Sport conditioning is a topic that does not get nearly as much attention as its strength counterpart. If conditioning is even performed it is merely something that will be done without much thought put into it. Many sport coaches still look at conditioning as something that should be performed slowly and over a long period of time. This thought process is contradictory to what the actual practice and science of conditioning tells us. To the contrary, conditioning is something that should be performed quickly, include intervals and be relatively short in duration. For most athletes that play field sports it should be mainly anaerobic in nature and done with sufficient rest periods to mimic an actual sporting event.
Where did we go wrong and why are coaches still telling their athletes to perform long, slow conditioning protocols? Unfortunately old habits die hard. When new research comes out, some old school coaches want to write it off and refer back to their old cliché “this is how we use to do it when I played” nonsense. It takes time to change people’s minds especially when there is so much misinformation out there. We know how conditioning use to be done and now we know how it should be done. So let’s get things right.
Let me explain briefly how this all works. Field and court sports are mostly using the anaerobic system, which is used without oxygen, during play. It is used for short sprints, big jumps, hard throws and big swings. All of these movements require the use of mainly the anaerobic function. They are ballistic in nature and require a high energy source called (ATP) adenosine triphosphate. This energy source is used to perform the most amazing feats that have been seen. I cannot stress this point enough; the majority of sports played use the anaerobic system. Please stop telling me that athletes need an “aerobic base” before they are permitted to do anything else. The anaerobic system is quite different from its counterpart, the aerobic system, which is required in such sports as cross county running and long distance swimming. Even with the previously mentioned sports they do require some anaerobic conditioning aspects, especially at the end of races.
At the end of the off-season and beginning of the pre-season is when the focus on the conditioning takes place. Depending on how the specific individual has responded to conditioning in the past the program will start early or later at the end of the off season. Sport conditioning is sport specific; it should resemble the actual demand of the sport. If you play baseball and your coach wants you running for miles on end their understanding of the most basic fundamentals of sport conditioning is lacking and visa-versa if you do happen to participate is a more aerobic sport such as long distance swimming and your coach wants you to do additional aerobic conditioning on top of your six days in the pool, they are missing the point.
This topic is for some unknown reason unlikely to be cleared up anytime soon in the minds of coaches, athletes and parents alike. This means we will continue to plug away at educating everyone about how sport conditioning should be performed.
SPU's Alex Drayson and Matt Migiano write the SPU Athletic Performance Blog.
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