Endurance vs. Conditioning – the biggest Misconception in Training for Sports

Endurance vs. Conditioning - the biggest misconception in Training for Sports

The statement is simple - Endurance is the most overrated of all sports specific qualities.


Because endurance is neither necessary nor the limiting factor in most sports.

conditioning is Where is the difference?

Definition of Endurance and Conditioning as follows:

Endurance is the ability to maintain a certain effort with minimal fatigue - A classic example is a marathon. At a marathon it's crucial to run 2+ hours in one go with minimal fatigue.

Conditioning is the ability to repeat a certain effort with minimal fatigue - Classic examples are team sports like Soccer, American Football, Basketball and Ice hockey. In those sports it is crucial to keep fatigue between the first and the last sprint (and all the others in between) as minimal as possible.

Most Olympic, Team and Combat Sports are cyclical, that means certain efforts must be repeated. A 100m sprinter has to repeat his performance in heats, semi-finals and finals. A thrower has 6 attempts per competition and an Olympic weightlifter has 3 per discipline. If the performance decreases too much from attempt to attempt then its conditioning is the limiting factor.

A more extensive example is soccer. Depending on the position of a player he runs about 8-12km per game. From which he runs 400-1200m above 85% of his top speed. The remaining 8-10km are walking, trotting and hardly relevant for the game.

These 400-1200m are crucial. The average sprinting distance is about 17m. Sprints over 30m, that's the distance between mid- and penalty line, are very rare.

The critical distance is 0-5 m. That´s the famous “one step faster”. Based on player statistics of the English Premier League, players with the highest salary, regardless of their position have one thing in common, they are the fastest over 0-5m.

At an average sprinting distance of about 17m and a game-relevant total distance of 400-1200m those are about 24 to 70 sprints per game. Assuming a uniform load density, it is a load of 2-3 seconds followed by a 1:20-4:00 minute break. I sprints are repeated with minimal rest its more than 3 in a row before the ball is out of sight.

So what is critical for a game in this case in terms of physical qualities?

Endurance or conditioning?

Critical are those 24 to 70 sprints in under 90 minutes game time and their repetition with minimal fatigue, not endurance. Endurance isn't relevant in soccer because of the short bursts of sprints they do.

To run 10-60 minutes at once has very poor correlation with the ability to repeat 24 to 70 sprints in 90 minutes with minimal fatigue.


Endurance at high intensity—that is the ability to maintain a stress of high intensity upright with minimal fatigue. A good example is a 100m sprinter. A sprinter reaches his top speed after 60-70m. From 60-70m the critical factor becomes maintaining the top speed as long as possible without getting tired. In this case we speak of speed endurance. Usain Bolt is a great example of this. His greatest advantage over his opponents, and the reason why he is even more dominant over 200m than over 100m, is his exceptional speed endurance, the ability to maintain his top speed with minimal fatigue and leave all his opponents behind after 60-70m.

Endurance at low intensity—that is the ability to maintain a stress of low intensity upright with minimal fatigue. A good example is the marathon. In a marathon it's crucial to maintain a performance for 2+ hours with minimal fatigue. In one go and without interruptions.

Intensity – definition: Intensity is the load of a performance in relation to the maximum performance. A performance at high intensity for example is a sprint over 50 meters at maximum speed or BB Back Squats for 3 reps with 90% of 1RM. In contrast to this, a performance of low intensity is a run over 10000m at maximum speed or squats for 25 reps with 50% of 1RM. That means intensity is not defined on the subjective level of effort but correlates performance with maximum power/effort.

Both forms of endurance, especially the last one, are not relevant in most Olympic-, Team- and Combat Sports because the duration of the load in those sports is far lower.

In most Olympic, Team and Combat sports conditioning is critical. The ability to repeat a performance with minimal fatigue.


Conditioning at high volume - the ability to repeat a certain performance very often with minimal fatigue. The best example is soccer, where depending on the position of the player the average sprinting distance has to be repeated up to 70 times per game with minimal fatigue.

Conditioning at low volume - the ability to repeat a certain performance a few times with minimal fatigue. The best example is Olympic weightlifting. There you only have to repeat an attempt 3 times per discipline and competition - so 3 Reps of the Snatch and 3 Reps of the Clean & Jerk, thats it.

The lower the volume, the more critical becomes the performance during the attempt itself. It is not that crucial to repeat that performance often.

The higher the volume, the more critical is the ability to repeat it. Therefore in weightlifting the ability to repeat a performance is less important than the absolute performance, namely to move maximum weight. In comparison with weightlifting soccer players need lower maximum and explosive strength level than weightlifters – but higher levels of conditioning. As the ability to repeat maximal Sprinting Speed ​​for the 90 minute game is critical.


The training for endurance and conditioning is obviously very different.

The training of endurance basically includes a higher volume of total work, a lower -if any - number and duration of breaks and lower average intensity of effort. While the training of conditioning basically comprises a lower total volume of work and an increased number and duration of breaks at higher average intensity of effort.

51 rounds divided into 3 blocks á (9 rounds, 3 minutes pause, 5 rounds, 3 minutes pause, 3 rounds) with 10 minute pauses between the blocks. The rounds have to be executed with minimal 85% of world record time.

That's a solution for a 1500m short track speed skater whose limiting factor is endurance over 1500m. That means he fatigues too much in the last 3-5 rounds of the 1500m race which is 14.5 rounds.

This is a program written by the legendary short track speed skating coach Yves Nadeau, whose athletes won 204 medals at World Championchips and the Olympic Games since 1983.

Sample training program for conditioning in soccer

This is a modified strongman medley used to condition a soccer player

A1 forward sled drag, 20m, 5s rest

A2 Prowler Push, high handle, elbows extended, 20m, 5s rest

A3 Sprint, 20m, 120s rest

Repeat 4-10 times depending on the current Conditioning Level of the Athletes

This is a solution for a player or a team whose physically limiting factor is fatigue in the latter part of the game.

The ability to repeat multiple blocks of three 20m efforts with minimal rest clearly has a higher correlation to soccer-specific performance than 10-60min straight jogging. To train the sprinting power, speed and conditioning at the same time a combination of strength and conditioning training in the weightroom can also be utilized. To see how it looks in detail, here is an example of a squat training program for conditioning in Ju Jitsu.

Sample training program for conditioning in Ju-Jitsu

12 sets of 4 reps of BB Back Squats with a 30X0 tempo and 60s rest.

From workout to workout increase the average and maximum weight used.

That´sa solution for a fighter whose physical limiting factor is fatigue from effort to effort. The higher intensity and resistance on the squats allow for training conditioning and power of a single action at the same time.

This is the program I've used for the preparation of YPSI Athlete Romy Korn for the Ju Jitsu World Championship 2014 in Paris where she became World Champion in the 70+ kg weight class at a body weight of 71.2 kg with all her opponents outweighing her by 15 +kg.

Conclusion: For a coach it is crucial to identify whether endurance and/or conditioning are necessary for a certain sports and disciplines. And to assess which the limiting factor of the individual athlete is. So the training program can be specifically tailored to the needs of the individual sport and the limiting factor of the individual athlete. To maximize the efficiency of training and therefore increase pPerformance on the field, court, ice or mat.

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: 100m sprinter Sven Knipshals a few steps ahead of Christophe Lemaitre. He needs the conditioning to run multiple races in one competition. And the Speed ​​Endurance to sustain his Top Speed ​​from 60m and on.

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