An insight into Good Quality Strength and Conditioning

Paul Ledger: Soft Tissue Therapist and Performance, Trainer at The Bosworth Clinic

We spoke to the Bosworth Clinic's Strength and Conditioning (S&C) Coach, Paul Ledger, to discuss some core components of quality S&C programs. In our interview below, he draws on his extensive knowledge of massage therapy and strength and conditioning brought about through many years of working in high performance sport – from Olympic Games to World Cups, this man knows his stuff!

TTH: What's the point of S&C?

Strength and Conditioning has various components. Firstly, it prepares the body for sport-specific training. Secondly, it helps to improve stability, balance, build strength, develop neuromuscular speed and convert it into power. Furthermore, this makes a person efficient an effective in the movement patterns they want to make. Finally, it can help reduce the chance of, or rebuild after injury, or prevent/limit reversibility when training is limited due to injury. [Link to our blog on how to best utilise expert physio advice around you]

Paul Ledger worked closely with the TTH Race Team through regular IST meetings

TTH: Which exercises are best for what?

Generally speaking S&C exercises are never good for one time. The phase of training you are in mean that some exercises are better than others. Core exercises will always be a top contender. Building on the basics of exercises like a plank can do more to your training than anything else. 

TTH: Core strength, that's just a six pack, right?

Your core starts in your shoulders and finishes at your feet, everything is linked. When you lift your left hand, you stabilise with your right hip and foot. Core may have the added aesthetic benefit of a six pack, but real core is so much more than that; it is functional and instinctive. Try standing on one leg do three or four calf raises. Now shut your eyes, what happens? What about standing on a cushion or stability disc? What happens when you shut your eyes? Then move your opposite hand with your eyes closed. How many six packs do you need for that to take place? Look at babies – they build core all the time – they are constantly working on their stability and pushing limits.

TTH: If I am strong in my core, I can still be weak elsewhere, can't I?

Of course, putting an F1 motor into your first ever car won’t reap the same performance benefits! You need to be able to control your movements and also be functionally strong within your core.

TTH: Is it better to do heavy weight or lots of reps?

Weight or force lifted and rep numbers varies in tune with the athlete needs, based on initial screening, and also the phase that the training programs is in (as dictated by the coach). Each is important at different times for phases of power conversion. [What about nutrition? This blog links recovery, phases and nutrition together.]

TTH: I'm really nervous about going to the gym, can I do S&C at home?

As with all programs you work from the athlete's capabilities first. Asking someone who is worried about lifting heavy weights to go straight into an Olympic bar program is more likely to shut down the athlete than allow them to flourish. Like with anything, all developments have to begin with what the athlete is able to do, build confidence before over reaching. If someone isn't used to doing S&C with weights of any description, we'd start with simple movements and body weights before building up. Working face to face with athletes can really accelerate this confidence. (Follow this link for an interesting blog on confidence and vulnerability)

TTH: How wrong can you do the exercises?

Very, very wrong! If you start loading someone with weights before they have good quality movement, then you are just asking for something bad to happen. This assessment needs to be made before they start a program through physio screening and Functional Movement Screening at the beginning, during and at the end of every season.

The minute someone incorrectly loads, their body will resort to its coping mechanisms which will either exacerbate incorrect movement patterns or result in injury. Furthermore, you begin to load your system through the skeleton which clearly has negative outcomes. Finally, the execution of the exercises may be correct themselves but they must interact with the training program so the overall system load is managed appropriately without the athlete being over-loaded.

TTH: I don't want to bulk up, so there's no need to do S&C, is there.

There are two things to remember about strength and conditioning with endurance athletes. The first point is that we are looking to increase muscle bulk, so you will lean up and become more athletic. The resultant increase in weight is actually more than counterbalanced by increases in power and your performance increases. Muscle is usable weight! The second point is that significant overall muscle bulk is generally as a result of supplement use. Women for example simply don’t have readily available testosterone levels to actually become overly bulky. In endurance athletes, due to muscle fibre, there is a lot more chance that people lean up rather than bulk up.

TTH: Do I have to keep doing S&C or is there a point in the season I can stop?

A true performance strength and conditioning program has to continue throughout the whole season to supplement a training program. This means entering a maintenance phase over competition phases. This supports the sport training. In many instances, these maintenance programs can be used as checks that someone is moving correctly and can be early warnings of possible injuries and prevent injuries.

If there is no maintenance phase, there is a decrease in strength and conditioning fitness with an increase in race specific fitness. This gap between levels of increases the chance of breakdown or injury.

TTH: If I am strapped for time, have you any advice? Are there some things I can do surreptitiously at the bus stop/school gates/supermarket queue?

It totally depends on what level you are and what you want to get out of it. Yes, something is better than nothing. However, to make the real gains you need to move away from purely body weight or circuit based training. If that is all you can do, how vast is your imagination? I’d look at introducing high strength training bands, eccentric control movements and stability work. However, it comes down to what you put in is what you get out. [How do you balance life and training?]

TTH: If you could put one exercise into The Exercise Hall of Fame, what would it be?

It would be the Plank and variations of it.

  1. It's a key player for the pelvis and shoulder girdle, having major muscles to attaching to both
  2. It's very versatile – you can make as easy or as hard as you want
  3. You can add movements of multiple limbs, all under complete control
  4. If done properly, it teaches you to sink/link your sling system together with movement
  5. Is a good assessment tool as well as an exercise
  6. You can use if in many challenging positions or tricky surfaces: the floor, Bosu ball, Fitball, TRX, etc. etc. The list goes on! 

Do you want some help with your S&C?

Follow this link to see how we can integrate your strength and conditioning programme with your current coaching package and start seeing your improvements today. Alternatively, talk to your coach who will set up everything for a complete, 360º coaching experience.