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Energy Systems Review
While most folks think of cardiovascular exercise when they think about conditioning, the truth is conditioning is more about taxing the body's energy systems. All exercise -- anything that increases heart rate -- is cardiovascular exercise. Even those four sets of three on the bench press.
We have two energy systems: anaerobic and aerobic. Each is adapted to restore energy to our body in a different way. Aaerobic metabolism uses oxygen, anaerobic metabolism does not.
Anaerobic metabolism has two subdivisions: alactic and lactic.
Intensity and duration of exercise determine which system is most utilized during a training session. Slow and steady training is aerobically focused; intense, short duration exercise pulls a greater tax from the anaerobic system.
The Case for a Developed Aerobic System
No matter your goal, having an efficient aerobic system is important -- it's our recovery system. Well-functioning aerobic metabolism promotes recovery of tissues, energy replenishment and the central nervous system. Even if your goal is to grow into a muscle-bound paragon of superhero proportions, a concerted effort toward aerobic development is warranted. Whether you train aerobically -- and anaerobically -- depends on a few considerations.
Before we talk training goals, and their associated training decisions, let's talk considerations; the elements that make the case for each training choice we make. Through our current scope, we'll consider three things while planning our conditioning: training phase, current training status, body type.
Training exists on a continuum in relation to the time we've allotted to reach our goals. At the point farthest from our goal, training is general. As time and training approaches the completion date, training is more specific. Say your goal is to bench 400 pounds but you're six months away from the achievement date you set. Your training, at this point, is focused on making sure the raw materials are in place: joints are healthy and strong, CNS is prepared to handle future loading and your aerobic system is conditioned for work capacity.
Current Training Status
Training status shares a locker with training phase. Training phase depends on training status. A person that's completely detrained needs a general strength and conditioning program compared to the specific, goal-directed program of someone one month away from a powerlifting competition.
There are a few general somatotypes: endomorphs, mesomorphs and ectomorphs. Endomorphs hold body fat and are round in shape. Mesomorphs are the guys most envy , able to easily gain or lose weight while most of their frame is strapped with muscle. Ectomorphs are the classic skinny guys.
In reality, no one is strictly one somatotype; everyone is a combination of two. For example, endo-ectos are skinny-fat guys. Spaghetti noodle arms with a fatty, flabby mid-section.
Different somatotypes need different amounts of energy systems training based on goals. It's much easier for a mesomorph to shed body fat than an endomorph. This must be considered when planning goal-based conditioning.
Now that we have the basic raw materials in place, let's have a more focused discussion about matching conditioning with strength. We'll explore three goals: hypertrophy, strength and fat-loss.
If you're working toward being a walking muscle museum, copious conditioning isn't on your training order, no matter the somatotype. Early on in your training phase, however, aerobic conditioning is warranted to build work capacity and enhance your recovery ability. This is especially true for those with a low training status. Hitting a few thirty to forty-five minute sessions a few times per week does well to meet these ends. Keep your heart rate between 120 and 150 to ensure your aerobic system is being taxed properly.
Your means of exercise during these sessions is limited only by your creativity. Cardio equipment (such as the bike or stepper) work well, but bodyweight exercise circuits, light weight training circuits and other movement based exercise also do the trick.
Are you thinking, “What about endomorphs? You said they need more conditioning.” If that's your train of thought you're right, they do. But they need to accomplish fat-loss goals before worrying about hypertrophy, especially if they are de-trained.
If the goal is all-out, absolute maximal strength, heavy doses of frequent conditioning are counterproductive. That's not to say, however, that conditioning is to be completely avoided while working toward an all-out strength goal.
One or two aerobic-based sessions work well to keep the mesomorph recovering while handling heavy strength doses. Endomorphs can increase to three or four aerobic sessions per week while also adding in a few anaerobic finishers at the end of strength workouts. This is, of course, if they aren't de-trained and have built an appreciable training status. These anaerobic intervals start at thirty seconds of work and are accompanied by thirty seconds to one minute of rest. An easy means of progression is to start with one minute of rest and progress to thirty seconds.
Again, the exercise means is up to you, Just keep in mind that those thirty seconds are comprised of intense work, between eighty and one-hundred percent of your maximal effort.
Ectomorphs should limit conditioning when working toward strength goals unless they are completely de-trained. Those with at least a marginal training status do well with one aerobically based recovery session at the end of the training week.
Fat-loss is hard work, especially for endomorphs and any combination of the other somatotypes matched with an endo. Before we move on, though, it's important to talk nutrition. All your gym work is for naught if you're not doing the right things nutritionally.
This is the goal where energy-systems training blends and our three considerations mean the most.
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Endomorphs that have obtained training status through lifting and aerobic training can add in aerobic and anaerobic intervals. Aerobic intervals are done for two to three minutes at a high intensity and are accompanied by two to three minutes of rest. Anaerobic intervals are the same as discussed above.
Mesomorphs do well with four to five, thirty to forty-five aerobic steady state sessions per week. As fat-loss begins to slow down, add in anaerobic intervals.
Ectomorphs aren't typically concerned with fat loss—they need to lift heavy and often to stack muscle on their frames.
What about Strength?
Strength training, no matter the goal, is done with compound lifts in the three-to-eight rep range. This is true for all goals. You can add more reps per set, if your goal is hypertrophy, but you're no longer strength training.
The easiest rule to follow is to keep your first two lifts of each training session focused on building strength. After those lifts build volume however you choose, just keep in mind for everything you add in something has to come out. So if you're increasing conditioning, some part of your resistance training must be reduced.
Conditioning has long been a conundrum. Hopefully this article has offered you clarity. Keep the training considerations in mind and blend your conditioning with your strength volume. If you're consistent, you'll reach your goals.
How much time do you devote to conditioning in your training regimen? Are workout capacity and cardiovascular health important to you? Let us know in the comments field below!