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What is Strength & Conditioning, and Why Do We Do it?

Updated: Jan 18, 2022

Strength and conditioning is a term that is used liberally in the sports and fitness world, but what does it really mean, and why does it matter?

Strength refers to our bodies', or our muscles', ability to produce force. Without strength, other aspects of fitness, such as power, speed, and balance, wouldn't be able to reach their full potential. Conditioning is what we do to prep our body for our sport or activity. This can include strength training, but also includes our more sport specific movement and skills, including speed, power, and agility work.

Strength training programs are often used in sport training to supplement skill development and game play. A properly designed and implemented strength and conditioning program, using a mix of body weight, external load, and sport-specific exercises has been shown to have many benefits for athletes of all ages.

Some of these benefits include but are not limited to:

  • Decreased risk of injury due to sport participation. This may be due to:

    • Development of and increased quality of movement patterns, such as the squat, hip hinge, press, and landing mechanics

    • Resistance training prepares and trains the body to be able to tolerate load or force, and to safely translate force through the body

    • More variety in practices and exercises, decreasing the risk of overuse injury; it also provides a means to train opposing actions/muscle groups not used as often in a sport

  • Helps to maintain optimal body composition

  • Contributes to the development of core control, coordination and neuromuscular control

While we know these benefits exist, there are still many myths regarding strength training, specifically with the use of external loads (i.e. weights, barbells, kettlebells) that continue to pervade sport culture, especially in artistic sports such as gymnastics, dance, circus, skating and cheerleading. Let’s look at some of these myths, and the actual science behind them:

Strength training

Strength training is unsafe for youth or can lead to injury

  • Previous research showing that strength training with weights lead to injuries in youth often failed to acknowledge that most of the injuries were not due to the training itself but rather due to improper technique, inappropriate loading, and/or poor coaching.

    • Many national organizations have put out position statements stating that appropriately designed, applied, and coached strength programs have many benefits for youth


Strength training will make you bulky

  • In order to build significant muscle mass, strength training must be done with specific parameters, and accompanied by an appropriately composed and timed diet.

  • Strength training as an adjunct to sports training has not been shown to have a negative impact on body size or composition (looking at you my gymnasts and my flyers), and athletes who do incorporate strength training were shown to have more favourable body composition than those who did not

Strength training will make you lose flexibility

  • Firstly, eccentric exercise is one of the only ways shown to truly induce an increase in muscle length. Other methods such as rolling and passive stretching are shown to only have short term effects caused by an inhibitory effect on the nervous system, decreasing tone in the stretched muscles.

  • Secondly, while eccentric training will cause more soreness and stiffness acutely in the 12-72 hours after training, that stiffness is transient!

All this being said, these myths don't apply only when strength training is planned appropriately and executed properly! This is why it is so important to work with a qualified athletic therapist or strength coach. We're going to take a deeper dive into these misconceptions in some upcoming posts, so keep an eye out!

Questions? Comment? Send an email, or comment below!

References:


Bergeron MF, Mountjoy M, Armstrong N, et al. International Olympic Committee consensus statement on youth athletic development. British Journal of Sports Medicine 2015;49:843-851

Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning. (2016). United Kingdom: Human Kinetics.

Lauersen JB, Bertelsen DM, Andersen LB. The effectiveness of exercise interventions to prevent sports injuries: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials. British Journal of Sports Medicine 2014;48:871-877.

O'Sullivan K, McAuliffe S, Deburca N. The effects of eccentric training on lower limb flexibility: a systematic review. Br J Sports Med. 2012 Sep;46(12):838-45. doi: 10.1136/bjsports-2011-090835. Epub 2012 Apr 20. PMID: 22522590.


Proske U, Morgan DL. Muscle damage from eccentric exercise: mechanism, mechanical signs, adaptation and clinical applications. J Physiol. 2001 Dec 1;537(Pt 2):333-45. doi: 10.1111/j.1469-7793.2001.00333.x. PMID: 11731568; PMCID: PMC2278966.

Sands, William & Mcneal, Jeni & Jemni, Monèm & Delong, T.H.. (2000). Should female gymnasts lift weights?. SportScience. 4. sportsci.org/jour/0003/was.html.

Strength and Conditioning for Young Athletes: Science and Application. (2019). United Kingdom: Taylor & Francis.


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