Nowadays, many people use exercise to help improve their abilities in a chosen sport, as well as to stay fit and healthy. There is also a section of the population that participates in sport as a career, and for these people, sports conditioning is considered a crucial part of their everyday life.

sports conditioning for running a race

Simply participating in a chosen sport used to be the preferred way of getting fit for sport; however, due to the growing body of scientific research in this area, sports conditioning theory and application have progressed significantly, especially in the areas of strength and conditioning.

Today’s sports conditioning coach will often use advanced principles of training and apply these in a specific and systematic way that enhances athletic performance.
Sports/strength conditioning is perceived by many as just being the advancement of strength capabilities; however, it covers a much wider knowledge base and skill set that also includes SAQ, endurance, power, plyometrics, body weight management, and movement bio-mechanics.

How is Sports Conditioning Different to Personal Training?

The first distinction starts with the qualification. There are a number of ways of becoming qualified to be a gym instructor or personal trainer. However, in addition to holding these qualifications, a sports conditioning coach would also hold a relevant governing body accreditation for strength and conditioning – for example, through organisations such as the UK Strength and Conditioning Association (UKSCA) or the National Strength Conditioning Association (NSCA) in the USA.

You can also go to university and gain a degree in a number of areas to enhance your knowledge and skills such as sports science, performance analysis, human movement/biomechanics and strength and conditioning.

In addition to qualifications, the focus of a sports conditioning coach is different to personal training. Whereas a PT may predominantly deal with those looking to improve fitness for general health and recreation, the sports conditioning coach will work with fit healthy athletes whose goal is to improve sports performance. The attainment of these objectives will invariably involve a deeper understanding of not only the sport itself, but the various demands that the sport places on the athlete.

The aims of the sports conditioning coach are to:

  • develop correct exercise skill or technique
  • improve the strength base of all athletes
  • individualise programs to address specific strengths and weaknesses
  • improve athletes’ sports specific movements and techniques
  • improve athletes’ physical conditioning

All this would be done in liaison with the athlete’s technical/skills coach, physio/medical team, and psychologist – with the common objective of working together within a set timeframe.

How do I become a Sports Conditioning coach?

sports conditioningWhile fitness industry Sports Conditioning courses offer an introductory step into strength and conditioning, obtaining a related university degree and a recognised strength and conditioning qualification is extremely beneficial.

Academic knowledge aside, you should also have a passion for sport and be willing to obtain practical experience in strength and conditioning. This may involve, casual work or volunteering with various sports and recreational organisations, and is a great way to build your knowledge base as well as gaining vital experience.

Start your career as a sports conditioning coach by obtaining a recognised level 3 qualification in health & fitness; this will give you an understanding of the principles of fitness. This should then be followed up with a Sports Conditioning qualification from a reputable training provider – this will give you the knowledge required to develop and implement basic strength and conditioning programs for beginner and intermediate level athletes. It covers client/sport needs analysis, Olympic lifting techniques, and coaching – as well as speed, agility and plyometric training.

Finally, gain governing body accreditation and coaching experience, which will allow you to apply what you know under the guidance of someone more experienced within the field. There are a number of starting points within the industry – from coaching up-and-coming young athletes, to county or national level sports people within a university setting. This will then pave the way for working with elite level athletes. One thing is for sure – you will need to put in the hours to gain experience before being let loose on the elite!

We’d love to hear your thoughts in relation to Sports Conditioning. Maybe you’re already working in this field, and would like to share some of your own experiences? Please feel free to post your comments below!

Garrath Pledger
Course Lead for Sports Conditioning Instructor