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Thoughts on Athletic Conditioning

Updated: Oct 29, 2018

Exploring How We Train for Optimal Performance

With the WTA heating up the sporting scene, this non-tennis playing Strength and Conditioning / Movement Coach cannot help but contemplate on the conditioning works done by athletes.

Many industry trends such as core training, super-stiffness training, rotational power

training and functional training dominate the fitness conditioning industry. Some

comes with a huge following of raving fans that will instantly jump at defending each

training modality the moment someone tries to sway the camp in another way.

Sometimes, I wonder if it is actually political. Instead, take most of these talk with a

pinch of salt and move on. Underlying all these “debates” are clinical pearls that, to

me, differentiates the sterling practitioner from the mediocre ones. Let us discuss

some of them.

Core Training

Popular in the 90s, many professionals in the field have taken to this concept in running their operations. It is not difficult to see that significant core strength and stability can help with the transfer of force at the extremity and a lack in the core will affect the transfer of power from the hands to the legs, vice versa.

This concept is really about addressing a ‘leak’ in the force transfer so that more of your input gets to the output portion efficiently. The best parallel I can draw from this is the concept of a titanium bike that is “flexi” versus that of a carbon bike that is super-stiff. One type is definitely more performance efficient compared to the other.

Core training comes in many different forms. In Pilates, the emphasis is on the

transverse abdominals. In power lifting, the emphasis is on bracing the torso. Yet, in

functional training such as the TRX Suspension Trainer, TRX Rip Trainer, and BOSU

exercises, the emphasis is on achieving a stable spine during movement. They form

a core of mainstay exercises in the fitness industry, all puns intended.


Made popular by the authority of back pain, Dr. Stuart McGill cemented into fame in the late 90s by the Palloff press and the ability to counteract rotational and flexion / extension forces.

Being able to stiffen up the torso in order to control all kinds of forces coming at you

is the hallmark of athleticism. This is evident in warding patterns where contact sport

athletes tense up their body to guard against impact from their opponents.

By now, we can see that most of the training focuses on the ability to stiffen up and if

you look at sprinters / swimmers, you will know that being stiff is actually not

beneficial for movement. An over-emphasis on tension in the muscle will choke your ability to perform in athletic sports such as tennis.

Functional Training

The “F” word that has been ‘bastardised’ by many. In my opinion, this informs the athletes on ways to train their body for their desired function. Tennis, like many sports, require the body to work coherently as a whole. This sounds pretty functional to me.

If we dissect this even further, we are looking at how the joints move in sequence,

how the muscle and connective tissue (fascia) works as a whole and how we can

maximise the output / force generated in the function. The body is like a football team. When they work well as a whole, weaker individuals can still win the league. A star player, without the support of the team, will not be able to win.


I did not intend for this article to address the science behind training methodology. Instead, it was to throw the question to the floor on how we can train smarter. In my biased opinion, learning how the body moves and function as a whole have delivered faster performance results for my athletes. I strongly recommend functional movement training for performance if you find that this is lacking in your training program!

However, this does not rule out other training modalities because they all serve

slightly different purposes and are advantageous if used in the right way.

Personally, I subscribe to the “Institute of Motion” (IOM)’s training philosophy. Do

check out some of their work and attend a mentorship program with them if you want

to learn more from the brilliant Michol Dalcourt and his awesome team!

Author: Josh Loh

Principal Strength & Rehab Coach

Rehab Pro Movement Therapy Clinic

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