General vs. Specific Conditioning

When it comes to conditioning, one of the most important principles to understand is when to use different training methods and exercises throughout the training year. This is where the concept of general and specific conditioning comes into play and getting this right can be the difference between winning and losing.

What Is General Conditioning

In simple terms, general conditioning refers the development of the central components of energy production and expenditure that are not exercise and task specific. This means that activities that are not biomechanically or metabolically similar to the competitive sport and related skills can be used to develop this area of conditioning.

On the far end of the general to specific conditioning spectrum, this is where unrelated activities are used to build general “work capacity” and what most people would refer to as “cross training.”

The most general training methods and exercises should be utilized early in the off-season, which also serves as a break from the often repetitive nature of most competitive seasons. The exact exercises, means and methods used during the period of general conditioning should depend on the nature of the sport itself.

Specific Conditioning

On the other side of the general to specific spectrum is the use of the skills, drills and techniques of the competitive sport itself. In MMA, this would be sparring, pad work, bag work, technical drilling etc. In soccer or football, this would be scrimmage, 7v7, small-side games, etc.

The most important component of a solid yearly training program is that it progresses over time from more general conditioning methods and exercises towards most specific ones. There should be a gradual and progressive shift towards the use of the competitive sport itself, as well as the individual skills, as the primary training means.

This helps avoid the overuse injuries associated with using the same exercises and movements year round, and also builds the right foundation for achieving peak performance at the right time.


  1. Joel, in regards to American football during the season (competitive phase) organised team training sessions for us are usually planned around film study, preparing for the next game, skeleton scrimmage etc. conditioning wise outside of organised team session would you suggest basic strength maintenance work compound lifts (60-70%) maximum volume with some prehab movements mixed in during rest periods? and some aerobic recovery work or would you stick to the methods like alactic capacity intervals as the work/ rest ratio mimics that off a football play?

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