The profile of strength and conditioning has risen significantly in recent years. The success of so many members of Team GB at the Olympics and Paralympics has added to the burgeoning reputation of British athletes in numerous sports. The 2010s have seen notable success in cycling, triathlon, rowing, cricket, sailing, heptathlon, middle and long distance track events and netball to name but a few. Britain also has a Wimbledon men’s singles champion in Andy Murray. It is probably true to say that sports science in general, and strength and conditioning in particular, has never held such a high profile in the UK. And, yet, it is only recently that the UK has truly embraced this key facet of athletic preparation as this blog will explore.
THE INTERNATIONAL LANSCAPE
Until relatively recently British sports scientists often cast a somewhat envious eye at systems and models of athletic preparation followed elsewhere. Eastern bloc countries employed periodisation in a manner that would have been alien to the vast majority of coaches in Britain (see Siff’s Supertraining, 2003 for extensive commentary on this). Two sporting superpowers, the US and Australia, were amongst the first western nations to put in place structured strength and conditioning within systemized long-term athlete development (LTAD) programmes. The US was the first of the two to take a significant step forward with the establishment of what has become one of the most influential and internationally recognized S&C organisations in the world: the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA, established 1978). The Australians were to follow suit shortly afterwards; in 1980 the world renowned Australian institute of sport was founded and 1992 saw the establishment of the Australian strength and conditioning association (ASCA).
The establishment of these organizations reflected a growing awareness that the needs of elite athletes could not be met by conventional fitness training methods. It became apparent that a new form of qualification was essential if the demands of athletic preparation were to be met. With this in mind, the NSCA established the internationally renowned Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) in 1985. More recently, the NSCA has developed a ‘tactical’ S&C certification designed for law enforcement officers, military and other public service personnel. For their part, the ASCA run four levels of course (from level 0 to level 3), an online course, and their version of a ‘tactical’ S&C course.
And what of the UK? It was in the early 2000s that the attention of leading academics and sports scientists began to focus intently on strength and conditioning in the UK. A poll was held asking the opinion of professionals already involved in S&C, the results of which were to pave the way for the establishment of the UK strength and conditioning association (UKSCA) in 2004. Originally established by just a few ‘foundation’ members, the UKSCA has rapidly developed into one of the most influential and respected organisations of its type in the world.
The UKSCA has two levels of award: level 1 and full accreditation. A ‘masters’ level award has been discussed. To serve the burgeoning market in S&C a plethora of degrees and MSc degrees have evolved, all aiming to prepare students for the rigours of either the CSCS or, increasingly, UKSCA full accreditation. For its part, the fitness industry initially entered the market in a simplified form in the shape of a ‘sports conditioning’ course.
For full details of the UKSCA accreditation procedure you should visit www.uksca.org.uk whilst for CSCS visit www.nsca.com. The vast majority of strength and conditioning specialists working at top levels of sport in the UK will have one or both of these awards combined with a BSc and/or an MSc/PhD.