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Conditioning for Strength: Workout Timing etc.


Hello all,

Before I get started, I should mention that I'm fairly uninformed when it comes to conditioning. I grew up a performance athlete and had my training methods laid out for me without having to think twice about them. That was all over ten years ago; since then I've focussed more and more on strength. At the moment I'm training for powerlifting and hope to compete for the first time within the next year.

However, I notice that at my age my recovery is beginning to go downhill. I train four times per week and tend to keep my workouts fairly intense and brief with short rest intervals. Apart from that, I have a fairly active daily lifestyle (i.e., walk everywhere, live in 5th story without an elevator). Still, I don't recover as fast as I'd like following/during intense workouts.

I'd therefore like to begin throwing in some dedicated conditioning/GPP/work capacity/whatever workouts during my off days. Despite browsing through countless articles here, however, I have no idea where to start considering my goals. The issue of timing is especially puzzling. I'd like to do some stair sprints (sadly no hills in my region!) once or twice a week, gradually upping the volume. When should I perform these? After my deadlift/squat training and before my press days?

Also, what do you make of GPP "finishers"? I love farmer's walks and other loaded carries, but worry that this would be detrimental to my general recovery if I were to throw them in at a higher volume at the tail end of a regular workout.

There also seems to be conflicting opinions as to the timing of such sessions. Some seem to want to restrict conditioning for strength athletes to speed intervals at no more than 15" on/30"-1' off for no more than 20-30 minutes in total. Others see circuits and complexes with much longer intervals as appropriate. Seeing as I'm training for strength, what would be the better course of action?

Thanks in advance for your help!


When you say that you don't recover from your workouts like you'd like, what exactly do you mean?

Honestly both low intensity "steady state" cardio and high intensity "HIIT" training can be beneficial, and which one would be the best choice for you is going to depend on:

1) which one you are going to do the most consistently

2) what you want to get out of the training

3) how taxes your recovery systems already are

Just like high intensity resistance training (like your training for powerlifting), HIIT is very draining on the body and tends to depress (or at least stress) the immune system. Low intensity "SS" cardio on the other hand tends to actually have a positive effect on the immune system and is generally much less hard on the body's recovery systems.

So, if your trouble recovering is due to your body having been pushed really hard and having a hard time returning to a homeostatic state, then I think some steady state cardio would actually be a better choice than HIIT. If you were taking really long breaks during your workouts and thus weren't getting much of any anaerobic work during the week, then adding in some HIIT, or GPP finishers to the end of your workouts would probably make sense. But as you stated, you only take short breaks during your workouts and therefore are getting a bunch of anaerobic work each week; again strengthening my choice for the SS cardio.


Thanks for your response! I suppose by recovery I simply mean general muscle soreness, overall energy levels and the readiness to train. Not that these are in any way poor (I feel as though I have a good idea of when I'm overreaching), but I definitely notice a difference to several years ago. Also, I get pretty gassed sometimes during training, though that's of course normal.

My one qualm with steady-state cardio is that I'm prone to easily lose weight when I perform endurance stuff. What would you consider as the kind of length/intensity that I should be shooting for?


Start with 20-30 minutes (stay towards the low end if you want and you want to be aerobic for most of the time). As long as you are still in a caloric surplus or at least caloric balance you should not lose muscle.


Totally agree with sentoguy here. Your priority for now needs to probably be low intensity steady state stuff for reasons already mentioned by him. also because low intensity steady state cardio tends to relie e soreness much better than HIIT style conditioning, which can sometimes even increase it in the short term.

in addition to his guidelines above I would say keep your heart rate around 130. nothing too high to start until you get used to it. I tend to get extremely bored with steady state cardio so I end up switching machines every 5-10 minutes, treadmill to bike to rowing erg.

one thing to think of down the line is to maybe take a bit longer rest breaks during your training sessions. I wouldnt start now, especially if you like your quick pace. but if you don't notice an improvement in a month of consistent low intensity cardio, think about it.


Thanks for both of your advice! I guess I'll have to bite the bullet and overcome my aversion to steady-state cardio. I'm thinking concept rower and perhaps incline walks.

