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Conditioning: The Missing Piece to Programming

The often forgotten and commonly misused part of programming is conditioning.

There is a lot of confusion as to what makes for a good conditioning program and to properly and effectively implement it. And is it even something that general population clients should even add?

Hopefully I can clear the air and shed some light on this topic to help take your programming to the next level and help you achieve your fitness goals while staying safe and reducing your risk of injury.

Energy Training System Approach

When first talking about conditioning we have to look at the different energy systems:

  • Adenosine Triphosphate-Phosphocreatine (ATP-PCr) System
  • Anaerobic Glycolysis System
  • Oxidative Phosphorylation (Aerobic) System

All these systems are going at the same time; never supplying you energy independently. However, one system will be supplying the bulk of your needs while the other two are working in the background.

The difference of each system comes down to how long and intense the training session is and how much energy is being provided.

 

The amount of energy that a system provides varies based on an individuals current conditioning levels.

The ATP-PCr and anaerobic glycolysis systems both provide energy without the use of oxygen, unlike the aerobic system which does use oxygen. As a result, this will create different changes when it comes musculoskeletal adaptations.

When starting to improve one’s conditioning we have to begin buy building an aerobic base. This is the foundation of the energy systems, and the most easily changed as compared to the other two systems.

The changes that an aerobic base create to enhance recovery and prevent fatigue are astronomical when training the other systems.

Developing the aerobic system will improve fuel utilization and efficiency. We become more efficient because we are using glycogen less as fuel and call on more fats and carbs to burn oxidatively. This allows for the glycogen stores in muscles and the liver to be used for more high intense activity (1,2,3).

Aerobic conditioning also improve capillary density. This allows metabolic byproducts, heat, and carbon dioxide to leave muscles more quickly. This equates to shorter rest periods between high intense bouts. Along with cardiac changes, we also see improved heart rate recovery and cardiac output to help improve circulation, autonomic balance, and immune function.

Work efficiency is also improved upon; which is the work output to energy cost. Meaning, you conserve more energy when moving (1,2,3).

All of these changes are important to be able to begin training the other energy systems.

Aerobic System Training as Recovery

We can also use aerobic system training as recovery days as, dare I say it, cardio.

Training aerobically is related to our parasympathetic autonomic nervous system. Otherwise known as our rest-and-digest system. It is associated with improving recovery between explosive bursts and energy for everyday life.

Aerobic training has been looked down upon, especially people looking to gain mass. They believe that it will limit their ability to gain muscle, while also wasting time in their eyes. But as research has come out aerobic training has several essential benefits (Joel Jamieson’s BioForce Conditioning Coach Certification Course):

  • Life expectancy is directly related to aerobic fitness and help to protect against premature death due to cardiovascular disease.
  • It is the most metabolically adaptable and produces ATP from multiple energy sources
  • Produces more ATP molecules per molecule of substrate
  • Most adaptable system when it comes to room for improvement
  • Increased number of mitochondria and improved mitochondria function

If we continue training at a very high intensity then we will eventually break down. We do want to train in a sympathetic state (fight-or-flight), but we got to be able to get out of it. If we go balls-to-the-wall every training session and never developing the aerobic system, then your missing out on maximizing your GAINZ.

What are some ways that we can train the aerobic system other than running on a boring treadmill or eating the seat of a bike for hours on end?

Here are some different variations that we can do to spice things up and make conditioning more fun.

Energy System Training Protocols

The way that we determine what energy system we are training is based on what variables we are changing.

  • Volume and Duration: When training aerobically, we want to train for a time of 20 minutes or more while keeping the heart rate approximately in a range of 60-80% of predicted heart rate max. We can train this system up to 3 times per week. To get to anaerobic training, the duration is 90 seconds or less with a lot more volume. We can train these systems 1-2 times a week.
  • Work-to-rest ratios: The amount of rest we take will determine what energy system we are working. With aerobic training we generally are not resting, because we want to keep a steady heart rate. When wanting to build the glycolytic system we want to use a use a work-to-rest ratio of somewhere between 1:6 and 1:9. By doing 6 max effort sprints for 20 seconds and resting for 3 minutes it would equate to a 1:9 ratio. Developing the ATP-PCr system, it would be something at high intensity of 10 seconds or less with long rest periods.

Putting this all together, we can now effectively implement conditioning into our programming safely and effectively. Be sure to work your way up and not to bite off more than you can chew.

The goal shouldn’t be to smoke yourself with conditioning, but instead to help bridge the gap between training sessions. Especially when training the aerobic system.

We live in a world full of stress and lack of sleep, and intense training is just another stressor that puts demand on the body.

The goal is to stay consistent in the gym, not by burning yourself out to exhaustion.

 

References

  1. Helgerud J, Engen C, Wisloff U, & Hoff J. Aerobic endurance training improves soccer performance. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. 33(11), 2001.
  2. Tomlin DL & Wenger HA. The relationship between aerobic fitness and recovery from high intensity intermittent exercise. Sports Medicine. 31(1), 2001.
  3. Glaister M. Multiple Sprint Work: Physiological responses, mechanisms of fatigue and the influence of aerobic fitness. Sports Medicine. 35(9), 2005.
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