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Biggest Mistake in Athlete Conditioning

By: Derek Fry, MS, ATC, NASM-PES, NASE

Biggest Mistake in Athlete Conditioning Image

It really goes without saying, whether in-season or out of season, athlete’s need to be in shape. It’s pretty simple: NOT being winded, NOT being injured and NOT being fragile to start the season is critical in gaining a starting spot and surviving the entire season.

However, while some athletes arrive in ready-to-play format, many others are limping into the season, barely able to carry their gear. This is why many coaches feel that preseason is the best time to start intense conditioning drills. They also feel the need to keep many drills going throughout the season, in order to maintain “conditioned” athletes.

But this is where a big mistake is made: not having a plan.

Having a plan or at least some reason as to WHY your team is running/jumping/squatting can go a long way. Let’s explore this a little more:

A less scientific explanation of the purpose of conditioning drills:

Anaerobic Training = explosive power/lots of rest between bouts/heavy load
Example: Sprints
Explained: Athlete(s) should be near fully recovered before next “sprint”
Simple Plan: Develop strength

Lactate Threshold or Anaerobic Threshold Training= explosive power or maximal effort/minimal rest/heavy load
Example: Intervals (sprints, burpees, agilities, fully body exercises)
Explained: Athletes should barely recover or have less time than desired to recover
Simple Plan: Develop better recovery

Aerobic Training = essentially no rest/light load/longer durations
Example: long distance running, long shuttles, jogging in place, jumping jacks, old school calisthenics
Explained: Best way to increase Oxygen utilization – everything will work better with good aerobic fitness – all metabolic processes, all functions of the body – EVERYTHING.
Simple plan: Develop – Get better at breathing and the rest will follow

Mental Toughness Training = anything from seeing who lasts the longest to who can perform the best/better with simple movements with less room for error and injury
Example: heavy sandbag or weighted carries, hill sprints + sled/pack/carry, medley’s, obstacles, crawl, sprint, run backwards up hill, carry a tractor – be creative!
Explained: These days it seems that less kids get the chance to truly fail – sometimes we need to step into the realm that we fear the most, so we can face reality and learn how to actually try.
Simple Plan: When times get tough or athletes think they’ve seen it all – show them they haven’t. It’s nice to know, as an athlete, that random events can occur and athletics/life just ISN’T FAIR more times than not

Armor building = handle odd loads of sport
Example: tumbling, carrying other athletes, etc.
Explained: Some sports have surprises and while running sprints in the off-season may make you fast and “conditioned,” it is doubtful that you will be better at falling on the ground or being slammed to the mat unless you do that as well
Simple Plan: Look ahead and simulate some of the less desirable aspects of the sport – imitate the worst and build your armor

Sport specific = simulate sport
Example: “speed ball,” 7 on 7, 3 on 3 – sometimes just playing a smaller version of the game works – can also be done with one person and a stopwatch/rules
Explained: Play the game or at least have the game in mind – if you are a wrestler, try doing something difficult for 3 minutes, etc.
Simple Plan: Just doing sprints may not matter if you have not done them with reason (patterns, direction, timing, purpose) – remember, at the end of the day you need to be able to perform – so practice

So what’s the point?

You’ve got the time planned out, but do you know where your athlete(s) are lacking? If so, then implement conditioning drills with purpose.

What needs improvement?

– Work on at beginning of practice
– Do the average length of movements in game, not the longest – but do reps
– Fully recover, then go again – full go

– Depending on sport, do movements for long periods of time – with minimal rest – can be done after practice
– Interval training is highly effective in both short distance and long distance sports – can be done before and after practice
– Anaerobic threshold training is similar to interval training

Mental Toughness/ Sport Specific
– Anytime, anywhere

The point is – don’t just go through the motions on conditioning drills. Have a purpose and it can add to your training. Plan your workouts. Conditioning can be a waste and be dreaded or it can be a motivator – challenging and fun. The next step is being able to truly monitor your athletes and their conditioning progress.

That’s where technology, and in our case Zephyr Technology, has been a key in our programming. No longer do our athletes run until they puke – unless we feel it is truly necessary. I believe that if you are monitoring your athletes and setting a standard, then you can stop wasting time with the same old conditioning drills that do nothing for your team.

Have a plan, train with purpose and focus on winning.