Conditioning is a form of training that enhances stamina and endurance, which are crucial for maintaining strong athletic performance throughout a practice, game or training session.
Conditioning develops the body’s ability to meet the energy demands of various sports, both anaerobic and aerobic. Anaerobic activity uses stored energy to power short bursts of intense activity—such as sprinting, jumping or lifting weights—that last approximately 30 to 60 seconds. Aerobic activity uses oxygen to provide sustained performance for longer periods of time, for sports like cross country. Athletes should undergo conditioning tests and participate in conditioning workouts that mimic their sport.
BASIC PHYSIOLOGY OF MUSCLE CONDITIONING
Muscle conditioning regards the ability to train your muscles to a degree of contraction that is different to the normal degree, resulting in improved neuromuscular response (tone), improved resistance (endurance) and a better nutritional state (tropism).
Our musculoskeletal systems are made up of around 400 muscles. Each muscle is covered in a connective membrane often called a ‘fascia’. This fascia is activated by neuromuscular impulses received by general proprioceptors (neuromuscular spindles) which are activated during muscle contraction. These proprioceptors, which connect the motor area of the brain to the muscles, tell us about the state of the muscle tension, the direction of the body with respect to space, and the positions of various parts of the body, with respect to other parts.
The whole muscle activity stimulus and response system works thanks to energy provided by the division of an energy molecule called ATP (adenosine triphosphate) which is at the root of all energy processes.
Before going further into the technical specifics on muscle contraction, one must know which energy systems are used when we move. From this, trainers can then create programmes according to the athletes needs, or the individual who wants to do muscle conditioning.
Muscle conditioning training can be categorised into two groups:
when you use your own bodyweight or the weight of a body part;
when a foreign object is used (a weight). Here is an example of natural overloading: when lying on the ground on one side, lifting up one leg (abduction) uses the weight of the limb itself, however, you can overload by attaching an exercise band to the ankles.
Before starting any muscle conditioning exercises, some physiological principles must be explained and kept in mind until you notice the neuro-physiological changes you are aiming for.
- muscle balance;
- the principle of overloading.
Movement specificity means identifying a group of muscles to work on and then isolating them from other muscles. That means finding movements which have a range that only affects a specific muscle group (for example, to have a specific effect on the deltoid muscle, all you have to do is abduct the arm slowly, along the frontal plane, to 90°). During the exercise, the joint must remain very still and the chosen muscle must be isolated by moving it in a specific way.
The principle of muscle balance is based on balancing the strain between the agonist and antagonist muscles. The work produced must be proportional and rational so muscle toning of both groups is equal. This type of exercise allows you to lock the joints in place, indirectly reinforcing the posture.
According to the law of alternation, by varying where the weight is applied on the flexor and extensor muscle groups, there will be a momentary active rest which makes the response to the next movement more effective.
THE PRINCIPLE OF OVERLOAD
The definition of the principle of overload says that: ‘a greater than normal stress or load on the body is required for training adaptation to take place.’
As previously mentioned, overload can be natural, using your body, or can be helped with weights. In both cases, you work against the muscle that is being provoked. When you overload, you must keep in mind some fundamental principles so you avoid injuries, especially tendon and ligament injuries, which trigger inflammation easily.
Whilst muscle cells adapt quickly to major and minor strain signals coming from the nervous system, in order to adequately and stably withstand weight, tendons and ligaments can only rely on the structure of their tissues and not nervous mechanisms, thus you must wait for the necessary changes to occur to withstand new and heavier weights. Consequently, after reaching a certain weight, you must have break for a few days before increasing it again, even if your muscles could lift it, so the tendons and ligaments have time to adapt.
In summary, the load does not increase linearly rather it is ‘stepped’. Here is an example of how to carry out such exercises: start with a weight you can lift 8 times then, after a few days and using the same weight, do 10 repetitions then, after a few more days of rest, do 12 repetitions. Only at this point should the weight be increased however, you must start again with 8 repetitions, then 10 some days later, and so on. During the days when you use the same weight, the tendons are able to develop normally. Very often and incorrectly however, we tend to speed up the rest time and increase the weight too quickly so we can rapidly increase our strength and muscle mass, however, the consequences on the ligaments can be felt very quickly.
