Appropriate Conditioning by Johnny Pain, originally posted in Starting Strength and Strengthvillain.com
One of the most frequently asked questions that I receive both in the consulting end of my business and at the Starting Strength seminars, is when and how to add conditioning work to a strength training program. This is a valid question certainly, and a serious point of discussion for many. This article is designed to address the topic from my perspective, and convey my opinions on the matter.
When asked about conditioning, I typically reply with a simple question of my own: “Why do you want to do conditioning work?” This isn’t asked from a condescending, “who wants to do that sort of thing?” point of view, but rather out of a genuine interest to determine why conditioning may or may not be important in that person’s program. Answers range from the need to pass physical fitness tests at a person’s place of employment to the desire to be “well rounded” and able to take on any task that comes one’s way. The most common answer, although the one that often has to be extracted out of a somewhat uncooperative individual, is the perceived need to include conditioning work out of the erroneous belief that body composition is dependent on one’s exposure to that type of training – the irony being that diet is 99% of body composition. All of these reasons can be legitimate concerns in their own right depending on the situation. In most cases, however, a bit of education is required in order to help the inquisitor understand the best method of addressing the issue.
Before we get into the specifics, let’s take a look at the term “conditioning”. What does it mean? For our purposes we will define it as one’s ability to perform a given task. Terms like “General Physical Preparedness (GPP)” and “Work Capacity” have become buzzwords these days, particularly among people who do not compete in an activity that requires a specific conditioning adaptation. There is a widespread belief that one must train for any possible contingency, “the unknown and the unknowable.” It is my contention that becoming as strong as possible will have the most significant effect on one’s overall ability to perform a variety of tasks, and therefore represents the most intelligent use of training time for the purpose of conditioning, within certain limits.
Let’s talk about this a bit. <— Follow link for remainder of article..
As I’ve referred to this a couple of times and will be bringing it back into my training again, I thought it would be useful to have the man himself describe it:
Extract below from Johnny’s blog
Villain Challenge #1
We will be issuing a series of “Villain Challenges” these are intended to promote specific physical adaptations and create a well balanced, capable, villainous athlete. The challenges will all be simple in design, and will be trainable for anyone without special equipment. There is literally no excuse for a person who is not injured or disabled to not take on these challenges.
Challenge #1 is an old Greyskull standard, and here it is.
100 Burpees in 5 minutes.
We all know the burpee. It is a terrible calisthenic movement that elicits a very shitty systemic feeling when performed quickly and for high reps. Accomplishing 100 of these nasty SOB’s in 5 minutes means holding a 1 Burpee every 3 second pace or better for 5 minutes.
An overweight and or out of shape individual could begin by doing 3 or 4 sets of 5, with the goal being to accomplish the sets in less than 15 seconds per. Once they can do that, they would add a few reps, trying for sets of 7 or 10. Each time the time goals are made across the board, they would add repetitions per set.
A more in shape individual might begin with sets of 20 to be done in 1 minute, or even (as I would advise) sprint sets of 10 to be accomplished in 30 seconds or less.
The simple goal formula is: #of Burpees x 3= Target in seconds
The idea here is consistency, working towards a goal over time. This is something that can be trained daily, as in 7 days per week. How much do you honestly think your strength training will be affected by 3 sets of 10 burpees? I would have you do this after your weight training on training days, and on all of the other days in between with the understanding that missing a day here or there certainly isn’t the end of the world. After all it is what we do most of the time that matters, not what we do some of the time.
Ask yourself, what do you think the cumulative effect of the work necessary day in, day out, to knock this goal off of the list will be on your cardiovascular health/fitness/conditioning? What about your body composition? Do you think that your body will look exactly the same as it does now once you can accomplish this goal, assuming you are a ways off? I often tell beginner trainees desiring more upper body development that when they can bench press 100 pounds more than they can currently they will look like a guy who benches 100 pounds more than they do currently. The same goes here. Consistent effort towards the goal over time is hands down the most important variable in training as well as in many other aspects of life.
