The Ramblings of a Strength Coach #1: Conditioning?

What is conditioning?

What are we responsible for?  What are we doing?  What is it that the coach is asking us to do?  All of these are questions that a new coach has said, or thought at some point.  Do not feel like you are alone in the search for these answers.  Merriam-Webster defines it as, “the process of training to become physically fit by a regimen of exercise, diet, and rest; the resulting state of physical fitness”; “a simple form of learning involving the formation, strengthening, or weakening of an association between a stimulus and a response”.  Simple, right?  Not even close.

“Physically fit” is even harder to try and determine.

Do we have a guideline of how fit an athlete has to be to play a sport, or a certain position? Try asking this question to the sport coach.  The answers and definition will change depending on the time of day and how practice went.  Is being physically fit a six minute mile?  Could it be 15 reps of repeatable sprints within a ten percent drop off window?  How complex can we make it, so that the star of the team passes, but the rest of the team sees it as a challenge they have to train when no one is looking?  And yet as a coach we still have not defined what conditioning is.

When a sport coach asks us to give a kid extra conditioning what do they mean?

Extra running, tough make-up work, or actually real conditioning because the athletes is out of shape.  This is where I think everything goes awry.  Conditioning is a process.  It is not a single bout of work.  It is not a ‘punishment’ session.  When the word conditioning is used as a mask for this type of work that is when young coaches start to blur the lines of what the definition of conditioning is.  So what is conditioning?

I can tell you it is not running sprints to a given number.

Nor is it early morning sessions to remind an athlete of the team rules.  Conditioning is not arbitrary, or ‘when we can get it in’.  It is also not something to be done after practice when that practice was sluggish or lacked effort.  It is not an afterthought to programming and design.  It is not the filler at the end of a workout to use the allotted hour given to us by the NCAA.  Conditioning is important and thus should be treated as such.

The process of conditioning an athlete takes some time.

Both mentally and physically.  If this time is sacrificed or sped up then the process is effected negatively.  Conditioning needs to be planned out ahead of time, and time needs to be dedicated for it.  Conditioning does not have to be flashy or exciting.  It does have to do certain things to improve performance.  It must increase the size of the athlete’s gas tank.  It must make the athlete better at utilizing energy substrates.  How those things get done are up to you as the coach, but if your plan does not include those two things done then you might not be conditioning your athletes.

So you need volume work and you need tempo work to manipulate the size of the tank and efficiency of energy usage.  This will not happen after a bad practice, or an early morning corrective session.  This will happen with regularly scheduled and planned out sessions of predetermined workloads.  The process will happen if you have a plan and stick to it.  The mental conditioning of a weak athlete will change if the plan is constant and improvement happens.  The physical adaptations will positively affect performance if the process is seen through to the end.  As a young coach you have to a plan and that plan does not need to be fancy or elaborate.  It just needs to be a plan that has a beginning and an end that shows improvement for following the process of conditioning.

Who is The Rambling Strength Coach?

The Rambling Strength Coach is a person sitting at their desk. At times frustrated, at times excited, and at times broken.  This person is trying to find better ways to not just improve their athlete’s, but also to improve connections, relationships, and understanding from people out side the weight room.  This is why this person rambles to us, for us to know their plight, and the effort they’re making for the profession.  It’s not me. Seriously, it’s not Jay.  I know who it is, because I’m publishing it, but this is person is not me.  

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