The following is a guest post from Joe Schneider, the founder of Lifting with Style. Make sure to check out his website liftingwithstyle.com and this great post by him: "5 Style Mistakes Beginners Should Avoid." Also, make sure to follow him on Instagram!
“How do I get lean and build muscle at the same time?”
How many times have you heard this question asked? Probably a lot. You may even have asked it yourself, and it’s a good question. What most answers might be are that you need to do cardio and get your diet in check. This response is not necessarily wrong, but it’s not the best approach either. Yes, your diet absolutely should be good, and yes you should do some sort of cardiovascular activity, but this does not mean you should just jump onto the treadmill and run for an hour straight (which greatly stresses your knees, hips, and ankles in the process). Instead, you should be doing conditioning! In today’s article I’m going to talk about the five best (in my opinion) conditioning exercises.
Conditioning vs. Cardio
Before I go over these five exercises, it’s important to explain what conditioning means. Everyone knows what cardio is, but most people have not heard of conditioning. Conditioning, at the surface, is cardio, but when most people hear cardio, they think steady-state cardio, such as running on the treadmill, using the elliptical, or stepping on a stair machine for a while. Conditioning, on the other hand, is done with short-bursts, high-intensity, and sometimes weights. It’s a whole other animal, and unlike cardio, it will not only lead to getting lean, but also adding muscle mass at the same time. Win-win!
Why You Should do Conditioning
As I mentioned above, conditioning will help you get lean and build muscle, but that’s not the only reason to do it. Conditioning will also help improve your work capacity. Your work capacity is the amount of work (think back to physics class!) that you can perform in a given amount of time. For example, when you lift weights, you rest between your sets. Some people require a longer rest than others, even if they’re using the same amount of weight and doing the same number of reps and sets. Why must they rest longer? Because their work capacity sucks! They’re body is unable to recover as efficiently or as quickly as others. Conditioning will improve this deficiency; it will allow you to recover better, and therefore, rest less between your sets, leading to doing your training session faster and more efficiently. What does this accomplish? More muscle growth! We’re now at win-win-win!
When to do Conditioning and Important Tips
Before you start your conditioning session, keep these things in mind
Ideally, conditioning should be done on the days you’re NOT lifting weights. However, if your schedule does not allow this separation, then it’s best to do your conditioning at the end of your training session, meaning after you’ve lifted.
Also, while I do mention five exercises to try, just do one of these each conditioning day, not multiple! One is all you need!
The Five Best Conditioning Exercises
1) Heavy Carries (Farmer's Walks)
Heavy carries are doing exactly what the name says, picking up something heavy and then carrying it for a certain amount of time. It’s super simple and super effective!
I like to do mine with the hex bar (a.k.a. the trap bar), but if your gym doesn’t have one, then a pair of heavy dumbbells will do the trick.
If you use the hex bar, aim for a weight that’s between 40% - 50% of your one-rep hex bar max. If you use dumbbells, then you’ll need to experiment a little bit with the weight to use, just don’t go light. So, if your one-rep max hex bar deadlift is 405 lbs., then you would use anywhere between 165 lbs. and 205 lbs. for the heavy carry.
Each carry is for one minute, with one minute rest between. So, you pick up the weight and then walk with it for one minute, then rest for one minute, then repeat this sequence two more times. That’s all you need!
2) Sled Push/Pull
The next exercise is to push/pull a sled. Not all gyms (in fact most) have one, so consider yourself lucky if yours does have one. Like carries, sleds are simple. You load it with some weight and then push/pull it for a certain distance.
Here’s a video of a sled push:
And here’s Kate Upton doing a sled pull (Yes, super-models do this stuff too!)
Sleds are fantastic for not just getting lean, but will develop overall strength, increase the size of your legs, and increase your power output! You can’t go wrong with a sled, you really can’t!
If you’ve never done this exercise before, then start with just the sled. Using the sled unloaded will get you a good feel for it, and then you can start adding weight.
If you push the sled, then do that for 50 yards, rest 30 seconds to a minute (no more!), and then push again for another 50 yards.
If you pull the sled, then use the thick rope, and start at one end of the rope and pull till the sled reaches you (like how Kate Upton showed you). You can also pull while sitting down on the ground. Sitting down is harder, so start at standing and then try it seated at a later time. Do 2 to 3 sets, with 30 seconds to one minute rest between. Enjoy!
Chances are you’ve heard of or done a circuit before. They involve doing a series of 4 to 5 exercises with no rest between each, and then repeating them four to five times.
An example of a circuit would be 10 push-ups, 10 box jumps, 10 medicine ball slams, and 10 rows with a TRX strap, again all done with no rest between each exercise. You would then repeat this for 4 to 5 rounds. You can rest 30 seconds to a minute between each round. The exercises you can do with a circuit are practically endless. You can also do bodyweight squats, rope slams, carries, ab work, mountain climbers, lunges, pull-ups, and a ton of others. Pick 4 to 5 and have fun!
4) Airdyne Bike (Assault Bike)
The Airdyne Bike is a fantastic piece of equipment. It uses air to determine the resistance. So, the faster you go, the more air that pushes against the blade, and therefore, the more resistance and harder it gets.
A classic way to use it is with HIIT (High-Intensity Interval Training). Get on the bike (make sure the seat is adjusted properly. It should be in-line with your hip when you’re standing next to the bike), start peddling at a semi-brisk pace for about a minute or two to warm-up, then start the intervals. You will go all-out (pedal as hard as you can) for 10-15 seconds, then pedal slowly or completely stop for 30 seconds. Repeat 5-10 times. If you don’t have access to an airdyne bike, then a spin bike will work. Just set the resistance to one that you know you can go all-out on for the 10-15 seconds of work.
The Airdyne Bike will be the hardest and most humbling of the five conditioning exercises. To get the most out of this exercise, you really do need to pedal as hard as you can. Just keep in mind that the trash can should be close, and you’re probably going to hate me at the end, but it really is a good exercise to try! Don’t say I didn’t warn you!
Yes, seriously, just walk. Walking may not be “conditioning” or help you to add muscle, but I still wanted to include it on this list, mainly because of the health benefits. Running will burn fat at a faster rate but walking ultimately leads to lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol, lower risk of diabetes, heart disease, and hypertension, improved mood, and a slew of other benefits (https://www.nbcnews.com/better/health/why-walking-most-underrated-form-exercise-ncna797271). Your joints will also thank you.
Either walk on the treadmill for 30 to 45 minutes or walk outside, and your pace should be brisk. If you’re on the treadmill, have the speed between 2.5 to 4 mph. This is something that you could do every day since it’s low impact and low intensity. If walking on the treadmill gets easy, then set it to an incline of 5 to 10 degrees. Also, DO NOT hold onto the railings. Holding on completely takes your bodyweight out of the equation and makes the exercise pretty much useless.
Give these exercises a try. They will be tough, and you’re probably going to hate me after you try them, but they really are ones you should be doing. Have fun and remember, hydrate!Also, big thanks to Robert here at Men’s Insights for allowing me to write this article! If you need a guide on men’s colors and patterns, check out his article here!