No subject seems to be shrouded in more confusion in regards to lifting than conditioning. there will be those who believe it will make you weak (usually fat guys). those who think it is the be all and end all (crossfitters, generally weak people) and those who think the only way to do it is to pull trucks and do farmers walks (strongmen).
Conditioning doesn't have to be that complicated. It will benefit you in many ways if you do it right, better recovery, less rest between sets, more energy, better sex, leaner,and healthier heart and lungs.
Lets break conditioning down into 4 categories
steady state cardio, interval training, strength conditioning hybrids, and sports.
1. steady state cardio. This one gets the most abuse for making people weak. the argument is usually look at how weak a marathon runners physique is and they do loads of steady state cardio. That may be but you don't have to run marathons here. you don't even have to run at all. Most of the down sides of steady state cardio are associated with running long distances. I think a better form of cardio for lifters is power walking. This may sound a bit weight watches but a fast paced walk can be pretty damn effective for fat loss and conditioning. Stick between 30-45mins. Your best bet is to pick a certain route and time yourself walking that route as fast as possible. each time you powerwalk time yourself and attempt to beat your previous time each walk. It can be great for fatloss before breakfast. the good thing about powerwalking is it shouldn't effect your strength training. there will be no adaptations as far as your muscles are concerned toward endurance rather than maximal strength. power walking can be done anywhere. you don't need to psyche yourself up and listen to death metal to just go out and have a walk. there are no excuses to not do it. also there is very little joint stress of impact on your body and its pretty hard to injure yourself walking. try powerwalking 4 times a week for 30mins and see where you conditioning goes.
the other form of steady state cardio i like is swimming. just get in the pool and swim laps for 20-30mins. try to see how many laps you can do in a certain time or give yourself a number to do and try to improve your time to do them. again swimming requires no psyching up, no death metal and just the business of being in the water can feel great for your body. again as with powerwalking there is no joint stress or impact but unlike powerwalking swimming works your whole body which can be great for recovery as it allows you to pump blood around your whole body rather than just your legs. I will blog more about swimming at a later date because i feel it is underrated as a form of conditioning especially for weightlifters and powerlifters.
2. Interval training. Look at the physiques of sprinters they are muscular and lean so sprint intervals must be the way to go right? Hold on there. are you a sprinter or a lifter? Interval training can be very intense. Every time i have tried to have sprint session i have had epic doms the next day. for someone who wants to get as strong as possible there is no way to incorporate long interval session along with heavy lifting sessions. without one at least somewhat effecting the other. if you want to train sprinting intensity and frequently your squat and deadlift are going to have to take a back seat for a while and vice versa. also this type of conditioning is pretty demanding mentally as well. since I believe burnout is mostly a mental thing you don't want to always be having to call upon your mental reserves of energy to push through a conditioning session as well as your lifting sessions. i believe the best way to incorporate intervals into your training is to keep them short in duration. keep the sets 10-20 secs on length for maybe 10-15sets. this minis the length of a typical lifting set done in the gym so it stands to reason it will have carry over to your lifting work capacity. some of the best form of conditioning to use for these short intervals are punch bag work, skipping, rowing and possible sprinting. sprinting being the most intense and the one which will effect you overall recovery the most. There is of course hill sprints as well. these put more stress on the quads than normal sprinting but also reduce the impact on the body and reduce the chance of injury. If you want to try hill sprints find a hill and stick to the 10-20 second protocol for several sets. I would suggest doing sprints or hills as close as possible to your hardest leg training session. this should give you as long as possible to recover before your next hard leg session but bear in mind you may be unable to walk for a few days. If you are going to incorporate interval sessions into your training try 3 sessions a week limiting sprints or hills to just once a week. for the other sessions try boxing, skipping, fast swimming or something similar. you can do these sessions either as a finisher on your main session or on off days. Just make sure you be careful of your recovery with these and lifting. Don't be afraid to use steady state sessions instead or a combination of the two.
3. strength conditioning hybrids. By this I count anything which blends both strength and conditioning. most strongman events come under this category. farmer walks, yoke walk truck pull, sled pull, prowler pushes, sandbag lifting, barbell complexes etc. this stuff is all a lot of fun and is pretty hardcore so it must be the way to go right? These have the same problem as interval sessions. they can be intense and negatively effect your recovery on top of lifting as well. I feel the best way to incorporate these into your training is too use them as finishers in your main strength workout. This stuff is too intense to do on in between days or rest days. There are loads of options for what to do for these. Sandbags, kegs, rocks other odd objects make great options. you can perform lifting circuits, complexes, carries for time or distance, loading races, farmer walks, strongman events if you have access to them. check out Dinosaur Training by Brooks Kubirk for some ideas for what to do on these. Again pay attention to your recovery when you incorporate these. don't be afraid to dial back what you do or try another form of conditioning.
4. sports. Playing sports can be a great form of conditioning. they tend to be more fun, less repetitive improve athleticism and the element of competition can be great for those of use competitively minded. What sports you do is simply down to you whatever you feel is fun. Rugby, football, badminton, tennis, Martial arts it doesn't really matter just get moving. Don't try and do this every day if your goals are lifting orientated. once a week can work great though depending on how intense the sport is. Don't go crazy here the goal is to get some conditioning in and have fun not become a professional athlete in one of these sports. No one cares how good you are at tennis if you lose all your powerlifting competitions.
The important things to consider about conditioning.
- Conditioning won't make you weak or stop you gaining muscle. 3x30min power walking sessions a week will not effect your max strength.
- Don't get carried away with intense forms of conditioning, conditioning is something you do to compliment your lifting. If your focus is lifting you don't need to train like a full time athlete in another sport. Monitor you recovery and lifting if you start incorporating intervals, sports and hybrids in your training.
- You don't need to be able to run marathons or build pyramids
- If in doubt just do 3x30min power walks a week.
- Don't try and do everything at once. you don't need to do 6 powerwalking sessions a week, 6 MMA sessions, strongman events in every session and sprint intervals 3 times a week for a hour a time. try 2-5 conditioning sessions a week max from a combination of the 4 types of conditioning. 3 steady state sessions and 2 hybrid OR interval sessions a week can get you in fantastic shape without effecting strength or muscle gains.
You now have no excuse to be fat and out of shape just because you lift weights. Now go out for a walk.