Strength AND Conditioning!

Strength AND Conditioning!

If you look at all the content we produce, you’ll find we spend most of our time providing information on how to correctly perform the barbell lifts. Instructional after instructional after instructional on the physics of the squat, how to involve your hips in the press, or why you should probably pull conventional rather than sumo, just to name a few. We do this for good reason. 

At the end of the day, before we talk about what foods you should eat to put on muscle, how to optimize your sleep, and even how to program your lifts as an intermediate, we want to make sure you know how to perform the basic barbell lifts correctly. Strength is the most important aspect of physical fitness and there is no better way to get strong than with a barbell. 

So that’s the way it should be, right? I know that I’m a strength AND conditioning coach, but doesn’t everyone know how to put on their tennis shoes and go for a run? The strength part of coaching should be the focus, right? Well, maybe. 

While you should focus on getting through the novice phase of your strength training before focusing on anything else; if your goal is overall health and longevity, your cardiovascular fitness is still important. 

old person deadlift
Yes, you should solely focus on getting stronger early on because, well, you are weak. And if you are weak, then getting stronger is the best use of your time. Getting stronger will not only increase your force production (strength), but it will also improve your cardiovascular fitness. 

With all that said, at what point should you add in some cardiovascular work? Or should you ever do cardio?  A lot of strength coaches (me included) will tell you that if you are strong, you can quickly build up your cardiovascular health with just a few weeks of training. 

This is true, assuming that with your strength training, you are also maintaining a healthy body weight. If you are 220lbs and can deadlift 375, that’s great. I’m happy that you have that deadlift strength. However, I don’t want you to think that at 5’4 and weighing 220lbs, you will be able to run an 8 minute mile with just 2 weeks of training.  You have prioritized strength at this junction in your life. (Bill has now deadlifted 345 at 160 lbs)

This is why I often recommend that the average trainee include two cardiovascular sessions a week on top of their resistance training. One session consists of High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT), and the other consists of 45min – 1.5hrs of zone 2-3 work. 

Your HIIT session can be done after one of your training sessions or even on an off day if having something to do in the gym on more than just your resistance training days is motivating to you. While I think this session is important, do not kill yourself the first time incorporating it. Maybe just do 2-3 rounds at the end of a workout and see how you feel. As you get more advanced, you can lengthen the “sprint” session.

For the second session, I generally want you to do something you enjoy. Anything that gets you moving, gets your heart rate into at least zone 2 and lasts for a minimum of 30 minutes, but hopefully is close to an hour. This could be hiking with your wife, surfing, going for a bike ride, or a pickup sport game in the park. You can also do this on a treadmill inside the gym like a psychopath, but I prefer you make it enjoyable. 

hiking with wife

Now with that said, when life gets busy, and you start to run out of “training time,” I recommend that the slow session is the first to go if something must. If that goes and you still find yourself still short on time, ditch the HIIT session. But to the best of your ability, ALWAYS make your resistance training sessions your priority (even if you must shorten them). 

If life is so busy that at a minimum, you can get to the gym 2-3 days per week for one hour then go in and hit the big four lifts. Retain your strength! Your conditioning CAN come back faster than your strength can. 

This happened to me in the first quarter of this year. As a company, we were preparing for and executing the Arnold Sports Festival right before my wife and I were personally moving to South Carolina. Anyone who has ever moved knows that it sounds easier than it is. And while I am regimented, on April 4th, I found myself not having done either of my conditioning sessions since February. 

arnold sports festival 2023
Even though I had not missed a resistance training session, I was quickly finding that staircases were winding me, and on heavy sets of 5 in my training, I was gassed. My biggest fear was that my Marine Corps Physical Fitness Test was looming at the end of May, so I had about 5 weeks to turn the ship around. How fitting… Can you really turn your cardio shape around in a few weeks? 

Well, I went from a 36-minute 3 mile to a 23:34 3 mile in about 4.5 weeks. As a Marine Officer, I’m not proud of that run time but considering how quickly I shaved some time off after a time when life was busy, I am okay with it. 

I do not know where you are in your training right now. But if you’ve been training a while and are strong, I would encourage you to ensure that you are also working on your cardiovascular fitness along with your strength. In this week’s video, I outline what I did in those 4 weeks to get myself back into “shape.” I hope you find it helpful. 


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