How To Build a Better Body – Part 3: Physical Conditioning

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In How To Build A Better Body – Part 1 and How To Build A Better Body – Part 2 we went over how to achieve better and faster fast loss and how to add more muscle. Now we are going to look at the third training component of building a better body and that’s conditioning.

Usually people want everything. They want to build some muscle, burn body fat and get lean and on top of that they tell you they want to have super fitness. Ask them what they define as fitness and they’ll usually describe endurance. Too many people associate endurance as fitness, when endurance is only a component to the fitness equation.

What we really should be striving for is improved all around physical conditioning and increased work capacity. Think about the physical conditioning level of an athlete for a second. Pretty impressive isn’t it. Not only that, but athletes have tremendous work capacity, which allows them to not only recover better between training sessions, but it also allows them to train at higher intensities and to do so more frequently.

Too many people think adding more and more endurance training is what’s going to make them fitter. NO, that’s what will increase your endurance, and that’s ALL it will improve. Adding more and more mileage each week is not going to build you a better body.

Instead you should partake in activities that will focus on training density and increased work capacity. For example, you are going to perform the following session on a treadmill or track:

6 x 200m @ 30 second pace with 120 seconds rest between each repetition

Looking at the above information, you know you will be doing 3 minutes of work (6 x 30 seconds = 3 minutes). You also know that you will have 5 rest periods (one between each of the 6 reps) and each rest period is going to last 2 minutes (120 seconds) so that’s 10 minutes of rest time (5 x 2 minutes = 10 minutes).

Now, let’s look at what we would do to increase the training density of this session by only changing one variable. We will keep the exact same session plan (6 x 200m), and we will perform them at the same pace of 30 seconds per rep. The variable we will change is the rest interval between reps.

This is how we will manipulate the rest intervals over the course of several training sessions in order to increase the density of this workout. (I’m just assuming we are only doing this session once per week).

  • Week 1 and 2: 6 x 200m @ 30 second pace – 120 seconds rest (2 minutes)
  • Week 3 and 4: 6 x 200m @ 30 second pace – 105 seconds rest (1 minute 45 seconds)
  • Week 5 and 6: 6 x 200m @ 30 seconds pace – 90 seconds rest (1 minute 30 seconds)

So as you can see from the weekly sessions above, we are doing the exact same session. All we are doing is manipulating the rest intervals to increase the density of the session. The entire session on weeks one and two will take 13 minutes to complete, whereas when we get to weeks five and six the same workout will only take 10 ½ minutes to complete. Basically we have performed the same volume of work but achieved this in less time, 2 ½ minutes less time.

This is just one small sample of density training. What we could also do is to add in a 7th repetition when we complete the six weeks. The session will now take 12 ½ minutes to complete, but this is still less than the initial workout time of 13 minutes on weeks one and two and we have also increased the training volume from 1200m to 1400m with the addition of the 7th repetition.

“Work Capacity is the ability to tolerate a high workload and to recover sufficiently for the next workout. Raising work capacity will improve ones capacity to resist fatigue. It involves the functional efficiency and coordination of the cardiovascular, metabolic, and nervous system. It is more than endurance. The key is functional efficiency of all systems working together to increase work capacity. An increase in work capacity will allow a person to work more efficiently and get more out of each training session. In the language of training theory it falls into the category of General Physical Preparation (GPP) type of work.” Vern Gambetta

What Vern is saying here is that you need to train you body as a ‘UNIT’ and train ‘ALL’ bodily systems in harmony. Not necessarily altogether but there needs to be balance. Using metabolic type circuits and ‘workout finishers’ are an example of interval training mixed with bodyweight resistance exercise that serve to ramp up your metabolism and help overall conditioning at the same time!

Let’s now look at some work capacity circuit ideas and some useful workout finishers.

Work Capacity Circuits: For a simple work capacity circuit we will use 4 exercises most people will be, or should be, familiar with. Push Ups, Inverted Body Rows, Dumbbell Front Squats and Alternating Lunges performed with bodyweight only.

To perform a work capacity circuit we will simply perform each exercise for a prescribed number of repetitions. Let’s say 10 reps (20 in total for the alternating lunges – 10 per leg).

Now, all you do is choose your work period. Let’s say 15 minutes. All you now do is go through this circuit repeatedly until the 15 minutes has elapsed. Once 15 minutes is up you will stop wherever you are at and record how many circuits (how much work) you have performed.

The next time you do the 15 minute work capacity circuit the aim is to get more circuits (more work) performed in the 15 minute time period. It’s as simple as that.

Workout Finishers: These are used at the end of your normal sessions and should replace any slog-work like a useless 30 minute run performed after a full body resistance training session.

A very simple workout finisher to use would be tabatas. This basically means performing 8 x 20 second intervals of work with 10 seconds rest between each 20 second interval. The complete protocol will take 4 minutes to complete. Now if you find the 20-10 protocol too hard initially start at 20 seconds of work followed by 20 seconds of rest. This will keep the work to rest ratio constant and you can then proceed to 20-15 once conditioning improves and then ultimately progress to the 20-10 protocol.

You would normally do just one exercise and perform this x 8 sets of 20 seconds. You can, however, use two exercises and alternate each set doing 4 total sets of each exercise.

The best exercises for tabatas are push ups, inverted body rows, bodyweight squats, med ball slams, burpees and various jump exercises (for advanced level trainees).

The key with tabatas is to make sure you achieve the same amount of repetitions each round. So if you use bodyweight squats and achieve 20 reps in round 1 (1 rep per second) you should be aiming to get 20 reps for all 8 rounds.

I will post a new article shortly showing you how to use ‘Descending Metabolic Circuits’ as workout finishers and why they are so effective for fat loss and conditioning.

REMEMBER, Train To Increase Your Work Capacity, NOT Simply Endurance. Improving your work capacity will enable you to train your body harder when you do train and it will also allow you to train harder more frequently should you decide to train with more frequency!

Conditioning Programs and The Importance of Variety: When training for improved conditioning VARIETY is very important. We are not looking to adapt to a particular routine or training style. It is important to incorporate VARIETY into the conditioning schedule in order to prevent staleness and boredom. Make sure to checkout How To Build A Better Body – Part 1: Faster Fat Loss
and How To Build A Better Body – Part 2: Build More Muscle.

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About Author

Ian Graham

My training philosophy is to always train individuals like they are athletes. Even if they are not competing in any sport, they can gain from this athletic approach. We are all designed to perform like athletes. The athletic approach can help anyone achieve their health and fitness, fat loss and muscle building goals! See my profile page for more information!

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