What training modality gives you the best bang for your buck? How can you be as strong, lean and athletic as possible?
To answer this question, I will eschew from speaking in terms of training systems or modalities. What do I mean by this? I mean that I will neither endorse or critique such things as Bodybuilding, Crossfit, Powerlifting, etc. Instead, I will focus this article on the few select things I think everyone should include in whatever training they do, and briefly explain why. The Project Uplift “big 4” are a loaded squat, midline stability work, a calisthenic movement and a form of conditioning 20 or more minutes in length.
Before you click away, let’s address the elephant in the room and go over all these in reverse starting with the 20+ minute conditioning sessions.
First off, if you have read my previous article or been to my Instagram, you know I love long grinders on cardio machines. I also enjoy moderate distance ruck marches and runs, long swims, pushing the sled and high volume burpees to name a few tools that I’ve used to this end. These extended conditioning sessions have several key benefits that you can benefit from regardless of fitness level.
Why is conditioning important?
First and most obvious, you will build a tremendous aerobic engine. This is beneficial for a number of reasons. It will very quickly show significant health benefits ranging from lower blood pressure to more energy throughout the day. Next, while resistance training is the superior long term body composition solution, supplementing your lifting and or calisthenics with some extra aerobic work will significantly accelerate the process if that is a goal of yours.
“What if I just wanna get big and strong SSG Mat?!”
Well, you still might want to engage in some aerobic work, although not as much as the health conscious or Body composition concerned reader. For the strength athletes out there, more aerobic work helps in a few key areas. It will allow you to significantly more sub-maximal work. I’m looking at you, Bodybuilders.
If you want a bigger better looking muscle, the more reps you can accomplish with a given load, the greater a hypertrophy stimulus you may be able to create. A quick example would be in the squat. Say you are a 400lb squatter with a poor aerobic base. This is your 1 rep max and you can hit this 4-10 times in a month training block. Let’s put our big guy next to a 350lb squatter with an excellent aerobic base. The challenge for both is to squat 200 lbs as many times as possible for total poundage calculated. While the 400lb squatter has the advantage in absolute strength, it is likely, given this example, that the 350lb squatter will come out on to in total reps performed. This is due to the many physiological adaptations that occur from building one’s aerobic capacity. These include mitochondrial and capillary density to name a few, as well as just mentally getting used to “grinding out” long, boring sub-maximal work.
The next and arguably most significant benefit is in recovery. Recovery benefits from aerobic work both between sets as well as between training sessions and or training blocks. A nice long grinder can help alleviate soreness by moving substrates around and getting more blood rich with fresh oxygen and nutrition. This enables you to both train longer each session if desired as well as with higher frequency (more times each week). The more you can train AND recover, the more total work you can accomplish and the faster you can get to your goals.
This is huge for us Tactical Athletes.
As a Soldier, First Responder, Fire Fighter or Law Enforcement Officer, you may have to do several “workouts” back to back to back. In Afghanistan, you may need to walk 2 dozen kilometers under load, sprint for cover several times, do some buddy drags and then walk your happy behind all the way back. As a Police officer, you may be chasing a perp several blocks, hopping fences and other obstacles along the way and still have an intense submission match that follows. In these situations, if you can’t recover fast, you might be sucking. These are extreme examples that might never apply to you.
Let’s instead suppose you train 3-5 days a week and for 45 minutes to an hour. You have a job, children and you have a limited time to train. Building your aerobic base with a few 20+ minute sessions a week can help you get a significantly larger amount of work done in less time by simply decreasing the amount of rest between sets without decreasing the load.
Active recovery & “junk miles”
Lastly, there is a psychological component that some individuals may find beneficial. Don’t get me wrong. I may be Kenyan American but If you told me I could run or lift heavy, I’ll chose to lift heavy 10 out of 10 times. That notwithstanding, sometimes you just can’t. Either your heart just isn’t in it that day. That, or the mind is willing but the flesh is weak. Maybe you’re nursing an injury or just need to back off for a few days, weeks or months. Some extra aerobic work is great just to get in some extra “junk miles” just to keep the blood flowing, the metabolism going and to reap those health benefits while you actively recover before hitting the weights again.
Conditioning workout variations
Let’s end this one with some variations of 20+ minute sessions I like to use with machines, with calisthenics and with loaded implements.
Obviously, you can hop on a treadmill, stairstepper, Jacob’s Ladder (my favorite) and set a time, and intensity and go.
