Conditioning is as essential to your game performance as is the strength and power you spend hours developing in the weight room. Without conditioning, your athleticism will go down the tubes and worse, you're more likely to get hurt from a sloppy or careless movement.
However, many athletes neglect conditioning work, and would rather spend time challenging their muscles over their energy systems.
"When you're done in the weight room, you're not done. That's one of the big, primary mistakes a lot of athletes make," says Michael Boyle, co-founder of Mike Boyle Strength and Conditioning. "Everybody likes the weight part, the strength training, the look good in the mirror part. Maybe people don't want to do their conditioning."
But it's not something you can ignore.
A better-conditioned athlete is more likely to succeed in the toughest moments of a game, even if they're not as strong, fast or talented. A better conditioning athlete can sprint faster and use more of their strength for a longer duration. They can recover faster after a tough play, and play at a level closer to their potential in the final minutes of a game.
Without question, it's one of the most important physical skills needed to succeed in their sport.
Also, a high level of conditioning can improve your strength workouts. Your body will be able to recover faster between sets and handle more work, which both lend to a higher quality workout that's more likely to benefit you.
So how do you do you improve your conditioning? Contrary to popular belief, the answer is not jogging or aimlessly riding a stationary bike unless you're an endurance athlete.
To help you get in shape fast, we consulted with some several top strength and conditioning coaches to learn about their go-to conditioning methods.
10/10/10/10 Treadmill Sprints
If I were to choose one modality, it would be Sprinting. Energy systems development should be centered around repeated but short bouts of explosive anaerobic work. Nothing is more dynamic in the human movement library than the acceleration and top-end gait mechanics of a Sprint. It also transfers extremely well into power and strength development, and of course, sports performance.
Here's my go-to Sprint conditioning workout that I call the 10/10/10/10, which you can do on a treadmill:
- 10 mph
- 10 incline
- 10 seconds on
- 10 seconds off
Repeat 10 times.
Air Bike Sprints
If I were given an athlete and I had to test or improve their conditioning, I'd have them jump right on an Assault Air Bike or AirDyne Bike for a one-minute max test.
Because I've never used a piece of equipment more grueling than an air exercise bike! More importantly, I can measure the amount of progression and provide the athlete with actual data on their performance.
The lactic acid shuttling that is involved with the air assault bikes is the highlight of this test. When athletes sprint—which is what is required in most sports—they produce lactic acid in the body. The more frequently an athlete produces lactic acid, the better they get at shuttling that lactic acid, which allows them to Sprint with more force for a longer period of time.
Also, this is a pure test of mental toughness.
The athlete is provided with a number at the end of 60 seconds. It could be 20, 25 or maybe 30 if they are a badass. On the next test, the athlete has a number to beat to drive them internally. As the days go on, athletes are motivated to nail this test, and in doing so drastically improve their lactic acid shuttling and mental toughness.
Finally, an air exercise bike has a small risk of injury compared to some other types of conditioning.
20-Minute Aerobic Circuits
The one area in strength training and sports performance that often gets neglected is building a solid base of aerobic capacity. As old school as it may sound, you need to have enough piles of wood chopped and prepared on-hand to keep that fire lit. A strong foundation of aerobic capacity is that wood.
The importance of building a base of aerobic capacity cannot be understated. Sure, aerobic capacity is boring and simple, but it's an important component to an overall training and performance program. It's a good way to build up work volume, endurance, stamina and a base level of conditioning.
Here is an example of a simple 20-minute aerobic circuit:
- Box Step-Ups x 2 min.
- Kettlebell Swings x 10
- Turkish Get-Up x 2 each side
- Jump Rope x 1 min.
- Bear Crawl x 5 each side
Repeat this circuit four times for a total of 20 minutes of work. You can watch the full video of the circuit below:
Having the ability to work continuously at a solid moving pace for a relatively long duration of time provides the body with an abundance of health and fitness benefits for longevity. Aerobic capacity work also provides a necessary aerobic base for all sports and training disciplines.
Sledgehammers, Sprints and Sled
Although there are a variety of tools, protocols, and exercises I incorporate when addressing conditioning, my go-to strategy is something I refer to as the "3 S's," which stands for sledgehammer, sprint and sled.
The sledgehammer is probably the single most effective full-body conditioning tool that utilizes every muscle in the body from head to toe in one dynamic, explosive fashion. However, the key lies in proper execution as most athletes fail to perform sledgehammer work correctly. Rather than cramming in a maximum number of reps in a given time, focus on using max power for each repetition with proper technique and mechanics, which you can see below:
This will drive your heart rate, breathing and muscular fatigue through the roof in a matter of seconds, maximizing the conditioning stimulus.
Sprints, on the other hand, involve repeated and rapid series of explosive coordinated motions. Rapid series of muscular contractions have been shown to produce incredibly high levels of ATP expenditure, fatigue, energy consumption, metabolic stress and caloric expenditure. It's no reason sprinting is responsible for more incidences of nausea-induced exercise than any form of training.
Lastly, the sled is not only one of the best tools for physical conditioning but for improving mental toughness. The degree of hydrogen ion and lactate accumulation (muscular burn) stress the body and mind more than just about any training stimulus in existence.
Combining sledgehammer work, sprints, and weighted sled drills will more than suffice for improving conditioning, fitness, work capacity and endurance in any seasoned athlete or fitness enthusiast.
Here's a sample Sledgehammer, Sprint and Sled workout:
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