As I’ve gotten older and the long term addiction to strength above all else, has waned, I have revised my training schedule and priorities. Whilst maintaining, or at least slowing the decline of my physical strength is important, it is no longer paramount. I have become more aware, and appreciative of the importance of conditioning.
For many years, in fact most of my training life, I relied on merely lifting weights to maintain my fitness and health. Many of my peers did the same, for some, their preoccupation with strength meant that anything lasting over 5 repititions was deemed as cardio. The advent of strongman training was probably the initial catalyst for change for me. Participation in these events certainly revealed how totally out of condition I was. Whilst my strength levels were ok, I was unable to sustain exertion for very long before getting gassed. This made me acutely aware of the importance of conditioning.
In fact, conditioning, mobility, flexibility, general physical preparedness, bodyfat percentage and callisthenic ability have all assumed greater priority than before.
Whilst training with the barbell is still performed to a lesser degree, for me, it is no longer a priority. There are some movements however that require this training modality – the deadlift is one of these.
Whilst kettlebell swings and other posterior chain exercises are great movements, none are more effective at building or maintaining functional back strength, than deadlifts and it’s derivatives. Some things you just can’t let go.
So I still deadlift, albeit less frequently.
The Importance of Conditioning
Whilst just being big and strong feels great, often it is not the healthiest state to be in, especially if you are carrying large percentages of bodyfat. Whilst it gives us the best means of moving external static weight – an obvious neccesity in powerlifting and strongman competition, often our athleticism and ability at moving our own body through space is severely compromised, and vastly inferior to lighter smaller athletes. An obvious example of this can be observed in comparisons with gymnasts and masters of callisthenics.
In fairly recent years, although my static strength levels were at their highest, my ability to effectively perform movements such as dips, pull-ups, and rope climbing had markedly declined.
I came to the conclusion that gaining fat and excess bodyweight in order to improve static strength is hardly useful if you’re unable to pull yourself up for double digit reps, or perform dips and push- ups for high repetitions.
Now in my more advanced years, I am additionally thinking about health and longevity, much more than I previously considered it. Being de-conditioned and overweight is not conducive to either athleticism or good health.
Don’t underestimate the importance of conditioning
Whilst we’re all going to leave this mortal coil at some point, we can see that many are passing well before their time. We often know or hear about lifters and ex-athletes dying too soon. They are often personal friends. As you get older, it happens more frequently that we lose someone close to us, due usually to a heart attack, or associated cardio vascular event.
At this point, or soon afterward you may find yourself reflecting on your own lifestyle choices, and their potential effect on your long term health. This may cause you to make new commitments and changes, in order to ward off an early demise.
At these times, we commonly make improvements in our diet, and reduce our bad living habits, whilst increasing our exercise levels.
Inevitably however, time passes and we revert back to our former lifestyles – until we are again shocked out of our complacency by yet another loss to humanity.
Think about this if you have been neglecting your conditioning. Most people hate cardio. Mainly this is due to a locked-in misguided belief of how cardio should be performed. I used to hate it myself – but discovered that there are solutions to this. In fact this type of training can actually enhance strength programs, rather than taking away from them, if it is performed appropriately.
Appropriately does not mean running excessive distances, or spending endless hours on a bike or treadmill. This type of steady state cardio is not particularly beneficial to health or strength. Look at the emaciated bodies of long distance runners if you want to see evidence of this.
During steady-state cardio training, your heart rate stays at approximately 50 to 80 percent of your maximum heart rate. This helps improve your cardiorespiratory stamina, or endurance, but does not assist recovery after high-intensity exercise or other short bursts of activity.
Sprint, or interval, training is much more appropriate for this type of cardio conditioning.
Short intense workouts utilising bouts of exertion with short periods of rest in between is the most efficient means of attaining high levels of conditioning.
Benefits of conditioning
Many trainees underestimate the importance of conditioning. Besides the eternal muscles, the heart muscle benefits from being conditioned. As the heart muscle becomes stronger, it becomes more efficient at transporting blood throughout the body.
Likewise conditioning exercise improves the strength and health of your lungs. Your lungs will be conditioned to become more efficient.
By doing more conditioning exercise, you will be able to exert more energy for longer periods of time without getting gassed.
Additionally, your overall levels of fitness will determine the efficiency with which your body uses and assimilates nutrients. It will also determine how rapidly your recovery processes work – an essential aspect of gaining size and strength. Conditioning training also offers injury prevention benefits because the trainee will become stronger and more flexible.
Alongside important physical improvements this training also confers the benefits of improved mood and increased confidence.
In order to incorporate an effective conditioning program, you don’t even have to make a radical departure from your existing strength routine. Just add a few movements as finishers to the end of your workout – such as a few sets of high repetition dumbell snatches, or clean and jerks. Alternatively perform heavy bag punch-outs if your gym has a heavy bag. Even better, if you are lucky enough to have access to a Prowler then please use it – this beast is king when it comes to conditioning work.
Otherwise a different approach is to utilise a modality that combines both cardio and strength training. The best method in my opinion is to employ kettlebells. There is a small learning curve associated with their effective use, but they are unsurpassed in my opinion, for combining strength and conditioning. There are a vast array of effective strength and conditioning kettlebell workouts available to watch online.
For those of you interested in kettlebell training, Gymless Steve has compiled a video list of 111 kettlebell movements categorised by type and difficulty level. You can check it out here: http://www.manvsweight.com/
Whilst improving our conditioning is no guarantee of a long healthy life, it should assist in prolonging our quality of life. Additionally life-changing illnesses such as diabetes can effectively be warded off by employing conditioning exercises. Don’t underestimate the importance of conditioning.
By focusing on functional movements like sprinting uphill, or running stairs, coupled with ballistic work with kettlebells, pull ups, push up variations, and occasional deadlifting, I have effectively managed to preserve my strength, whilst vastly improving my conditioning. My resting pulse has fallen from 78 to under 50 beats per minute. My bodyfat levels are at their lowest for many years and aesthetically my physique is better than its ever been, I will be 59 next year,
Make time for conditioning – it will help improve and extend your quality of life, and enhance your strength, mobility and muscularity if performed correctly.