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Wednesday, May 23. 2018
"Conditioning" is the process of forcing your body (including brain and central nervous system) to adapt to new or greater physical demands. The other term, "training", typically refers to working towards a more specific goal (eg sprinting, tennis, or body-building).
Everybody knows what "good condition" looks like: looking good, moving well, trim physique, decent muscle-development, high energy and vitality, good athleticism and agility, good posture, cheerful eagerness to take on any sort of physical challenges, etc. But what is it made of?
When we posted about Fitness for Newbies, we tried to emphasize the gradual nature of advancing a fitness program. The body responds positively to good, graduated stresses at any age, but adaptation is slow so if you get over your skis it will be counterproductive in all sorts of ways. Worse, adaptation is slower at 40 than at 20.
The reason it is slow is because it is so complex on the cellular, anatomical, and biochemical level (not to mention the psychological level which is often the most formidable hurdle). The sort of program we endorse demands adaptation - change - at multiple levels: neuromuscular connections, cellular energy production and other aspects of metabolism, endocrine, muscle and tendon construction, bone strengthening, cardio-pulmonary from capillary construction to increasing cardiac output, perhaps fat loss, and so on. To learn about it is an education in basic physiology. Very interesting to me. There's a section in the textbook.
Another reason it's complicated is because each form of exercise (resistance, calisthenics, plyometrics, anaerobic cardio, and aerobic cardio) has a different and sometimes conflicting effect on the conditioning processes in the paragraph above. For one example, conditioning for endurance (aerobic) cardio conflicts with strength-building processes. This is why training for specific athletic activities/sports varies so much from sport to sport (at the higher levels, anyway). Our Maggie's program is for Fitness for Life and recreational activities in general - and might be wrong for specialized athletes (until they retire). Thus we aim to override any conflicts and just include every component of fitness and athleticism.
Four other points about Conditioning:
- Consistency is essential in a conditioning program. That's why we say 6 days/wk of workouts is ideal. Physical condition decays much more rapidly than it accumulates. You can't put it in the bank.
- Gradually stepping up the variety and intensity of challenges is essential. When upping the challenges stops, conditioning processes stop. Conditioning processes do no more than is demanded of them. For example, jogging 3 miles every day will do nothing more for you than to maintain your ability to jog 3 miles/day. That is one-dimensional fitness just as only lifting is one-dimensional.
- The right nutrition matters. Has to be right for your goals. We have discussed this ad nauseum.
- Decent rest is essential for physical recovery from high exertion. That means sleep - and one day/wk without high-intensity exertion (hiking and recreational sports are fine). The exertion stimulates the conditioning processes but the rest times are when those good growth and repair processes occur. Every several months, a week off from exertion seems to be fine or even good but in my case a week away from hard exertion feels terrible mentally and physically so I hate it. However, a day off, say, with just a hike or light cardio, seems to leave me full of beans the next day and ready to kill my deadlifts.
Basic tests for physical conditioning for ordinary people below the fold -
It should go without saying that conditioning assessments take age and sex into account
Most often used by physicians are
- Cardiac stress test
Others often used for initial assessments by trainers are
- Bench press
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The right nutrition matters. Has to be right for your goals. We have discussed this ad nauseum.
Many people think it is about muscle or how you look in the mirror. But a big part of conditioning is the heart, lungs and blood supply. You build the ability to deliver more blood to your muscles. This can take years of consistent exercise. The ability for the heart, lungs and arteries to sustain tough extended work cannot be underrated.
A big part of conditioning - even so called "cardio" - is about the metabolic changes that take place in the MUSCLE in response to appropriate stimuli. That's why cardio is more appropriately termed metabolic conditioning.
If you can do "high-intensity exertion" six days a week, you're not doing high-intensity exertion. Your body needs more time than that to recover from anything that it truly high-intensity.
When you say "Physical condition decays much more rapidly than it accumulates. You can't put it in the bank.", this is much more true for aerobic conditioning than strength. Aerobic capability builds up relatively quickly and decays just as fast. Strength builds slower but stays with you much longer, as it is much more expensive for your body to build muscles than it is to build endurance. That's why you want to build a good strength base first, then worry about conditioning. Having said that, a well-designed strength training regime will give most people all the endurance they need for day-to-day living. Most people do not have a need to run 5k on a regular basis, but picking up grandchildren, carrying grocery bags, lugging suitcases, moving furniture, getting up off the toilet, etc., are all things that are done on a regular basis, are easier (and safer) when you are stronger and they don't require the endurance of a long-distance runner.
