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Conditioning Strategies for Peak Athletic Performance

No matter what sport or athletic activity you pursue, conditioning will make you better at it.

Every athletic pursuit is a power event, whether it's hitting a ball or riding a bike up a hill. In addition to working on the specific skills of the sport, you also want to build up the power you need to get the job done faster, harder and better.

You increase your power in two key ways:

  • Doing resistance training, such as working with weights, to build basic muscle strength.

  • Stretching, to increase flexibility and improve your range of motion.

The benefits of stronger, more flexible muscles apply to any sport by giving you endurance and injury protection.

It's also important to maintain a good level of cardiovascular conditioning through regular aerobic workouts. Cardio training helps you process oxygen and produce energy at a higher level, so you can play your sport with less effort and for a longer period.

Creating power

Strength training and flexibility exercises work together to create a more effective driving action. This advantage is especially noticeable in baseball, golf, tennis and other sports that involve brief, explosive activity. You'll see a measurable improvement in both force and range.

Head-to-toe conditioning

The best strategy is to condition all of your muscles, no matter what your sport. Otherwise, the muscles you ignore become weak links and subject to injury.

In addition, for peak performance, pay extra attention to those muscles emphasized in your sport. Here are some conditioning strategies for some popular spring sports.

  • Baseball. This sport has a high risk of injury, because players who stand around in the outfield suddenly have to dive for the ball or sprint. You should have very flexible hamstrings and have strong, well-balanced leg muscles. You also need to condition the back, shoulder and elbow muscles, which support throwing and batting.

  • Golf. A golf swing puts tough demands on lower-back muscles, especially when the back is out of condition. Building up your lower-back muscles gives you stability and support and improves the power of your swing. You should also increase strength and balance in the other muscles involved in your stroke—specifically, those in your midsection, shoulders, forearms and elbows.

  • Tennis. This sport requires strong and balanced lower and upper legs. Serving and hitting the ball from a sideways position also puts great torque on the midsection, so you should condition your oblique muscles. For power and injury prevention, you also need to strengthen your shoulders, arms and elbows.

  • Swimming. Pulling yourself through the water demands a strong chest and midsection. The muscles controlling the front and sides of the chest become too strong for the muscles in the back and top of the shoulders. So you need to stretch the front and sides and strengthen the back and top muscles. Because swimmers are constantly kicking, the muscles that control your hips and knees also need to be strong.

You don't have to be an elite athlete to benefit from good conditioning. Better strength and flexibility make the activity more enjoyable, no matter what your level of competition.