Conditioning by sport

Aug. 07, 2013 @ 08:52 AM

College football is here, and our local teams in Durham -- Duke and NCCU -- are practicing hard in hopes of winning many games this fall.
My favorite month of the year as a sports fan is next month, as the college football games get going for most teams and it is the last month of the Major League Baseball season. So now you know -- my favorite sports are college football and Major League Baseball. I know I am in the minority since in this area more of you follow college basketball.
Right now is when the players on college football teams are working hard during these hot days of August to build their conditioning so that they are in peak shape by the time the games get started.
During most plays in football, athletes run less than 10 yards, with the play lasting around five seconds, with about 40 seconds of rest between plays. So football players should condition by running, for the most part, short sprints, followed by short rest periods. In this way, they are practicing the way they will play in actual games, thus enhancing their ability to perform at optimal levels when it is most important, in games.
Athletic conditioning should be designed to enhance performance in a particular sport.  The intensity, duration and frequency of the exercises and drills should be designed to enhance the skills demanded in a particular sport or activity. For example, the work-to-rest ratio of a training program should closely mimic the work-to-rest ratio of the sport one is participating in. Analyze your sport by determining how long an average play lasts and how long you have between plays. Then concentrate closely on using that same work-to-rest time when you practice or work out. This type of conditioning is referred to as functional training, or what I like to call movement with a specific purpose in mind.
Another example of this can be found in tennis. An average point in tennis lasts less than 10 seconds, which is followed by a rest of 25 seconds.  During a point, a tennis player changes direction an average of four times. Based on these statistics, a work-to-rest ratio of 1:2 or 1:3 closely matches the 10 seconds of play to 25 seconds for recovery that occurs in a real match. Because of the many changes of direction required in an average point in tennis, agility drills to enhance direction change should be a major part of the training program.
This work-to-rest simulation is sometimes referred to as metabolic training, which is a plan of training activities that focuses on optimizing the energy stores required for a specific sport.
Another key concept of athletic conditioning is having the ability to stabilize parts of the body while moving other parts at the same time. Athletes should train the muscles of the core and trunk adequately before focusing on the extremities, such as the arms and legs. For example, being able to throw a fastball at 90 miles an hour requires stabilization and strength from many parts of the body other than those of the shoulder and arm.  The legs, hips, trunk and other muscles all stabilize and generate strength at some point in the delivery so that the hand can be the last point of contact of the ball before it leaves the body.
If I had to sum up athletic and sports conditioning in one sentence, this is what I would write.  Practice like you will play. 
Lewis Bowling  teaches at N.C. Central University and Duke University. He is the author of several books on fitness and sports. His website is He can be reached at 919-530-6224 and at