The Lost Art of Conditioning For Strength, Performance & Recovery
The 3 Most Effective Conditioning Methods Every Coach Should Be Using

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What Ever Happened To Intelligent Conditioning?

In the strength and conditioning world, strength is often prioritized and conditioning is somewhat of an after-thought. To give you an example, take the typical college football program. I’m going to use mine as an example of one I’ve had first-hand experience with.

Between your main lifting sessions, you’ll see things such as field drills, agility drills, speed-ladder, and suicides. With these cases, there is an overlap between high-threshold work and a lack of aerobic development and/or recovery measures. 

In the article, we’re going to talk about measures to effectively train and improve the aerobic system so your programming is well-rounded and you do not run the risk of overtraining. More importantly, we will learn how to optimize your recovery via conditioning and, dare I say, cardio.

In this day and age, everyone thinks they need more. More training, more protein, more volume, etc. What we don’t hear is people needing more time to recover, less volume, and better nutrition practices.

Interestingly enough, we’d see many more athletes getting stronger, looking better, and feeling better if the latter was made a priority. So rather than providing you with more measures to “beat yourself up” even more, we are going to focus on more measures to improve the aerobic system and recovery between your main training sessions.

The Importance of Conditioning on Recovery

From 2010-2011 I was deployed to Afghanistan as an Infantryman. During this time stress was at an all-time high as you would imagine, more than 4 hours of sleep was a luxury, and my diet was terrible at best. When I arrived in theater, I was tipping the scale at 195 pounds. When I returned home one year later I was 168 pounds.

During the deployment as I began to lose muscle mass, I started training harder and more often. My neurosis told me that I had to “get ahead” of losing my gains and proceed to compound stress with more stress.

When I had time to sleep I opted for an extra training session. I can’t even imagine what my heart-rate variability (HRV) score would have been at the time, but to say I was overtrained was an understatement.

This took nearly three years to recover from (nope I’m not joking.) My adrenal fatigue was so bad that my doctor thought it was a miracle I could even get out of bed in the morning. Feeling like shit take on a new meaning for me. Now over 7 years later I’ve finally surpassed my original bodyweight and I’m the strongest I’ve ever been.

Don’t make the same mistakes I did. More is not better especially if you’re already a person that does not cope with stress well.

The Aerobic System

The aerobic system provides the majority of the energy production for any activity lasting longer than 60 seconds, regardless of the intensity level. This system is also responsible for recovery between explosive bursts as well as producing the energy necessary to sustain everyday life (Jamieson, 2018).

For years aerobic work was labeled the “bad guy” that would make you slower and gain adipose tissue. Of course, knowing what we know now about Energy Systems we know that we can utilize Aerobic work to facilitate recovery, improves one ability to generate ATP for explosive sports, and increase the length of your life. Here are a few bits of info I took away from Joel Jamieson’s BioForce Conditioning Coach Certification Course.

  • Research has shown that life-expectancy is directly related to aerobic fitness and may help protect against premature death due to cardiovascular disease
  • The aerobic system is the most “metabolically adaptable” energy system in that it can produce ATP from multiple energy sources.
  • The aerobic system produces more molecules of ATP per molecule of substrate.
  • The aerobic system is the most adaptable system when it comes to room for improvement

In short, training the Aerobic System involves two kinds of adaptations: cardiovascular and skeletal muscle. Among these adaptations include increasing the functional capacity of the heart, increasing the size of the vascular network, and increasing the number of mitochondria and function of mitochondria.

Training The Aerobic System For Recovery

Now that we’ve gotten that background information out of the way, let’s talk about the role of the aerobic system in recovery between sessions. The purpose of “low-intensity” or “low-effort” work is to drive the body into a recovery state.

If you’re constantly pushing the envelope and driving the sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight), you’ll more than likely apply too much stress to your system. Too much stress, too often invariably leads to overtraining.

An easy way to ensure you’re recovered properly is to start the recovery process before leaving the gym. Although there are a number of ways we can do this we are going to break this down into 4 categories:

  1. Post workout recovery measures
  2. Balance of training modalities in your programming
  3. Intra-training week recovery measures
  4. Measures to improve the Aerobic System

Spark Recovery Post Workout

First off, your main training sessions, whether we are talking about speed-strength, strength-speed work, and/or hypertrophy work involve driving the sympathetic nervous system. Of course, this is exactly what we want; a heightened state of alertness so we can crush our training session.

