Strength and conditioning – often overlooked but extremely important
Strength is a term that is often considered to be exclusive to those who lift weights or need power to exert force, such as a boxer or wrestler, but the truth is that all of us – both sportspeople and those with no interest in sports whatsoever – can benefit from a focus on strength and conditioning.
Strength and conditioning can be done using a variety of tools – as well as your own bodyweight – to improve your movement, health and physical performance, but there are some more specific benefits too:
General functionality, athleticism and performance improvement
One of the main aims of strength and conditioning is to make your body stronger and equip you with the skills to move better overall and increase your athleticism. Exercises often focus on your core, and when your core is strong, you will then have the ability to transfer energy to the rest of the muscles, leading to better and more powerful muscle contractions. A good strength and conditioning programme will work to make long-term improvements to your performance over time by identifying key areas of improvement to maximise your capabilities.
Helps facilitate better movement
Strength and conditioning brings benefits to your balance, coordination and posture – all of which lead to better body mechanics. A study has shown that strength training in elderly people more at risk of a fall could reduce that risk by around 40%.1
Helps aid better posture
As your body mechanics improve, so will your posture, as you strengthen the muscles that support your frame and keep you upright. As most of us are leading more sedentary lifestyles, this is of course something that all of us – not just athletes – can benefit from. Furthermore, studies have shown that improved posture can also help to improve other bodily functions, such as your respiratory system and circulation.2
Reduces your chances of injury
By focusing on the way that you move, and ensuring you are moving correctly and addressing any imbalances, you can introduce strength and conditioning-focused movement techniques to help prevent injuries. This is highly beneficial to athletes as well as non-athletes – no one wants to feel sore if they don’t have to!
How to build a strong foundation
While athletes may opt to follow the guidance of a personal trainer, there are plenty of strength and conditioning exercises you can do at home too. You don’t necessarily need an expensive gym subscription; you can go at your own pace and you can benefit from an easy and convenient workout that will benefit your whole body. Always start with a warmup to get your heart rate up – this could be as simply as a brisk 5-minute walk or some jogging on the spot while circling your arms, legs and other muscle groups to loosen them up.
As a beginner, you might like to try the four following, simple exercises, which require no extra equipment and rely solely on your bodyweight:
Lunges work the muscles in your lower body from the waist to your quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, and calves.
To perform a lunge:
- Stand up tall with your feet shoulder-width apart
- Take a big step forward with your right foot and lower your hips until your right leg is at a 90-degree angle and your left knee is parallel to the ground, making sure that your knee doesn’t go beyond your toes.
- Straighten your spine to keep upright
- Hold the position for around 5 seconds
- Step your right foot back to your starting position
- Repeat with your left leg
Squats primarily work your glutes and leg muscles, but they also strengthen the muscles in your core, back, and shoulders.
To perform a squat:
- Stand up straight with your feet spread a little wider than your hips
- Slowly lower your hips into a squat position
- Raise back to standing
Planks are fantastic for improving core strength and stability. They also help strengthen the muscles in your back, chest, and shoulders.
To perform a plank:
- Come to your knees on the floor, then bring your arms to the floor
- Raise your body so you are resting on your forearms and toes only, being sure to keep your body straight with your buttocks clenched and your abdominal muscles engaged to prevent your back dipping
- Hold the position for as long as you can before your form starts to slip – as you gain strength, you will be able to hold your plank for longer
All exercises can be adapted to suit your current level of fitness and ability – it’s not important whether you can perform one squat, or 100. The important part is to challenge yourself and reap the benefits as you get stronger.