To the outsider, both bodybuilding and strength and conditioning look like “lifting weights” and “doing cardio”. However, this is not true. The main difference between the two is that the former focuses primarily on improving aesthetics, while the latter focuses primarily on improving athletics. Here are seven strength and conditioning tips to help you improve performance.
#1 – Start with Strength
The first quality strength and conditioning workouts need to address strength. The ability to simply produce force (i.e. – lift/move heavy loads) is the base from which other physical qualities are built. Also, if you’re not strong enough to manipulate an object or move your body through space efficiently, then your performance is always going to suffer. Target strength by using big, compound lifts with75%+ of 1RM for sets of 3-6 reps.
#2 – Strength Is Your Base, Power Is Your Goal
Defined by Zatsiorsky in Science and Practice of Strength Training as “the ability to produce maximal forces in minimal time”, power is essentially strength produced as quickly as possible. Power is actually more important than strength, as the faster athlete will almost always be the better athlete. You can target power via the use of plyometrics, doing jumps for the lower body and medicine ball throws for the upper body. Perform 3-5 sets of 3-5 reps as explosively as possible.
#3 – Don’t Neglect Bodyweight Exercise
The most successful athletes generally have the better control over their body. The problem you run into is that most gym exercises have your body remaining stationary while the weight you’re lifting moves around. While this is beneficial, incorporating bodyweight drills when you can will be a big help. This can be in the form of plyometric jumps for power, weighted bodyweight exercises like dips or pullups for strength, or even just bodyweight circuits for conditioning.
#4 – Include Aerobics
When it comes to the “conditioning” side of strength and conditioning, many will want to forego aerobic work (any sustained cardiovascular activity lasting 75+ seconds) for some form of intense interval training. This is an error as pointed out by Mell Siff in Supertraining, because if you lack appropriate aerobic capability, your sporting performance will suffer. Hardcore intervals have a place, but still include 30-60 minutes of slow cardio a couple times per week.
#5 – Do Interval Training the Right Way
The next step is anaerobic conditioning, and there are two types:
(It’s then at the 75-seconds mark that the aforementioned aerobic conditioning takes over.)
Both of these are targeted via the use of interval training, but there is an issue that bears mentioning. Many like to cite Dr. Izumi Tabata’s research study as a reason why intervals should be solely focused on, but fail to consider the required effort level. The subjects of Dr. Tabata’s study, Olympic level speed skaters, achieved such outstanding results because they were working at a rate that was essentially 170% of their maximum capability.
Many think that as long as they’re just “doing intervals”, they’ll see excellent results. However, it’s not going to happen unless they’re working as hard as humanly possible – which most people simply just don’t do. Adding a couple interval workouts of 30 seconds on, 30 seconds off repeated for 10-20 minutes can be beneficial, but you have to be working at (or even beyond) your hardest possible effort level.
#6 – Don’t Forget Your Sport
One of the biggest strength and conditioning mistakes many make is not considering the effect their sport practice can have on their workouts. There will be many instances in which what would ordinarily be considered “practice” should also be considered a “workout”. For example, it’s virtually impossible for a boxer or MMA fighter to drill, hit the heavy bag, spar, etc. without taxing their conditioning, power development, and so on. In fact, it’s almost like a “built in workout”.
When designing a strength and conditioning program, take into consideration what physical qualities are taxed during your sport practice itself. If any one element is utilized heavily during practice, it’s quite possible that you can eliminate targeting it during your workouts. Instead, use workouts to address other qualities and fill in any gaps you might have.
#7 – Do Enough, but Not More
Too often trainees want to do long, complicated workouts, when they’d be better served keeping it simple. The goal of your workouts is to develop the general strength and conditioning needed to bolster your athletic performance – not see how hard you can work out. Besides, the best workouts in the world won’t help you if you’re not getting enough rest and recovery – which you can’t do properly if you’re training all the time.
There’s no one prescription for how much working out you should do, as it will depend on your current strength and conditioning levels, the needs of your sport, how often you practice, your age, recovery, and more. However, if you’re going to err on one side or the other, you’re better served starting out doing too little and adding to it over time, rather than the other way around.
It can be easy to get overwhelmed in science, long words, complicated principles, and all the different methods out there. However, if you can get a handle on the basics, ensure that you’re working base qualities first, not doing too much, then shifting focus to physical qualities that will improve your performance, you should have great success with your strength and conditioning workouts.