STRENGTH & CONDITIONING: wHAT IS IT?
As someone who loves to train, it always amazes me that people who take part in outdoor sports don't enjoy using the gym. It confuses me at times but then again. It shouldn't. Strength and Conditioning, or S&C has always been an aspect of training that has had a slow take up in sports like football, tennis and basketball, So why should it be any different in cycling, running and climbing?
I think the problem here lies with the name of it. That big red flag at the start: STRENGTH.
People see the word strength and associate this with body building, and being big, hulking figures of men and women.
The reality is much further from the myth of course, and S&C is actually a much more methodical process of breaking down the needs of the athlete, sport and using this information to plan a training programme that is unique, designed to improve the condition of the athlete and make them better at what they love.
This blog will look at S&C and answer some of the myths surrounding it:
Building strength is a taboo word in sports where endurance plays a major role. It is often associated with being big and heavy. But this is not the case.
Scientific research proves that gaining muscle is done in a completely different way to gaining strength and it is absolutely possible to increase your strength without significantly increasing muscle size.
It should also be noted that muscle is functional weight, meaning more mass brings more power, more efficiency and more SPEED.
Being strong also plays an important role in reducing the risk of impact injury and repetitive strain injuries too.
When coaches talk about strength for outdoor sports they mean FUNCTIONAL STRENGTH. So instead of pure, brute lifting strength they are referring to strength you can use.
Strength in the legs to endure hills, upper body strength to pull your body up to the next point of reach in a climb, Strength in the core to keep your body comfortable on long rides.
All of the above reasons are valid rationales for developing an athletes strength, and doing it in a way that is suitable to the sport and the athlete.
Functional strength is all about keeping the body mobile and flexible, to put it simply:
"TRAINING MOVEMENTS, NOT MUSCLES"
Sticking with this theory, it allows us, as coach/client teams to create effective plans that boost performance, health and motivation to train!
A lot of coaches refer to conditioning as a posh word for fitness. But I like to refer to conditioning work as anything that allows the body to be better at your sport.
This means in my plans, conditioning work can be anything from air bike sprints, to Pilates based sessions.
It is the name given to anything that develops the body in a way that is specific.
Circuit training and fitness work is just that.
Let me explain, below is an example of exercises that I would class as conditioning:
- Watt bike (air bike sprints): Short bursts of power that mimic sprint sections on the bike (the start of a race, or the home straight sprint for example).
- Yoga/Pilates: Movement that allows the body/mind to recover, develop flexibility, re focus and prepare itself for more training/competition.
- Medicine ball throws: An exercise that helps to develop rotational power, strength and stability, useful for downhill riders who are subject to violent movements on the bike.
- Single leg squat: A strength/stability exercise that works on stability, balance, co-ordination. Done as bodyweight first before developing onto light, moderate and eventually heavy weight.
Conditioning based work, again is designed to develop the athletes body in a way that improves what they love to do, or compete in. This is unique to the person (as all training should be) and the sport/hobby they take part in.
If you notice on this blog, none of the exercises mentioned are "bodybuilding" style exercises, this is due to them being of little use to people who train at a sport specific level unless that person want's to specifically develop size in their body.
While it can be important this is rarely something that people who come to me want to do with regards to making them better on the bike/running, or whatever their sport is.
vanity based training has it's place but in the field of S&C, is much less likely to play a role.
It does play it's part in some scenarios but that is a whole new topic for another blog.
I hope this blog has cleared up some of the myths regarding S&C for you.
If you do have any questions on the subject feel free to email me at: as I would love to explain things to you a little more.
Have a great day.