Often times, we crush our training session and leave the gym with that same heightened state awareness that can further delay the recovery process. An easy way to facilitate the recovery process and drive the parasympathetic nervous system (rest and recovery) is to conclude your session with 5 minutes of breathing drills, or taking a page out of Dr. Rusin’s Performance Recovery System, using an entire sequenced post training protocol to return back to a parasympathetic baseline.

These drills involve simply laying down with your legs elevated on a bench at 90 degrees. For the next 5 minutes, you want to be mindful of your breathing patterns: long controlled breaths in through the belly with a slight pause at the top, and then long slow exhale. Check out this video as Dr. Rusin teaches the parasympathetic recovery breath:

This drill does not need to be overly complex; the objective is to facilitate rest and relaxation. This breathing drill will help promote the recovery process and whereby we start to recovery immediately following our training session.

Schedule Your Training According to Recovery

Second, many times trainees are eager to reach their goals and apply high-intensity measures on consecutive days. This is a mistake and should be avoided at all costs. Your central nervous system needs adequate recovery between sessions. This does not mean that you cannot train hard, you can, but it’s more dependent on how you train. For example, performing heavy deadlifts on Monday and then heavy back squats on Tuesday is comparable in terms of volume and intensity not to mention stressful to the same primary movers.

A better solution would be to separate these sessions. For example, train your deadlifts on Monday and then your back squats on Thursday. You’ll have more time to recover and reap the benefits of your hard work.

Another method we can use to help facilitate recovery and leave you feeling better when you leave the gym is low-intensity aerobic work. This is work that if you were to use a rate of perceived exertion scale between 1 and 10 (10 being an all-out effort), this work would fall somewhere around 5-6 meaning you could likely carry on a conversation while completing it. This work will be done as it’s own training session and NOT in combination with your strength work.

This work will also be done in the form of cyclical work ie. light jogging, rowing, biking, or swimming – work that is “easy” on the body. I even like to use light-sledpulling here as long as we can keep the heart rate in the correct range.
Here are a few examples all done with a heart-rate between 120-130 BPM:

10 Rounds of:

  • 60s Jog
  • 60s Row
  • 60s Bike

30 Minute Light Sledpull (sled straps attached to your weight-belt):

  • 15 Rounds of:
  • 60s Jog
  • 60s Walk

30 Minutes of an Easy Pool Swim:

  • You’ll need to at least be a decent swimmer to ensure your HR stays in correct range

3 Rounds of:

  • 5 Minute Bike
  • 5 Minute Row
  • 5 Minute Jog

You can perform a number of variations to keep things fresh, but the key component is that this work should NOT be hard or demanding. The best course of action is to invest in heart-rate monitor with a strap to get an accurate reading, or if you really want to upgrade your recovery training experience, Joel’s industry leading Morpheus unit is the gold-standard on the market, which measures HRV, recoverability and sets custom training heart rate zones daily.

Often times athletes are surprised just how easy this work is and actually have trouble “taking it easy.” With a heart-rate monitor, we can avoid any confusion and adjust our control of the training session accordingly. Don’t make the mistake of turning this work into another training session because you’ll miss the boat on what we are trying to accomplish.

Develop Your Aerobic Base

Lastly, improving the Aerobic System will allow us to better withstand higher-volumes of work by improving our ability to recover, as well as improve our ability to generate ATP for maximal strength work. Here are three of my favorite methods that I’ve learned from Joel Jamieson’s BioForce Conditioning Coach Certification and guidelines that I’ve used for myself and my clients with great success.

Lets break each of these 3 cardio conditioning methods down and showcase example exercise and programming variations of each that can be easily implemented into any type of performance or strength training routine.

Cardiac Output Method

The cardiac output method is an effective method for improving aerobic capabilities. This method works by facilitating eccentric hypertrophy of the left-ventricle of the heart – which leads to an increase in cavity volume.

Cyclical measures work best to train this method ie. Jogging, biking, rowing machine, or swimming. Ones heart-rate should range between 130-150 BPM and sustained for longer durations 30-90 minutes. Depending on your goals and ability, you performing 1-3 sessions a week will suffice.

High Resistance Method

The high resistance aerobic method allows us to effectively improve the aerobic ability of fast twitch muscle fibers by supplying them constant oxygen. This method can be performed by using measures such as sled pulls, sledpushes, airbike, or uphill sprints.

We are looking for 10-12s of work with 60-90s rest between bouts. Because sets are small we can perform up to 15-20 intervals. Your heart-rate should be just under your anaerobic threshold.

