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Why is strength and conditioning important for sports performance?

What is S&C?

Strength and Conditioning, in its simplest form, is using sports science to improve movement quality. Strength and conditioning is grounded in evidence based research and the physiology of exercise and anatomy to enhance a person's movement. This could be within athletes or the general population; everyone who has the ability to move can benefit from strength and conditioning.

The benefits of a successful strength and conditioning program look different for different individuals, but the two most significant factors that strength and conditioning programs influence are: physical performance and injury prevention.

So, let’s get started!

How does strength and conditioning effect performance?

It’s been proven through years of research that effective strength and conditioning programs allow people to develop abilities such as power, speed, strength, repetitive sprint ability, balance, coordination and endurance. Improving physical attributes leads to an enhanced performance in sporting scenarios that require these demands (and I’m struggling to think of sport that doesn’t use at least one of them!).

Whilst some sports rely heavily on one physical attribute, for example powerlifting relies heavily on strength, other sports rely on a mixture of attributes and this may also depend on your ‘style’ within the sport. For example, in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu physically many attributes are important with power, speed and co-ordination arguably at the top of the list. However, if you have style of fighting that is very dynamic then endurance and repetitive power outputs are likely to have a significant influence on your physical performance.

Lots of sports also have unique, specific demands that are also important to recognise. Again, using the BJJ example, it's been shown that grip strength and body composition have a significant influence on performance. Grip strength is a sport specific demand to BJJ as, whilst it's an important performance indicator for success in BJJ, it's fairly unlikely grip strength would have an effect on a sport such as football or swimming.

I hope that what’s becoming clear is that training to improve performance looks very different dependant on the sport you’re trying to improve and a person's abilities. To make sure you’re improving in effectively for your sport, a needs analysis is a vital first step. A needs analysis ranks the physical demands of the sport in order of importance, then assesses your output in these areas to determine what your S&C program should prioritise. Once this needs analysis is complete, a good S&C coach should be able to construct a program that will work on improving your performance, in a way that’s specific to your sport.

Holistic Development

Whilst it may seem obvious that lifting weights makes you stronger, physical factors all have a relationship with each other which makes improving holistically a complex matter!

For example, your power output is limited by your strength output. The equation for power in a sporting context is Strength (force) X Speed = Power so, if your strength is very poor that will limit your ability to be a powerful athlete. The same relationship is present amongst many of these variables. This means a strong theoretical understanding of these factors and the relationships between factors is vital for an improved holistic performance.

Can you improve at any time in your life?

Athleticism is a term that’s banded around within many gyms and teams. The phrase “well they do well as they are naturally athletic,” is one that I don’t like or particularly agree with but that you hear all the time!

Whilst it is true that some individuals have a naturally higher aptitude for the physical attributes associated with athleticism, these skills are likely to have been developed or practised from an early age. These skills have then probably been continually developed through participation in sports or strength and conditioning throughout their life, so whilst someone might be more adept to developing these attributes, hard work and an effective training program means anyone can improve their athletic capabilities. Whilst childhood and adolescence is the most effective time to develop bio-motors abilities, the good news is its never too late to start a strength and conditioning program to improve your athletic performance. Whether you are 13 or 50 squats will make you stronger and Olympic lifting will develop power.

Finally.. How often should I be training?

A professional athlete would be adding strength and conditioning into their training daily. A Premier League footballer for example would complete up to six sessions a week. This would include a few weights sessions (usually three), pitch based speed work, high speed running sessions, agility sessions and prehab sessions. Whilst this is really effective, it is obviously a huge time commitment and nearly impossible to complete without a team of professionals, not to mention unnecessary for a hobbyist.

For someone who is taking part in sport at an amateur level, it's important to balance your physical training, technical training and day to day tasks like work. To have a positive impact on physical performance a minimum of two S&C training sessions a week are needed, but these should be on top of the technical training you already complete, not instead of. Completing two effective S&C sessions per week should mean you start seeing results after 8-12 weeks.

In Summary

So, to wrap this up strength and conditioning is a great way to take your sporting performance to the next level at any age and any ability. Improvements in strength, power, speed or any other physical attributes will enhance sporting performance in any sports that utilise these factors. Not only does increasing your strength and fitness improve your sporting performance, it also improves your health, injury resistance and movement patterns. Strength and conditioning sessions are a great addition to training in any sport that you will see and feel the benefits of during and outside of your sport.

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