Contact Sports and Fitness

Improving your fitness can have a great impact on your sports performance and a lot of people talk about 'general fitness', and 'getting a little fitter'. But, what does the word ‘fitness mean’? In order to improve fitness, monitor the effects of your training and talk about fitness, it first helps to define what it is and of course what it isn't.

A definition of fitness

Fitness is a general term which covers the different qualities of physical performance. It is not your ability to run or cycle a long way, which is one small part of the picture. So, what are the physical characteristics, how are they defined and how might you train them?


The ability to apply force to an object or person.
Example: lower rep weight training: squat, bench press, deadlift.


The ability to apply force in a short time, such as explosive force.
Example: Olympic weightlifting and plyometric drills.

Strength and muscular endurance

The ability to apply strength or force over a sustained period.
Example: runs, rows, high rep weights circuits.

Cardiovascular endurance

The ability of the body to gather and deliver oxygen to the body over a sustained period of time.
Example: 5km running, 10km rowing, high rep weights circuits.


The ability of the muscles and joints to function well over a large range of motion.
Example: Stretching. Mobility drills.

Balance & Co-ordination

Combining different movements into one whole movement.
Example: running/cone drills.

Balance & Accuracy

The ability to control and execute movement patterns.
Example: ball skills and set piece or technique practice.

Balance & Agility

The ability to move quickly and accurately between different movement patterns.
Examples: mixed drills and skills work.

With just a quick look down the list you can see how these qualities and abilities are going to help you on the field or in the ring. However, depending on our needs for sport, we may need greater amounts of some physical characteristics more than others. Whilst training for cardiovascular health and muscular endurance may help general fitness, it isn't necessarily going to be a high priority for a competitive powerlifter. This brings us onto another point: the different qualities above interact with each other. Some interactions are clearly positive; some need more consideration when it comes to training them.

Think of strength training, good flexibility will help you squat properly and a better squat technique means better strength training. Good accuracy and co-ordination is going to help you train more successfully for power or power movements, like the snatch or clean. However, the reverse is, of course, true, for example, when training for muscular endurance by going for a hard 15km run, as this would adversely affect strength and power in leg based movements like the squat or snatch for a few days afterwards. You have to carefully think about when and where you work on different training types.

Different training sessions

Very few people would benefit from doing their lower strength body training sessions after a long run, or their upper body strength training after 35 minutes of heavy bag work. Ordering the choices of exercises and movements in your session and dividing the different sessions in your week up in the correct way is very important for two reasons:
  • to maximise the effectiveness of the exercise or training in a particular session
  • to maximise recovery between sessions

Example of a training week

  • Monday - Power & strength Skills
  • Tuesday - Endurance Off
  • Wednesday - Skills & Flexibility Off
  • Thursday - Power & strength Skills
  • Friday - Endurance & Flexibility Off
  • Saturday - Off Competition
  • Sunday - Off/Recovery Off/Recovery

In this way we can see how the weekly set up of the different training spreads out similar sessions, like strength to allow for recovery. However, it is important to look at the set up of the training session itself to order the exercises and drills correctly. Whilst cardiovascular work after a strength session may help recovery by flushing the muscles with blood, doing cardio before lifting weights will decrease performance.

Working in periodisation

Athletes and coaches utilise a tool called periodisation to work on different qualities. In essence, they break the training period: a few months, a year or even, say, four years for an Olympic athlete, down into periods of time where they will work on different factors important for their sport. The idea is to work on a certain range of qualities. For example, strength and power, whilst maintaining others that might not complement that training, such as cardiovascular endurance.

Of course, there are different training cycles with a microcycle being a few days, a mesocycle being from week(s) to a few months, and macrocycle being the longest time considered. A yearly training cycle for a competitive athlete may look like this:

  • January Endurance, skills
  • February Endurance flexibility
  • March Strength, skills
  • April Strength & power, flexibility,
  • May Strength, skills
  • June Competition*
  • July Competition*
  • August Competition*
  • September Competition*
  • October Competition*
  • November Competition*
  • December Rest and recovery

*During the competition phase, skills-based and recovery work comes to the fore


Using the definition of fitness above, we have a lot of different processes which go on the body which we are trying to improve. The stress of training is the stimulus for this improvement but the changes themselves need to be supported by proper recovery. As we have discussed, recovery is aided by proper programming, such as not putting three similar sessions all next to each other in the training week, but there are other factors to look at as well, namely nutrition. Whole diet, the big picture of food intake is of paramount importance. After this, we look at the performance nutrition picture.

Sports or performance nutrition is the special measures you take in the time period around competition and/or training that aid the body's recovery. Here we address the time-critical needs of the body in order that we are able to recover faster in time for the next bout of physical exertion.

When thinking about what the body needs at this time, it is important to look at what is happening in training and competition. The body's energy reserves are being depleted, most notably carbohydrate, the muscle tissue is being stressed or broken down, and, of course, the body is losing water, primarily through sweat.

For every hour spent training, a good baseline nutrition protocol is 30g of carbohydrate and 15g of protein in 500ml to 800ml of water. Some sessions like strength session may demand a little less carbohydrate and a little more protein. Similarly, if you wish to gain weight, increasing both carbohydrate and protein intake may well be beneficial.

Fueling and recovering from your training is time sensitive, there is a window where these calories are going to be better used by the body as it actively shuttles amino acids (from the protein you consume) and carbohydrate to where they are most needed.

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