Strongman Endurance

Strongman endurance is trains are ability to maintain proper posture under load. With this method, a variety loaded carries and implements can be used effectively such as, farmer carry variations, overhead carries, front rack carries, and yoke carries. This method can effectively improve grip, posture and core control.

We are looking for 60-90 of work per set where the load we choose allows us to work for the entire set without stopping. 4-6 sets resting 60-90s between fits the bill.

How To Program Aerobic Work

Below are some basic guidelines on how to implement these measures in your programming. Of course, your individual goals, training template, and training age need to be considered, but these are basic guidelines for someone that weight-trains 4x a week.
You may be thinking that you don’t have time to add more than what you’re currently doing and if that’s the case, you can try implementing 1 out of the 3 measures from the outset.

If you’re failing to see consistent progress with your training and/or feeling rundown, you’d be best served to decrease your training frequency and add either an aerobic session or recovery based session in place of one of your main training sessions at least for a short period of time.

You may find that you’re main training sessions improve significantly just by taking this route!

  1. Parasympathetic Breathing x 5-minutes after every training session
  2. Aerobic Methods x 1-2x a week, 30-60 minutes a session.
  3. Recovery measures x 1-2 sessions a week, 30-45 minutes.

In short, your conditioning work should not just be aimed at “smoking” yourself or your clients; it should allow you to bridge the gap between your main training sessions, facilitate recovery, and improve the length of your life.

We live in a world of stress, poor dietary measures, and terrible sleep patterns. If you’re in this position and you’re only applying more stress, you’ll need to be smarter about how you approach your programming if you want to stay in the game.

If you train general population athletes than this work should be a staple if you want your clients to be able to train at your facility for a lifetime.

About The Author

jason brown box programming

My name is Jason Brown and I have been fitness professional for nearly 15 years. I have owned my own facility, trained a wide-range of clients ranging from soccer moms, military personnel, law enforcement, CrossFitters, Powerlifters, and professional athletes. My area of specialization is providing a system of concurrent fitness geared toward the general population in a group setting. Currently, I own BoxProgramming.com and write programming for over 200 facilities world-wide.

 

 

23 Comments

  1. John McKay August 7, 2018 at 9:22 am - Reply

    Outstanding article.

    • Jason Brown August 8, 2018 at 9:02 am - Reply

      Appericate it John!

  2. best4ever August 7, 2018 at 6:28 pm - Reply

    Nice article, Now you can lose up to 1-3 pounds in a week by using this formula.

    Click the link for more information: https://bit.ly/2M8YfAS

  3. Scott August 8, 2018 at 5:45 am - Reply

    Hi Jason. I enjoyed the article. I have a high measured max heart rate, ~200 BPM, so BPM prescriptions don’t work for me. What percentages are you using here? Thanks.

    • Jason Brown August 8, 2018 at 9:12 am - Reply

      Scott,

      Glad you enjoyed the article! For cardiac output, it should be a range you can sustain for long periods of time, likely around 60% of your MHR (120 BPM for you).

      For Strongman work, you’ll want to monitor your HR and rest until you come down to around 120 BPM (comparable to the pace you sustaining using Cardiac Output) after the 60-90s of work.

      There will be some trial and error, but using a tool like “Morpheus” will make this work easier to decipher.

      Hope that helps! Let me know if you have any other questions.

    • Timbo August 8, 2018 at 1:30 pm - Reply

      Fwiw, I also have a high MHR for my age (tested ~195, possibly low vagal tone). Max heart rate is necessarily relative, which is why percentages work.
      I do a lot of “cardio” at ~70% of MHR, which works to a range of 135-140bpm: exactly where they recommend. But I’m guessing, from the general statements (130-150bpm) and implications of the article, we would fall closer to ~145+bpm.

      • Jason Brown August 14, 2018 at 8:50 am - Reply

        Correct, you can adjust based off your individual numbers ie. recovery work in 60% or less.

  4. Jonathan August 9, 2018 at 11:48 am - Reply

    Great article. I am a little confused by what the recovery sessions are though.

    ”1 Parasympathetic Breathing x 5-minutes after every training session
    2 Aerobic Methods x 1-2x a week, 30-60 minutes a session.
    3 Recovery measures x 1-2 sessions a week, 30-45 minutes.”

    Number 1 I get, No.2 is the LISS type work at 130-150 bpm yeah?

    So is the recovery sessions the Hill Sprint Intervals type training with HIgh BPM and 10-12s reps?

