In this article, I’d like to define what strength and conditioning is and take an in-depth look at what a strength and conditioning coach does.
Strength and conditioning, or S&C for short, refers to the physical development of competitive athletes at all levels, including elite-level sport, grassroots players or even hobbyists that want to succeed in sporting or fitness events.
In essence, a strength and conditioning coach prescribes exercises to improve the movement qualities and performance qualities of athletes.
WHAT ARE THE MOVEMENT QUALITIES?
There are seven basic human movements and one precursor (Brace). For athletes, I add three more, COD, Jump, and throw. I call these The Athletic 11.
All physical training involves the progressive development of these movement qualities:
- Brace: The precursor – contracting your muscles to stabilize the body and resist and transfer forces
- Hinge: Bending at the hips
- Squat: Bending at the hips and knees
- Lunge: Single-leg movements
- Push: Pushing with the upper body
- Pull: Pulling with the upper body
- Rotate: Rotating/twisting the body
- Gait: Walking and running
- COD: Change of Direction
- Jump: Jumps, bounds and hops
- Throw: Throws and strikes
These are the movements ordinary people and athletes carry out each day and in sporting events. Our job is to develop them to a high level of performance, and we do this by teaching good form and technique and progressing them with additional load and complexity.
We need to improve how an athlete moves and their ability to move forcefully, quickly and for long durations or repeated efforts. We do this by developing the performance qualities.
WHAT ARE THE PERFORMANCE QUALITIES?
Performance qualities are the components of physical fitness that allow an athlete to excel within their sport – different sports and positional demands require varying amounts of each.
These are the performance qualities (11 total):
- Cardiorespiratory Endurance: The ability of the heart, lungs and blood vessels to deliver oxygen to the tissues
- Muscular Endurance: The ability of a muscle or group of muscles to sustain repeated contractions
- Muscular Strength: The ability of a muscle or group of muscles to exert maximal force
- Speed: The ability to move quickly across the ground or move limbs rapidly
- Power: The ability to exert high force in minimal time (Strength x Speed = Power)
- Agility: The ability to move, change direction and body position quickly and efficiently while maintaining control
- Mobility/Flexibility: Flexibility is the passive length a muscle can achieve, while mobility is the range of motion a joint can achieve (includes flexibility)
- Balance: Static balance is the ability to maintain equilibrium when stationary. Dynamic balance is the ability to maintain equilibrium when moving (equilibrium – a state in which opposing forces are balanced)
- Coordination: The ability to move two or more body parts under control smoothly and efficiently
- Reaction Time: The ability to respond quickly to a stimulus
- Body Composition: The percentage of muscle, fat, bone and water in the human body
It should be noted that although specificity (exercises specific to the sport) is essential, a strength and conditioning coach’s primary aim is the development of the physical attributes of the athletes rather than their technical and tactical abilities within the sport. Therefore, it is key that coaches do not become bogged down with sports specificity because it can impede the fundamental development of the performance qualities.
ANALYSIS, TESTING AND PLANNING
A strength and conditioning coach must decide what performance qualities are the priority, and this is decided with a Needs Analysis.
The needs analysis is a two-stage process where we use various means to assess firstly the sport and secondly the athlete.
Once the needs analysis is done, we create a battery of appropriate fitness tests that help us to profile the athlete, set goals, and inform the training plan, i.e., What are their strengths and weaknesses, and how are they going to improve?
The final step in the initial process is taking all the collected data and formulating a plan. This plan is usually in the form of an annual (year-long) plan which we refer to as a macrocycle. The plan is then split down into blocks called mesocycles (usually 3-8 weeks), and microcycles which refer to one week of training – we refer to this process as Periodization.
We also split the plan down into a preparatory phase, pre-competition phase, competition phase, and transition period. These help us formulate a plan that takes an intelligent, systematic approach to the athlete’s physical development.
It is key to remember that the annual plan is an overview. It acts as a calendar of all the events the athlete will be competing at and describes their overall progression leading up to each event. However, as with all things in life, plans are subject to change. Therefore, throughout the entire process, the strength and conditioning coach is making evaluations and modifications, collecting data throughout on how the athlete is performing and feeling, both subjectively (ask them) and objectively (fitness tests).
Most of the modifications will be at the session plan level (individual training sessions/workouts). Session plans should stick to the training strategy agreed in the annual plan. However, these are a little more dynamic and may change in accordance with how any training week is panning out. We refer to the development of these training sessions as Programming.
WHAT TRAINING METHODS DO WE UTILIZE IN OUR PROGRAMMING?
Now we know the 11 movement qualities and the 11 performance qualities (I call these the S&C 22), and we understand the 2-stage needs analysis, testing batteries, profiling the athlete and creating a periodized plan. We need to consider the training methods we are going to use to elicit the best results.
Here are the methods we use (I call these The Super 6):
These are ordered according to fatigue sensitivity (how fast performance diminishes) and how we would usually prioritize them during a training session – intensity and complexity first.
- Speed & Agility Training: Sprint work and agility drills
- Plyometric Training: Jumps, bounds, and hops
- Ballistic Training: Loaded jumps, throws, and strikes
- Olympic Weightlifting: The snatch and the clean & jerk
- Strength Training (Resistance Training): Progressively loading movements to build muscular strength and endurance
- Metabolic Conditioning: Training the energy systems with steady-state work and intervals, etc
The fundamental questions all strength and conditioning coaches should be asking themselves are:
- “What does the athlete need?”
- “What is optimal in the given time and environment?”
There is only so much an athlete can achieve in any given week and unfortunately, the time allotted for strength and conditioning can be limited. Therefore, it is up to the strength and conditioning coach to decide on what is the best plan of action. A plan will never be perfect, but with years of education (read and listen) and practical experience, you can create programs that maximize results and produce the highest levels of performance.
If you would like to learn more about this process, click the image below to check out our Programming & Periodization course.
A WORD FROM THE AUTHOR
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