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Conditioning – What energy system are you working?

So as you all know…I don’t like cardio very much.

Yea….yea…I know I’ve told you this a bazillion times before.

However, cardio conditioning IS an ESSENTIAL part of your workout program.

Put that doesn’t mean you should just throw in some jogging for a few minutes before or after your strength.

It doesn’t mean you should go out and run a bazillion sprints.

It doesn’t mean you should spend hours on the treadmill!

It means you should lay out a plan and make sure that you properly progress yourself through all three energy systems. (Starting to see a theme here?…Maybe a PLANNING or PROGRESSION theme!?!)

You may now be asking yourself…”Three energy systems?”

YEP! There are three different energy systems that you want to work when you do cardio conditioning and each has a separate, but equally valuable, part to play.

By varying which energy zone you use during your conditioning, you can vary the intensity of your workouts to prevent yourself from overtraining.

Ok…so to start, let’s discuss all three energy zones – the aerobic, lactic anaerobic and alactic anaerobic.

The zone all beginners need to start in and the zone that all athletes need to return to keep from overtraining and to keep their base strong is the aerobic zone.

The aerobic zone is our more steady state cardio conditioning (consistent activity for about 2 minutes +). When working in this energy zone, your heart rate should be between about 65%-75% of your max heart rate.

In this zone, you work on improving the strength of your heart and your body’s oxygen delivery systems so that your cells can work to their full capacity.

You don’t need to run for hours to improve your aerobic conditioning.

For example, at the end of your workout, you could do two minutes of battling ropes with less than two minutes of rest between rounds for 5 rounds.

You could do constant locomotion (jogging, shuffling, high knees, skipping) for five minutes. (Trust me your heart rate gets up.)

Or if you do want to dedicate a whole day to conditioning, maybe you do jog, bike or walk slowly for 30 minutes to one hour. It can even be a leisure activity that you use as active rest.

However you decide though to get in your aerobic conditioning make sure that you do in fact do it. Too often people skip this step and go straight to the sprints.

And while I personally prefer sprints and such to longer bouts of cardio, those longer bouts of cardio ARE super important for athletes at all levels.

The next energy system is where we encounter the lactic threshold and start to tap into our anaerobic energy systems. It is called the lactic anaerobic.

Anaerobic energy systems supply us with energy for only short bouts of high intensity activity. Our anaerobic systems supply us with energy through chemical reactions that don’t require oxygen whereas the aerobic system does require oxygen.

This energy system, in which our heart rate is between 80-85% of our max, is best worked when we do a more intense bout of cardio for about 30 seconds to 90 seconds.

It is believed that if you have a higher lactic threshold, you can continue at a higher intensity for longer before tiring, which can be super important for athletes in high intensity endurance sports.

But even if you aren’t an athlete, it is important to include conditioning for this system because it improves our work capacity. The harder and longer we can work before enough lactic acid builds up to fatigue our muscles the more we can get out of some of our very intense workouts!

The third system, the alactic system, is also an anaerobic system.

When working our alactic system our heart rate should be between 86-90% of our max heart rate. To work this system it is best to do any activity that is high intensity and can fatigue you in about 8-12 seconds.

We use tsunamis, sprints and Versa Climber a lot when doing conditioning for this energy zone.

The key here is to pick something that truly fatigues you in 8-12 seconds.

And this zone…well you need to EARN this zone. If you are a beginner, don’t start with this.

Beginners or even athletes who have taken time off may want to spend at least a month doing only aerobic conditioning on top of their strength training.

Once you’ve built up your aerobic base, then move into some lactic anaerobic conditioning. After a few weeks to even a couple of months of training in both, then add in alactic training.

You need to make yourself EARN the next stage of training. You also need to make sure that all systems are strong. If you only do 30-90 second conditioning, you really aren’t making yourself as fit or as strong as you could be.

You need to do all three levels of conditioning if you want to reach your full potential.

NEXT you need to figure in on which days you are going to include what type of training. If you train only three times a week, at the end of your strength training you may want to add one day of level one or aerobic conditioning, one day at level 2 (lactic) and one day at level 3 (alactic).

If you train five days a week, you don’t want to include more than two days of level 3 conditioning and you want to make sure to vary the days so that after a hard day of conditioning you get an easier day of conditioning.

Don’t make yourself train at the same intensity day in and day out! It won’t get you near the results that fluctuations in training intensities will!

And on top of planning out on which days you are going to do what level of conditioning, you must also consider REST intervals.

Each energy system’s requirements are slightly different, but to simplify….

Aerobic – Beginners can have about equal rest to work. Advanced try to make there be as little rest as possible

Anaerobic Systems (lactic and alactic) – Beginners can have about 3 to 5 times rest to work. So if you are a beginner and work for one minute (lactic), you will need between 3-5 minutes of rest. You want to try to be close to fully recovered when you go again. As you become more advanced you can cut your rest down. You may do something like 10 seconds of work (alactic), 20 seconds of rest as you become more advanced.

Make sure that you plan out how much rest you are giving yourself because rest can be a great way to PROGRESS yourself. It is another option not as frequently used as upping the number of rounds that you do. (But it actually may be even MORE beneficial in many cases!)

So even though I don’t love cardio, I do in fact include conditioning in my workouts and I DO make sure to work all three systems.

Now the question is…Do you? What do you consider when planning out your cardio conditioning?

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