    Are you able to elucidate this for me?

    • Jason Brown August 14, 2018 at 8:48 am - Reply

      Jonathan,

      Thanks for reading and good question!

      An easy way to think about aerobic session vs. recovery session is the length of the session (recovery 30-45 minutes and aerobic 30-90 minutes) and the heart-rate will be slightly lower (120-140 vs. 130-150 BPM). Overall, the objectives are different in terms of improving the aerobic system/facilitate parasympathetic state.

      Cardiac output aim is to improve oxygen supply the heart can deliver. Following a progressive model of increasing duration of the session over time, whereas “recovery” work will always be low-effort/short duration work.

      Does that make more sense?

      • Jonathan September 18, 2018 at 10:33 am - Reply

        That’s perfect thanks a lot

  5. Kyle August 9, 2018 at 2:55 pm - Reply

    Hi Jason,

    Nice article man. Thanks for sharing your expertise.

    The high resistance method looks a lot like any other HIIT method, maybe with more rest than is commonly prescribed in today’s fitness world. Giving 100% effort is definitely tapping into anaerobic metabolism. Why is this characterized as an aerobic system developer vs. an anaerobic system developer? It seems like any beneficial long-term adaptation to this type of training will come primarily from developing the glycolytic / phosphocreatine pathways. Intuitively it makes sense to me a high resistance method session could facilitate recovery, but as far as long-term adaptations, it seems to me to be more anaerobic. What do you think?

    • Jason Brown August 14, 2018 at 8:38 am - Reply

      Kyle,

      Thanks for reading and great question! With high-resistance aerobic measures, the aim is to improve the “aerobic abilities” ie. the endurance of fast-twitch fibers. With this method, we are relying on lower speeds but higher levels of resistance (hill sprints are a perfect example.) Because the intervals are short fast twitch fibers become more efficient at utilizing oxygen. Overall, the goal is to be able to maintain higher output for longer durations which relies on the efficiency of the aerobic system.

      Does that make more sense now?

      • Kyle August 16, 2018 at 2:48 pm - Reply

        That makes sense, I’m with you. I suppose aerobic and anaerobic development will both happen.I still would assume hill sprint performance improvements come primarily from anaerobic adaptations, but I can see how the aerobic system would also develop. I would assume fast twitch fibers would better develop aerobic properties from the cardiac output method. Thanks for the response.

        • Jason Brown August 20, 2018 at 8:33 am - Reply

          Hill sprints could certainly be used for Alactic work, but the rest interval would need to be drastically longer to consistently tap into ATP-CP.

          No problem man, thanks for reading!

  6. […] The Lost Are of Conditioning For Strength, Performance, & Recovery – Dr. John Rusin & Jason Brown […]

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  9. James August 12, 2018 at 5:40 pm - Reply

    Great article Jason, I agree that improvements to the aerobic system can do wonders for exercise recovery. I have been using something similar to your cardio output method and I am seeing promising results.

    • Jason Brown August 14, 2018 at 8:27 am - Reply

      That’s amazing James, happy to hear that! Cardiac output work is simple and effective!

  10. Tyler Panko August 22, 2018 at 3:14 pm - Reply

    Hey Jason, I know you say to do the recovery session as a separate session, but why is that? Is there any harm in doing 30 minutes of jog, row, bike at 120-130 BPM after a strength workout? Kinda like how Dr. Rusin does it with the LISS walking in FHT? Appreciate the article and the info, great stuff!

  11. Tyler Panko August 24, 2018 at 11:16 am - Reply

    Hey Jason, I know you say not to do the recovery sessions at 120-130 BPM in combination with strength work, but why is that? Could you still do a 30 minute session after your strength workout like Dr. Rusin does with LISS walking in FHT? Appreciate your help and the information in the article!

  12. brian lelli August 27, 2018 at 12:50 pm - Reply

    Great work man! Thanks for putting this info out there! My question is about two-a-days. Would it be beneficial to do one of the training sessions listed above as a second session in the day? In my example, I could knock out 10 cal bike sprints (15-20 reps) first thing in the AM (7am) and then do my regular lifting in the evening (4-5pm).

    Or should this be on it’s stand-alone day?

  13. […] from constantly being on the stepmill or any one piece of equipment, it’s time to change up your cardio modality. I promise you it won’t be less […]

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3 Day Strength Overhaul

Improve your mobility by 30 degrees, injury proof your workouts, and avoid self-sabotage.
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