What is strength and conditioning?

Personal Training Macclesfield

If you’re into exercise, sport or training of any kind it’s likely that you’ve heard of “strength and conditioning” or “S & C” as it’s commonly known. But what is it, and how can working with a Strength and Conditioning Coach help you with your sport, your fitness and your health?


Simply, strength is our ability to produce or apply force. To relate this you you, the athlete, strength can also be thought of as the highest amount of force that you can apply in any given situation while doing your sport. 

Strength is typically trained by performing appropriate high-load resistance exercises, such as lifting weights.


Unlike “strength”, conditioning doesn’t really have a scientific definition. Essentially it refers to a collection of activities and exercises that “condition” or prepare the body for the demands of training and sport, without directly improving the ability to generate maximal force.

Conditioning programmes might aim to improve:

  • Posture
  • Range-of-motion at relevant joints
  • Ability of muscles, tendons and ligaments to tolerate repeated loading during training and sport
  • Movement patterns associated with your sport

Why does strength matter?

It might seem obvious that strength is important to all physical activities. But surprisingly few amateur sports people pay any attention to it, and often people mistakenly are training other things in their “strength” work, such as muscular endurance, thinking that they are getting “strong”.  

It is also a mistake to think that building strength is just for sport –  it has also has numerous health benefits and we can all benefit from being stronger.  

Developing strength (according to the definition above) that is specific to your particular sport will have four fundamental outcomes that will lead to performance gains:

  • Improvements in your ability to generate maximal force specific to your sport
  • Improvements in the efficiency and economy of your sub-maximal movements in your sport – stronger muscles will allow you to run, or ride or climb, for example, with less perceived effort at any given force
  • Improvements in your capacity for training – you can train more and at a higher level
  • Improvements in your injury-resistance

The last two points (improvements in training capacity and injury-resistance) carry more relevance to performance than many might think. The number one factor in becoming fit, strong and good at any sport is consistency. Training once a week for 52 weeks will make you fitter, stronger, and probably happier than training four times a week for 12 weeks, getting injured and doing nothing for the next six months, before repeating the same pattern. We’ve all been there, but let’s use what we know and stop the cycle!

I often hear climbers, cyclists, runners and many others say a variation on these two sentences:

  • “My sport is about endurance, I don’t need to lift heavy weights – it’s not relevant to me”
  • “I already do strength work: I did 50 press-ups this morning and I do lots of core like two-minute planks 3 times a week”

Unfortunately however, both statements are incorrect!

First, all athletes will benefit from incorporating some strength work into their training – see above. 

Second, while there is nothing intrinsically wrong with doing lots of press ups and planks, neither activity is building strength in the sense of improving maximal force generation (see above), and therefore these exercises might not be giving the athlete the best return for their time and effort. Unless their chosen sport is endurance press-up and planking… 

Power-to-weight ratio is really important for my sport – won’t weight training bulk me up and make me heavier?

With a few exceptions, most outdoor sports are heavily based around fighting gravity, at least for half the distance. Consequently power-to-weight ratio is very important to many of you who are reading this.

However, the scientific and gym-floor evidence is clear: strength training with the correct, scientifically-based protocols does not add significant amounts of muscle mass that are detrimental to endurance, or to power-to-weight ratio. In fact done correctly, strength training has the opposite effect: it improves endurance and increases power-to-weight ratio. This is principally because adaptations to correct strength training are not driven by muscle growth (hypertrophy), but by changes in neuromuscular systems, musculo-tendon stiffness and energy systems.

This principle is abundantly obvious when you compare photos of “ripped” celebrities (who have been following hypertrophy programmes designed for the camera lens) with Olympic weight lifters in the 67 kg class (who have been following strength protocols designed for performance, for decades).

How do I find the time to add strength and conditioning to my already busy life?

This question is a genuine and major barrier to many of us taking up strength training, not helped by a persistent attitude amongst many sports along the lines of, “The best way to train for my sport is to do my sport.”

The good news is that if training strength properly, with modern, science-based approaches, you can make significant gains with as little as two sessions of 1 hour a week in the off-season, and less in the on-season. That statement isn’t just marketing spiel – it’s based on the fact that high-load, low-rep, low-set sessions that produce major strength gains don’t take very long!

Similarly, with the right planning, conditioning exercises can be easily added into training.

If you’re still not sure how you can find time to add strength training to your life just contact me for a chat – one of my main responsibilities as a coach is to support you in getting the most from the time you put into your training.

OK, you’ve convinced me! What next?

Contact me for a no-strings-attached chat. 

I offer a highly consultative approach so that our sessions and training plans work for you, personally. Whether you’re an expert or a beginner, we start by assessing your goals, your level, your abilities, and your other life-pressures and commitments. We then build a plan from the appropriate starting point. I ensure that you’re sufficiently well conditioned for the programmes that we embark on, and we progress and regress exercises and programmes appropriately so that your strength and form is developed properly and sustainably for today, next week, next month, next year.