Improving Bad Conditioning in Sports

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Most coaches at the club or school level usually knows a lot about the sport they coach, even if you or your athlete disagrees.

I know a lot of these people just volunteered for the position and that can be an issue, but a lot of people do have a good background in whatever sport they are coaching.

This is important for learning strategy, skills, and tactics. It is also the coaches responsibility to win games with they players he or she is provided with.

One area that sport coaches lack a true understanding but pretend they know what they are doing is conditioning.

Conditioning is a science and a very technical topic at that. The body has 3 energy systems which all do different things.

The ATP system is a short duration, high intensity system that is prevalent in sports like shot put, long jump, and 55m sprint.

The Glycolytic system is about 30-90 seconds of activity at a little bit less intensity. This is where most team sports lie. Since this is a more moderate in time and duration most athletes spend a lot of time here.

The aerobic system is anything that is lower intensity and lasts for more than 2-3 minutes. Here is your cardio.

But sports get much more complicated than that. Athlete must be able to tap into every system. For example, a soccer player will use all 3 throughout a match. When they sprint to get the ball it is the ATP system, it is glycolytic when they are running around trying to set up the offense, and to make it the whole game is aerobic.

Unfortunately, most coaches do not have this knowledge of energy systems but it is still sort of their responsibility to condition the athletes. Here is where it goes wrong.

Lack of Progression or Plan 

Coaches have their players run plenty of laps and suicides. These can be good tools for training but they are just given out arbitrarily. Sometimes it is punishment for losing a game or having a bad practice. Other times it is because the coach does not know any better.

Laps would be training the aerobic system. If the coach is using this in the pre season then he or she is not really preparing the athletes for the demands of the sport.

The offseason is a good time to train aerobic, the preseason would be for glycolytic transitioning to ATP, and the in-season would be for maintaining these qualities.

You can use laps and suicides and every other method of running that there is. There just needs to be a purpose for whatever is chosen. If every 10 days a coach wants to have an aerobic maintenance day, that might not be so bad.

The other 2 qualities often do not need a ton of reinforcement because it is where most sports lie naturally. Normal games and practices would maintain the glycolytic and ATP systems.

Taking Away from Speed Training

Most coaches want their athletes to be faster. Their solution? Laps and suicides.

Well we have a problem. Those are not speed training.

Aspects of speed training that are necessary:

  • Good technique
  • Maximal efforts of sprinting
  • Long rest periods
  • Few reps

This flies in the face of what most people think they need to do for speed training. If you really want an athlete to get fast we need to follow the rules above.

The biggest issue that I have seen holding athletes back from being their fastest is the inability to maximally sprint.

When I say sprint, I want the athletes to go blazing down the turf. When they don’t, they are probably a victim of over-conditioning. They instantly start going into a pace and asking how many they have to do.

When training max sprinting, I like to pick a distance between 20-40 yards. This is long enough to get going but not too long. The athletes will walk back to recover, almost taking a minute. They will do 3-5 reps.

This shows the athletes that they are allowed to unleash their fastest sprint. The next one does not come up right away and they only have to do a maximum of 5.

Most people are not comfortable with this type of training. They feel as though the athletes always need to be moving, dying, panting, etc. The key to speed is a true max effort with a lot of time to recover.

Speed training is different than conditioning and you cannot claim conditioning is speed. Speed training can become conditioning because it is training the ATP system but laps and suicides etc. will not make an athlete purely faster.