletes' head (Figure 6A-D). The athlete then “draws” the pipe back against the resistance, as would be performed leading to the release of the lacrosse swing (Figure 6A and 6B). In another variation of this exercise, the tubing is anchored under the foot and the stick is “drawn” upward over the shoulder (Figure 6C and 6D). A third variation of this theme is specifically utilized by goalies and mimics the motion used to resist incoming shots (Figure 6E and 6F). The goalie grasps a PVC cross at the top and bottom positions and moves the cross to each side against the resistance of the tubing as if a shot was made to that side. A typical training session would include multiple sets of 10-15 repetitions.

Figure 6:
PVC pipe with resistance tubing. (A) and (B) Overhead draw phase exercise. (C) and (D) Low draw exercise. (E) and (F) Goalie-specific version of exercise.

Training the release phase of the overhand and sidearm swing

To specifically address the release phase of the lacrosse swing, a wooden handle was attached to a multistation cable machine in either a high position to train the overhand swing (Figure 7A and 7B), or a middle or low position to train the side-arm swing (Figure 7C and 7D). The athlete then moves through the motion of the release of the swing as the weight stack (Figure 7A-D) provides resistance. The goal of this exercise is to use a light-to-moderate resistance while maintaining the natural mechanics of the swing. Thus, coaches should monitor this exercise and insure athletes are not using a resistance that results in changes to the swing mechanics. A typical training session would include multiple sets of 10 repetitions.

Figure 7:
Lacrosse swing exercises using cable machine. (A) and (B) Overhand swing position. (C) and (D) Side-arm swing position.


As participation in the sport of lacrosse continues to grow, there is a need for dissemination of information related to the training of lacrosse athletes. In addition to traditional weightlifting movements, sprinting, and conditioning drills, exercises can be devised to specifically train the movement patterns performed during a lacrosse match. The exercises developed above typically are performed during the pre-season phase of training, in preparation for the competitive season. Following an off-season training program, these types of exercises coupled with the increase in organized team practices will enable the athletes to maintain the fitness gains that have occurred during the off-season, while improving lacrosse-specific performance and minimizing the risk of injury.▪


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lacrosse; principle of specificity; preseason training

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