Sports Conditioning

Ensuring that the body is in the right mode of conditioning is essential for any activity, whether is be a standard exercise or a sporting event. There are four elements that can be applied within a workout program to ensure that the body and mind is at a ready-state to perform at an optimal level. There is much more to preventing injury than proper stretching and breathing techniques. Optimal injury prevention requires improving parts of the body invisible to the human eye. With so many exercises to choose from, the greatest challenge when creating a conditioning program is choosing which to do and what order to do them in.

Before selecting the exercises and their place in your program, it is essential that you ensure that you understand everything involved in creating a conditioning program. Firstly, you need to create a program in preparation for movement in order to prepare the nervous system, muscular system, and joints complexes for the demands of exercise. After this, the actual workout occurs within a movement-conditioning program that consists of fundamental movement patterns.

An example of a movement preparation program

Push: bench press on a with dumbbells

Pull: seated or squatting lat pull-down

Press: shoulder press with dumbbells

Squat: with straight bar or dumbbells

Lunge: preferably in three directions

Step up and down: preferably in three directions

Core stability training: crunches on bag or standing; hopping in three directions

Complex variations: Olympic lifts (e.g., cleans)

Isolated variations: machine training, traditional strength training; biceps curls or knee extension machine

As a basic template, this example provides a suggested progression to help monitor essential elements as conditioning improves and is a basic guideline for an injury-preventive functional training program. Because each sport and athlete requires an individual approach when implementing a conditioning program, the examples will need to be modified to meet particular sporting needs.

Movement Preparation

The physiological and mental state of an individual at the beginning of a training session or a game sets the tone for the rest of the performance. By “turning on” the different components of athletic movement, it is likely that you can expect considerably higher levels of performance and optimally absorbed training effects. Using the movement preparation protocol as an athlete’s warm-up optimizes the body’s ability to adapt to a given training stimulus. Besides enhancing general performance and helping to preventing injuries, the benefits of following a movement preparation sequence include the following:

  1. Helps maximise the gains in performance enhancement and injury prevention by preparing the musculoskeletal and neurological components for the demands of the sport training
  2. Ensures the cross-development of flexibility, strength, balance, speed, and agility
  3. Accelerates recovery and prevents overtraining

Movement preparation typically replaces the traditional warm-up session of 5 to 15 minutes which includes activities such as jogging and static or dynamic stretches. Movement preparation can be seen as a sort of “high-tech’ warm-up and occurs in the beginning of each conditioning session. Taking about 15-25 minutes to comlete. The preparation component consists of four kinds of training: flexibility, coordination, plyometric, and activation.

Flexibility training

The main aim here is to prepare the muscle and connective tissue for active movement. Traditional static stretching alone usually fails to activate the body for athletic movement. The correct dynamic flexibility exercises help to “wake up” the proprioceptors that regulate the movement through the central nervous system. Some exercises can also help in restoring the muscles to their proper force production potential. A professionally planned and executed flexibility program helps to reveal the true potential of the athlete and can keeps them at a healthier physical level through the season.

Coordination training

This phase is used primarily to improve neuromuscular efficiency, dynamic stability, and coordination of movement. It prepares the neuromuscular system to do work. Particularly, the movements on a single leg prepare the whole kinetic chain for athletic movement e.g. 100 or 200 metre sprints etc. Coordination drills are also an essential part of injury prevention; the coordination phase helps the movement system respond to the demands of a sporting environment.

Plyometric training

The stretch-shortening cycle that occurs in the muscles, tendons, and fascia during all movement must be turned on and optimised through plyometric exercises. Proper landing mechanics guide the musculoskeletal system to correctly load the whole kinetic chain. Effective loading and unloading of the chain results in powerful and controlled movement, whereas the inability to execute this cycle properly results in lack of speed, agility, and quickness. Proper technique, attention to detail, and the correct number of repetitions are important in making the plyometric phase as beneficial as it can be.

Activation training

This phase is used to develop an increase in neuromotor recruitment in movement patterns particular to the sport or activity. As part of the last phase of the movement preparation, the activation segment is the closest to sport-specific performance. This phase transfers the benefits of the first three phases into the game. Activation is more subconscious than the other phases and enables the nervous system to “download” all the training benefits so that it can be used within a sport situation. Activation also “switches on” the inner athlete, the mind and soul, and helps him or her approach the task at hand with the proper attitude and focus.


Movement Preparation Programming

The most important factor when creating a movement preparation program is exercise selection and the purpose of the exercise. Exercise selection and knowing when and how to use a push, pull, squat, or a complex movement can prevent an injury. Other factors influencing the outcome include choosing the right amount of repetitions, sets, rest periods and intensity. Each movement preparation component requires well-thought-out planning in order to achieve an effective overall program.

 Flexibility training programming

A good flexibility program is the selection of the muscle groups you are stretching and the type of stretching technique you use. Essentially, there are three types of flexibility techniques used especially when warming up: static, active, and dynamic. Static flexibility consists of holding a position for a period of time between 15 and 30 seconds. This stretching technique is most effective after a conditioning program and is not always recommended prior to exercising as it can inhibit the excitation of the muscle and “turn it off.”

Active flexibility involves moving a particular body region into a new range of motion and holding the position for two to five seconds. An example is lying on your back with a strap around your ankle and moving your leg up toward the ceiling. The strap at the end range should only be used to facilitate and increase the range of motion. Active flexibility is effective before or after a conditioning program.

Finally, dynamic flexibility involves moving into a new range of motion without a hold in the position. It increases the body’s core temperature and prepares the neuromuscular and proprioceptive systems better than either static or active flexibility, examples including walking lunges and jumping jacks. Dynamic flexibility is most effective before a conditioning program.

Coordination training programming

Coordination training is the most neglected component in conditioning programs. Examples of coordination training include:

  • single-leg balance
  • single-leg squat touch down
  • single-leg balance on an avex pad with a ball toss
  • single-leg hip rotation

This training type challenges an athlete’s ability to remain upright when challenged by external forces or when put into situations where he or she is off balance.

Simply raising one lower limb while attempting to balance on the other can sometimes be extremely difficult. Consider the relative ease of standing upright on a firm, solid ground with no wind blowing and no adverse external challenges versus the extreme difficulty of standing on a moving or unstable surface, such as one balance board or rock board.

Plyometric training programming

Plyometric training techniques include squat jumps, lunge jumps, box jumps, and single hops. Selecting the type of plyomteric training to be carried out is very important. A linear progression through the program must be followed in order to minimise the chance of injury and enhance performance. Starting with foundational movement patterns, such as a landing technique and squat jumps with holds for three to five seconds.

Activation training programming

This phase is the most sport-specific phase of conditioning. It involves understanding speed mechanics, running mechanics, acceleration-deceleration mechanics, and change-of-direction mechanics. Examples include speed training and repeats, speed ladder training, and change-of-direction exercises.



  • Sports Injuries Guidebook, Human Kinetics 1 (2007) Robert S. Gotlin 
  • Training for Speed, Agility, and Quickness-3rd Edition (2015)  Vance A. Ferrigno and Lee E. Brown
  • Pose Method of Running (2002) Nicholas Romanov, Sylvia Corbett and Andrey Pianzin