Strength & Conditioning: Part 1

Strength and conditioning regimes, once a specialist tool used almost exclusively to enhance the sporting performances of elite athletes, have experienced increased levels of public awareness in recent years. This is because knowledge of its many benefits has seen a high level of exposure in many well-researched health and fitness publications that are readily available to the masses.

There are 2 great prevailing concepts in the realm of strength and conditioning: General Physical Preparation (GPP) and Specialised Physical Preparation (SPP). The purpose of GPP and SPP is best explained by sports science expert, Dr. Siff:

“GPP is intended to provide balanced physical conditioning in endurance, strength, speed, flexibility and other basic factors of fitness, where the SPP concentrates on exercises which are more specific to the particular sport.” (Siff, 2000)

Athletes utilise both the GPP and SPP in their training programmes, although different levels of emphasis may be placed on both during different times in the annual training cycle. GPP is usually done during the off-season,  with SPP taking on increasing prominence during pre-season preparation.

Some examples of GPP activities are sports which involve a wide range of movement patterns, or sports that call upon a high level of body awareness, coordination and control. The former includes games like soccer and basketball, while the latter includes disciplines such as gymnastics and athletics.

SPP will generally involve exercises and drills which more closely replicate all or part of the actual movements that will be performed in the targeted sport. Some examples of SPP activities are agility and footwork drills for the martial artist, and jumping/striding drills for the track athlete.

GPP allows athletes to participate in low-intensity movements that improve all-round conditioning, while SPP finetunes specific sporting skills. They are often implemented together (with different levels of emphasis at different periods in the training cycle), to achieve a combination of increased fitness levels and improved body awareness and function, as well as specific conditioning and refined technique with regards to the actual sport being performed by the athlete.   

I know all that technical background I’m throwin’ at you is getting a little too dry, so let’s focus on how all this is going to help YOU:

Some of you out there are going to be engaged in a certain sport that you enjoy on a regular basis. Your weekend game of football with your army mates are potential joint- and ligament-busters, and I’ve seen many a grown man shedding tears after a particularly-excruciating ACL tear. All this pain and heartache can be easily avoided, simply by applying some appropriate strength and conditioning work for your favourite sporting hobby.

Professional athletes use strength and conditioning not only for performance increments, but also for injury prevention by improving muscle, joint and ligament health and strength. Similarly, weekend warriors can utilise GPP and SPP work to avert major playing field disasters by keeping vulnerable areas of the body in fighting shape.

For individuals whose favourite pastimes are games involving tonnes of quick, mutil-directional movement patterns such as soccer and basketball, your GPP and SPP programme can take the form of the following:

GPP: Trail running. Running on uneven terrain forces you to learn and practise proper foot contact, as well as correct foot and body positioning during different movements. This type of run will strengthen your ankles, knees and hips as the major joints in your lower body are exposed to dynamic planar shifts which they will need to counter and balance.

SPP: Static conditioning drills. When performed correctly, exercises like the full-range bodyweight squat strengthen the muscles and joints which are involved in the movement. These drills serve as a form of resistance loading, which will get your muscles and joints used to handling a certain level of stress, thus proofing them to some extent against mechanical injury. 

A word of caution though: progression is key, do not jump into exercises that you are unprepared for. Work your way up gradually from your current health and fitness levels, and only perform exercises that your body is ready for. 

And a disclaimer: conditioning work will save you from injuries stemming from under-prepared muscles and joints. However, freak accidents such as broken legs from poorly-executed tackles and poorly-landed falls are the stuff that you should know you are risking, every time you step onto the playing field.  

In the recent assassin movie The Mechanic the recurring theme of the well-planned and -executed killings is captured in a singular Latin proverb that I find particularly apt for this discussion:

“Amat Victoria Curam” (“Victory Loves Preparation”)

Ready yourself, and victory will be yours. Fail to prepare, and you will no doubt suffer a most crushing defeat.

Thanks to Josh Henkin, whose informative article on bodybuilding.com supplied much of the technical knowledge on GPP and SPP training. His article on this subject can be found at: http://www.bodybuilding.com/fun/henkin17.htm

~ This post is written by Lionel Ng, part-time Personal Trainer & full-time Fitness Enthusiast. ~

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