What you said about jogging three miles preparing you for jogging three miles is absolutely correct. The same way that a body weight squat will prepare you for a body weight squat and that's it. It can't make you stronger than that and I think we'd all agree that moving your own body weight up and down is not a huge feat of strength. It can certainly be a starting point for previously completely sedentary people, same as an easy walk around the block can be, but it's usefulness quickly goes away. Put a barbell on your back, learn to squat correctly, and slowly add weight to it. That is how you get strong.
"What is physical conditioning and why is it so slow?"
"6 days/wk of workouts is ideal.......and one day/wk without high-intensity exertion" (this certainly leaves one with the impression that BD advocates d days of high intensity work).
Connecting the dots: Too many days per week of high intensity work (also known as inadequate recovery) results in slow progress.
> If you can do "high-intensity exertion" six days a week,
> you're not doing high-intensity exertion.
This depends heavily on age, level of fitness, what the exertion is, and what you do when you're not working out all matter.
If you're in a job that requires you to be on your feet all day, moving and doing physical stuff, no, you can't.
If you sit at a desk all day and punch a keyboard, well, that's some recovery right there.
Because my fitness is only mediocre and I'm 50, I can only manage about 2 days of weight lifting and 1 or 2 days of hard conditioning among my 2-4 martial arts classes a week (only one of which is really a "workout").
As I get more fit (I'm trying really hard to avoid injury) I should be able to work out harder more often.
Actually you will probably want to modify your workout schedule as you get more fit because you will be placing more stress on your body and you will need to recover more. What are you lifting now and what are you doing for hard conditioning?
When I started weightlifting four years ago at age 53, I would work out three times a week; squat, bench or overhead press, and deadlift. Today, with my squat at 365 lbs, my deadlift at 440 lbs, bench at 205 lbs, I have a heavy workout on, say, Monday, and then take at least one day off, usually two, then do a light day of the same exercises. A day or two later I do a medium day. That Monday, the heavy day, is a high-intensity exertion for me, and even though I am much stronger than I was four years ago, it would be literally impossible for me to repeat that heavy workout three times a week. Just no way. Even a single set of five 440 lb deadlifts is a lot of stress to put on my body and I need time to recover. So, by giving time to recover and adding "active recovery" workouts in between, by the time the next heavy workout rolls around, I am recovered from and adapted to the stress I placed on my body the previous heavy workout and I can add (a little) weight to the bar.
You don't get strong lifting heavy weights, you get strong by recovering from lifting heavy weighs.
Our format is weights twice a week, calisthenics twice a week, and various cardio (including long slow) twice a week.
It may seen paradoxical, but the more fit you get, the more intense your workouts. Hence, you should be able to workout harder, but you should do so less frequently. Old farts are intensity dependent (they need to keep intensity high when they do workout because they tend to detrain faster) and volume intolerant (they can't recover adequately if the volume is too high).
Absolutely agree with your assessment of the training response of old farts. But you don't necessarily have to work out less often; those workouts just need to be modified, perhaps along the lines of the HLM (Heavy, Light, Medium) template I outlined above. Doing the same high-intensity workout each time, regardless of how much time there is between workouts, is a recipe for failure.
https://www.amazon.com/Barbell-Prescription-Strength-Training-After/dp/0982522770/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1527264304&sr=1-1&keywords=barbell+prescription is the definitive resource for older lifters (or any older person who wants to get in shape).
"Most often used by physicians are
- Cardiac stress test
- Body fat % measurement
- Lung volume test
- Physicians rarely do strength or agility tests unless specifically-indicated"
Sadly, the medical profession rarely measures body fat percentage. Rather, the simplistic (and almost worthless when applied to strength athletes) BMI or body mass index is substituted - because obtaining it is easier. Easier isn't always better.
We've discussed the problems with cardiac stress tests and Bayesian analysis previously. Virtually worthless and potentially dangerous in asymptomatic people.
Lung volume test: I've never seen a physician order this test as an assessment of conditioning.....ever.
Ignore the conditioning and just mow the yard with a scythe.
Bicycle to the store if the roads aren't too insane.