You can also do HIIT (high intensity interval training) like I discussed in my previous article on the stairstepper. If you are a pure strength athlete and “cardio hater” this may be the preferred method since you can get more work done in less time, and get the lion’s share of benefits with shorter 20-ish minute sessions. If you are a Tactical Athlete, Crossfitter or concerned with rapid body composition changes, I would push the duration out to 45-60 minutes at least a few times a week if you can handle the volume. Your given “sport” of choice may have very long flurries of low to moderate activity inundated with some really rough high intensity stuff. Better to build the base up in the lab rather that out in the field when a life or event win is on the line.
Outside or without a gym, you can easily do conditioning workouts with running, rucking or swimming.
- You can run-walk-run (with or without ruck) a given time and or distance. You can set intervals as well for example, 30 minutes of 1 minute run, 4 minute walk with 35lb ruck and camelback. Go 15 minutes out and return to complete.
- Swimming can be done in similar fashion. 50 yards (there and back) freestyle which is essentially a sprint, followed by 100 yards of a relaxed stroke to recover such as side or back stroke. Also outside, you can hybridize your approach with calisthenics.
- Add burpees to anything and it sucks. You could do a 20 minute EMOM (every minute on the minute) of 10 burpees for a total of 200. This one is great for traveling if it’s pouring outside and the hotel has no gym. It’s also a quick (and literally) dirty conditioning tool out in the field for my Soldiers.
- You could do unbroken walking lunges for a set period of time. Trust me, no weight is needed. A 400m unbroken walking lunge for example will take most people 30+ minutes and will have you pouring sweat. The benefit to calisthenic options is that you also begin to dip into the benefits of sub-maximal resistance training such as development of stronger connective tissue as well as muscular endurance.
These are but a few examples. My time as a Non-Commissioned Officer taught to be creative when administering “corrective training” on my Soldiers and we all learned how effective just the unloaded body can be as both a strength and conditioning tool.
Conditioning with weights, load and resistance
Finally, with load for example, a barbell, dumbbell, sandbag or kettlebell, you can do many things either alone or combined with traditional cardio, calisthenics or both.
- You could do a walk-run-walk with a sandbag.
- You could grab 2 light kettlebells and briskly walk for 20 minutes putting them down as needed.
- You could run a lap, do 10 burpees and repeat for 10-15 rounds.
- If all that sounds like too much movement, strength athletes can simply get conditioning in by doing high volume sub-maximal efforts with abbreviated rest times. An example would be a 300+lb squatter doing 15-20 sets of triples at 185-225 with 1-2 minute rest between each set. Today’s session began with exactly that, ending with 60 minutes of 10 min level 13, 5 minutes level 16 on the stairstepper like we discussed in the previous article (posted on my Instagram @afronetix).
- You could also use a wheelbarrow with substantial load as well as a sled to push or pull.
A side note about “submaximal” work
Now, I’ve thrown around the term “sub-maximal” work around a lot in this article and that is to stress the point. I’m not talking about doing 5 rounds of 1RM Deadlift with an 800m run or doing 100 burpees and then running an obstacle course. Stuff like that is cool for testing, challenges or Military suck schools. That’s TESTING. I’m talking about TRAINING. The difference between the two is that if you just can’t do maximal effort whether it’s a 400m sprint or a 1RM bench every day. At least most of us can’t. We can do a lot of challenging but not exhaustive work on a daily or regular basis. Some of the examples I illustrated above may seem a little intense for the average gym goer, they are mentioned in the context of my wheelhouse which is moderate load, really high volume as a Tactical Athlete.
Regardless of your given athletic proclivity, you can take the information above and play with it. Take it and make it yours. Add whatever specificity you think is required to take your health, performance and or body composition goals to the next level. This is part 1 of a 4-part series. I hope you enjoyed the blog and got something useful out of it.
Any questions, comments, etc, DM me @afronetix on Instagram or email firstname.lastname@example.org. An appendix of short, medium length and extended conditioning methods is in the works with options for a variety of athletes as well as post-partum and other special population needs. Look for new content on the BeDiesel Youtube page with content from yours truly as well as my partner, former amature weightlifting and figure competitor as well as mother of 2 @femalebbcom. Thanks for reading. Now GO DO SOME PT!
SSG United States Army Infantry (sep.)
Master Fitness Trainer