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What are Conditioning Exercises?

By Jennifer Voight
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Conditioning exercises are body movements that increase athletic skill and physical fitness while decreasing the likelihood of sports injuries. Programs may include weight training, aerobic exercise, plyometrics, calisthenics, and exercises based on real-life motions. Types of conditioning exercises may vary greatly depending on fitness goals and are adaptable to any level of fitness, from beginners to experienced athletes.

The basis for sports conditioning is that the body must be challenged in such a way that it adapts to the stress of exercise. To improve athletic performance, athletes use targeted, specific movements that mimic the moves used on the field or court. For example, a basketball player can practice shooting baskets repeatedly because these movements help body parts work with each other and increase body awareness until the athlete no longer has to concentrate on the action.

Aerobic conditioning is an important part of most conditioning programs, whether athletic or for general physical fitness, because it increases cardiovascular endurance and lung capacity. An exercise is considered aerobic when the body uses oxygen to produce energy. This happens with low-intensity, longer-duration exercises such as walking, long-distance running, or bicycling. It also includes any other activity that raises the heart rate and sustains it for a time period at a level that challenges the heart and lungs to become stronger.

Anaerobic conditioning is appropriate for sports that require intense, sudden bursts of strength or speed and are difficult to sustain for an extended period of time. An exercise is considered anaerobic when it does not use oxygen when producing energy. Weight training and sprinting are considered anaerobic exercises.

Weight training, or strength training, helps with physical conditioning by increasing strength in individual muscles and muscle groups. College sports conditioning programs include weight training with most sports conditioning programs. Stronger muscles can increase power in athletic performance and prevent injury and can be targeted to strengthen parts of the body that are more likely to be used during a sport. Core conditioning, or exercises that strengthen the abdominal muscles, can increase overall body strength by stabilizing the core muscles.

One of the goals of sports conditioning exercises is increasing the amount of stress the body can endure before experiencing injury. Conditioning exercises have an important role in preventing injury because they get the body to become more tolerant of sustained effort. Increasing strength and flexibility are the most important components of preventing injury. Strength helps a muscle maintain control and keeps it from stretching to the injury point, while flexible muscles can accommodate more stretching before reaching its limits and tearing.

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Discussion Comments
By John57 — On Apr 23, 2012

I get bored easily when I exercise and have tried many different programs to stay in shape. We live out of town, so it isn't very convenient for me to make it to the gym all the time.

One thing that I have added when working on conditioning my muscles is resistance bands. It doesn't seem like much, but it can really make a difference when you add some resistance to your training.

They make your muscles work a little harder and help you get in shape faster. With weights, once you get stronger, you keep increasing the amount of weight you are using.

When using resistance bands, I just hold the band closer or farther away depending on how much resistance I want to have.

By golf07 — On Apr 22, 2012

@seag47 - I agree that working your core is crucial to a good exercise program. This is the main part of your body that carries you around, and if it is strong, the rest of your body is that much better off.

One way I do this is by concentrating on lower back exercises. I have a tendency to slouch when I work at my computer all day long. When I specifically concentrate on strengthening my back muscles, I find it much easier to sit up straight in my chair.

I also like to focus on my abdominal muscles as well. When these are strong, it also helps my back muscles. When I feel like my core is strong and toned I feel more confident in everything I do.

If I slack off on my conditioning exercises, I can feel myself becoming lazy and lethargic. That is when I know it is time to get off the couch and start working out.

By myharley — On Apr 21, 2012

Our family likes to so skiing a few times a year. We don't get to go as often as we would like because it is a long drive to get to the slopes.

I always try to do some ski conditioning exercises a few weeks before we leave. I usually concentrate on my leg muscles as these are the ones that wear out pretty fast.

If I specifically work on my calf and thigh muscles, I find that I can ski longer and not be so sore the next day.

You spend a lot of money to ski for just one day, and I don't want to be so sore that I can't ski the rest of the time.

Even when I work on some conditioning exercises before we go, I still have sore muscles after the first day. I would really be in a lot of trouble if I didn't do any conditioning at all before we left.

By seag47 — On Apr 20, 2012

I think that core muscle conditioning exercises are some of the most important that a person can do. If you develop your core, then you develop the very center of your body, and all other strengths will stem from that.

Think about it this way. You can do weight lifting to condition your arms, but you need a strong back and strong abdominal muscles to support yourself as you lift weights. You can do squats with weights to condition your legs, but you will also need strong back muscles to keep you from hurting your back.

I have done crunches in the past, but I think that a dance workout that focuses on the abdominals while standing is most effective. That is how I developed my six-pack, and I am much more stable now when I do other types of exercises.

By honeybees — On Apr 20, 2012

@cloudel - The same thing has happened to me many times. I get excited about getting back in shape and always do too much the first day. I am so sore the next day that it takes me several days just to recover.

It is so much better if you start out slow and gradually increase your time each day. I am usually too impatient to do that. I have also noticed the older I get, the longer it takes me to get back in shape.

If I would consistently spend time every week on body conditioning exercises, it would be much better on my body. In addition to doing the conditioning exercises, I also realize how important it is to warm up and cool down.

My body responds so much better when I don't try to do too much at once. I have found it is a lot easier to try and stay in shape than it is to get in shape. It's just that I get lazy too often and then find myself starting over again.

By kylee07drg — On Apr 19, 2012

I usually only do a light aerobic workout with some light weight lifting. However, I received a challenge that required me to do some arm conditioning exercises in preparation.

My friends know that I am not very strong. I have trouble opening jar lids that they can open with no problem. They also know that another friend in our group has about the same muscle strength as I do, so they told us they wanted to see us arm wrestle.

We both agreed that we wanted time to increase our strength a little first. I started lifting ten pound weights instead of five pound ones, and I even went to a gym to use the resistance training machine.

I'm not sure what exercises she did, but my arm conditioning exercises worked. I won the arm wrestling challenge in just one minute!

By lighth0se33 — On Apr 18, 2012

@cloudel – You also could have just gone for a much shorter bike ride in the beginning and slowly worked up to a mile. I did some leg conditioning exercises before my hiking trip, and I spaced them out so much and made the transition so gradual that I was fully prepared for the long hike when the time came.

I would walk up a steep hill just a couple of times to start with. I would step slowly and really feel the strain all the way up my legs. If I started to feel fatigued, I would stop for the day.

I know that the hiking trip would have put me out of commission for a week, had I not prepared for it with conditioning exercises. I would never plan a big physical feat without giving myself ample time to prepare my muscles.

By cloudel — On Apr 17, 2012

I wish I had done some leg conditioning exercises before beginning my bicycle aerobics plan. I had decided that biking a mile every other day would be the best and most fun exercise for me, but since I hadn't ridden a bike in many years, my legs were not used to this.

I had a lot of trouble pedaling uphill, and I used more than the usual amount of oxygen on the ride. My legs were sore for days afterward, and I had trouble walking around.

I believe what I should have done was start out doing just five minutes of leg conditioning exercises on my friend's stationary bike. I should have worked up to ten or fifteen minutes slowly over a period of days before embarking on a mile long ride.

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