While researching workouts and fitness routines, it is common to come across the term ‘conditioning’. There are a wide variety of approaches to fitness training—like hypertrophy, mobility, HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) and others. And it can get confusing when you finally find out about conditioning also being a thing in the fitness world.
But this is where it gets interesting. Out of all the approaches available in the fitness world, it is conditioning that emphasises the most on preparing the body for a future challenge rather than seeing immediate results. And that is exactly why, for example, football teams around the world, go through weeks of conditioning programmes as pre-season training sessions begin in July.
Naved Hameed, who is the Head Physiotherapist at Super Cup winners Odisha FC, is already gearing up with conditioning plans, as teams in India start assembling for the football season, which starts in August. “The first step is assessment. This is a prerequisite for conditioning, because it will tell me what every player needs. This involves which muscles they should be focussing on, which exercises they need more than the other, and which they don’t really need. Conditioning is preparing your body for upcoming wear and tear,” he says.
Conditioning will also focus on strength and lots of cardio work, not just band work and other injury-related mechanisms. This includes full body functional exercises and might include lighter weights and more reps. “It’s less weight and stress on the body, but with higher reps to get your heart working more efficiently. If you are doing just one or the other kind of workouts, you will probably see a much greater improvement in muscle tone, muscle mass, and body fat when you incorporate the other in as well,” writes Jessica Stemen in a blog titled Strength Training vs Conditioning. Stemen is the head trainer at My State of Fitness in Lansing, Michigan.
Which brings us to the big question: is conditioning for everyone? “It is, because conditioning is a combination of strength, cardiovascular health, acceleration, stability, endurance, and mobility,” says Hameed. The logic is simple: Even the act of sitting at your desk for eight hours is something you should condition your body to be able to do without long-term issues arising from lifestyle. “You can control the chances of not getting injured and being able to perform even the most basic tasks with optimum ability,” he says, adding that the hangover effects of covid-19 have made people more vulnerable to health issues, including cardiovascular ones.
Hameed also says that conditioning extends to mental awareness. “Feeling good about your strength and ability to do a physical task, which can be as simple as sprinting 30 metres, can help your mentality and belief in the body. Conditioning sessions try to address this part of fitness as well because if your body works well, you can focus more on your work.”
Which brings us to what an ideal conditioning workout would entail. For those like Hameed, who deal with professional athletes, this could be a combination of drills and workouts catering individually to every footballer on the team. He will make these with one eye on the injury history of the player, the movement and stride pattern, how high they can jump, how they land, and plenty of other factors. For a regular fitness enthusiast though, mixing up your favourite training methods with other ones is the best way to condition the body for overall fitness.
“For beginners, step one, just like in every other fitness approach, will be to set a goal. If you want to run 5k in 30 days and you regularly play football or squash, then the conditioning workouts will address how to make these things easier, enjoyable, and injury free. We will work on acceleration and deceleration, on jumping, on stamina and other factors,” he says.
Adding as many different stimuli to the muscles as possible is always beneficial. It is also true that many of you reading this will be working out in a way which can be called conditioning. A muscleandfitness.com article titled The Ultimate Conditioning Workout has a brilliant example of what doing one would look like: it starts off with the bench press, moves to push-ups, then the leg press followed by sprints. This is followed by the dumbbell row and the rowing machine. It continues into other combinations, some exercises to be done for time and some for reps, so that the muscles are constantly working on a challenge.
Pulasta Dhar is a football commentator and writer.