It’s Okay to Condition

I realize some of you have an aversion to conditioning because of a disdain for CrossFit. Others consider conditioning a waste of time because they are primarily strength athletes — powerlifters, weightlifters, strongman competitors, or just someone who wants to be strong. Well, it’s time to stop being a baby and avoiding something that can help your strength training, your health, and your horizontal rumba.

“Conditioning” is a term that I use to represent “Endurance”. The latter is most often associated with long, slow distance (LSD) training, so I typically avoid using it. “Conditioning” technically also means “conditioning structures like muscles, tendons, bones, and ligaments to a stress”, so the term is actually too broad to use. Because of that, in FIT we used the phrase, “high intensity endurance training” to more properly define “high intensity conditioning”. High Intensity Endurance Training is what I’m referring to here when I say “conditioning”, and it can help a lifter.

At the very least, conditioning can help improve a lifter’s ability to recover in between sets. If a set of five is a strain on “conditioning capability”, then that’s problematic in a training program. Not only are the muscle fibers and motor neurons having to recover for the set, but the energy systems as well. If that same lifter had better conditioning capability, then the demand for the energy systems to recover would be removed, and they’d have quicker recovery between sets. That means they would be fresher to apply more force properly in the actual set, yet it would also help initiate overall recovery for the next workout because they are causing a lower overall stress.

Justin, Luiz, and Chris do some conditioning on Camel Back Mountain

Conditioning is also something that regulates body fat. The “why” is because of how high intensity conditioning causes a deficit in substrates. The body adapts in a way that it can handle that deficit of substrates again in the future, and one of the adaptations is lowering body fat in the long term. A skeptic can just look at the waif-like, yet lean figures in the men’s CrossFit population (the part that doesn’t strength train). Obviously there are more variables that go into body composition, but conditioning is something that improves performance but also can lower body fat. Compare that to something like “fasted cardio”; it’s only performed to decrease body fat and actually has some negative side effects (e.g. being on your feet and walking for 5 to 8 hours a week).

The cardiovascular and respiratory adaptations to conditioning training will also help acute and long-term health. It helps improve recovery between sets. Being able to sustain higher rates of work or sustain a given rate of work for longer will only augment your horizontal ramba capability, though it won’t improve your skill. There are many benefits a strength athlete can gain from conditioning, but the fear is that it will hurt the strength training or overall strength.

Chris has had this fear for a while. We talked about including two days a week of conditioning after the Arnold, but it wasn’t really implemented. As we visited together, I emphasized that conditioning — especially when placed in a program properly — won’t be debilitating to heavy strength training. We proved that this past weekend in Arizona. Chris had numerous factors that were negatively effecting his training: sleeping on a couch for a week, not eating good quantities or qualities of food, travelling, and being in the sun a lot. Then on Friday night, we climbed Camel Back Mountain with our buddy Luiz. Chris hasn’t climbed a mountain in five years and doesn’t really do conditioning. There were times when he had to stop to catch his breath on the climb, not to mention the hundreds of “lunges” he did going up and all of the eccentric work on his knees on the way down. Nevertheless, he came into the gym the next day (after more travelling) to squat up to 615 and 620 (video below). If there was a set of circumstances that would result in ruining his strength or strength training, it would have been what he went through in the last week.

The point? When conditioning is properly programmed, it will augment your health and training. It won’t be debilitating to your heavy days. Conditioning is relative to what a person is adapted to, and in the future we’ll look at how to determine what to do and how to do it.

20 thoughts on “It’s Okay to Condition

  1. It’s actually not Long Slow Distance, it’s Long STEADY distance and is woefully misunderstood…not unlike HIIT.

    In the research it’s referred to “Long-slow distance (LSD)”, and it’s terribly ineffective with poor adaptations for athletes and trainees who do not participate in anything other than LSD events. If you read “FIT” then you would see that LSD training is relevant and necessary for a variety of populations and adaptations. For a lifter’s purpose, it is absolutely not.


  2. Timely. I love hiking and backpacking, but after six months of not doing any conditioning in the gym, I’m slow as shit.

    Justin – any thoughts on conditioning for occassional, recreational backpacking? I don’t have time for regular rucking – would running/sprints/intervals have any carryover, despite being completely different time domains? I know CrossFit claims short intense workouts will address all endurance goals, but somehow that doesn’t sound right.

  3. Kind of weird you posted this. Last saturday a guy at my gym who does CFFB and I decided to have set conditioning days. Saturday (after squatting) is sprint day (no implements, sometimes change of direction oriented) and then Tuesdays (our deadlift day) we are doing “sled” work with a dragging sled or the prowler.

    cool story bro.

  4. I’ve been trying to do more conditioning and haven’t found that it ever interferes with strength training. Well, the first time I did sprints my low back was fucking killing me the next day with soreness, but that’s just because I hadn’t done it in a while.

