If you are too caught up in low reps, always using heavy weight and taking longer rest periods, you are likely missing out on some great results. Which means it’s time you added higher rep work and shorter rest periods to your program, because surfing the heavy weight/low rep and light weight/high rep wave is what breeds high-performance muscle.
When I was a kid, a friend and I used to sneak into a local gym just to watch the guys lift weights. This one guy, Mark, who was built like a brick shithouse, showed us the ropes. If there was a holy grail of fitness, we thought, he must be in possession of it. Until one day all of that unraveled.
He entered a contest hosted by the gym, which involved lifting weights over multiple exercises, without the comfortable two to three-minute rest periods he was used to. Mark was annihilated. Within two short minutes he was a heap of mess, spread out on the floor, fighting for air. Although the weights were lighter than what he normally handled, he could barely get off the floor once fatigue was part of the game.
We didn’t see Mark in the same light after that – what a fraud we thought. In our green state back then, we thought a superhuman body must surely be coupled to superhuman ability – like a sports car. If it looks expensive and shiny, you expect a performance worthy of its look. You don’t expect it to break down one mile down the road. And that’s how it should be. So, since that day I promised myself never to be caught with my pants down by letting my conditioning slip. And neither should you.
So, do you have a look that shouts Ferrari, but with an engine of a Toyota Prius? Maybe years of focus on those beach muscles and too little on everything else has made you complacent? Many trainees still avoid conditioning work, because they fear it might eat up their hard-earned muscle. Unless you are doing excessive amounts of slow and steady, long-distance cardio, which hikes cortisol and decreases testosterone levels, this worry is absolutely unfounded.
It has long been established that short intermittent high-intensity conditioning methods are equal and, in some cases, even better than long cardio work for building aerobic capacity. Here are a few reasons why keeping your conditioning sharp using short high-intensity methods won’t interfere with your gains, but will even support them.
1. Better Recovery
Improving your aerobic capacity will aid recovery. The aerobic system plays a vital role in recovering from anaerobic efforts like strength training. Not only will you recover faster between sessions, but also in between sets. If that means you’re able to start your next set just a little earlier, you will lift more weight in less time and increase workout intensity, a welcome stimulus for muscle gain. Good conditioning can also help you squeeze out an extra 1-2 reps at the very end of your sets when things get tough.
2. Better Mobility
In my experience, lifters who do conditioning work tend to move better. Why? Because they are exposed to a wider range of movements at higher volumes, which does wonders for mobility, especially when using some unconventional tools like Kettlebells, Sandbags, Medicine Balls or Calisthenics, that put the body into positions it is not used to.
Good mobility is essential as it allows full range of motion on your lifts. Who is going to put on more muscle, the guy who cannot get his hips past knee level on the squat, or the guy that is able to squat all the way down?
Don’t forget, good mobility also reduces your risk of injury significantly and will help you stay young as you get older.
3. Good Health
Conditioning work boosts your immune system, making you less susceptible to illness. Less illness means no setbacks and no missed training sessions. No missed training sessions means better training results.
4. Lower Body Fat
Short, high-intensity conditioning methods torch body fat, by ramping up your metabolism and eliciting a favorable hormonal response. The leaner you are, the better primed your body is for putting on muscle. Too much body fat usually means higher estrogen levels and lower testosterone, which makes putting on muscle that much more difficult. Hitting a lactate-inducing finisher (a 5-10 minute metabolic HIIT) after your strength work will get some human growth hormone (HGH) flowing, which will assist your gains and keep your body fat low.
Add Conditioning Work To Your Workouts
No one’s asking you to die a slow death on any cardio machines. Instead, add a 5-10 minute finisher after your strength training twice a week. Keep in mind, this finisher should be fast and furious. Here are a few examples:
• 5-8 sets of slamming a battle rope for 20 seconds on and 20 off.
• Running through a bodyweight circuit of 4-6 exercises for three rounds.
• Doing as many dumbbell snatches as you can in five minutes
• Hitting the treadmill for half a dozen hill sprints lasting anywhere from 20-45 seconds.
You can also add separate Metabolic Conditioning days to your training. Try to employ exercises that differ from those in your strength routine. It’s a good way to expand your arsenal and keep things exciting, while polishing your skills in handling various types of training tools like kettlebells, sandbags and the like.
Remember to schedule adequate rest periods between sessions. Your central nervous system (CNS) needs time to recover from high-intensity conditioning, just as it does from strength work. But in the long run, your recovery will improve along with your aerobic capacity. That way you will bounce back stronger, so that you can dominate each and every workout.