A Simplified Approach to Conditioning

Advanced technology and sports science has taught us so much about the demands of sport and human performance.  With GPS tracking and heart rate monitors, we now know exactly how much distance is covered in a game, the intensity of movement, and the estimated recovery time before an athlete is physically ready to perform at 100%.  With devices like fit bit, weekend warriors and gym goers know exactly how many calories they are burning in each cardio session.  There is so much great information that we now have as athletes and coaches, but the application of that information is still so far behind.  With all of the research done on energy systems development, heart rate zone training, CNS fatigue and injury prevention, its a shame that we keep going back to ancient testing methods and training techniques to get “fit”.  If you’re like me and you’d like to learn more about the science behind energy systems development, I highly recommend checking out anything by Mark Verstegen and his team at EXOS.  For the purposes of this blog, I am going to simplify everything and give you some of the methods that I use everyday.  Even if you are not an athlete, pay close attention because this will help you.  Learning to train for athletic goals instead of aesthetic goals, will lead to better results and more overall satisfaction with your journey.  

Non Impact Conditioning

If you are the type of person who loves to go on long runs because it helps you relieve stress and take your mind away from daily rigors, this section is not for you, go ahead and skip to the next section.  If your goal is to maximize training results and performance on the field, than I suggest you stop running.  I know that sounds weird.  Many of you will tell me that running is a major part of your fitness program and its worked for you in the past.  That is absolutely true, I will not argue with you.  Similarly, I can put a steak in the microwave for a few minutes and it will “work”.  You can’t argue with me that its not cooked but I think we can all agree that it’s not the best way to prepare a ribeye.  The problem with hitting the pavement is that the pavement is also hitting you!  While you are running around the neighborhood, listening to your latest workout playlist from alikrieger.com, your body has to absorb each and every step that you take.  For 30-60 minutes, your ankles, knees, hips, and back are taking an absolute beating.  That wear and tear is completely unnecessary in this case.  You can get all of the same benefits of running and build a strong aerobic base while saving your body.  

For conditioning sessions that are 20 minutes or more, consider using a bike, elliptical, or rower(my personal favorite).  All of these modalities will help you build the aerobic base you are looking for and many times it’s even more effective than running.  Swimming is also a great option for those with access to a pool.  Even if you don’t know how to swim, you can grab a kick board, or do some of the simple dynamic warmup movements in the water, like high knee running or shuffling.  Whichever modality you choose, build your cardio base with a slow steady pace for 20 minutes+ or work in intervals.  

Tip #1 If you choose intervals, use a work to rest ratio that is higher on the work side, like 2:1.  So for instance, bike hard for 2 minutes, than recover for 1 minute. Repeat the cycle until you get to the desired total time. 

Tip #2 Focus on density instead of volume.  If you are biking for 25 minutes, don’t go for 30 or 35 minutes the next week.  Record the distance covered in 25 minutes and try to beat that score instead.  

**Advice for S&C Coaches

You should not be present for non-impact conditioning.  Print out the work, rest, duration, and modalities and assign them to your trusted team leaders.  Have small groups compete for the best score, winning team gets to select music for a week.  This will not only get the job done for conditioning, but it will also teach them leadership and accountability in a competitive environment.  Anytime you can get your players to compete, it's a good thing.

Game Speed Conditioning

This is the type of conditioning that separates the good from the elite.  In soccer, being fit for 90 minutes is not enough.  Traditionally, coaches have simply looked at the average distance in a game (approx. 8 miles) and conditioned their players to run that distance.  The problem is 8 miles in 90 minutes is 5.3 mph, and that doesn’t even include halftime.  If you’ve ever run next to someone at 5.3 mph, you know that’s not very fast.  Looking deeper into the numbers, you’ll find that players must be able to sprint hard for 4-6 seconds and then recover before the next sprint.  They must able to perform these sprints in the first minute and in the 88th when the game is on the line.  If you look at other sports, you’ll find a similar pattern - quick bursts of speed followed by a quick recovery.  For my gym goers, this is about the time you’re thinking that none of this applies to you.  You are wrong.  High intensity training intervals are exactly what you need, especially if you are trying to lose weight and get “toned”.  15 minutes of interval sprinting will help you burn more calories in the session and the “after burn affect” will help you burn more calories thru out the day.  Would you rather workout for 15 minutes and get better results, or waste time for 90 minutes, burn less calories for the day, and pretend like you “earned” a trip to Wendy’s because you spent extra time on the recumbent bike?

Tip #1 Sprints should last 10-15 seconds with a recovery time of 45-60 seconds.  As you improve, the sprints will actually be shorter in time and rest periods will increase.  This is the opposite of what you may be thinking.  Set the distance at 100 yards.  Run a sprint at the beginning of every minute.  As you improve, the time it takes you to run 100 yards will decrease by a second or 2, and the rest period will increase by a second or 2.  

Tip #2 Put everything into the sprint.  Don’t water it down by trying to add funky jumping jacks or burpee WODs during the rest period.  If you were truly sprinting, you shouldn’t have energy for that.  

**Advice for S&C Coaches  

Think outside of the box on this.  LITERALLY.  I see to many of the same mundane sprints and shuttle runs repeated over and over and over.  The next time you go to set up the drill, watch your players reaction as they start to recognize what you are setting up.  Think about what kind of effort you are really going to get from them.  Instead of doing the same old tired drills, think of new ones that challenge a players fitness but also they’re thinking and decision making.  The game doesn’t move in pre-determined straight lines so you’re drills shouldn’t look like that either. Running in a straight line requires absolutely zero thinking! Another tip is to stop setting up the same distances.  Your players will learn how to cheat the drill, they’ll know exactly how many steps it takes to run a 5-10-15 long shuttle. CHANGE IT! Make it a 4-8-12 or 6-6-20.   

A video posted by TrainerGorres (@trainergorres) on

This is a video I posted on Instagram.  I'm using the FITLIGHT Trainer with Ali Krieger of the USWNT.  I separated the lights at a random distance but I kept the square shape, simply because of the facility.  On a field I would set them up randomly in space with no shape.  The drill is set for 12 lights with a maximum reaction time of 2 seconds per light.  If she doesn’t get to the light in 2 seconds, it will count as a miss. The drill forces her to react quickly, execute a quick movement, and challenges her spacial awareness as she then has to quickly reposition her body to see all the lights. The information from the lights will pop up on my tablet and I can score her based on hits/misses, average reaction time, and total time.  (This is the difference between the fit lights and colored cones).  I can still use my desired work:rest ratios and the instant feedback is a motivator for her.