Just as they need to get bigger, stronger and faster, athletes also need to get in shape and improve their endurance. However, this may be one of the most misunderstood aspects of training.
Conditioning should not be a brutal torture session at the end of a workout or practice. Yes, it may improve your endurance, but it also might break down your body and put you at risk for an injury. The reward is simply not worth the risk.
On the other hand, conditioning should not be a long, slow jog or a prolonged session on the elliptical. Most sports are played at high levels of intensity and require powerful bursts of energy. Unless you're an endurance athlete, training like this may actually slow you down.
Mike Boyle, co-founder of Mike Boyle Strength and Conditioning (Woburn, Massachusetts), advises athletes who want to safely and effectively improve their endurance to perform interval-style drills at the end of their workouts. Designed to limit wear and tear on the body, these drills are performed slightly below your max and allow for recovery.
Try the following conditioning test and use these three conditioning drills to get in shape for your sport. Check out the video player above for a demonstration of each exercise.
Treadmill Fitness Test
A conditioning test helps you measure your level of endurance. And taking this test once a month lets you to chart your progress and determine whether your workouts are working. According to Boyle, an athlete with elite endurance can do this test for two minutes.
- Set the treadmill at 10 mph at a 10 percent grade.
- Run for as long as possible.
- Hop off the treadmill when fatigued.
- Perform once every three months.
As far as conditioning goes, Tempo Runs may seem tame. They are not all-out gassers, and for good reason. They are designed to improve your conditioning without causing an injury. Boyle declares, "These are not sprints. We're not going to have people do a bunch of races. We're not going to have people pulling hamstrings at the end of their workout."
- Set up two cones as far apart as desired, leaving at least 10 yards of space after the second cone.
- Run from the first to the second cone at 70 to 80 percent of your max speed.
- Walk back to the start to recover.
- Repeat for 10 minutes, adjusting the duration for various fitness levels and course distances.
Treadmill Tempo Runs
Not everyone has access to a field. And sometimes the weather doesn't cooperate. But that's OK. You can do Tempo Runs on a treadmill. To simulate running on flat ground, simply set the incline to a 2-percent grade.
- Set the treadmill at a 2-percent grade.
- Sprint at 70 to 80 percent of your max speed.
- Maintain a smooth sprint motor pattern.
- Start at 7 to 8 miles per hour and progress as your fitness improves.
- Increase the number of sets by 2 each week.
Sets/Duration: 6-20x15 seconds followed by 30 seconds of rest
Boyle's favorite conditioning tool is the Airdyne bike, commonly known as a fan bike. Your lower and upper body must work at the same time to spin the fan, activating more muscles and increasing your heart rate. (If you don't have access to an Airdyne, any exercise bike will suffice.)
You get no-impact conditioning. "There's nothing that we have to worry about in terms of knees, hips and backs," says Boyle. "You can really beat people up metabolically without beating them up physically."
You can do a number of interval training variations on the bike. One of Boyle's favorite is Tabata intervals, which calls for eight sets of 20-second sprints with 10 seconds of rest between sets.
- Measure your average RPM with a 1.5-mile test.
- Perform conditioning drills at 110-120 percent of your average RPM.
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