Physical Conditioning Overview

Physical training is a vital part of your preparation as a high performance athlete. You must be in peak physical condition to perform at your best at the right time. Different sports need very different physical training programs. As well, no two athletes are the same. Your coach should help you plan a physical training program that is right for you and your sport. All programs should include the following key concepts.


Having good flexibility can benefit athletes in several ways such as:

  • Better performances
  • Fewer injuries
  • Optimal readiness for training and competition
  • Enhanced recovery from activity

Range of motion is how far your joints can move in each direction. Flexibility is specific for each joint in the body. Structural features such as muscles, tendons, ligaments and bones combine to limit a joint's range of motion. Despite these structural limitations, it is usually possible to improve flexibility by stretching your muscle. Athletes in all sports use flexibility during both strength and speed movements, so improving your range of motion improves your ability to play.

Did you know…

  • Hurdlers and swimmers require range of movement in a strong, fast muscular contractions; this is called dynamic active flexibility.
  • Many wrestling moves call for passive flexibility.
  • Range of motion can also be used in slow, controlled muscular activity, such as when a gymnast performs a back walkover; this is known as static active flexibility.


Your body has three very different systems, all working together to provide working muscles with energy.

  • Anaerobic alactic system – requires no oxygen, uses energy stored in the muscle for fuel and produces no lactic acid. It is the main source of energy for activity lasting up to 10 seconds.
  • Anaerobic lactic system – requires no oxygen, uses carbohydrates for fuel and produces lactic acid. It is the chief source of energy for activity lasting between 10 seconds and 2 minutes.
  • Aerobic system – requires oxygen, uses fats and carbohydrates for fuel and produces no lactic acid. It's the main source of energy for activity lasting more than 2 minutes.

Did you know…

  • Anaerobic training is useful for athletes in most team sports. It is also good for athletes who must perform short powerful bursts of activity.
  • A high level of aerobic power is useful for most team and individual sports, especially for activities such as running (distances over 400 meters), swimming (distances over 100 meters) and cross country skiing.


  • Strength is the ability to exert force against resistance.
  • Speed is the ability to move muscles quickly.
  • Power is the ability to exert force over distance in a short time.

In sport, power refers to the combination of explosive strength and explosive speed. Every sport needs different combinations of power, strength, and speed. Training programs should be designed to include these 3 important components.

Did you know…

  • Maximum strength plays a major role in sports in which athletes must overcome great external (outside) force (ex: the hammer throw, weightlifting, and blocking or tackling in football).
  • Sports needing strength endurance include those in which resistance is somewhat high for a period
    of time (ex: gymnastics, wrestling, boxing and judo). It also includes those sports in which resistance is low for a period of time (ex: rowing, cross-country skiing, swimming, canoeing, and kayaking).


Although your training program will be unique to your sport, 12 principles are relevant to all athletes:

Specificity:  The type of training you choose must be specific to your sport and its demands.

Frequency:  Training should occur frequently and be spread over a relatively long period.

Overload:  Training must overload (stress) you a little bit at a time in order to produce a physical change in your body.

Duration:  The total time spent at overload levels must be enough to produce training effects.

Progression:  The intensity of workouts must increase in a gradual and logical way.

Results:  Ability does not always change at the same level over time. You might improve quickly for a while, then reach a plateau or even perform poorly.

Rest:  Rest gives your body time and energy to adapt to your training schedule. Once your body has adapted, you will be stronger and more efficient. Include enough time for rest and recovery into your training plan.

Monitoring:  You can monitor your training by using your diary! Monitoring is the only way you can know if your program is working.

Adaptability:  Plans should be flexible. Develop your program to meet your needs.

Reversibility:  Training effects are reversible. When workouts stop, are too far apart, or are not stressful enough, performances may suffer.

Overtraining:  It is essential to monitoring for overtraining. You need a balance between your training and your rest.

Maintenance:  Sometimes you need maintenance workouts or programs to stay physically fit. These programs do not overload, but they do prevent "detraining".

When you put together the key concepts of flexibility, energy systems, strength, speed, power, and training principles you have a sound base for a performance conditioning training program. First, flexibility encourages your body to use all the muscles and joints through the most range of motion. Second, understanding how your energy systems work will help you optimize sources that can be used during competition. Next, strength, speed, and power combine to create a dynamic force of athletic movement. Last, always consider the training principles to create an environment for success.  Continue to progress these key concepts throughout all seasons and your performance will continue to excel.

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