Conditioning is defined as:
"The ability to repeat a certain effort with minimal fatigue."
In sports conditioning is needed to be able to repeat an effort which is the base of over 90% of the sports out there. Classic examples are sports like soccer, handball, basketball, ice hockey, boxing, MMA and speedskating. Just to name a few. In those sports it is crucial to keep fatigue between the first and the last effort/race/sprint, and all the others in between, as low as possible.
I have written on the difference between endurance and conditioning and two things I know for sure about conditioning before. In this article we go a step further into detail looking at how to use strengthtraining to improve conditioning for an athlete.
Generally speaking there are two different base methods to improve conditioning for an athlete
1. Sport-Specific Conditioning - Which is doing the sport. Conditioning is specific. Being a good runner won't make you cycle well and vice versa. If you are a runner you need to run to condition. If you are a speed skater you need to skate to condition. If you are a fighter you need to spar to condition. If you are a player you need to play to condition. That's simple. There is no way around it.
2. Non-Specific Conditioning - Choosing a method to improve conditioning that is not your sport, still close to the sport though. As a fighter, go on the track and sprint. As a speed skater, go play ice hockey. As a footballer, go play beach volleyball with a medicine. And of course, there is the option of conditioning through strength training for basically all athletes as a form of non-specific conditioning.
The main benefits of using conditioning through strength training for Athletes are:
1. Precise patterns – One of the prime benefits of strength training for athletes in general is the option to use clearly determined movement patterns and overload them in a structured manner.
2. High level of safety – Strength training is a very low risk for injury compared to other methods of training and specifically conditioning such as sprinting. Safety is crucial as sports training bears a higher risk of injury already. And injury is one of the most detrimental factors for progression and success in training.
3. Higher, progressive resistance - Using higher resistance in a progressive manner is one of the key benefits of strength training. Especially in sports where the explosive component needs to be conditioning such as all field, team and fight sports he addition of resistance allows an athlete to repeat effort at higher intensity. Which teaches the athlete to produce and reproduce explosive power at greater frequency and density. As its crucial to sustain explosive power throughout the whole game, competition or fight.
There are multiple options to structure conditioning through strength training for athletes. The three primary ones are:
Circuits are a classic example. They have there value and place in training. They are too one-dimensional in most cases, though. As they focus primarily on endurance on non-sport-specific patterns which is rarely the most limiting factor and therefore highest priority in the preparation for a sport.
Use multiple sets of the same exercise with full rest to improve conditioning
The first example is the program of the kickboxer Rahel Omer that I have worked with 5 years ago to get him ready for a fight. We only had 3 months of preparation and next to his strength and power his conditioning was his limiting factor from a physical perspective. Focusing on both of those non-specific goals through a 12 week program the A-Series of his Leg Program was structured in a linear fashion
Phase 1 – BB Back Squat, heels elevated, 10×10 4010 180s
Phase 2 – BB Back Squat, heels elevated, 10×5 4010 180s
Stage 3 – BB Back Squat, 5×5 4010 180s
There wasn't any other conditioning done except for these strengthtraining workouts and his sparring work. No running. No circuits. He won his fight going the distance and the first comment he made to me after the fight that never had that much air having to go all rounds. He usually likes to finish his fights early like with this one punch knockout .
The second example in this category is four-time Heavyweight World Champion in Kickboxing/K1 Ibrahim Karakoc. Being a heavyweight running and conditioning was never his favorite thing to do. When he started to work with me in August 2015 we cut all his running. So, no running. Just four strength training workouts and 3-4 kickboxing workouts per week. He not only got in great shape - click here for his BnA - he also had to do the annual lactic acid test during a national team training camp. No running from August until February when the test was. And he beat his previous all time best by an exceptional 1.5 minutes. Zero running workouts, about 75 kickboxing sessions and about 100 progressive strength training workouts in 6 months which evolved around moderate volume and moderate intensity improved his conditioning to an all time best. Why? Because training to move progressive resistance for multiple sets and multiple workouts got him a lot stronger and leaner which the side effect of much better conditioning by being able to do more repeated work in a given amount of time with minimal fatigue which is the essence of conditioning .
Use a block of multiple sets of the same exercise with incomplete rest at the end of the workout to improve conditioning
This is another example when conditioning is one of the two goals of strength training. Which primarily takes place in intermediate athletes. Purpose of the first 75% of the workout is to improve strength, functional hypertrophy and muscular balance. Then at the end there will be the conditioning component added in the already fatigued movement patterns to create fatigue demands similar to the ability to maintain output in a fatigued state during a game, competition or fight.
A program like that can look like one of the latest programs of YPSI Coach and MMA Pro Mert Özyildirim:
A1 Pullup, close, neutral, paused, 4×1-3 4012 120s
A2 DB Flat Bench Press, neutral, Fat Gripz, 4×3-5 4010 120s
B1 Seated Rope Row, to neck, pronated, 3×6-8 3013 90s
B2 Seated BB Behind the neck Press, Fat Gripz, 3×4-6 4010 90s
C Chinup, supinated, shoulder width grip, 5×3 4010 90s
D DB 15° incline bench press, neutral, 5×5 4010 90s
These are the three primary ways to structure and improve conditioning through strength training for athletes. Strength training is one important factor in building the physical base for any and all sports and athletes from muscular balance, maximum strength and functional hypertrophy to conditioning. For more success in training and in competition.
All the Best using Conditioning through Strengthtraining for Athletes!
Trainers and coaches need to start to respect interval training. And trainers and coaches need to start to program and periodize interval training much better. This is why I have designed the YPSI Interval Training Program Design & Periodization Seminar , which will be held for the first time in english on February 23th/24th in Hasselt, Belgium.
Picture: YPSI Coach and MMA Pro Mert Özyildirim blasting forward in his last fight at GMC in April 2017.