Coach D and Coach Trent dive into the nuts and bolts of conditioning in today’s episode. Conditioning Conceptswas one of the foundational episodes at the beginning of the podcast, explaining the metabolic pathways or energy systems of the body, and how they fuel different types of activity. Today’s show details the nuts and bolts of incorporating conditioning into your training program, including concurrent conditioning and strength training.
First off, a disclaimer. Conditioning is not for novices! If you have not run through a novice linear progression and built a solid strength base, you don’t need to do conditioning. At this point, focusing all your effort on lifting heavy will provide all the conditioning you need. You have a limited reserve of recovery resources — especially as a novice — and strength training during the linear progression will require ALL of those reserves. Besides, as discussed in previous episodes, strength training works primarily the ATP/Phosphocreatine energy system, but it upregulates the glycolytic and oxidative energy systems too, yielding a conditioning effect.
For those who are mid-intermediates though, conditioning is not only a good tool for fat loss, it’s important for improving work capacity (so you can recover efficiently from the higher volume work that come with intermediate strength training), and for trainees with GPP (general physical preparedness) and/or sports-specific goals.
Coach Trent likes to start trainees new to conditioning with simple “monostructural” conditioning workouts: a prowler sled pushed for 5 100ft sprints, for example, with 2-3min rest periods between sprints. Monostructural refers to the nature of the movement — a static movement with a cardiovascular demand dependent on the intensity (how hard something is pushed, or the weight on the implement in the case of the sled) and duration of the movement. Monostructural workouts are low-skill, and in the case of the prowler do not cause soreness, which could otherwise derail the trainee’s strength workouts. They also allow the trainee to get used to putting out large amounts of effort in short bursts without worrying about executing athletic movements.
After introducing the monostructural workouts, slowly at first, once per week, Coach D likes to mix up conditioning types, with an eye toward working in all the energy systems, and increasing frequency to 2-3 conditioning workouts per week. Conditioning “types” or modalities can be broken down into a few categories (this model is borrowed from Crossfit):
- Monostructural— as mentioned above; sled push/pulls, echo/assault bike, rower, jump rope, wind sprints, swimming
- Gymnastics— bodyweight movements like burpees, bear crawls, push-ups, air squats, etc.
- Weightlifting— explosive weightlifting movements such as power cleans, snatches, thrusters, or kettlebells.
As a general rule, one should be careful using weightlifting movements in a conditioning workout. The higher the skill demand in a conditioning workout, the more likely your movement quality will deteriorate as you get fatigued, and thus the more likely you are to get injured. So save the high-rep snatches for time, unless it’s something you have to be able to do for your sport (i.e. Crossfit).
Otherwise, Coach D likes to mix up these modalities from workout to workout. Conditioning programming can look more “random” than strength training, but the idea is to work all the energy pathways — short and intense (phosphocreatine), medium and slightly less intense (glycolytic), longer and medium intensity (oxidative) — while carefully balancing the stress of the workouts with the demands of your strength training program. For instance, if you have an intensity day with heavy 1×5’s on Monday, your conditioning workout should be short and intense, so that you can recover in time for your light day Wednesday workout and volume day Friday workout. Likewise, conditioning workouts following a volume day strength workout should be less intense, to allow for adequate recovery for the following Monday’s intensity day.
Conditioning can be further programmed as:
- single modality workouts — typically monostructural in nature
- couplets — a mix of two modalities, like rounds of echo bike (monostructural) followed by air squats or burpees (gymnastics)
- triplets — three modalities
The scientific literature is pretty clear that to maximize the benefits of both strength training and conditioning — in other words, to do both without one interfering with the other (known as the interference effect in ex-phys jargon) — you should condition AFTER strength training, on the same day. This allows for maximum recovery between workouts. However, this can lead to long workouts, especially if you are doing a full-body strength workout. For those with limited time, you can do one of your conditioning workouts on your lifting off-day, preferably on the weekend when you normally have a two-day rest period.
There are many ways to tackle conditioning programming, and this is just the start! If you have questions about your own training, send us a message on Instagram or send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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