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The Importance of Conditioning

September 12, 2017

Anyone who has been to my conditioning class or has done one of my programs knows that I take conditioning pretty seriously. There are many reasons for this, but one of the main ones is recovery. The better conditioned you are, the faster you will recover. The faster you recover, the more work you can do in a fixed amount of time.


In the world of sports I’d be considered pretty old. I’m a few years into my 30s and am therefore past my prime in terms of both athletic potential and work capacity (a direct result of me not being able to recover as fast as someone in their 20s). However, my focus on conditioning means I am still able to train 6 days per week at high intensity without accumulating so much fatigue that I cannot recover.


In my last Strongman competition it was pretty obvious who were the better conditioned competitors. There was me at one extreme who still had as much energy going into the last event as at the beginning, and then there were people who were so exhausted by the final event that they could hardly pick up a stone that they’ve picked up many times before in training.

So what are the benefits of conditioning?

As mentioned above, the main benefit is being able to recover faster and therefore do more work. Having a higher work capacity means your training can include more total volume at higher intensities, and this in turn means that you can progress more than you would otherwise be able to... But I’m a powerlifter, I don’t need to worry about conditioning!
Yes, to some extent that is true, but being better conditioned will bring two big benefits to powerlifters:

1)  You will be able to add more volume to your training. As you become more advanced your program becomes a balancing act of volume, intensity and recovery - having a better capacity to recover means that the volume and intensity can be increased which leads to more progress.

2)  In competition you can attempt a true 100% effort on the squat and deadlift. Instead of having to ‘ save some energy for the deadlift ’ you will be confident that you can recover and that means bigger squat numbers. Instead of being drained from a max effort squat you will be recovered and able to give it 100% which means bigger deadlift numbers.

OK I’m convinced, but I don’t have time!


All it takes is 10 minutes at the end of a training session. I usually program some kind of conditioning at the end; whether it’s a loaded carry, some kind of sled pull/push, or some kind of (low-skill) compound movement. This extra 10 minutes will make a big difference to your recovery and will help drive progress in your training. I know that not everybody (I’m looking at you powerlifters!) likes getting sweaty, but perhaps the fact that you don’t like it means that you should do more of it.


An alternative is to tightly control your rest periods. My own training usually consists of weightlifting movements for the warm-up, 2 or 3 giant sets for my main movements (squat, deadlift and overhead press for me, but the overhead work can be replaced with bench press if you're a powerlifter) and then some kind of Strongman event training which functions as my conditioning. The giant sets are always 3 movements (antagonist, prime mover, core) done without rest, followed by a maximum of 90 seconds rest before I start the giant set again. After 9-10 of these giant sets you will really be taxing your cardiovascular and circulatory systems. And then you start the conditioning!


So this week’s takeaway is this: don’t neglect your conditioning if you want to make long-term progress . Yes, in the short term your numbers might increase quicker if you only squat, bench and deadlift with 5 minute rests between sets but eventually you’ll reach your maximum recoverable volume and then it’ll be a hard fight to increase your work capacity.


Peace out! Mark


P.S. To all the UltraFS Gym Members: Conditioning classes on Saturday are free, you have no excuse not to at least try! 


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