The purpose of conditioning is to improve athletic performance and reduce injury risk (Weldon et. al, 2022).
Conditioning is different from sport-specific training and should focus on improving strength, speed, flexibility, power, and endurance in general ways that support performance and complement sports-specific training (Weldon et. al, 2022).
Most artist-athletes understand the importance of conditioning but are training ineffectively.
If you are managing your own conditioning training (like most artistic-athletes), you are likely to be making some of these six common mistakes:
-Load not enough
-Volume too much
-Not challenging enough
-You are not measuring your progress
Load not enough
The load of conditioning training must be enough to stimulate the targeted tissue or system to adapt (i.e. muscles, joints, cardiovascular system). Consider load, the 'dose' of your conditioning training. Conditioning load needs to be greater than what is required during performance to make a difference. In the same way, gentle walking isn't enough to build stamina for a dance routine, theraband exercises aren't enough to condition the shoulder of an aerial artist.
Volume too much
That said, you need to be mindful that the load of your conditioning training doesn't eat into your recovery or negatively impact your performance and skill-specific training. One of the best ways is to be mindful of the load volume and frequency of the sessions. In general, heavier weight, increased intensity and lower sets, reps, frequency and complexity works best for conditioning as it results in adaptations with less impact on energy levels, time and recovery.
Not challenging enough
It's not only the load of the exercises that needs to be challenging; conditioning training should focus on areas of weakness to make the most impact. For example, if you already have good lower body flexibility your conditioning time and energy would be better spent developing lower body strength or power.
If your training isn't progressing with your increased capacity, you aren't conditioning. Doing the same exercises at the same load for months and years is maintenance. Maintenance is important during periods with increased performance requirements or skill development demands, but it won't elevate performance or reduce injury risk.
You are not measuring your progress
You can't know if you are progressing or not if you aren't measuring. The main reason to measure is to make sure that conditioning remains challenging and relevant. The benefits of conditioning may take time to be observable in performance and skill development. The measure you choose should be appropriate to the system you are challenging, e.g. volume-load or one repetition max for strength; or warm-up time, max range or perceived intensity for flexibility. If relevant measures aren't improving (even if your performance is), your time and energy could be better spent doing things differently.
Conditioning isn't just sport-specific training with weights. If your conditioning is too much like your usual training, you miss the variability of more general programming, potentially leaving you less resilient and at greater risk of injury. Being too specific when conditioning may also limit your ability to progress your skills. A classic example is only conditioning your 'dominant side' for unilateral skills. In athletic artists, this usually leads to frustrating plateaus in skill development.
Conditioning in practice for artistic athletes
1. Try to separate conditioning from skill-specific training
As a general guide, if you can complete the exercise in your warm-up, the load isn't enough to optimally condition. If the load doesn't require recovery, it's insufficient to stimulate the adaptive change you desire. Conditioning at the end of skill-specific training will be compromised as you won't be able to perform exercises to the same level as you would be able to if you were fresh.
2. Work with a coach to develop your conditioning program
Conditioning training should be programmed. An experienced coach will be able to identify the areas that you should focus on as a priority. Hint: they will probably be the things you find most challenging, and avoid training. Having external accountability can also help you stay motivated.
3. Dont try to work on everything at the same time
Conditioning takes time. If you try to condition everything simultaneously, the training won't be effective, and your performance will suffer. Instead, pick a couple of areas to focus on and a few 'bang for buck' exercises that target these areas. Make this your conditioning for the next 4-8 weeks. Keep the exercises similar but progress the load and intensity over this time.
If you want help developing a conditioning program Book to work with a Exercise Physiologist or Physiotherapist at Airspace
Weldon A, Duncan MJ, Turner A, Lockie RG, Loturco I. Practices of strength and conditioning coaches in professional sports: a systematic review. Biol Sport. 2022 Sep;39(3):715-726. doi: 10.5114/biolsport.2022.107480. Epub 2021 Aug 30. PMID: 35959337; PMCID: PMC9331342.