Strength and conditioning, is it just for professional athletes?



Interested in finding out just how the pros achieve their training goals? We talk to LJMU's latest addition to the sport science team of experts, Dave Clark, to find out more about strength and conditioning.

Strength and conditioning at LJMU

The development of strength and conditioning (S&C) has rocketed in the UK over the last 15 years. Fuelled by the growth of high performance sport and the associated home countries’ Institutes of Sport, which all culminated in the highly publicised success of Team GB in the London 2012 Olympic Games.

Dave Clark, lecturer on the MSc Strength and Conditioning programme and expert in the field, believes that the value of S&C is dependent on the quality of the underlying sports science. In his work with professional and performance athletes over the last two decades, he has witnessed not just the sheer physicality and dedication that goes into S&C training, but also the influence of quality sport science research informing the design of training programmes.

“I have significant respect for the academic underpinning of the profession and this has grown over time. Understanding the human body’s response to exercise from a physiological perspective is still on an upward trajectory, we still have more to learn than we know. The research informed aspect and the quality of an academic basis before a practitioner proceeds into the industry will make the difference in determining those who are good S&C coaches and those who fall short.”


What is strength and conditioning?

Strength and conditioning starts with determining an athlete’s aims – where the athlete wants to be at the next competition cycle. S&C coaches will use scientific assessment tools to identify the athlete’s current state and what state the athlete needs to be at to achieve their targets. Then they will employ the technique known as periodisation and design a programme to close that gap. The process of S&C is scientifically informed, specific to the athlete’s aims, and relies on levels of intensity and the progression of intensity. It uses tried and tested research-based initiatives to develop the athlete’s physical capacity to be better in their sport.

Can any type of sport benefit from strength and conditioning?

Most physical sports can benefit from strength and conditioning. From weightlifting at one end of the scale that relies on pure strength for success, to those sports such as football where speed is key, even curling can benefit from S&C.

Where did it originate?

The overload principle of strength training is attributed to a 6th century Olympic wrestler. According to legend, wrestler Milo trained by carrying a calf daily from its birth until it became a full-sized bull, thus gradually increasing the intensity of his workout.

The development of muscular strength is the foundation upon which increased physical performance for sport is built through an S&C programme.


Olympics slalom canoeing

Tim Baillie and Etienne Stott competing in Men’s slalom C-2, London 2012. With help from Dave Clark, the pair won Britain’s first canoe slalom gold. Image credit: Creative Commons: David Merrett.


Meet Dave Clark

Dave ClarkDave’s expertise in strength and conditioning comes from many years working with elite athletes and teams on their S&C programmes. He was the Head of S&C at the Sportscotland Institute of Sport and Head of Fitness for Irish Rugby. His fitness programmes helped Chris Hoy achieve his first gold medal in Athens in 2004 and Team GB’s Canoe Slalom athletes, Tim Baillie and Etienne Stott, achieve the first ever canoe slalom gold for Britain at London 2012.

When asked about his career highlights, Dave had this to say:

“I’m really proud of my catalogue of work across my 13 years at the Sportscotland Institute of Sport in developing the strength and conditioning network. Also, being a part of Chris Hoy’s seminal moment in his career, receiving his first gold medal at the Olympics in Athens, and seeing Campbell Walsh receive his silver medal were important moments for me. I was also proud of my work at Irish Rugby; I was part of turning around a situation where we came second to last in the Six Nations in my first year to where we won and defended the Six Nations two years in a row thereafter.”

Strength and conditioning at LJMU

Dave is fairly new to LJMU as is the programme he teaches on and helped to develop: MSc Strength and Conditioning. Currently in its first year, the programme focuses on the application and advancement of athlete-centred practice and research application covering areas such as the fundamentals of strength and conditioning, physiology, biomechanics and coaching science as well as offering meaningful placements in the industry. As Dave describes it:

“The integration of academic and scientific knowledge and research skills are an invaluable foundation in today’s highly competitive strength and conditioning employment market. A Strength and Conditioning MSc at the highly prized School of Sport and Exercise Sciences is well placed to deliver this advantage to those who graduate. This along with the assessed industry placement ensure that this programme offers the most comprehensive start to a successful career in strength and conditioning.”


If sport science is something you’d like to get serious about, why not study at the one of the leading sport science institutions? Find a course that interests you.



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