I have a bit of a confession to make. (I use the word “confession” lightly because I’m not at all embarrassed about this.) I haven’t done any conditioning in quite a while. 6 weeks maybe. No intervals, no metabolic work, no pushing a heavy sled, nada, zip, zilch. For those of you who are clients of mine and are a little irritated that I’m not doing any of that while I’m having you do crazy metabolic circuits at the end of every session-hold on. I’m not “giving up” on conditioning, nor do I think it has little value. I think it has a TON of value and it is a critical part of a well-rounded training program. So, why am I not doing any?
Let me answer that in a round-a-bout kind of way. A lot of the time, people have a variety of goals they would like to focus on. “I want to lose 20 pounds, and be able to do 10 legit push-ups, and not have my hips hurt every time I move, and get stronger, but not have too much muscle, but get stronger, but not get bulky, but I want to get stronger, just not too strong…or bulky”, etc… All of these are legitimate ways in which a client may want to improve their health, fitness level, body composition, and even confidence. These can all be good goals, and there is a chance, that as their trainer, I will focus on all of them in some way, especially initially. I want my client to feel better when they move. I want them to begin to feel stronger. I want them to see progress towards their physique goals. In short, I want them to feel like they are moving in a forward and positive direction.
The only problem with this is when we focus on a lot of different things at once, we can get a bit distracted, maybe lose some focus. At the very least, it takes longer to accomplish all of those things when we are focusing on them all at once. Think of it this way, let’s say each of those goals I mentioned for my “client” are like an empty swimming pool. There are two different approaches to fill each of those pools. You can a.) put a little bit of water in one pool, then move to the next one and put a little bit in that one, and on and on. Or b.) you can stand at one pool for quite a while and focus on filling it up before you move on to the next. There are pros and cons to each of these approaches and I would argue that it is good to alternate between the two.
I am currently spending some time standing at the pool called “Strong”. My sole focus right now is to get stronger, that’s it. I really don’t care about much else. I’m not worrying about trying to get leaner at the same time. I’m not trying to get bigger. I’m not concerned with increasing my oxygen consumption levels at all. 100% of my efforts are going towards getting stronger than I currently am. I’ve been in this mindset for 3 or so months now. About 8 weeks ago, I cut back on my conditioning a bit and found that I was feeling stronger on my lifts. So I tried cutting it out completely and I was even stronger. So, I’ve stuck with it, and I’m seeing my numbers climb every week. By not conditioning, my body has more time to repair from the damage I’m doing to it in the gym. It also, gives me more energy reserves for my lifting days. Both of these move me closer to my goal. Could I get stronger and still be doing a lot of conditioning? Sure, I would just be filling several pools at once and it would take me a lot longer to get there. Again, not a bad thing, it’s just not my focus right now. The down side of this is that I’ve gained some weight. Some of it muscle. Some of it fat. I’m a touch thicker around my stomach. But I’m really not concerned about this because I know that after a few more months (or maybe 3-4) I will get back to focusing on other things and return to kicking my own butt with metabolic conditioning circuits, sled pushing, running sprints, etc. But when I return to that stuff I will be considerably stronger.
This is OK to do, at times. In my experience people tend to be either one type of “pool filler” or the other, with no balance between the two. If you only fill one pool for years and years, you’re going to miss out on the benefits of all the other pools. For example, if I focused only on getting strong for the next several years, I would get really really strong, but I would probably have crappy mobility, a nice big powerlifter gut, and have an asthmatic attack at the mere of thought of climbing a flight of stairs. If I focused on filling each pool a little bit at a time over the next several years, I would make some gains in each area, but it would be much slower progress.
Like I said, one is not necessarily better than the other, but you will probably have more success if you vacillate between the two. Don’t be so narrow minded that you only fill one pool all the time. (Ex.-body builder could really benefit from some mobility work and full body strength training. Women could really benefit from getting off the treadmill and moving some weight). At the same time, don’t be afraid to let things slide at times. You want to get strong? Then take four or five months and focus on getting stronger. Want to get leaner? Then be willing to let some things slide while you get tunnel visioned on losing some body fat. Just don’t get married to one way or the other.
At times fill several pools. Other times focus on one.
Just don’t pee in any of them.
Nobody likes that guy.