Athletic conditioning is a segment of fitness geared toward athletes. While fitness programs for general populations include strength, cardiovascular and flexibility, athletic conditioning also must address speed, power, agility, endurance and recovery. The essential goal of an athletic conditioning program is to acquire and maintain the fitness level required for sport.
Years ago, athletic conditioning consisted simply of calisthenics along with practice. Weight training was thought to make athletes musclebound and slow them down. When bodybuilding first became popular in the late 1970s, coaches and athletes were exposed to weight training. As more open-minded coaches began experimenting with strength training, they discovered that it enhanced athletic performance. While bodybuilding programs did improve performance, not all elements of athleticism were addressed.
Today, athletic conditioning has evolved from appearance-oriented bodybuilding and is considered an essential component of sport. Almost all college and some high schools now employ strength and conditioning coaches who oversee the training programs of the athletes. Private athletic training facilities have opened to meet the needs of parents in search of a competitive edge for their children in sports. Athletic conditioning has changed the way sports are played by producing bigger, stronger and faster athletes.
There several elements of athleticism that a conditioning program must address. Agility is the ability to move efficiently. Drills call for the athlete to quickly step around and through various obstacles, including rope ladders, hurdles and cones. Mobility is an important attribute for the prevention of injuries, and it is addressed through various stretches and massage. Strength training, through weight lifting, gives an athlete more power, enabling him to run faster, jump higher and hit harder. A far cry from the bodybuilding inspired programs of the past, many strength programs are based on Olympic-style weight lifting.
There is much debate among coaches as to the style of strength training that should be performed. Some coaches recommend programs based around weight machines, arguing that the program should minimize the risk of injury and that machines are safer than free weights. Other coaches champion Olympic-style lifting such as the power clean because they believe its more explosive style of weight training better prepares an athlete for the demands of sport. However, both schools of thought agree that strength training is the foundation of athletically based training.
When performed without proper supervision, athletic training can do more harm than good. Unlike other professions, there is no license for strength coaches, which means anyone can claim that title regardless of actual knowledge or experience. The National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) is the most prestigious certifying body for strength and conditioning specialists. Coaches who have passed this certification are permitted to indicate so with the initials C.S.C.S. (certified strength and conditioning specialist).