What Is Sports Conditioning?


Sports ConditioningSports conditioning is about increasing the body’s physical capabilities.  The body, if properly conditioned, will strengthen; meaning its capacity to do work and its capabilities will increase.  Conditioning puts parts of the body under stress to accomplish this.  The musculoskeletal system is the body’s largest organ.  Its primary functions are support, movement, and protection of other organs.  It consists of bone and various types of tissue such as muscle, cartilage, ligaments, and tendons.  These tissues have varying degress of strength and flexibility.  Sports conditioning reduces injury onset by:

  • Strengthening the body’s armor – bone, muscle, and joints
  • Increasing strength – power, force, capacity
  • Increasing flexibility – Musculoskeletal tissue range of motion
  • Increasing endurance – ability to continue exertion over time without fatigue

The goal of sports medicine is first, injury prevention.  The reality of sports of all kinds and at all levels is that injuries occur.  Most sports injuries occur as a result of fatigue or sudden trauma, such as an on-field tackle.  Sports conditioning serves a focal role in both injury prevention and injury rehabilitation.

Sports Conditioning and Performance

Sports ConditioningThe goal of sports conditioning for the collegiate and professional athlete is to improve on-field performance.   Sports conditioning is typically associated with strength trainingUsing weight resistance to build the strength and size of muscles is an important part of sports conditioning.  Weight and strength training programs are sport-specific and even position-specific within a sport.  For example, the weight training goals of a football offensive lineman are different than those of a quarterback.  As part of a sports conditioning program, weight training:

  • Resistance is provided by barbells, weight machines, surgical tubing, and the body’s own weight (chin-ups, push-ups, and sit-ups).
  • The principal targets are muscle and bone.  Muscle can be toned and trained using different training methods. 
  • Muscle endurance and size can be increased with a high repetition/lower weight program.  High weght/lower repetition training increase strength and power.
  • Weight training benefits include:
    • increased bone density
    • Increased blood flow through bone and muscle
    • Increase muscle size, tone, strength, and endurance
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Sports conditioning includes much more than strength training to improve performance.  It also includes:

  • Increasing aerobic capacity – the ability to provide and use oxygen during sustained exercise, such as long distance running.  The goal is to increase your maximum rate of oxygen consumption, your V02.  An exercise or workout is considered aerobic if it is performed for at least 15 minutes and increases your hear rate to 60 to 80 percent of its maximum.  Interval training, varying workout intensity during short periods of time, is a great way to increase aerobic capacity.  An interval training program for running might be as follows:
    • Run at a fast pace(8 mph) for 30 seconds, then jog for 30 seconds.
    • Repeat this exercise until you cannot continue.
    • Once you reach a total workout time of 15 minutes, extend the intervals to 3 minutes…run fast for 3 minutes, then jog for 3 minutes.
    • Your goal is to achieve a total workout time of 3o minutes.
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  • Cardio exercises – such as running, swimming, cycling, elliptical training, and walking can help increase aerobic capacity.  These activities have added benefits include:
    • increasing bone density
    • reducing stress
    • reducing the risk of heart disease and some cancers
    • increasing energy levels
    • promoting better sleep cycles
    • increasing confidence levels about your appearance and goal attainment 
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  • Increasing core strength – your core musculature consists of your abdominals, obliques and lower back.  The core, or torso, is the body’s center of power.  All movement is powered by the core.  Strengthening the core is a staple of any sports conditioning program.
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  • Building Stamina – increasing your capacity to perform stressful physical activity over an extended period of time.  Circuit training is an excellent way to build stamina.  A circuit training course includes strength exercises alternated with 30 to 90 second aerobic activities.
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  • Building Bone Mass – bone mass reaches its peak around the age of 30, then begins to decline.  Osteoporisis occurs when the bones become too porous.  Weight-bearing cardio exercies such as running, walking, elliptical training, stair climbing, along with strength exercises such as resistance bands, pull-ups, and push-ups can help increase bone mass.  Insuring you get enough Vitamin D and C, through diet or supplements, is also important. 
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  • Increasing quickness and agility – improving reaction times, change of direction, footwork.  Training the nervous system is the main emphasis of this type of conditioning.
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  • Increasing speed – Speed is more than a natural ability.  Speed can be taught.  Specific exercises focus on the muscles involved in explosion, acceleration, and speed endurance.
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  • Increasing metabolism – the body’s ability to break down and harvest energy during respiration.  Metabolism can be increased by changed your diet, eating patterns, and low weight/high rep weight training.
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  • Modifying body weight – aside from general health benefits, participation in certain sports, and positions within a sport, have differing weight requirements.  A sports conditioning program may call for the athlete to gain or lose weight to improve performance.  The U.S. Army’s hooah4health.com web site has an excellent guide to nutrition and weight management.
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  • Stretching Exercises – According to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons: “By increasing your flexibility you can improve your ability to move around. You will have less muscle tension and your posture will likely improve. Most importantly, stretching after each workout reduces your risk for injury.”  Stretching exercises, as part of your sports conditioning,  increase the blood flow and flexibility of the musculoskeletal system’s soft tissue. 
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  • Increase the strength and/or flexibility of ligaments and tendons – unlike bone and muscle, ligaments and tendons have a low blood supply.  While more flexible than bone and muscle, they are susceptible to tear.  Sports conditioning for ligaments and tendons includes both weight resistance and flexibility exercises.  Increasing the range of motion for ligaments and tendons makes them less prone to injury.  LiveStrong.com has a good program for increasing ligament strength and flexibility.
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Sports Conditioning and Injury Prevention

Sports ConditioningSports conditioning exercises both improve performance and prevent injury onset.  The body’s musculoskeletal system provides movement, structures, and protection.  Proper sports conditioning includes a sports-specific diet and exercise program that:

  • Strengthens the body’s armor – Bone and muscle are the strongest parts of the musculosketelal system.  Increasing muscle size, strength, and bone density hardens this armor.  All sports have certain protective equipment that’s required for participation.  Your bone and muscle are required protective equipment that you maintain through sports conditioning.  The stronger and more protective your bone and muscle, the lower your risk for injury.
  • Increases the body’s flexibility and elasticity – Flexibility is the range of motion around a joint.  The idea is to bend but not break.  The more you are able to absorb trauma, the less severe the result.  Flexibility alone is not effective in reducing injury onset. It needs to be a part of a complete sports conditioninig program, also including warm up, strength training, and balance exercises.  
  • Decreases the severity of an injury and increases the body’s ability to heal – The better your sports conditioning, the faster you are able to respond to trauma and begin a recovery program.
  • Improves the body’s composition, reducing the likelihood of injury – The percentage of fat, bone and muscle directly affects our wellness.  Overuse or chronic injuries can be reduced or avoided by maintaining good body composition.  Injury recovery can be accelerated.  Sports conditioning should result in body fat percentages lower than the recommended 6-24% for men and 14-31% for women.

Sports conditioning provides performance, injury prevention, and mental health benefits for athletes at all levels.