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What is Strength & Conditioning?

The aim of this post is to briefly summarise what strength and conditioning (S&C) is without too much unnecessary detail which will only serve to confuse even further. In its most simple terms, S&C is the practical application of sport science. From my perspective the aim of Strength & Conditioning is three-fold.

The priority of every S&C coach should be to first and foremost make sure that their athlete is at a reduced risk from injury. Whether you are dealing with a professional boxer or a recreational obstacle course athlete, the coach should have an understanding of the common injuries that occur and dysfunctional movement patterns. An S&C coach should also remember that their main goal is to help that athlete improve sporting performance, lifting heavy weights or producing certain movements in the gym comes secondary. Sometime I see S&C coaches get carried away and trying to overload an athlete too much, it is important to remember that not monitoring workload effectively and pushing an athlete too hard can cause fatigue and/or injury. If an athlete is injured then they wont be able to train I the gym, but more importantly they wont be able to compete in their sport. With every individual I work with, I first try and understand their movement competency, and then work the training around both this and the requirement of their sport.

The second objective of Strength & Conditioning is to improve an athletes physical and physiological qualities in order to help improve their sporting performance. Performance enhancement is going to be heavily dependent on the nature of the sport and the position of the athlete (in team sports). For example, if working with a Tennis player a coach should ensure that the athlete is able to move well in every direction, they should have a strong shoulder girdle and be quick over very short distances. In comparison, working with an obstacle course athlete there would be a greater emphasis on aerobic capacity and power, in addition to crawling and climbing movements. As a coach it is important to understand all the physical qualities necessary in a certain sport and in order of importance. Conducting a physical testing analysis can allow a coach to see where an athlete sits relative to standards for their sport and level.

The final, sometimes overlooked role of strength & conditioning is to provide athletes with a mentor. An S&C coach should be more than simply someone providing instruction, they should aim to build rapport with their athletes, understand what motivates their athlete and understand when they are struggling.

Clearing the confusion…….Strength & Conditioning is not Olympic Weightlifting, it is not strength training, sled pulling or suspension training. The above are all tools that a Strength & Conditioning coach may use to enhance the performance of their athlete. A good coach will understand what piece of equipment is most suitable depending on the goal of their athlete. Confusion arises when athletes perceive the tools as strength and conditioning, when in fact it’s the process and methods behind the tools that are important.

Using strength and conditioning tools to create a ‘beasting’ session doesn’t target specific physical qualities, or provide progression, individualisation or satisfy a long term plan. Often athletes mistakenly perform gym workouts, believing they are strength and conditioning training. As a coach or an athlete you should be able to answer exactly why you’re using a particular exercise at a particular phase of your training. If it has no purpose, elicits no developmental benefit for the individual athlete, then it is wasting time and energy. Even worse, inappropriate exercise selection can hinder athletic performance by interfering with a skilled pattern of movement. Strength and conditioning isn’t a replacement for technical and tactical training. It’s supplemental work that develops the physical qualities that can’t be optimised by practising the sport itself. If either technical and tactical skill, or strength and conditioning training are lacking you will limit your performance potential. The two directly support each other. You can’t be the best athlete you can be, just by competing at your sport – you’ll leave important physical attributes underdeveloped. Movement quality and mechanical efficiency are a primary focus, ensuring an athlete has adequate mobility and stability to control sound movement patterns over a wide range of joint angles. Once this foundation has been established, individualised, periodised programmes are designed to develop the fighter’s strength and power qualities along with appropriate energy systems to maintain sufficient intensity for the duration of the competition.

Strength & Conditioning has become a key component of almost every sport, with managerial and coaching staff developing a greater understanding of the importance of maximising an athletes physical capabilities. Even in sports such as table tennis Strength & Conditioning has been implemented to help athletes improve, increasing coordination, reaction times and speed of movement. Understand that it takes time to build effective movement patterns and progressively build athletic qualities, the sooner you start, the more effective you’ll be when it becomes a critical part of your performance. A lot of the work I have done in previous years has been with youth athletes, helping build quality motor patterns and underlying strength in a fun environment can be critical for athlete development at an older age.

Employing modalities such as olympic lifting, strength, plyometric, speed and agility training progressively over the long term, creates a robust, high performing athlete capable of exploiting all technical and tactical advantages. S&C is about using the right tools for the right job at the right time. It’s not just what tools you use, but how you piece them together to avoid conflicting physiological demands to achieve maximum effect for the individual athlete.

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