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Strength and Conditioning at Excel Sports


The race is to the swift;
The battle to the strong.

John Davison, 1857-1909

One of the most exciting things occurring now in athletics is the use of weight training for sports. Weights are used to develop strength and muscular endurance, to correct muscular weakness and imbalance, to prevent or rehabilitate injuries, and to improve technique and performance in virtually every sport, from baseball to wrestling.

It wasn’t always this way. Back in the ‘50s, weight training was strictly for body-builders, power lifters and Olympic lifters (plus a small contingent of health and strength-minded pioneers). The first use of weights for other sports that I can recall was with track and field star Dave Sime in the early ‘50s. Sime, a top sprinter who made the 1952 and 1956 Olympic teams, proved that weights at least didn’t hurt performance. Billy Cannon, and All-American running back for LSU in 1959, owed much of his success to weight training. He and his LSU teammates were pioneers in the use of weights in sports.

As the years passed, there was a ripple effect as more and more trainers and players discovered what eight training could do:

  • Supplement and complement traditional training
  • Produce gains in strength or size that could not be achieved any other way
  •  Balance strength of different body parts
  •  Prevent injuries
  •  Often provide the quickest and safest way to recover from an injury

It’s surprising to most people, especially those who remember the ‘50s and ‘60s, just how extensive weight training in sports has now become. Coaches now have their own weight training programs or consult with strength coaches for the appropriate exercises for their particular sport. Each of these people has a different

approach but the message is the same: To be competitive in most sports today, weight training is mandatory.

Obviously, different sports require different skills and therefore different training programs. But there are certain elements of fitness and generalized principles that apply to all athletic training.


What does it take to be in shape? What are the basic qualities of fitness? Just as a farmer needs to four elements for his crops to grow—water, sun, soil and air—you need the following elements to be in good shape:

  • Strength
  • Muscular endurance
  • Cardiovascular endurance
  • Flexibility

Understanding these elements of fitness, especially how you train to achieve each one, is very important if you are to get the most out of your weight training.


Strength is the ability of a muscle to produce force. It is measured by the amount of weight you can lift in one repetition; for example, the most amount of weight you can bench press or lift in the squat.

Pure strength is the most important ingredient in many sports: shot-putting, discus-throwing, jumping high in basketball, having a powerful tennis serve, driving a golf ball, throwing a baseball, etc. Strength is also the key to sports where you have to meet an opponent with a lot of force, such as wrestling or football.

Power is something different.

Power = Strength + Speed

A person may have a lot of strength at the bench press, but not be able to shot put well. He doesn’t have the speed of movement that, combined with strength, generates the necessary power for a long toss.


 Muscular Endurance

Muscular endurance is the ability of a muscle to produce repeatedly over a period of time. It is measured by the number of repetitions of the movement or skill. If you can do only one or two push-ups, then for you it’s a strength movement. If you can do 35 push-ups, then for you it’s a muscular endurance exercise. Sports requiring muscular endurance are wrestling, hurdling, rowing, sprinting and sprint swimming. These sports differ from strength sports in that you have to apply force for a longer period of time.

An athlete can continue to produce muscular force for only a limited period of time before the energy stores in the muscle are depleted. In movements that apply maximum force (strength), such as lifting a heavy weight, the energy stores are quickly depleted. If less than maximum force is required, and the athlete must ration strength (as in a wrestling match or sprint), energy stores are depleted more gradually and the movement can continue for a longer period (muscular endurance).

Cardiovascular Endurance

Cardiovascular endurance is the capacity of the respiratory system (lungs and blood vessels) and the circulatory system (heart, arteries, capillaries and veins) to supply oxygen and nutrients to the muscle cells so an activity can continue for a long period of time.

This type of fitness is necessary for sports like distance running, cross-country skiing, cycling, distance swimming, triathlons, rowing and soccer. (These sports are also the best exercises for improving cardiovascular endurance.) Here the amount of force required of a particular muscle or muscle group is low and the movement is rhythmic. This means that one muscle group is resting while another takes over. For example, in rowing you pull with your back muscles in the power stroke and push with chest muscles on the return stroke; while one group is resting, the blood stream is bringing in nutrients and whisking away waster products. These alternating rest periods allow the movement to continue for a long time.


Flexibility, the fourth element of fitness, refers to the range of motion possible in the joints. This is controlled by muscles, tendons and ligaments.

It is well known that flexibility can be increased by stretching (for more information on stretching go to http://www.stretch2move.com/ or email me at TheAnswer.nutrition@gmail.com). However, there are two important factors to keep in mind:

1. Every individual differs in flexibility. Some are loose-jointed, some tight. A loose-jointed person is obviously well-suited for gymnastics, but is liable to get injured in contact sports. A tight-jointed person can better withstand the impact stresses of contact sports, but tends to have great difficulty at gymnastics. Most people are somewhere in between and can modify their flexibility to coincide with the demands of the sport and their body type.

2. Each sport has different flexibility requirements. You don’t always want maximum flexibility in every direction. Example: football players are susceptible to blows from the side of the knee, and skiers often fall and twist their knees. These athletes should do quadriceps exercises to provide stability for the knee, and make themselves less flexible in side-to-side knee motion. On the other hand, gymnast need full body flexibility, since good performance involves going to the extreme range of motion for the joints.

As a general rule, you need enough flexibility to go through the range of motion required in your sport without restrictions in movement.

Many people think that weight lifters are inflexible or "muscle-bound." On the contrary, weight training improves flexibility. In a study that compared flexibility for champion college gymnasts, champion weight lifters and bodybuilders, the weight lifters were slightly more flexible (in measurements of 30 different joint movements) that the gymnasts and much more flexible than the wrestlers or 16-year-olds.

To repeat, the elements of fitness are:

  1. Strength: Maximum force in a short burst
  2.  Muscular Endurance: Power that is repeated for a period of time, not just a short burst.
  3.  Cardiovascular Endurance: Force applied over the long haul
  4.  Flexibility: Range of movement in joints





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