Conditioning Done  Right

Are you well conditioned?  Or do you get winded easily?  Are you able to sustain your energy levels throughout a long workout, or practice, or game?  Or are you huffing and puffing, and have legs that won’t work optimally?

Your cardiovascular system is the power plant of aerobic energy production.  It does the job of pumping blood throughout the many miles of blood vessels that make up the vascular network, back to the lungs.  How well your cardiovascular system is developed plays a large role in performance and overall health.

Here are a few ways that we like to think about conditioning with both our adults and our teen groups.

Energy Systems

Conditioning is all about developing energy systems.  

“Specific physical preparation means to have to develop above all, the capacity of the body to provide energy for effective specific muscular work” Dr Verkhoshansky (developer of “plyometrics”

The role of an athlete’s strength and conditioning program IS NOT just to improve strength or conditioning…it is first and foremost to increase their potential to produce energy. This increase in energy is what provides the foundation for the athlete to perform their skills faster and more efficiently.

All our cells run on ATP – it is the body’s “energy currency.” The purpose of the body’s energy systems is to maintain energy homeostasis by producing the chemical energy (ATP) that our cells run on. Energy systems transform the chemical energy from food we eat into the fuel required for muscular work.

Energy homeostasis is maintained when the rate of energy production is equal to the rate of energy expenditure. In this case, the total amount of ATP within the working muscles remains constant. In order to best maintain energy homeostasis during periods of highly variable rates of energy expenditure (ie sports), the body has multiple systems that regenerate ATP at various speeds and durations.  

All performance lies somewhere on the energy system continuum of maximum power (high speed) and maximum duration (endurance).

Alactic: 10-12s

Lactic: 30-60s

Aerobic: hours


As you can see, the aerobic system contributes heavily, in even relatively short duration events.

Recovery of power output during first 10 seconds of 2nd sprint was linked directly to restoration of PCr (Phosphocreatine) stores.  The importance of the aerobic system for maintaining power output increases as high intensity sprints are repeated with incomplete rest, as illustrated below.

A 2009 study by Osgnach used computer video analysis of almost 400 players in game scenarios to evaluate energy demands of soccer:  18% of total distance covered was at high speed.  70% of the total match time was at low intensities . Overall ratio of high to low intensity work equates to a 2-4s sprint every 90 seconds. Total Anaerobic energy ranged from 11-27% of total energy expenditure.

“Subjects with higher anaerobic power reserves, implying a greater reliance on anaerobic processes to supply energy, recorded larger power decrements across the ten sprints”.

Those with highest ratios of aerobic to anaerobic power showed the least fatigue over the 10 sprints.


The goal of every strength and conditioning program is to improve athletic performance through increased physical preparation. This increase provides the foundation for higher speed of movements and allows the athlete to perform their skills faster.

An increase in physical preparation requires increased energy production. There is no way to increase work rate (power) over any given time without supplying more ATP to the working muscles to fuel the additional work being done.

The goal of training to improve performance is to:

A) maximize total energy production

B) correctly balance total energy production between aerobic and anaerobic processes given the specific demands of the sport and the nature of the intensity/duration curve required for high level performance.

We use a variety of methods to develop this system in our performance athletes, and our adult athletes.

Here they are in a nutshell.

  1. Cardiac Power Intervals– Improve oxygen supply at higher intensities and improves power endurance. This involves maximum intensity intervals of 60-120 seconds, with 2-5 minutes of rest.
  2. Tempo Method– Designed to increase oxygen utilization by the working muscles.  This method can be trained by completing strength exercises like deadlifts, pull-ups, squats, bench press, rows, etc, with 3-5 sets and 8-10 reps per set.
  3. Threshold Training– Helps to increase aerobic power.  Keep Heart Rate within 5BPM of your anaerobic threshold for 3-10 mins, completing 2-5 reps per workout.
  4. High Resistance Intervals– These help to improve aerobic capabilities by increasing mitochondria and endurance of fast twitch muscle fibres.  You can do this by using sled sprints, fan bikes, spin bikes, and completing 10-12s per rep, and 10-20 reps per workout.

A couple of other methods, that we don’t typically use at our gym, but will give to athletes as “homework”, just because they are not time efficient, are Cardiac Power Intervals, and High Intensity Continuous Training.  These methods require 20-90 minutes of continuous work and are typically lower speeds and longer durations.


Energy systems are an integral part of sports performance because they provide the foundation for all motor work. Energy system development dictates both maximal power and the ability to maintain it over a given duration.

The aerobic energy systems contributes far more than reported in previous research and becomes the dominant energy source within 15-30 seconds at maximum intensity.

During intermittent work, the aerobic contribution to total energy production increases over time and glycolytic contribution goes down.

Maximal aerobic and anaerobic energy cannot be developed simultaneously as there are tradeoffs in peripheral adaptations that take place in the muscles.



  1. Jamieson, Joel. 2009.”Ultimate MMA Conditioning”