Side Stitches Revisited

From Whitney a D-I Tennis player on stitches: Thanks for the site, very useful. I am a D1 tennis player, and obviously train very hard. I’m in the weight room every day, 2-3 hours of tennis everyday, and very high intensity conditioning 3 times a week (typically I burn about 350-400 calories in a 30 minute treadmill workout). Long distance running has never been my thing, unfortunately. I have ALWAYS had trouble with side cramps, but I know it’s not due to being out of shape. It’s typically only in long distance running that I have this problem, I have never run into it while doing sprints or while playing tennis. Anyways, it has really been bothering me the past couple of weeks, to the point where I can’t finish workouts. Some other things that come along with my side cramps are tightness of my chest ( I think it may be more of a very deep cramp down in my rib cage), as well as a very uncomfortable feeling (almost a cramp) in my upper back area, it feels like its behind my left shoulder blade. I was just wondering if you have ever heard of posture possibly affecting these types of cramps, or if you had any other thoughts? Thanks!!


Conditioning of course is sport specific. The fact that you can do hundreds of short spurts and “suicide” drills even on a tennis court is not the same as steady state running. So, first, I would lean on a conditioning factor to some degree. Until you do lots more running at steady states… you may continue to have these cramps from time to time when doing that type of workout.

You have good intuition: indeed posture could be a possibility cause. But it may be hard to diagnose. Practice running “tall”. Like a string pulled up your spine through the top of your head…you should only have the slightest lean forward and almost none at slow speeds. I would do work on core strength also; even though you do weight workouts you may need to focus more on CORE versus arm or leg strength. I say this not only for posture assistance but that I also know IN GENERAL females lack core strength and this can contribute to poor running form… therefore… cramping.

Though steady state running enhances general conditioning in all athletes… I would suggest a new approach or two. I would first do your steady state running in stages… run for awhile until you have gone a ways and DO NOT have a cramp yet… then walk… then get back to running. Alternate this pattern until you reach your desired total mileage to improve your overall endurance. Next, if that isn’t working, I’d have you continue to do lots of shorter sprints… it is sport-specific… enhances conditioning AND you can do them until you drop!!! What I mean is you can do many of them to add up to your time of steady state running and by doing faster running; by the way you will burn FAR more calories. The short rest between reps does not affect calorie expenditure (i.e. lessen it) and the rest can be adjusted from longer to progressively shorter as well. That way your sprint intervals continue the adaptation principles of training/conditioning.

So, I recommend: core strength; run tall (especially with fatigue); chop up long runs; switch to higher volume of your sprints with progressively shorter rests to compensate if you cannot do long runs or to augment them.

I hope some of this helps. Please stay in touch with how it goes. I’d really like to know. I learn from every athlete I work with… it’s how I get better at what I do.


About Dean Hebert

I’m a mental game coach, author and speaker. I work with individual athletes, parents, coaches, and teams on sports performance enhancement. Beyond my academic post-graduate work in sports psychology - the psychology behind athlete performance – I am a certified Mental Games Coaching Professional (MGCP) and certified hypnotherapist. I’ve authored several books and hundreds of articles. “Coach, I didn’t run because…” (2008) is a seriously light-hearted look at making excuses not to workout and how to overcome them. “Focus for Fitness” (2009) and “Screw the Goals Give me the Donut” (2010) are two of my eBooks on mental game approaches for the everyday athlete. I wrote these because I believe that everyone can benefit from the powerful mental techniques that the world’s best athletes use. I have been cited in Runners World, Best Health magazine (CN), SWEAT Magazine, and the Washington Examiner amongst many other publications. I have been a featured mental games coach in Runner’s World and for the internationally acclaimed trail running resource - I also regularly appear on sports and fitness talk shows such as LTKFitness, Runnersroundtable and for more than three years I have co-hosted a weekly video series with Coach Joe English for I specialize in mental toughness training. My clients include tennis, synchronized swimming, golf, race-kart, soccer, motocross, volleyball, MMA, cycling (road, off-road, time-trialist), running, duathlon and triathlon, basketball, football and baseball athletes. I have coached world-class athletes and athletes internationally. I have a passion for working with youth athletes and helping them apply mental game skills and techniques to all areas of life. Most importantly, my aim is to have people enjoy sports and life to their fullest through peak performances.
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4 Responses to Side Stitches Revisited

  1. Christina says:

    Something I do when I get side stitches is I count my left steps. It helps me a lot. I’m not sure if it helps because scientifically I’m doing something to affect it or just because I’ve shifted my focus to something else.

  2. TriExpert says:

    Dean, a technique that I’ve used for 20 years, so effective that I’ve not had one side stitch in that time (and so old that I don’t recall whether I devised it or swiped it!) involves breathing on an odd footstrike pattern.

    Namely, I’ll inhale for 3 foot touches, exhale for the next 4. For more intense segments, that will shift to 2/3 or even 1/2 for a race kick.

    Best regards!

  3. Pingback: More on Side Stitches « The Running World According to Dean

  4. Pingback: Muscle Cramps, Dehydration and Running | The Running World According to Dean

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