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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?

Sports Specific Training

So for the last few weeks I’ve been training the Vanguard Women’s Volleyball Team.

Before I developed a program for them, I did my research. I looked up common injuries. I studied how volleyball players move. I attended their games to watch their SPECIFIC movement patterns. And I looked at many traditional volleyball training programs.

What I found was a lot of jump training. Olympic lifts. Box jumps. Sprinting. All the usual suspects were being used.

And don’t get me wrong…I love Olympic lifts.  I love box jumps. I even love sprinting (actually it is really the only form of cardio I do enjoy).

But the more research I did, the more things just didn’t add up.

If many volleyball players suffer from shoulder injuries, why do snatches and jerks which would only serve to put more strain on their shoulders? And on top of the fact that many suffer from shoulder injuries, being college students, most of them are hunched over computers and books for a good portion of the day. This constant daily forward flexion and rounding of their shoulders increases their risk for injury when moving heavy loads overhead because they don’t have the range of motion to really get their shoulders up overhead without compensating.

And then on top of that even, Olympic lifts are really freaking complicated to get right. First off, they take a great amount of flexibility to really do correctly. Second, they take great stability. Third, they are complex motions with lots of moving parts which can easily be messed up! And fourth, to get people to move the loads that will actually benefit them takes a long time to build up to…Time that frankly I just didn’t want to waste at this point.

Ok so Olympic lifts were out…at least to start with. So…what about box jumps?

Eh…I would use them but they wouldn’t be the basis of my program. Box jumps could be great, but aren’t the BEST explosive power move. I would use them to work on landing mechanics but they wouldn’t be part of the daily routine.

Plus I wanted something that would get them stronger without being too redundant. They do a lot of jumping already.

Anyway, as I started analyzing programs, I started to realize that we needed to work on upper body strength and upper body flexibility more than I saw in many other programs. Elbow and wrist injuries were also common yet none of the programs really included any grip and forearm/hand strengthening.

Also, while watching the girls play, I was amazed at how much diving, rolling and mulitplanar movements there were. Rarely were they lunging forward or backward. Rarely were the squatting straight down. So…I figured we really need to work on stability in ALL planes of motion.

I had my work cut out for me. I wanted to build up their strength, but I had to do it slowly since their tendons needed time to catch up to their muscles AND they were also doing outside conditioning and practicing with their coach. I needed to work on the basics.

So I included the traditional squat and a traditional hip hinge, which I knew they would have already mastered or be able to master quickly so we could increase load. These would help them gain strength so that they could be explosive and powerful on the court. Strength always precedes power!

I then included speed, agility and quickness drills to improve their coordination and reaction time. If they wanted to react quickly on the court, they needed to work on their mind-body connection!

AND finally I addressed their areas of injury and their need to move in all planes of motion. I didn’t load them down with weight for these exercises. Actually all of them were simply body weight variations. I did lunges in different planes of motion. I used the sliders when necessary to make things more difficult. I did handstand holds and other isometric holds to work on scapular retraction to help their shoulder stability and strength. I did a ton of pulling motions, such as rows and pull up holds to work on their upper back and help improve their posture to improve their range of motion.

I even made sure to include plenty of grip work, which was definitely harder than most of them expected!

Of course there was also a lot of core work to help them stabilize when diving and rolling and a conditioning piece at the end to help them outlast and out-perform their opponents (none of which by the way was sprinting but will most definitely help them…and even improve their sprinting!).

So to sum up this long rambling post, the point is that you can’t just look up a workout program and figure it will work. I understand why so many athletic trainers use Olympic lifts because they are great and do really have many power and strength benefits for sports. But you can’t just look and train for one aspect of the sport. You need to consider injuries. Movement patterns. What athletes are doing when they aren’t playing or training. And even all of the new and INNOVATIVE training methods that are now out there. You want to help a player move better on the court, but that doesn’t mean that you should do the exact movements they do on the playing field! That also doesn’t mean you can’t use those movements.

The point is there is a lot to consider.

And that doesn’t just go for college volleyball players. It holds true for everyone!

When you design a program for yourself, you have to consider many of these same variables. What are you looking to improve? What repetitive movements or odd positions do you find yourself in during the day that may create bad postural alignment and compensations that lead to injuries? How do you want to be able to move during the day? Are you looking to get better at running or chasing after a kid because chasing after a kid is a lot more than simply having energy and running straight ahead. It means quick cuts and potentially lots of random twisting and turning!

Anyway, just think about some of these things the next time you write up a workout. Consider your specific “sport’s” variables!

P.S. Probably even the most important part of all of this is the mental aspect I’ve included in their training. Right from the warm up everyone is together and motivated, which is huge if you really want a team to be strong and work well together!

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