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Slow for Long Bouts and Fast for Short Ones (Conditioning)

Remember Adam Sandler as Billy Madison?

I checked in with Angela, an amazing barber who tames whatever mane remains atop my head, and apparently shampoo and conditioner work better interdependently than they do alone! Imagine that, it’s not an either/or scenario. Well, neither is “cardio”, more formally referred to as conditioning. Just in case this is the last line of this blog you bother to read, perform longer duration exercise (20+ minutes) at a sustainably conversational pace AND perform short duration (10 seconds to, like, 2 minutes) bouts at a maximal output – hardly sustain for the duration of the interval – followed by 1 to, like, 3 times as long a rest period, repeating for several rounds.

Keep in mind we are aiming for general fitness here. If you have specific performance goals, check the trusted resources that conclude this post.

Benefits of Conditioning 

Why train to improve your conditioning? For one, refer back to the many benefits of walking HERE. If living a longer, healthier, happier lifestyle isn’t enough of a benefit for you, how about the following: increased work capacity (more work at lower energy cost or more work in total), faster and fuller recovery between bouts of intense work (for you meatheads out there), and the ability to comfortably play sports with your kids or peers.

Prioritize Aerobic aka Steady State Conditioning 

If you are extremely new to training or generally unfit, prioritize longer duration work at lower intensities. Make some progress there prior to tapping into more intense interval training. Speaking of progress, there are several ways to do so. Here are a few simple examples:

– Perform more work in the same amount of time

– Perform same amount of work in less time

– Perform work for longer duration 

– Perform same work in same amount of time with less energy expenditure (easily measured with a heart rate monitor or even just your subjective self-evaluation) 

– Perform same duration of work at a higher intensity

For interval training, I typically suggest successfully increasing intensity prior to messing with other variables since the goal is to work harder. Maybe your 10 seconds of work starts at a light jog – Build up to a solid run prior to going for longer or playing with work and rest durations. When you do decide to progress, manipulate just one variable at a time. I suggest lengthening your work or decrease your rest – Realize that this will likely decrease how hard you can work during your intervals. Modality wise, just make sure your selected exercise allows you to reach the level of intensity you need to achieve during your work interval. Bicep curls are unlikely to adequately elicit a sufficient heart rate response compared to stair climbing or the rowing on an erg. I find the simplest exercises often the most effective. 

You can also double your interval sessions to two per week. They do not need to be the same format either. Maybe one is shorter and more intense bouts with longer rest periods while the other is a little longer work bouts with a lower intensity and lower work to rest ratio.

Principles and Variables

Remember the strength and conditioning principles and variables we discussed during the previous post of this series? If not, you can view them HERE. As a refresher, changing any of the variables (exercise, intensity, volume, rest) can affect your conditioning outcome so manipulate them intently, much like discussed in the meat of this post. As for principles, you will physically adapt specific to a combination of how you train (specificity) and what you bring to the table (individuality), and an increasingly difficult stimulus beyond your current comfort zone is needed to advance your physicality (progression and overload aka progressive overload). Subtle exercise changes can achieve variety for both entertainment and progressive purposes and don’t be alarmed when progress gets more difficult to achieve as you become less of a novice. Oh yeah, AND, if you don’t use it you lose it so stay consistent.

If there’s one thing I hate, it’s providing an example program because it totally lacks context and scalability – two things I value immensely. However, I also realize that the paragraphs above might make zero sense and some of you want a program to follow. Fair enough! See below. 

For longer duration work, I suggest walking, running, hiking, cycling, swimming, etc. For shorter duration work, I suggest sprinting, fan bike cycling, stair or hill climbing, versaclimber climbing, row erg rowing, etc. Most importantly, select an exercise that allows you to achieve the prescribed intensity.

Intertwine this conditioning program with the foundational strength program example provided within the previous post in this series for a well-rounded way to launch your new fitness journey. Speaking of that strength program, I completed one of those workouts with minimal rest and certainly encountered a challenge to my conditioning! 

Here are some trusted resources for helping organize the initial steps of your conditioning journey:

For Coaches – BioForce Conditioning Certification 

Book – Ultimate MMA Conditioning

Coach – Hunter Schurrer of The Performance Syndicate and Shelton Stevens of 13 Bar Performance

Community – Power Athlete