What is Strength and Conditioning?
Strength and conditioning (S&C) at its simplest form is the practical application of sports science to enhance movement quality, ultimately to improve sporting performance.
It is grounded in evidence-based research and physiology of exercise and anatomy.
S&C will also follow the sporting calendar; off-season, pre-season and in-season, or in relation to the world of combat sports, 6, 8 or 12 week fight camps, as well as ‘off-season’ work.
We all move, therefore we can all benefit from a better quality of movement.
Why does s&C have the answers for my body?
Simply put; data. Thousands of studies have produced a thorough breakdown of what the average body needs to move and perform better. These principles, theories and methodologies have been tested in-field and refined for the last 40 years (at least), becoming condensed into a pedagogy that we now know as S&C.
WHAT DOES MY BODY EVEN NEED?
Each individual body is different but in general, a mixture of relative and absolute strength work, some strength endurance modalities, mobility, stability and flexibility work where needed, and then a couple of different conditioning protocols to ensure the body’s energy systems are trained well enough to perform the sport of choice without excessive fatigue. It’s a hard, specific answer to be able to summarise in one, general paragraph but these are the commonalities that exist in every decent S&C programme.
BUT I’M NOT A PROFESSIONAL ATHLETE!
So? Athletes have bodies, just like you have a body. The main difference between theirs and yours is that they have likely been training since a very early age and/or have a genetic advantage. But that doesn’t mean you can’t extrapolate what’s useful from the pedagogy of S&C and apply it to your own body mechanics, even better if you can work with a coach directly.
What’s the difference between working with an S&C coach vs a personal trainer? Who’s better?
In short, the S&C coach wins, every time. But bear in mind, this article is biased in favour of S&C. Let’s unpack as to why that might be.
S&C coaches focus on coaching and improving movements, not so much muscles. You won’t get a pseudo-bodybuilding programme from an S&C coach to improve your sporting performance. You might work muscles specifically in the auxillary / accessories part of your programme; usually right at the end of the training session, low in neurological demand and part of a prehab/rehab continuum. But making muscles the main focus of the session just isn’t done. In fact, it’s a waste of precious training time if the goals are centred around sporting performance.
S&C coaches across the board are more likely to be utilising principles from sport science; a peer reviewed process revolving around scientific inquiry and studies. S&C coaches are also more likely to be held accountable for their actions, methods, and rationale because they are often employed to improve the sporting performance of an individual, or team. If sporting performance is not improving, the S&C coach will be scrutinised, or at least reviewed.
The personal trainer, however, may or may not have qualifications. They are likely to have never been peer reviewed, and if they are qualified, the quality of their education is still questionable. There is no set standard across the globe for being an “A-class personal trainer” – I couldn’t even tell you what that means. Personally, I dislike the title and I dislike the health and fitness industry because of its lack of accountability and massive rate of ‘qualification inflation’ in the last ten years (in the west). In 12 weeks or less, one can become qualified enough to be in charge of someone else’s body, perhaps with a certificate to show for it, perhaps not.
In the S&C world, education timeframes usually begin at 6 months in duration, often require a degree level of education to even begin the process towards becoming an S&C coach, and amongst the best, surprise, surprise, the learning never really stops. This is not to say that the S&C world is immune to qualification inflation. The UK is one of the leading countries in churning out qualifications like hot cakes. It is, arguable, however that the knowledge within these S&C qualifications is far higher quality than the contents of the personal training version.
If personal training really worked across the board, every sports team and professional athlete on the planet would have personal trainers. But they don’t. They have S&C coaches, because S&C is far more likely to work towards improving sporting performance than personal training will.
It’s also worth thinking about what a personal trainer’s goals are? Often they are dictated by the client, again, not specific enough across the board to generate regulation and quality control. Very often, personal trainers are employed to motivate clients into exercising. Their titles would be more accurate as personal motivation assistants with the unanimous goal of getting someone to exercise. S&C coaches aren’t concerned with exercise. Athletes get exercise from their sport, period.
And this is where the M.O. of MoveMind comes into play. We advocate martial practice as the highest and most useful form of exercise, ideally; striking sports, grappling sports or mixed martial arts. Why? Because you’re getting useful skills, exercise and self-knowledge all in one session.
You don’t need to go to a lifting gym to get exercise. But there is evidence to suggest that going to a lifting gym to carry out S&C work will contribute to preparing you physically, in order to remain healthy and be able to continue performing your martial forms of exercise, for years to come.
The above is not to say there aren’t good personal trainers in existence. There are. I’ve met some and worked with many. But if I was going to pay someone for their time, in order to coach me on how to train properly to improve my physical preparation and sporting performance, I’d want an S&C coach. I wouldn’t pay someone to encourage me to exercise in a gym, when that form of exercise has no martial use. Exercising for the sake of it in a gym is commonly reported as boring. Training in a gym for a specific purpose is often reported as at least enjoyable, if not challenging.
Most clients who work with personal trainers, in my experience, are there for some kind of motivational factor or aesthetic improvement; subjective terms that are difficult to measure, and goals that lack real substance. This is not always the fault of the client with regards to their understanding of their bodies. Many people go through their lives and don’t have a clue about what their bodies can do, or are capable of.
The illusion of success is often propped up by the appearance of which industry is more lucrative. Successful personal trainers can make a lot of coin. So can S&C coaches, but in a world of keeping up appearances, fads, and aesthetics, personal training is a household name, a status symbol, and mostly concerned with filler. S&C sits quietly in the background, with its steady, consistent progress founded in knowledge and science that’s far beyond skin deep.
Have a quick think about the variation in lexicon, too.
Trainer is defined as;
1) A person who trains someone or something; one who’s occupation is to guide or instruct people in fitness and exercise routines.
2) a person who treats the ailments and minor injuries of the members of an athletic team.
When we are talking about the second definition above, I understand this to be the team’s physiotherapist. We are more concerned with the first definition, to guide or instruct.
Let’s compare this with the definition of the noun, coach;
One who instructs or trains, especially; one who instructs players in the fundamentals of a sport and directs team strategy.
The S&C coach, therefore, instructs athletes how to perform the fundamentals of physical preparation and where necessary, directs them along a training timeline relative to their sporting calendar. Someone with a sense of direction can take you further.
Good personal trainers will have figured out the importance of periodization in their work and the best ones will implement it. The S&C coach is required to understand and implement it.
Beginners, hire a coach
To close, if you’re new to S&C but primarily want to maintain the practice of your chosen combat sport, and even improve your sporting performance, then hire an S&C coach to help develop you beyond beginner status. You will save countless hours of guesswork and you’re much more likely to avoid injury than if you were taking a stab at the broad syllabus, solo.
S&C coaches are likely harder to find than personal trainers but are the superior choice to getting you to a strong, resilient and healthy state, so that you can keep training your martial arts, day in, day out.
Also understand that in order to pay the bills, many S&C coaches establishing themselves will personal train on the side. A good way to get the conversation going is to ask a personal trainer what can they tell you about S&C. If they can’t tell you much, then go a find an S&C coach.
Check these MoveMind podcast episodes out, featuring six top S&C coaches on their perspectives towards developing athletic potential; Joe McCullum, Phil Wittmer, Geoffrey Chiu, Cian Lanigan, Josh Neumann and Brandon Harris.