    @Gumbo I’m an avid backpacker/hunter and have never found that lifting complicates rather than interferes with my backpacking. I actually program in the backpacking days as rest days. For instance I’ll train after work on Friday night, wake up and do a longish (5-10 mile in the mountains) hike on Saturday, camp out, do the same hike back on Sunday, then train as usual on Monday without any trouble. I think strength training carries over directly to backpacking ability. The pack feels lighter, I can go longer without stopping, and it really helps that certain part of the male body.

  5. I’m confused (it could be my English though). You talk about HIET. Isn’t this like barbell complexes you’ve mentioned in the past? Hiking seems to me like Low Intensity Endurance Training.
    And what’s the relation with the 3 types you present in the e-book. If my memory serves me, interval, all-out and prolonged effort.

    Off the topic question:
    In heavy weights (but doable) I slow down exactly where Chris does in the video with the 615. I pause but in the end I manage to complete the lift. Is this something common?

  6. I grew up down the street from Camelback Mountain. Good times. I’m assuming you took Echo Canyon, rather than that other lame trail. I used to climb it to condition for rowing every other morning during high school. I’d run into this one skinny yet extremely well-conditioned person of male gender who claimed to have gotten to the top in under 20 minutes. Pretty crazy.

  7. sup justin, thanks for the post this is definitely something that I have noticed in my training in taht I am stronger than before, but I tend to lose my endurance when doing higher reps or maxing out more. As a weightlifter, I am really now looking for ways to improve my endurance and to make sure I have enough gas left for a big ol clean and jerk. Any suggestions?

  8. I just got back from doing the Adult Presidential Fitness Test at my gym ( Not that anybody care’s tremendously but I did the 1.5 mile in 11:50, did 30 situps in a minute and 52 pushups. Oh and the sit and reach was 14 inches. My overall score was the 52 percentile (although the website uses half situps (crunches?) instead of full ones so I am shorting myself there. Anyways, it was pretty shitty, but I am going to continue to work on my conditioning and hopefully do much better at the end of the month.

  9. I’m anxious for the how/when to program within popular programs (SS, TM etc). I started conditioning twice a week, once after my volume day on TM and once on my intensity day. The conditioning consist of either sprints or barbell complexes not to exceed 20 mins total for the conditioning work.

    So far it’s worked well and hasn’t affected my strength. I’m slowly dropping some BF, which is what I was hoping for by adding the conditioning. I’m anxious to hear your strategies on when to implement and what.

    Nice job Chris on the squats! LOL at the filename, good catch harvey.

  10. Not to be critical of your free website, but we’re all friends here, so I’ll speak freely. Can you expand on the negatives of fasted cardio? Is it just the time constraints? I for one have had a much different experience then what you describe. Conditioning twice a week during a LP program wasn’t conducive to my recovery. I found myself worn out and progress stalling. Sure there were probably other things, but conditioning didn’t help the weight go up. Additionally this post seems counter to some of your earlier advice; specifically that strength trumps all and diet is the key to fat loss.

    My opinion means very little, but I find that I disagree with your posts more and more. I sense that you develop these ideas based off a small test base and it causes me to question the validity.

    But I don’t have a 1200 lb total, so wtf do I know.

  11. Not to be critical, but I would also like to know how the claims in this post are consistent with other claims that you never actually asserted. For example, how is this consistent with the view that I should never lift any weights heavier than three pounds? EXPLAIN YOURSELF, JUSTIN.

  12. I would think conditioning would be more detrimental to new/novice lifters. For a guy like Chris who squats well over 600 some high volume super low intensity lunges are a very low percentage of his work potential. For someone new who squats say 200 that same type of “conditioning” would really take a lot out of them.

    So if I’m right at what point is conditioning important? Once they are an intermediate (unless they are preparing for a meet)? Or do you think novices have need of conditioning work, in general?

  13. I agree with Puke…

    Also, I rather enjoy a good conditioning day but I don’t really know when its best to do them as far as not interfering with recovery goes. I just started my first attempt at the TM so I guess I am still feeling things out.

    Lastly, who has done some farmers this week?! Do you all try to move as fast as possible when you do them, or am I a tard?

  14. Maslow – good stuff. I definitely agree that lifting can help backpacking; my problem is figuring out what additional conditioning would be helpful. Right now, jogging a mile leaves me winded as fuck. And while that’s a totally different endurance domain than backpacking, my gut instinct is that it does not bold well. I mean, fuck LSD, but shouldn’t a fit Adult Male be able to crank out a few laps?

  15. @Stonewall – I always run farmer’s as fast as possible in short choppy steps so I don’t faceplant like a gordon. When I train events we shoot for 60-80ft in less than 10sec with a near max.

  16. I would like to hear more about the negatives of fasted, low intensity cardio as I have seen many get good results from using it.

    From personal experience, high intensity conditioning has done well to make me better at high intensity conditioning, but little else.

    I’d be curious to hear how you implemented either, given that it’s hard to do the latter correctly.

    Fasted cardio certainly has a good aesthetic adaptation, yet it isn’t something used to increase performance and is a hindrance to people who have a performance-based goal.


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