Conditioning is the ability to work through athletic and sports specific movements without losing power output. The better conditioning and agility athletes have in all planes of motion, the more easily they dominate at the end of their games. Agility is synonymous with high pace change of direction, it’s how well an athlete can move in each plane of motion: sagittal plane aka forward and backward, transverse plane aka rotation, and frontal plane aka side to side. An athlete with impeccable agility and the conditioning to last throughout a competition is going to have superior performance compared to others.
How does conditioning improve? The main components of conditioning are endurance and agility. Endurance contains both aerobic capacity and anaerobic capacity. Aerobic capacity is how long an athlete can maintain a 50%-70% max heart rate without losing their pace, so improving endurance through long slow endurance training is the best way to increase aerobic capacity. Doing 20-60 minutes of running, rowing, biking, skiing, swimming, or jump roping is the most common way to improve endurance / aerobic capacity. Training aerobic capacity is important because it increases the muscle cell’s mitochondria which are the workers inside the cell increasing the oxygen usage and efficiency within each muscle. But aerobic capacity is only half of the equation when considering endurance. Why? Because an athlete that can move at a slow pace for a long time is only good in slow and long sports such as marathons, bike races, swimming events, etc. But most competitive sports are played at a fast pace over the duration of a few hours, the paces during these games/matches vary to a high degree, but in general, we want athletes to stay explosive throughout their competition. This means athletes must have high variability in their conditioning, this is where anaerobic capacity comes into play.
Anaerobic capacity is arguably the hardest type of sport-specific skill to train because it hurts the most and involves a high degree of burning in the muscles aka “lactic acid” or the increase in hydrogen ions in the blood increasing the lactate to move oxygen through the system at a higher rate. Sprinting, jumping, and moving fast with limited rest periods is usually how this training looks. Heart rate is usually 70-100% of maximum output and breathing rate is as high as can be tolerated. An example of an anaerobic sprint workout may look easy at first but usually, it is the most taxing on the central nervous system, meaning it is harder to recover from than aerobic capacity work – ex. 10 sets of 20” sprints at 90-100% effort with 180” rest between sprints. Aerobic capacity training along with anaerobic capacity training is important for building a foundation for endurance in sports but Conditioning is what distinguishes the good athletes from the great.
Conditioning = Endurance (aerobic and anaerobic capacities) + Agility (ability to move quickly and with power in all planes of motion). When everything is put together, conditioning is the combination of how well an athlete can maintain any pace at any time during their competition, their ability to recover quickly during rest and stay explosive no matter what the sport demands: whether side to side movement, rotational movement, backward or forward, athletes with superior conditioning win games. Train explosive.