Monday, March 21, 2011

General Conditioning Vs. Specific Conditioning

When do you know you can move from general conditioning with a client to sport-specific conditioning? Let me explain my thoughts on this because there are different schools of thought and generally, you should apply what is right for your client or yourself.

I work predominately with golfers. Honestly, I am not a golf player and personally think the sport is boring, time-consuming, and slow. But hey...I've got a job to do. And my job is to get these golfers to perform at each of their desired levels. The problem is, their "desired level" is typically a little higher than what their current work capacity is. This is a problem seen in anyone across the board at any gym--youngsters trying to lift weights that are too heavy for them, or overweight people trying to run before they walk--whatever the case, my job is to progress my client safely and effectively.

So my job is to introduce their bodies to a general conditioning program. Usually this program does not look like anything out of a golf magazine. It usually consists of squats, lunges, push-ups, wood-chops, medicine ball work, and flexibility. One look at the aforementioned exercisers and you would think, "but  those are strength training example". True. but my average golfers need to work with compound movements and shorter rest periods. Controlling those two variables makes the program balanced and focused on maximizing function and delaying fatigue.  My golfers are always in a "rush" to perform "swing-like" exercises (chops & lifts, ball rotations, and balance exercises). This mentality is backwards thinking to me and reminds me of this:
 Not sturdy.

General conditioning enhances all aspects of sports-specific conditioning. The two only differ with the introduction of foundational movements versus sport specific movements. When applying general conditioning to a program, the goal is to increase work production and delay the body's response. Increasing muscle lactate threshold and overall stamina is conducive to the overall progressive steps in a program. For example, we can take a simply drill like an isometric plank. By instructing a client to hold a plank for 20 seconds and gradually increasing the time they hold it weekly is a basic example of progressive general conditioning. Delaying fatigue or enhancing how the body reacts to fatigue is key. 

What does enhancing how the body reacts to fatigue mean? In simple terms: toughness and pain tolerance. Scientists call it endurance. 

For my golfing clients, the main area that they will experience pain or discomfort is in the lower back. The amount of swings taken on a 18 hole golf outing can range from 40-50 (including some practice); and can cause immediate 'tightness' in the lower back.

Minimizing the discomfort and muscular fatigue is my goal during training my golfing clients. it begins with a three prong approach:

1.) Myofasical release - I don't necessarily mean JUST foam rolling. We will use  the massage stick and some tissue manipulation using the hands. The thorocolumbar region of the lower back is the main focus. 
2.) Followed by immediate static stretching. Yes, I said static stretching. I prefer that static stretches are not held for too long (<8 seconds). I also emphasize the use of very deep, conscientious breaths during the stretches.

3.) Strength training with core work. Here is where the flood gates open and the program is interchangeable based on my client's needs, fitness level, and movement efficiency.

In some cases, myofasical release and flexibility is repeated at the end of the strength portion. By keeping the rest periods short and choosing some metabolic work, it makes the session short, to the point, and effective.
Generally, those clients that excel at general conditioning, will advance easily into sport-specific conditioning. Reasons for this vary but are attributed to adaptation, strength increase, and heightened body coordination.


  1. I feel there's a difference that crosses a very thin line. Sport-specific training is really just a toe over the line of general conditioning, based on my experiences. For instance, I've done some general, bare-boned basic workouts with kettlebells, and noticed improvements in my golf game, my running, and my cycling performance. Delaying fatigue is obviously a smart goal to achieve. All in all, specific conditioning is just a step-up or a toe-over the line of general conditioning.

  2. I hear ya Rick. i totally agree with you that in come cases, it is only a hairline difference.

  3. I agree Rick. I got my first athlete client a month ago, a college footballer. I just made him do general conditioning work with dumbbells, bodyweight and odd-objects he has noticed great progress in his strength and conditioning.

    Your blog is my favourite John.


  4. Good article , John. That house picture is a perfect example of what 99% of people do. They always want to build that big house and never make that essential, solid, foundation.

  5. What are the advantages of static stretching as opposed to Active Isolated Stretching (Mattes method) that utilizes a 2 second hold?


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