This challenge is an example of the villain mentality as it applies to training. Eat lots of good food, lift heavy weights, chin, dip, condition with calisthenics and other methods, and you will in time take on the appearance of a guy or gal who consistently does all of the above mentioned things. You do not have to be fat and sloppy to be strong. To quote my friend Anthony Roberts, we are about building “a nation of linebackers”.
So here’s the first challenge, 100 Burpees, five minutes. Get hot on it. Post your progress in the logs, ask questions if needed. Once you have it down, video it and submit it. Those completing the challenge will receive a reward as well as the intrinsic reward of knowing that you accomplished something that few will do.
Been sticking to the frequency method for last few weeks. This week now up to 9 chins and 19 press-ups for 6 sets throughout the day. Now I’m back full time in a gym I have access to the bar so don’t need to use the ladder method.
Also decided to bring some conditioning work back as I’m not teaching spin or anything else at present. I’m keeping it short and sharp and literally when I’ve got free time as opposed to a strict regime. I’m toying with the idea of hitting the Villain Challenge #1 (100 burpees within 5 mins) a few mornings a week as well, I was making good progress on it last year and felt good for it, but the overall volume alongside the classes etc was too much and had to stop in the end.
Today’s lunch break session – 100 kettlebell swings @ 24kg – time 5:30, followed by 50 ab sling knees-to-elbows (not for time) .. Not great, I was hoping to get under 5 minutes but it was good for a quick blast and now have a time to beat!
A great article by Mark Rippetoe. Worth a read by all, but especially beginner/intermediate lifters.
Farmers Walks – Build your forearms & traps and strengthen your core – all whilst doing your ‘cardio’
Anyone who has performed a Farmer’s Walk with a significant weight will agree, they are killers! Although they look straightforward, they work your whole body, leave you gassed, and have been referred to as the ‘moving plank’ by spine specialists – Definitely a recommended ‘core’ exercise as far as I’m concerned. As a ‘Hench’ conditioning exercise, what can beat walking around carrying big-ass weights?
The normal Farmer’s Walk can be performed with just about anything you can pick up, from dumbbells and kettlebells to sandbags and olympic plates (loose plates – savage on the grip!). Simply assume a deadlift position over your objects, pick them up and walk a pre-determined distance for a few sets. As a guide, try to use bodyweight in total, or to be truly Hench, work up to bodyweight in each hand! Aim to walk 30-35 metres around 4-6 times.
The single handed Farmer’s Walk is the king of core strengthening! It will absolutely trash your grip, obliques, traps, lats and just about everything else! Set-up is the same, but with just one weight, swap it after each length (30-35 metres). Again work towards being able to hold bodyweight in one hand for Henchness!
Most importantly – Focus on posture throughout the entire exercise. Keep your shoulders back and down, head up not forward, arms by your sides and abs braced throughout – If you’re walking like a Neanderthal you’re not doing yourself any good! Throw these on the end of your workouts as a finisher, done correctly you won’t be able to hold a weight afterwards!
Start with the two handed variety and move on to the one handed for a real challenge! For a true strongman type Farmers Walk, either use purpose made handles or olympic barbells, the added instability will only increase the benefits of the exercise!
When was the last time you tried something different in your workout? A friend and mentor of mine wrote this article for T-nation last year where he suggests using a sandbag to break through plateau’s, improve grip and core strength, stabilise shoulders and as an absolutely killer conditioning tool!
A worthy read for anyone looking to get stronger, I would also recommend his book, hence advertising it on my site! Here Matt not only gives clear and concise instruction and programming, but also how to make your own sandbags at a fraction of the price! For a more specific guide he has also co-written a guide for MMA & combat sports.
To be truly Hench, it is not only about what you can do in the gym, but also how you can apply it to everyday life. What is the use of being big and strong if it’s only in a gym with a barbell/dumbbell? If your walking past someone struggling to lift something and they see this big guy walk past so ask you for help, do you want to be able to just heave it up with apparent ease to demonstrate your Henchness, or try and help, but struggle to hold it? Give a sandbag workout a try and be prepared to ache in places your not used to! You can get Matt’s books here.
On the book subject, ‘hench’ is now completely finished, and I’m now taking steps to get it published. I’ll keep you updated 😉