Conditioning is the ability to work through athletic and sport specific movements without losing power output. The better conditioning and agility athletes have, the more likely they will dominate at the end of their games. Agility is how well an athlete can move in each plane of motion: sagittal plane (forward and backward), transverse plane (rotation), and frontal plane (side to side). An athlete with impeccable agility and conditioning 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. 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 and aerobic capacity.
Aerobic capacity training is important because it increases the muscle cell’s mitochondria. The mitochondria are the workers inside the cell increasing the oxygen usage and efficiency within each muscle. However, aerobic capacity is only half of the equation when considering endurance. Why? Because an athlete that moves at a slow pace for a long time is only good in endurance 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 pace during these games varies, 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 sport-specific skill to train. This is due to burning in the muscles caused by lactic acid. Lactic acid is cause by an increase in hydrogen ions in the blood causing the lactate to move oxygen through the system at a higher rate. Sprinting, jumping and moving fast with limited rest periods are the most common methods of training anaerobic capacity. 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 it is the most taxing on the central nervous system. This means 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.