Train to get strong and fast. Be conditioned to repeat this. Recover to stay fit.
Reading time: approx. 5 mins
For: Athletes, coaches and anyone who wants to get the most from their training
‘How does this benefit me?’
This is the question every athlete should be asking their coach if they’re ever unsure why they’re doing a drill or exercise.
My day-to-day role is as the Strength & Conditioning coach at an independent school. A major part of this role to educate all of my students/athletes about training, the body and its response to exercise.
At the start of every school holiday, all athletes on the S&C programme receive a ‘pack’ containing everything they need to keep fit over the holiday period which includes:
Strength sessions (gym & bodyweight for those on holiday)
Conditioning sessions (on-feet & off-feet)
Circuits & finishers
Suggested training schedule
‘Why should I do this?’ and ‘how does this benefit me?’ are questions that all athletes should be asking when presented with a new task/challenge/fitness session.
The following is my attempt to educate the athletes on my programme about the importance of each session we do and how they’ll benefit them. If you’re an athlete and don’t know why your S&C coach makes you do the ‘extras’, then hopefully this goes some way to explain how to put the pieces together for you.
N.B. if your coach/trainer can’t answer these questions, then perhaps you need to start asking more questions! Everything in your programme should be making you better and not wasting your time.
Why are strength sessions important?
Strength allows us to produce and/or tolerate greater force when we play sport. This could be making a tackle in rugby, holding off an opponent in football or simply allowing us to get into a strong hitting/bowling position in cricket/hockey/baseball/insert striking sport here. There is a huge crossover between technical skill and physical attributes – often we cannot execute a skill at the intensity we desire if we are not strong enough to do so.
These sessions can develop your strength, power, flexibility and co-ordination (to name a few). We are trying to develop our overall athletic ability and get fit for sport. Whilst strength sessions are important, they are simply one component of the performance puzzle.
Why are speed sessions important?
Being fast is what distinguishes the elite players from the rest and is often what prevents ‘talented’ athletes from reaching the pinnacle of their respective sport. In rugby, football, cricket, tennis, hockey etc. it is an advantage to be fast. Simply being strong is worthless if you cannot express this through speed. Slow players generally struggle to keep up with play (of course there are exceptions, but these are becoming rarer in modern sport) and therefore make less of an impact. We can all get quicker – I’ve written more about this here.
Put simply, we need to focus on technique and putting more force into the ground in the most efficient way possible. Speed is probably the most important quality we can develop – so make sure you get (at least) one session completed each week!
Focus on quality & technique
Don’t sprint flat out if you haven’t sprinted for a couple of weeks as this increases the risk of injury. Build it up from session to session.
Sprint when fresh (i.e. start of the week or after a training free day) but ensure you sprint at least once per week.
Why is conditioning important?
As Jimmy Johnson would say, ‘conditioning makes cowards of us all’.
Conditioning is what most people call ‘fitness’. It’s our ability to continue to maintain a high intensity and delay fatigue. Fatigue can lead to a deterioration in skill and decision making (think towards the end of a game), so having a good aerobic capacity is vital in order to recover quickly between high intensity efforts. N.B. we develop our ‘high intensity’ ability during our speed and strength sessions, hence why I wouldn’t recommend a lot of high-intensity interval running as it can be extremely stressful on the body and increase the risk of injury.
Why is mobility important?
Mobility refers to the range of movement we have about a joint(s) and is effectively how capable we are at getting into certain positions. Again, this is where we see an overlap between physical attributes and technical skill. If we are physically incapable of getting into ‘strong’ positions to execute a skill, then we limit how much we can achieve on the field. Also, being strong through a greater range of movement will allow us to tolerate higher forces in ‘difficult’ positions (think getting caught at the bottom of a ruck). By exposing the body to a greater ROM (and getting strong through range), you can become a more robust athlete and prevent possible injuries.
Mobility is often overlooked by many people because of time, but it plays a crucial role in helping your body perform effectively.
N.B. you will never, ever know if and when you have prevented an injury, but you’ll definitely know about it if you don’t!
Often, I’ll incorporate mobility into the first 10 minutes of a session. If completed properly, it’s a great opportunity to improve movement quality whilst preparing for the subsequent session.
Why is nutrition important?
Think of a Bugatti Veyron; 1200BHP, 0-60mph in 2.62 seconds and a top speed of around 268mph. It is a high performance machine which needs high performance fuel. It is not designed to run on cheap, low quality fuel – and nor are you.
When we train, we are essentially converting our body into a high performance machine which needs high quality, nutritious food to enable it to grow and adapt. Our nutrition can be the difference between making a little progress and making a lot of progress. Do: eat quality, natural food where possible. Don’t: eat processed food low in nutrition.
Sleep & Recovery
As far as the performance puzzle goes, this is a key piece. I’ve written about sleep and recovery here. Put simply, recovery is adaptation. If we fail to recover, we fail to adapt to our training stimulus. Sleep is our best method of recovery – aim for > 8 hours per night of good quality sleep. Athletes low on sleep significantly increase the risk of injury so ensure you are getting enough of it!
There’s more to training than strength. You can never be too fast or too powerful.
Work hard to improve all aspects of the ‘performance puzzle’ – the missing piece is likely to be the one holding you back.
Your body is a high performance machine – treat it with respect!
We need to recover to adapt. To recover well, we need sleep – aim for >8 hours.