RHYTHM AND EXECUTION TIME
Varying the way you carry out an exercise means decisively varying the effect it has on the muscles and the circulatory system. When a muscle contracts, the arteries and veins are subject to the mechanical effect of the pressure, caused by the contraction, which blocks the blood flow to the inner muscle. During the relaxation that follows, the blood goes back to flowing fervently, returning to the muscle belly (the central part of the muscle). If the strain lasts a long time (more than 30-40 minutes), large quantities of lactic acid build up which, in the absence of oxygen, inhibit the combustion of sugars and fats.
Beginners and people with circulatory problems should take a break after each set of repetitions or not contract continuously for more than 10-15 minutes at a time.
Vice versa, if you have to work on resisting lactic acid, you must work for 30-40 minutes without taking a break. For example, when carrying out thigh abductions, aimed at getting rid of excess fat in the legs, you have to carry out the exercise in an elastic way, not impeding the movement of the limb when it rebounds or, on the other hand, take a small break between each movement so as to allow oxygen to intervene in the combustion process of the fatty acids.
On the contrary, staying continually tense whilst doing 15 repetitions, for example, will cause high amounts of lactic acid to form. Therefore, a woman with circulatory problems and cellulite would not benefit from the aforementioned exercise (in fact her state would actually get worse) however, if they worked aerobically, her circulatory condition would improve.
Very often, when we choose they type of training we want to do, we only consider the exercise, the number of repetitions and sets and the sequence of them and not the rhythm of the contractions which can actually make our physical state worse. This is also why many aspiring bodybuilders, when carrying out movements in a dynamic way and taking advantage of rebounds and springs or interrupting the continuity of the action, see their efforts to achieve hypertrophy (increase in volume of muscle mass) wasted.
TOTAL BODY CONDITIONING
During training, specific exercises are carried out on the spot, on all fours or on your side, back and front. The first aim is to improve the tone-trophic state of the muscle groups responsible for maintaining correct posture (paravertebral muscles, dorsals, glutei and quadriceps). The second objective is to work on all areas of the body like a ‘buffer’ and tone the parts where fat is deposited the most (stomach, hips, buttocks and thighs). These two goals can be achieved by doing just one type of exercise: muscle definition, that is, determining the best percentage of body fat to muscle mass for you.
Body conditioning is the most common technique used in gyms and it is a fundamental component of all exercise classes. It can be carried out
- when doing bodyweight training or
- with small weights.
CONDITIONING AND PHYSIOLOGY:
HOW TO TRAIN AND COMPETE IN HOT WEATHER
Why hot-weather training is a delicate balance between staying cool and hydrated while performing at a competitive level
When training in hot weather, it’s likely that you’ll feel more sluggish. This is because your body regulates your activity level based on its ability to keep itself cool. However, whether this heat-based fatigue is a reactionary event once a critical core temperature is reached (somewhere around 40°C), or a feed-forward response where the body selects a pacing strategy that avoids the critical temperature, is a matter of debate among researchers. What everyone agrees upon is that training the body to take a longer time to reach this temperature will delay fatigue and provide a performance edge.
Excess heat generated during exercise is carried to the skin where it is lost via radiation, conduction, convection and evaporation. When nude and at rest, 60% of the body’s total heat loss comes from radiating heat in the form of infrared rays. Conduction is the transfer of heat from one object to another along a temperature gradient. In air, this accounts for only about 3% of the body’s heat loss, but becomes more important when exercising in water because water is a far more efficient heat conductor. Convection is what makes us feel cooler on a windy day. As air moves across the skin, heat is transferred to it.
Evaporative heat loss is the most important cooling mechanism during exercise and occurs primarily through sweating. Evaporation accounts for 25% of the heat loss while at rest in a comfortable room. While that percentage increases with exercise, the exact amount varies based on weather conditions and individual tendencies for sweating.
In the summer, your weather bureau probably forecasts an apparent temperature (AT) or ‘heat index’, along with the actual air temperature. The AT adjusts the ambient temperature to reflect the level of humidity. What this produces is a ‘feels like’ temperature that allows the athlete to make judgements about the activity level appropriate in that environment. However, the AT does not take into account the effect of radiant heat or wind conditions. Common sense dictates that staying on the shady side of a course or field will reduce your radiant heat load.