When most people think about conditioning, they think about doing endless amounts of long slow distance (lsd) cardiovascular exercise. This definition of conditioning has more to do with aerobic conditioning. The conditioning that a physique athlete performs should aid in causing the type of adaptions that are necessary to get stronger or add more muscle. This means that any type of conditioning that inhibits these adaptations can only cause problems in a strength training program.
One fitness authority who has spent a large amount of time dedicated to finding ways to make conditioning work better with strength and hypertrophy training is owner of Complete Human Performance Alex Viada.
Alex discusses in detail how the conditioning recommendations he makes for his athletes are completely dependent on their goals. If the athlete needs to compete at a high level in a specific event, Alex will add in the minimum amount of training necessary to elicit improvements in the distance or event the athlete is seeking to compete in. An example of an outline of one of these routines for a mid distance runner is shown below.
Day 1: ME upper body/bench, light recovery run
Day 2: REST
Day 3: ME lower body, speed/interval work
Day 4: Short race pace run
Day 5: DE upper body, running form drills
Day 6: DE lower body
Day 7: Long slow distance run
The main purpose of splitting up the days as they are shown is to hit different energy systems on different days. For example the interval work is put after the strength work for the legs. The purpose of this is to focus all of the work that is going to tax the type II muscle fibers on the same day so that the legs can recover uninterrupted on the other days of the week. Similarly, workouts that primarily tax the bodies energy storage capacity are aligned with the longer duration and lower intensity hypertrophy workouts. Alex purposely sets up his splits so that the same muscles and energy systems are hit on the same days for most of the strength and hypertrophy work.
Alex’s conditioning recommendations for physique athletes, or someone who does not compete at a specific distance is to mix up the modality and distance that you train for your conditioning. For example, someone who just wants to stay fit could alternate between the rower, running on a treadmill, running outside, a stationary bike, and the elliptical. This same athlete could also alternate between steady state workouts, intervals and time trials where they are really trying to push the pace. By alternating the metabolic focus of the workout as well as the type of exercise the trainee can create minimal interference with the hypertrophy and strength work.
Another approach that works quite well is to alternate the type of intervals you perform and limit the overall volume of your exercise. One fitness authority that promotes this type of approach is Greg O Gallagher. In his programs he talks about using a limit of 2-3X your body weight in calories as an upper limit for the volume of conditioning exercsie you should perform. For example, most cardio machines show the amount of calories you are burning while you are on the machine. for a 180lb man this would be an upper limit of 360-540 calories burned per session. While this may seem like a relatively basic way for accounting for exercise volume it has worked wonders for Greg and his clients.
Greg goes on to give three recommendations as far as cardio goes. He says you should focus on three different aspects of tranning by emphasizing on or the other or mixing and matching all three.
1) “Intervals Duration – 2 min walk / 1 min jog x 6-8 or 1:15 walk / 45 second run x 10-12″
2) “steady State Cardio “Duration – 10-20 minutes”
3) “Stretching and abs
- Leg Raises (hanging bent leg, hanging straight leg or from dip bar): 3 sets x 10-20 reps
- Side to Side Knee ups or Abs Whee Roll outs: 2 sets x max reps
- Hip/Back Bridge Hold: 2-3 sets x 20 seconds
- Bonus stretches (optional)
Notes: rest 1-2 minutes between sets.”
As you can, any of these elements can be used alone or in a combination. Greg’s method of choice is to use them as described in order. Simply move from the intervals to the steady state cardio to the stretching and abdominal exercise.
Another great recommendation for cardio comes from Mike Matthews of MuscleforLife.com
Matthews recommends that you alter the amount of cardio you are doing based on your goals: bulking, cutting, or maintenance. For those who are bulking Matthews recommends performing cardio 2 times a week or less. For those who are trying to maintain Matthews recommends performing cardio 2-4 times a week. Finally, for those who are cutting, Matthews recommends 3-5 cardio workouts per week. Matthews makes a point of saying that the right type of cardio can actually enhance muscle gains. Matthews says that interval cardio is by far the best option for preserving muscles and enhancing fat loss. Matthews recommendations are as follows.
1) warm up with 3-5 minutes at a low intensity
2) alternate between 1 minute at a high intensity and 1 minute at a law intensity
3) continue these 1:1 intervals for 20-30 minutes
4) perform a 3-5 minute cool down at a lower intensity
In terms of the types of exercises he recommends for conditioning, Matthews has a number of suggestions. First matthews believes people can benefit from a number of traditional types of cardiovascular exercises such as running, biking, rowing, elliptical machines or swimming. Matthews prefers the recumbent cycle as it places the least stress on the body while still allowing for a powerful conditioning stimulus.
Finally Johnie Candito of CanditoTrainingHQ has a unique set of conditioning recommendations.
Johnnie Candito is not a fan of anything that is going to get in the way of his strength training as he is a competitive powerlifter. However, even Johnnie has quite a few recommendations and is in support of performing cardio. His specific routine includes 1-3 long cardiovascular sessions in which he will perform a lower intensity exercise at a steady state. He will also perform a couple variations of a sprint workout after his lower body workouts. This allows his to hit his sprints hard without cutting into the recovery for his leg workouts. Johnnie can be seen doing these sprint sessions below.
I like this approach to conditioning as it allows you to condition your body with both steady state cardio as well as sprint training. The fact the Johnnie recommends doing the hard sprints just once or twice a week is pretty realistic for most recreational strength trainers. Johnnie is also one of the few trainers that recommends using actual full speed sprints and not just the sub-maximal sprints that most people use in their programs.
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