We’ve covered power, strength, and assistance last week. Those are the easy ones… Today we are going to dig into programming conditoining, and we’re going to try and keep it as simple as possible.
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What is conditioning, anyways?
Full Definition of conditioning, from Merriam-Webster
1: the process of training to become physically fit by a regimen of exercise, diet, and rest; also: the resulting state of physical fitness
2: a simple form of learning involving the formation, strengthening, or weakening of an association between a stimulus and a response
Let’s pull out the piece, “the resulting state of physical fitness.”
What would a good state of physical fitness be?
How about a goal of having good health and the ability to take part in a wide range of activities.
What things would we assess here, from a conditioning perspective?
- Resting heart rate
- Anaerobic threshold
- If working with an athlete, tests that are specific to the demands of the sport (and yes, sometimes athletic goals don’t align with the health aspect of the above statement)
Resting Heart Rate
Resting heart rate is a simple test of how many times your heart beats at rest. It is a basic test of the efficiency of your cardiovascular system.
When an athlete’s resting heart rate is too high, this is somewhat akin to having an energy leak biomechanically. Their body is working harder than it should be to perform a certain level of work.
I’m just going to say right off the bat that Mike Robertson is a huge influence when it comes to our approach to conditioning, and he hit the nail on the head with that quote. Just think, if you have an individual with a resting heart rate of 70, and another with a resting heart rate of 50, the 50 beats per minute individual is expending less energy to supply the body with oxygenated blood at rest, let alone adding in physically demanding work.
With our general population clients, we like to see a MAX resting heart rate of 65bpm. Athletes would be much lower.
How would we assess resting heart rate?
- If you have access to a quiet space in your gym, slap a heart rate monitor on them and have them go lay down for 5 minutes
- If they have a heart rate monitor at home, have them test their heart immediately upon waking, in the same manner above
- You can use tools like BioForce HRV and Omegawave to get this information daily
Anaerobic threshold is simply the heart rate at which your body switches from mostly aerobic energy production, to anaerobic energy production. Put really, really simply, it’s the heart rate at which you would no longer feel like you’d be able to maintain consistent work with cyclical activities.
Anaerobic threshold is the point where a combination of local factors (i.e. altered blood pH, hydrogen ion build-up, etc.) and central factors (i.e. your brain) alter and regulate your body’s ability to maintain prolonged, high-intensity exercise.
Mike Robertson (again)
Anaerobic threshold will vary from person to person, but higher is better here.
How would we assess anaerobic threshold?
- Modified Cooper’s Test – The individual uses a cyclical conditioning implement (run, bike, row) for 6 minutes, trying to go as far as they can in that time, while wearing a heart rate monitor. Their average heart rate is recorded over the 6 minutes, and the outcome is their anaerobic threshold.
- Side note: Retesting the athlete on the same implement is a good idea. If the AT stayed the same, but they covered more distance, that’s still improvement!
- Omegawave – Omegawave is a non-invasive, daily test that can be used to determine a number of things, including anaerobic threshold.
So what’s this tell us?
Well, again, this was brought to my attention by Mike Robertson. The difference between your AT and RHR = your aerobic window.
- Athlete A has a resting heart rate of 80, and an anaerobic threshold of 160, resulting in an aerobic window of 80.
- Athlete B has a resting heart rate of 50, and an anaerobic threshold of 175, resulting in an aerobic window of 125.
Let’s revisit our goal: Having good health and the ability to take part in a wide range of activities.
Who will be the more resilient athlete, with the ability to take part in a wider range of activities?
You said B, right, ? Good.
So I think it’s safe to say, with everyone we train, the goal would be a wider aerobic window. Who wouldn’t benefit from that?
Implementing conditioning into the program
We want to have our cake, and we want to eat it too… So how can lift big wheels and still increase our aerobic window?
For starters, go back and revisit the lesson Managing Weekly Training Intensity.
Next, realize that we can increase the aerobic window by one of two ways, or both:
- Lower the resting heart rate
- Increase the anaerobic threshold
I know, I know- no one saw that coming…
Now, think about how we’ve laid out the Strength Faction Program.
We start the week intensely. Heavy lifts, and for a while there, more intense conditioning, but for short bouts.
We undulate and have low days between our main training days. Those low days keep us closer to cardiac output training zones, with heart rates of 110-140, give or take a few beats per minute.
The intensity of conditioning works it’s way down across the week, finishing off over the weekend with some very low intensity cyclical cardiac output work. This approach allows us to train both sides of the aerobic window concurrently, without burning ourselves out.
How can we implement this with our general population clients?
At the very least, get a resting heart rate. Lowering the resting heart rate side of the equation has a multitude of benefits. Here’s just a few:
- Improved recovery
- Increased ATP (energy) production
- Left ventricular eccentric hypertrophy (increased stroke volume), which is more of a result, but…
- Improved autonomic balance (parasympathetic/sympathetic) – in other words, less stress!
Do you have any clients that COULD NOT benefit from these things?
So, when approaching conditioning with your clients, aim to improve the resting heart rate. Once you get them to AT LEAST sub 65, for general population, work in some higher intensity threshold training to push the other side of the window. This could be as simple as having them, again, get after a cyclical activity for 1-5 minutes around anaerobic threshold, recover for about the same amount of time, and repeat for sets. At the same time, make sure they are using “low days” between sessions, focusing on cardiac output work, to continue training the resting heart rate side of the equation, and tapping into it’s many benefits.
I mean, really, this would look a whole lot like the Strength Faction program!
To learn more about specific conditioning protocols, and to go deeper, we highly recommend picking up the best conditioning resource on the market, Ultimate Conditioning for Mixed Martial Arts.
Oh, and it’s not just for MMA!