info@kabukistrength.com | 503-974-0222

Optimizing Conditioning For Strength Sports

Optimizing Conditioning For Strength Sports

by Chris Duffin January 05, 2023

An athlete recently asked me how to achieve peak conditioning and peak strength levels simultaneously. To his disappointment, I noted this realistically could not be achieved. But the two are not mutually exclusive. In fact the correct interplay of both conditioning and strength can maximize your performance in both.

Maximizing performance in your desired objective (either strength or conditioning) doesn’t mean simply incorporating the opposite and hoping for the best. Imagine an endurance runner tossing in a bunch of strength training leading into a running event or a large out-of-shape powerlifter slamming out a bunch of cardio leading into a meet. In both scenarios, the athlete will likely reduce their performance in their events. CrossFit has done an excellent job at incorporating training across the strength and conditioning spectrum (or broad modal domains in CF language), but at the same time, its athletes are not in “peak” shape at any specific point within those spectrums.
 

At this point, it may sound like I’m all for very specific training for competitive athletes. This is not the case and in fact I firmly believe maximal performance on the platform (or whatever the performance venue) requires incorporation of both strength and conditioning. It becomes not a question of “should you” but “how.” If you’re focusing on strength athletes, as this article does, the key point is to setup your training so the conditioning is supporting you as reach your strength objectives. Often, conditioning is implemented as a secondary goal, but done so in a manner that detracts from the primary objectives, when it could be accelerating them.

Looking at pure strength sports, such as powerlifting or Olympic lifting, it can be argued conditioning has no direct application at the time of the event. With a mixed sport such as Strongman, it becomes a little less clear. In pure strength sports, the competitive event involves strength, speed, and technique, with conditioning hardly impacting the outcome of the performance. If, however, we take a step back to the training leading to the event, we will see a different story. An athlete with improved conditioning will be able to train harder and longer and recover faster, allowing them to get more out of their training cycle leading to the event. If you take two athletes of the same strength levels (all other factors the same) the one who has better conditioning leading into the meet training cycle will simply perform better due to these factors.

Conversely, an athlete pushing too hard on the conditioning side during their competitive training cycle will not have the energy reserves or recovery ability to maximize their strength training. Let’s take a look at it, as we did in the example above, but change it to two athletes of the same strength and conditioning levels leading into a competitive training cycle. The athlete who simply coasts and tries to maintain his conditioning levels with the focus being on his strength training will outperform the athlete who continues pushing both as hard as he can. The “coasting on” of conditioning levels can be taken even a step further – by constructing waves of conditioning micro-cycles you can realize strength bumps at key points in the training cycle and for the meet.

I’m sure I’ve bored you with the theoretical at this point. Let’s talk application. I’m going to provide you with some examples of how I arrange training cycle for a competitive strength event for myself and some of my athletes. The training plan example we are going to step into is not for a new athlete, but someone who has already developed a fair-to-significant level of strength and conditioning. The concepts can be used for other conditions, but for example purposes we are going to stick with one training plan.

With a 12-18 week meet training cycle in mind, I will back off 8 weeks prior to the start of that. During this 8 week block I keep the weights at a moderate level and focus primarily on bringing up conditioning levels. Often, the weight training sessions are set up as circuit training to maintain focus on conditioning as well. The first 6 weeks of this training block I will ramp up the conditioning and then taper it down the last two weeks. If someone is in moderate conditioning levels to begin with, a 6 week period of intense conditioning training is all that is needed.

