The official start to the high school spring sports season is just around the corner. Some teams have already started their "voluntary" pre-season "conditioning" programs while others are waiting until the first mandatory practice to run their athletes to the ground until they absolutely hate themselves. I quote the words voluntary and conditioning because 1) we all know that these workouts are really mandatory if you're serious about your sport and want playing time, and 2) plenty of conditioning workouts lack any sense of proper planning and scientific reasoning. Now I do believe that there is a time and a place to really push an athlete to make them mentally tough, however I am strongly against trying to kill your athletes every time you reach the conditioning portion of a practice. My stance isn't a blanket statement for all coaches as it is not fair to say they all do not have a clue about conditioning. However, I do believe that there is room for improvement as it seems that conditioning is often poorly executed.
Why is conditioning so important? (WARNING: NERDY FACT BOMB FIELD OVER THE NEXT THREE PARAGRAPHS)
Well, because the body cannot work or survive without energy. In the body, energy is provided in the form of ATP (adenosine triphosphate). ATP is produced by the body from the foods it consumes and is then used aerobically (with oxygen) and anaerobically (without oxygen). Between the aerobic system and anaerobic system, the aerobic system is the most efficient. Properly programmed conditioning will increase an athlete's work capacity thus resulting in more ATP production which in turn means more energy. This article is going to focus solely on the aerobic system and conditioning.
Aerobic exercise requires the body to take in oxygen, deliver it to the lungs, transfer it into the blood, then pump it to the working muscles where it is utilized to oxidize carbs and fats in order to produce ATP. Aerobic training also stimulates the heart to adapt by becoming larger and stronger through exercise to supply the body's increasing demand for oxygen. The heart then becomes more efficient by pumping more blood per beat. Pumping more blood per beat will result in less beats to supply the same amount of oxygen.
Aerobic energy production requires a constant and adequate supply of oxygen and is often termed the oxidative system as it involves several body systems including the respiratory, cardiovascular, muscular, and endocrine systems. Through a complex series of chemical reactions, glycogen and fats are broken down in the presence of oxygen to provide energy to be transferred into ATP. The aerobic system produces much more ATP than the anaerobic system and gains far more ATP when using fat as a fuel since it is able to break down fat to provide energy.
Although most team sports require quick bouts of explosiveness, it would seem that conditioning with an aerobic/oxidative focus would be counterproductive. However, athletes cannot create high operational outputs without having high maximal outputs. They cannot develop high maximal outputs without a having a high oxidative capacity. An athlete with a high oxidative capacity is an athlete with more mitochondrial dense tissue than the average person. We all know from high school biology that the mitochondria is the "powerhouse of the cell" because it generates the majority of the cells ATP. Therefore, an athlete with a high oxidative capacity is an athlete that yields more ATP production. In simpler terms, an athlete in great aerobic shape is an athlete that is able to produce more energy.
It has been estimated that if you could extract all of the ATP in a human body and pour it into a glass, that glass would be anywhere from the size of a shot glass to as big as a small juice glass. With such a small amount of ATP available at any given time, the body of an athlete must be continually producing ATP. With that being said, it behooves all athletes to be well conditioned in an aerobic capacity for their respected sports.
Limited with space and bad weather is no excuse for poorly executed aerobic/oxidative capacity training (conditioning). If you are restricted to working within a small space, you can utilize Tempo Work in an interval fashion. Tempos are low intensity and can be done daily without any real issues as long as they are progressed and programmed properly. Since residual adaptations from aerobic development last up to 30 days, tempos only have to be revisited every so often to maintain aerobic capacity once an aerobic block is finished. Attached below is an example of an indoor aerobic/oxidative capacity training workout that we did at Overdrive Fitness. As you will see in the video, we picked low intensity exercises and implemented core exercises for active rest. All of the athletes were asked to perform at their perceived exertion of 75%. The first circuit lasted just over 10 minutes with about 45 seconds rest (including active rest exercises) between prowler sprints. After a 4 minute break, we started another circuit of about 2 minutes worth of low-intensity work followed by 1 minute of rest between the 3 rounds. To ensure that the athletes left the facility not feeling exhausted, we had them cooldown with a few dynamic mobility exercises while their heart rates slowly dropped. This entire workout was performed in just under an hour, but for the sake of not boring the entire world, this is a time-lapse video. To anyone trying to condition their athletes with weather restrictions and/or limited space, please try the sample workout in the video below or simply swap out the exercises and utilize the same template. Enjoy!