Developing the Physical Capacities for Sport by Kyle O’Toole


[This is a guest post by Kyle O’Toole. Kyle is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist with National Strength and Conditioning Association and a Corrective Exercise Specialist and Certified Personal Trainer with National Academy of Sports Medicine. Kyle recently completed the Mentorship Program at Athletic Lab and is currently pursuing his Master’s Degree at George Mason University.]

There is no shortage of information throughout the strength and conditioning industry, on the importance of developing biomotor abilities to improve an athlete’s preparedness for sport. In fact, the original definition of biomotor ability has expanded so much over the years, that a new term has emerged in its place. The term, physical capacity, has been used within a growing number of circles to help keep the integrity of true biomotor abilities in check. This article will be discussing the development of the five key physical capacities (strength, speed, endurance, mobility, and coordination) within structured programming.

The goal of training these physical capacities has always been to improve an athlete’s ability to perform during competition. This happens by effectively increasing the athlete’s working capacity, pushing physiological adaptations to higher levels, and improving their technique with a well-balanced approach. Before we get into the integration of the physical capacities, let’s make sure we have a solid understanding of what we are working with. Understanding what each capacity is and how to develop it is crucial to know before implementation into a training plan. Here is a brief rundown of the five key physical capacities.

Strength is the primary physical capacity because all other capacities are derivatives of it. Bompa recommends that strength must always be trained when trying to improve athletic performance. Strength is the ability to produce force throughout a given range of motion. The development of strength is accomplished by improving intermuscular coordination and intramuscular development. Intermuscular coordination is trained at loads of 70-80% 1RM for 2-6 repetitions and the intramuscular component is trained at loads of 80-90% 1RM for 1-3 repetitions. It is important to remember that strength drives all other physical capacities.

Speed is the ability to cover a specific distance quickly. It requires a high level of neural activation from the central nervous system and relies heavily on the athlete’s strength capabilities. It encompasses more than just straight-line speed. Limb movement, deceleration, acceleration, and change of direction in sport are all key factors that contribute to how quickly the body can move. Sprint speed is increased by increasing your stride rate or your stride length, or both simultaneously. To increase stride rate, you decrease the contact time of the stance foot with the ground through each stride. To increase stride length you increase the forward propulsive force through each stride by increasing rate of force production.

Endurance is the ability to perform a task at a desired workload over a period of time. Building endurance is energy system driven. As a strength and conditioning coach, we first must be able to identify the dominant energy system(s) being used during a sport. Then we properly work within the parameters of each, Oxidative Phosphorylation, Glycolysis, or ATP-PC to increase the athlete’s working capacity. The key factors that drive our endurance training measures are the duration of the exercise, the intensity level, and the interval of rest. Endurance training is also heavily reliant on the athlete’s overall strength capabilities. Increased strength results in greater average power output and a greater resistance to muscular fatigue over the course of time.

Mobility involves the engagement of muscular tissue, connective tissue, and their involved joints to be able to move through a given range of motion proficiently. Think of mobility as flexibility in motion. Mobility should be addressed for all athlete’s regardless of sport. A lack of mobility can lead to movement compensations, that if not rectified could lead to poor mechanics, and over time increases the risk of injury. Generally, mobility is addressed through the use of static and dynamic flexibility and in some cases ballistic stretching.

Coordination incorporates the implementation of the other four physical capacities to carry out a given task effectively. It involves technical and tactical development to be able to perform that task at a highly efficient level. Coordination involves the recruitment of muscle fibers and central nervous system input to enhance motor unit recruitment and the frequency of firing rates. It is through constant practice and repetition that the coordinated effort of muscular synchronization becomes refined and the athlete becomes capable of carrying out more complex tasks.

Integration of Physical Capacities
Periodization of physical capacities within a training phase is just as important as periodization of the annual plan. When you periodize your annual plan you divide the year into smaller training phases, making it easier to manage and organize. This also ensures that you can plan to maximize peak performance during the competitive phase of training. Periodizing physical capacities within each of those phases of training should be adjusted based off the needs of the sport. This allows coaches the opportunity to develop the highest levels of strength, speed, endurance, mobility, and coordination throughout each phase.

Applying periodization to the development of physical capacities helps your athlete to reach a level of peak performance that would not be possible with a loose structure of training. It is important to take a well-balanced approach when building physical capacities. This is especially important in the early stages of an athlete’s development. Those early stages should be focused on multilateral development, which targets each of the physical capacities, and builds a solid training foundation from which the athlete can build upon later in life. This multilateral approach to the development of physical capacities produces more consistent and progressive improvements and carries a smaller risk of injury as a result of the progressiveness to the approach.

The early stages of your training should put an emphasis on developing strength. Concentrating on strength as the primary physical capacity trains the nervous system to recruit a higher amount of motor units at an increased rate. Once a solid strength foundation is laid then all other physical capacities can be built upon. As a strength and conditioning coach if you can successfully build and advance your athlete’s physical capacities, then you improve their motor skill development and performance potential.


  • Bompa, O. T., & Buzzichelli, A. C. (2019). Periodization: Theory and methodology of training. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
  • Bompa, O. T., & Buzzichelli, A. C. (2005). Periodization: Training for sports. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
    Biomotor ability training: Everything you need to know. (2017). Retrieved from http://
  • Castle, J. (2016). The biomotor abilities. Retrieved from 03/05/the-biomotor-abilities/

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