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