Fitness can be defined by whatever you’re trying to be fit for. For example, being fit for rugby is different to being fit for powerlifting. Conditioning is the process by which you become fit for whatever task you’re trying to be fit for.
What most people mean by “conditioning” is essentially cardio, done in a HIIT style (high intensity, low rest periods, heart pounding, legs shaky but cardio none the less).
Everybody that’s done a conditioning class or finished a training session with conditioning knows that feeling right? The one I just described above, you’re struggling for breath, you’re doubled over, your legs are numb, your mouth is dry, your heart is pounding. So why, when feeling like that, do some coaches decide that’s a perfect time to do some high skilled exercise for way more reps than it should ever be done for?
Because of the drastic, gut busting nature of most conditioning sessions the movements used should be simple. They should be things you can do in your sleep, things with a very low risk of injury, things that you can just shut up and work hard at without thinking of a million different cues.
I’ll give you an example. I don’t want to name the global franchise of gyms that is most popular for using high skilled movements for conditioning sessions” In a typical Workout of the Day, one of the conditioning sessions in this particular franchise, could involve things like touch and go snatch for time, power cleans for reps, box jumps for reps etc.
Now, go back to that feeling I described earlier of being in the middle of a conditioning session, you’re out of breath, your heart is pounding, your legs are going numb…does that sound like a good time to be throwing a barbell above your head for reps? Unless you have the technical proficiency of a top level weightlifter you shouldn’t be doing snatches or clean and jerks under them conditions…and top level weightlifters wouldn’t do that anyway because it’s stupid. Same with box jumps, in a movement that should be used to develop power output and RFD (rate of force development) there’s a risk of injury, you could misjudge the box and end up slamming your shins into it, fall over and crack something…Sounds like a great idea for something to do when you’re fatigued.
CONDITIONING SHOULD BE REALLY SIMPLE!
Look at the most successful athletes in the world. Those who are the most conditioned. Look at how they train. Sure they all do snatches and power cleans and box jumps, but they do them early in the session when they’re fresh and able to get the desired purpose out of those movements. They certainly don’t do them at the end of a conditioning session when they’re already fatigued. And do you know why? Because their livelihood depends on them not getting injured.
Conditioning movements should be something that can be done without thinking, things that don’t require high levels of skill or technical competency. The most advanced movement we’d use in a conditioning session is a kettlebell swing.
Your best bet for conditioning movements are things that you literally cannot fuck up. Push a prowler, slam some battle ropes, swing a kettlebell, do some bear crawls, sprint on a bike, row on a rower. Low skill, big bang for your buck. Leave the high rep Olympic lifts for those that don’t mind the thoughts of dropping a bar on their head or smashing their shins into a box and snapping an ankle on the landing.