We’ve all seen the memes out there about anything more than 5 reps is cardio, right?
Ask any powerlifter and they will either agree or they will chuckle and disagree. (if they were honest they would go ahead and agree and quit lying)
So some of the things I’ve learned over the years is that conditioning certainly has an effect on our ability to lift more weight.
Improved aerobic capacity can lead towards greater overall work capacity, training volume, and will have a faster recovery between sets.
If you comb through the comments on some of the workouts, you’ll see many people asking for rest periods between sets. The fact is rest periods really depend on your level of conditioning.
Someone who can go up a flight of stairs without losing stride will recover between sets much faster than someone who is out of breath after a flight of stairs.
So when I give estimations on about how long I feel it should take, you need to take all of this into consideration – not everyone is built the same.
Tips to Improve Your Strength and Conditioning
So hopefully by now you are starting to realize that your conditioning has a direct correlation with how much you can train, how much work capacity you have (how much you can lift), and how fast you can recover between sets.
Lets get on with the tips, shall we?
Walking Makes a Difference
If you were hoping that I come out of the gate with some magical tip to increase your strength and conditioning, I am sorry.
Walking, especially for powerlifters, is an extremely effective way to increase your conditioning and work capacity. I enjoy using this method on days I may have low energy or on recovery days; it is easy on the body and will help keep your heart happy.
If you are new to the gym or you have poor conditioning due to a sedentary life, start walking at your normal pace for as long as you can or up to 10 minutes if you make it that long. If you don’t make it 10 minutes, that’s okay.
Write down how long you walked or save it in your phone. This is going to be your baseline number.
Next time you go for a walk, try to walk for a few minutes longer. Do this until you are able to complete 15-20 minutes of walking. Once we hit 15-20 we can add in some variations that will challenge you in new ways.
Now that you’re able to walk 15-20 minutes, lets up the pace a little. If you are walking outside and not on a treadmill, try to get an app that will track your distance… this is important.
There are two different ways that I like to up the pace to start pushing myself harder – I try to beat my distance by walking at a faster pace the whole time OR I try to do some sort of HIIT training where I will jog or run some, then walk my normal pace while I recover.
I find that a HIIT style training is a lot more challenging and seems to offer better recovery between your faster periods than if you were to start walking faster for the whole 15-20 minutes.
If you are on a treadmill, an increased pace would be a .3-.5 increase in speed. So if you regularly walk on 2, try to go to 2.3 or 2.5 for the whole 15-20 minutes OR if you are doing HIIT try to push yourself up to a 4-5 speed in 30 second increments. No need to push yourself to the point of vomiting, but be sure you push yourself.
Looking for something a little less mundane and a little more manly? Farmer’s walks may be just for you.
If you don’t know what farmer’s walks are, they are basically putting something heavy (and the same weight) in each hand, picking them up and walking as fast as possible.
Check out this video explaining what and how the Farmer’s Walks work:
The bonus with farmer’s walks is that it helps you build grip strength. We all know that grip strength is important.
I enjoy doing burst type movements like this and sprinting more than I do long drawn out walks or something like that… I would rather just do it and get it done.
If you do these at a regular box gym, just grab the heaviest dumbbells you can handle and get to walking. If you are doing this at home and want to make your own implements, let me know in the comments what you’ve come up with.
Shorter Resting Periods Between Sets
This may be an easy one, push harder between sets to keep heart rate up which helps with conditioning.
I would recommend doing these between your accessory type lifts more than your big compound lifts. This ensures your safety and will also help you get in and out of the gym faster.
Controlling your rest periods on backdown sets or on warm up sets for your big compound lifts work well, but not during your working weights.
You could go as far as reprogramming your workout so that you could have some backdown sets of 2-5 reps at 65%-80% of your working weights. Treat this like speed work and output as much power as you can while keeping a stop watch out to monitor your rest periods.
Switch Up and Try Density Training
Density training is something that I’ve wanted to get into ever since I came back to Indiana and started going to this box gym by me. There was a personal trainer there that offered me a free session to give me an overall assessment.
While I nailed my weight within 10 pounds of what it said on the scale, my heart rate while brisk walking on the treadmill, and answered questions before he asked them, he had me do random exercises like 1 arm overhead presses and deadlifts for time. These weights were very light weight (the deadlift was about 35% of my 1rm) and it about killed me after about 1 minute of lifting.
This was embarrassing and of course the trainer attributed the fact that I was dying to “weak legs” which is laughable at best.
Anyways, this density training is very powerful can really have an impact on your conditioning. I’ve never personally trained this way yet or had someone train this way to give you an “under the bar experience” type of explanation… but I think I will be training like this until I lose quite a bit of excess body fat and increase my conditioning.
So how’s it work?
Set a time limit for how long you want to do and then see how much work you can get done in that time.
- Slap 60% of your 1rm deadlift on the bar and see how many doubles or triples you can do in 5 minutes.
- Pick 50% of your squat and try to see how many reps you can get in 3 minutes.
- Bench with 65% of your 1rm and see how many reps you can get in 5 minutes.
You see 50%-60% of your 1rm and you probably are laughing, but I invite you to try this workout of hell.
There are a couple of ways you can progress training like this:
- Try to beat the number of reps at the same weight in the same amount of time.
- Match the same number of reps with heavier weight.
Sled Work or Circuit Training
Another “powerful” type of training that I tried out in Oregon was to do sled work. This was pretty fun because it felt more like a strongman competition like pushing a car or something than it did just “working on my conditioning.”
Sleds are great, but you must have the proper equipment to do it and the place to push it. I would highly recommend looking into a sled or creating an implement to do sled pushes. Check out this video showing what prowler pushes are:
Last but not least is circuit training.
I think circuit training goes overlooked many times by powerlifters and other strength athletes because of it’s demanding properties and our inability to not lift heavy weights.
To really get the full benefit of circuit training, you have to put your ego aside and look at this as something that will actually help you get stronger. Until you actually improve or drastically make your conditioning worse (like not training for months) then you won’t be able to really tell that this is working for you.
As powerlifters or people looking for pure strength, we already do not want to do much extra other than lift heavy but I promise this will be an investment that will pay off greatly.
Here’s a list of other things you should look into and see if anything sparks your interest:
- Kettlebell work
- Body weight exercises
- High-rep band work
- Steady-state cycling
If you’ve made it this far into the article, then you obviously are interested in increasing your conditioning. Not only will this increase your ability to lift heavier and lift more, this is going to improve life outside of the gym.
Admittedly some of us don’t know what life outside of the gym is, but you at least won’t be out of breath after running to your favorite bench or squat rack.
Just get moving and start doing something on the list and I promise you’ll start seeing improvements.