Metabolic Conditioning For Monsters

by Lee Boyce

Cardio and Metcon Do's and Don'ts

Are you big? Are you tall? Are you both? Then drop the conditioning workouts designed for little guys. Here are some better workouts for you.

Fact: Taller guys, wider guys, and bigger guys ironically got the short end of the stick when it comes conditioning, cardio, or endurance work. Not all metcon-style workouts fit them very well. Here’s what to avoid or at least be careful with, plus some good alternatives for big bastards.

Don’t Feel Bad When a Metabolic Circuit Crushes You

When you’re a notably strong lifter (let’s say you deadlift in the mid 500’s, squat in the mid 400’s, and bench in the mid 300’s), metabolic circuits that ask for even 50 percent of your 1RM could be just plain too heavy.

It’s important to remember that regardless of your maxes, the implement itself gets heavier at any percentage, based on how strong you’ve trained yourself to become. It’s a simple truth that’s often overlooked, as evidenced by all the 500-pound squatters who think they can perform 20 reps with their 10-rep max using the breathing squat method.

Let’s not forget, either, that the bar has to travel a lot farther when you’re a tall guy.

In all honesty, many of these conventional metabolic training methods are meant for people who either aren’t too big or aren’t too strong. The second a 275-pound guy tries to mimic something intended for a guy half his weight and 8 inches shorter than him, he’ll be down for the count before he even gets through the first tri-set.

Do Big Man Calisthenics

Movements like push-ups, under-the-bar rows, burpee variations, chin-ups, and plank variations can be ballbusters if you’re a strapping lad. Here’s a great calisthenics workout for big men:

  • A1. Feet Elevated Push-Up – Max reps
  • A2. Inverted Row – Max reps
  • A3. Goblet Squat – 12 reps

Move from exercise to exercise with no rest, but rest 60 seconds between each round. Perform as many rounds as possible for 20 minutes. Don’t worry about explosive reps and lifting aggressively. Just keep it smooth. This may seem like an incredibly basic workout, but remember the target audience.

Don’t Do Overhead Press Challenges Without Modifications

It’s smart to rethink your strategy when an overhead press challenge wants you to do fixed sets and reps at 60% with short rests. You’re bound to hit a wall much sooner than you’d probably like.

Most textbooks will tell you that 60% should be a crude estimation of a lifter’s 15-20 rep max. When you add in 2 or 3 other movements, lowered rest intervals, an allegiance to good form, and a larger body with a greater distance to travel during each rep, you realize that such thinking needs to be applied on a case by case basis.

More often than not, it’s a prescription that needs to be modified. If you don’t want to compromise the load you’re lifting and end up lifting “too light,” then something has to give somewhere else in your structure.

Do Use the Ladder Method

For conditioning with the big lifts, big men should use the ladder training method because it gives them short breaks midway through the 20-rep set. ATP will have a chance to partially replenish and deliver just enough strength to get through the set with good form using appreciable weight. Clustering your reps, or doing more sets of fewer reps with reasonable weight, will enable you to keep your weight heavy enough while resting frequently, but briefly each time.

Example 1: A popular ladder is the 2, 3, 5, 10, using ten-second rest periods in-between sets.

2-3-5-10 Ladder

Example 2: If you’re large and strong, try 20 sets of 3 back squats at 50-60% of your 1RM. You only get to rest 30 seconds between each set. Try to be strict. If you get through 20 sets without a hitch, increase the weight by 5% next time.

Do the Turkish Get-Up

When it comes to big guys, the TGU can provide exactly the metabolic conditioning needed. Any exercise that starts in a prone or supine position and finishes standing is a real ball-buster for conditioning. As a bonus, it’s excellent for improving mobility.

Turkish Get-Up

Grab a kettlebell (30-40 pounds is a good weight) and perform TGU’s for 6 straight minutes, alternating hands. You’re not allowed to stop. Once you reach the floor to complete a rep, switch the bell to the other hand and continue.

Even if you do isolation workouts or strength train, there’s nothing wrong with adding this to the end of your workout as a finisher. If this turns out to be a piece of cake, don’t write it off. Get a kettlebell that’s 5 pounds heavier or add 2 minutes to your set. Or both.

Don’t Do Plyos Unless You’re a Pro

Most of the time, impactful training methods like plyometrics will just kill the joints of big men. It’s an unnecessary tradeoff in the name of some fat loss or explosiveness.

Only if you have a solid background in plyometric training – namely jumping and especially landing – should you attempt movements like box jumps, depth jumps, bounding drills, or plyo push-ups. They don’t mix well with big, heavy bodies.

Before you refute me and say that the 270 guys in the NFL do it, pause a second to remember that they’ve been doing them since high school or even earlier and they never stopped. There’s a difference.

Do Sprint, With Caution

The bigger and heavier you are, the more force you can potentially apply against a resistance. Vigorous exercises like sprinting ask for extremely aggressive contractions both concentrically and eccentrically, especially if you aren’t in a regular habit of getting out to the track.

Sprinting could open you up to straining, pulling, or even tearing muscles, regardless of technique. Here are a few recommendations to ensure it doesn’t happen:

  1. Always leave something in the tank. You’re sprinting for conditioning and the athletic and health benefits, not for competition. A trained sprinter knows there’s a huge difference between sprinting at 90% of your max speed versus going balls to the wall. To the onlooker, there wouldn’t be much difference in speed (or even your sprint time), but sticking with 90% output will leave you significantly more relaxed and it’ll encourage fluidity. You’ll be glad you did.
  2. Stick with longer sprint distances. Thirty and 40-meter distances encourage a lifter to tighten up and get to the line with less regard for anything other than a mad dash. Sprinting at 85 or 90% of your maximum speed limit is still sprinting. Give yourself a bit more rest time and do some 100-150 meter sprints. Not only will they help you open up your stride, but they’ll give you more time under tension and really attack your conditioning.
  3. For a good sprint workout, perform proper mobility drills, stretches, and warm-up sprint drills like A skips, running A’s, butt kicks, and carioca. After a few preparatory sprints at 30-40 meters each (resting as long as needed), perform 2 x 80m, 2 x 100m, and 4 x 120m. Take your time walking back to your starting line between reps and rest an additional 30-60 seconds before going again.
  4. Get off the treadmill! For the most part, sprinting on a machine that has a belt speed limit of just 12 miles per hour isn’t sprinting. Elite athletes reach top end speeds of nearly 30 miles per hour during the 100 meter dash. You may not be elite, but it’s still reasonable to think you can move faster than 12 miles per hour over ground, 'cause that’s really slow.
  5. Another reason to ditch the treadmill for sprinting: the moving belt is pulling your leg through the motion instead of by active hip extension. It’s best to learn good form and get to sprinting outside.
  6. Use a “falling” start rather than exploding from a dead stop. The gradual change in joint angles will make it easier for you to fall into proper drive phase positioning and give the muscles less “shock” during the first strides. If you want to be extra safe, start sprinting from a 5-10 stride jog.

Falling Start Sprint