After the pre-training conditioning block, we move into the strength training cycle. With the taper at the end of the conditioning block we should be primed to start ramping up the strength training. I usually do 6 week training blocks. With each 6 week training block, I overlay my conditioning (labeled Work Capacity in the chart) work. As I wave my strength-training block up, I wave my conditioning down. I repeat this 2-3 times, each time waving the strength training a little higher. In the final block I deload the strength training along with the conditioning deload leading into the meet. (Read more about the lead up to competition here)

In the example above I’m only showing two variables, but you can obviously use several methods to wave your strength and conditioning levels. For Work Capacity I just looked at the number of HIIT (high intensity interval training) GPP (General Physical Preparedness) sessions done per week for conditioning. This works well for me as I have a number of fixed sessions for team members, thus making it easy to manage. For strength training I just summarized with a fictional % intensity figure. This can be handled via periodization, block periodization, conjugate (my personal preference), or other training methods.

  • Block 1 – Conditioning ramp up “pre” competitive cycle
    Block 2 – Strength training waved up, conditioning waved down
    Block 3 – Strength training waved up, conditioning waved down
    Block 4 – Strength training waved up and then down, conditioning waved down

Another way to visualize this is by imagining the amount of resources you are dedicating to recover in each of these aspects each week. That allocation will be changed during each block, transitioning from Work Capacity to Strength, while the entire block is waved upwards in intensity. An example of what this would look like with the same training cycle is shown below.

Staging your conditioning training correctly will allow you to incorporate it in a manner supporting and accelerating your strength training, versus it detracting if done incorrectly. In addition, you will typically have the side benefits of being leaner, with better abs, and not having to pant when reach the top of a flight of stairs – which is always a plus.




Chris Duffin
Chris Duffin

Author




Also in Articles and Education

Training Should Be Corrective and Rehabilitative
Training Should Be Corrective and Rehabilitative

by Daniel DeBrocke January 09, 2023

A common problem is the neglect lifters have toward their orthopedic health. At least until they become injured and are forced to address it. Unfortunately, they turn to theraguns, foam rolling, static stretching, and other approaches that often do little to move the needle. What people often get wrong is their training should simultaneously enhance their performance and address their long term health. In this article I’ll cover how to effectively incorporate corrective work into your training (and no, I’m not talking about spending an hour using therabands). 

Read More

The Men’s Mental Health Crisis
The Men’s Mental Health Crisis

by Daniel DeBrocke January 06, 2023

The writing of this article was prompted by all the social media posts I’ve seen talking about men’s mental health. Apparently November is men’s mental health month. That is unless you’re struggling with your own mental health issues. Then, every month, week, and day may very well be an ongoing struggle. Although throughout this article I’ll be referencing comparative data between men and women and differing demographics, the point is not to prop up men's suffering above women or anyone else for that matter. It’s simply there to elucidate the current state of men’s mental health, which is the central focus of this article. “Einstein is quoted as having said that if he had one hour to save the world he would spend fifty-five minutes defining the problem and only five minutes finding the solution” (1). This mentality exists in contrast to the current lack of awareness pertaining to the drivers of psychological ill-health. Social media and articles routinely discuss what to do if you’re depressed, anxious, suicidal, etc. But seldom does anyone discuss the complexity of the subject. Unfortunately, without truly understanding the issues that lead to ill-health it’s unlikely to come up with an effective solution and subsequent prevention strategies. Therefore the aim of this article is as follows:

Read More

Is Full Range Of Motion Actually Better For Muscle Growth?
Is Full Range Of Motion Actually Better For Muscle Growth?

by Daniel DeBrocke January 06, 2023

Optimizing exercise range of motion to maximize muscle growth is a popular topic to discuss. As new research emerges, it often leaves you with more questions about the fundamental mechanisms and application of hypertrophy training. Mechanical tension is known as a primary driver of hypertrophy. Therefore it stands to reason that training a muscle through larger ranges of motion will create more tension, resulting in a greater hypertrophic stimulus. Although this makes sense at face value, it’s ultimately an unsatisfactory answer. At deeper levels of analysis, mechanical tension alone (or at least our current model) can not explain some of the observed outcomes we see both in the literature and anecdotally. The aim of this article is to provide a brief review of the topic, provide context to the ROM discussion, and offer practical recommendations to implement into your own training. 

Read More