Conditioning is Like Budgeting

Recently, I accepted an assistant coaching job for the Howland High School girls varsity soccer team. I am really excited to work in a team atmosphere again, especially a soccer team.

The dynamic nature of soccer is super interesting to me and the conditioning needed to play the game is such a huge determinant of success. All the skills needed to play adequately on the full field can not be realized without appropriate conditioning.

In the past, I have not seen wise decisions made by sports coaches for team conditioning. But it isn’t their fault because the topic of conditioning has been reduced to simply “working hard” before the season starts.

This is too vague and lacks appreciation for the three different energy systems humans use simultaneously in sports.

“Working hard” usually equates to running endless sprints from the first day of “optional” practice in the summer months which leaves kids just feeling tired. While the athletes are ready for the season to start, the athletes are far from optimal conditioning levels and possibly closer to injury because the coach’s understanding of conditioning was too simplistic.


  1. If you just want my take home points just scroll to the bottom.

I have been reviewing my notes from my BioForce Conditioning Coach certification, and the intro notes are titled: “What is Conditioning?”

The key component to understanding conditioning, as it is displayed on the court or field, is to first understand metabolism or how we create energy inside of the body. We cannot immediately reduce a poor display of conditioning in competition to poor conditioning methods done in practice.

When we are talking about performance in sports all roads lead back basic energy production.

To simplify, metabolism is like financial budgeting. Energy can be understood as the currency used by the body for vital biological functions and for creating and recovering from physical and mental stress.

We are always using energy even if we don’t do anything, but rest and recovery uses less energy so by resting and eating well we actually replenish our budget enough to spend on the next day’s physical and mental stress.

Let’s talk about the three ways we spend our money… I mean energy.

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The first way every human uses energy is through vital biological functions also known as resting metabolic rate (RMR). RMR is the minimum amount of energy needed by things like the brain, bone, skeletal muscle, digestive system, cells, etc.. to do no activity and simply stay alive. Again, think of this in financial budgeting terms – RMR is like the least amount of money you could possibly spend to get by.

If the goal is to move around all day, exercise, train for sports, build bigger muscles, yata-yata-yata – then you will need to have stores of more energy or become more efficient at using energy before you go out and try to “work hard” every day of the week.

This leads to the most obvious way we use energy – physical activity. The faster we move and the more we move around the more energy we need. Our organs and cells are involved and support physical activity. Energy production is needed to simply make these preliminary processes occur so that the energy they produce can actually get to the working muscles.

Finally, we utilize energy in more undercover way and it is through mental stress. Mental stress causes energy to be distributed because it mobilizes hormones associated with the stress response.

However, the person who is “stressing out” isn’t doing anything physical to utilize the created energy from storage. Therefore, the body needs to use more energy to put the excess energy that became available back into storage.

Over time the incessant “stressing out” results in many other health issues but for the purposes of article is results in a net loss of energy. This begins to explain why many people come into BEST complaining about feeling tired all the time.

So here’s the big problem with all this. Just like finances there is a limit to how much energy our bodies can produce – our metabolism is not a perfect machine.

The popular opinion of most people who visit us at BEST is the more someone moves the better. More is always better, right?!?

More games. More practice. More sprints. More speed and agility training. More “cardio”. More “hard” training days. More. MORE. MOREMORE. MOREMOREMORE!

But what research has actually found is that there are limits to energy creation.

Therefore, if you fall victim to believing more is better then what you are doing is surely shuttling more energy production for physical activity needs, but you’re also stealing energy needs for the vital biological functions that help you recover and adapt from all that extra physical activity you are doing – not to mention the mental stresses that are always present.

Juuuust like budgeting, if you want to spend more on going out to eat at restaurants some other part of your budget it going to suffer.

In the case of the human physiology, the part that is going to suffer is going to be vital biological functions – something about “vital biological functions” should tell you to not steal energy needs from that part of the budget.

Here are the take home points:

  1. Proper conditioning does not start with suicide sprints or any other high intensity sprinting with short rest periods on day one (12 weeks out from the season) and continue up to the start of season and then stop all at once.
  2. Energy production is limited; there is not an endless supply of energy to be created by the body and intelligent conditioning will help body become more efficient at using what is actually available. Getting an athlete tired does not mean you are conditioning them well.
  3. As high school coaches, we can make our athletes more efficient by not only building an aerobic base for our youth athletes 8 to 12 weeks out from official pre-season, but we need to be addressing the athletes mental stress as much as possible and their nutrition habits.
  4. Even though I did not address weight loss for adults, this concept applies for non-athletes just trying to get in shape. If you are working out 5-6x/week, dealing with stressful job and family life, and eating “perfect” but the scale isn’t changing, then you may want to stop working out so much – its not that important to weight loss.

Alright that’s all for today! Ill be addressing some methods for how to build an aerobic energy system in the next post so stay tuned.

Always keep improving,


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