Do you believe that I would benefit at all from sprint workouts? While improving my conditioning I'd also like to work on my explosiveness, of course with out hindering my strength training in any way. As I mentioned, I was thinking about stair sprints and perhaps intervals on the rower. Of course, I can train explosive qualities within my regular program and if the conditioning/recovery boost from these workouts isn't up to par with steady-state work, I'd leave it be.


I would probably either add in some "Dynamic Effort (DE)" work into your regular strength training workouts, perform one "Maximal Effort (ME)" day and one DE day per week (ala Westside's template), or if you really wanted to add an additional workout to improve explosiveness without cutting further into your recovery periods, I'd check out CT's "Neural Charge Workout" template.


Pullups, pushups, dips

Pullups, dips, bw squats

Bench press (60-80kg dependent on strength level), deadlift (100-120kg), squat (80-100kg)

Bench press, push press, squat/dl

10,10,10,9,9,9,8,8,8,7,7,7,6,6,6 ..... all the way to 1,1,1

no rest between the 3 exercises i.e go straight from squats, to bench to dl, back to squats ..... should say you are aiming not to rest, at some points you will probably need to by as little rest as possible, even if it means doing 3 singles for when you get to 3 reps

if you are feeling like a complete maniac - work your way back up. 1,1,1,2,2,2 ......


I'm gonna be honest here and say this would be a terrible idea for the OP to do.

First, as a powerlifter technique is extremely important to his success, and if you think his technique won't have to to hell in a band bag by the time he was even half way through this you're dreaming. This means that, on top of him ingraining bad motor patterns, there would be a significant increased risk of injury in a sport that already has a high potential risk of injury associated with it (due simply to the nature of "maxing out" with the heaviest possible weights).

And even if he was able to make it through this whole workout, what could he realistically train for the rest of the week? You basically just had him trash all 3 of his primary lifting patterns and associated muscle groups in one foul swoop. He'd pretty much be layed up and unable to train anything of significance for a while afterwards. Not the most intelligent use of his time or energy.


Just re-read the OP's opening paragraph .... missed the sentence about powerlifting - hazards of scan reading i suppose!

I agree that the bench press etc isn't a great idea if powerlifting is his goal, but the bodyweight circuit won't be too taxing whilst getting his HR up nice and high! Ive found that I can do the pullups, dips, pressups one relatively frequently with little impact on my other gym work. However i can see if you are training with aims towards powerlifiting how it would be detrimental. As i stated above, poor reading on my behalf led me to believe the OP just wanted some general conditioning workouts... my bad!


No biggie.

Yeah, the bodyweight thing could be useful as a conditioning circuit without overtaxing him too badly, but I still feel at this point he'd be better off with steady state cardio to begin with.


Fair enough, I suppose with his main goal being strength steady state cardio is probably the best way to start out building up his work capacity so as not to tuck him up too badly


Yeah, gonna give it a shot. Bodyweight stuff is fun, but I often find that it can be too taxing in between training sessions. I also like to mix it up a little and do some general "athletic" stuff insead of only pure resistance training. I do like to do BW circuits, however, when I travel or take a week or two off, and it's fun to incorporate resistance bands and household items to make it more challenging.

I guess I'll have to monitor my limits with the steady-state stuff. Like I said, I have a tendency to drop weight really easily when performing endurance work and I'm not that big to begin with. So I'll be sure to check calories and not to overdo it. My goal here isn't to beat my 10k PB. :wink:

Thank you all for your input!


There is an alternative... have you thought about keeping your conditioning sessions really, really short but super intense? I mean like two-three minutes short. If so why don't you try Burpees (a body builder with a push-up and a jump up with arms over the head) or even Mountain Climbers. I absolutely detest steady state cardio sessions and I am a former ultra-marthoner and fell runner!


Yeah, I also used to be involved in distance running, which is one of the reasons for my aversion to steady-state stuff.

My main goal is to improve my recovery between workouts and to get my overall cardiovascular conditioning up a notch or two. I think I'll start doing some steady-state stuff on the concept rower and see how that works. I might then try to bring in some stair sprints or intervals on the rower and see how that affects my recovery from my strength workouts. The last thing I want is for this to impede my current strength goals.

It's interesting how quickly one can get "out of" cardiovascular shape -- and, conversely, how quickly one can regain this shape.


If you get tired of the Concept 2 Rower try the Airdyne Bike if your gym has one... good luck.