Strength Training And The Lost Art Of Conditioning

Jeremy Wood
Written By: Jeremy Wood
July 22nd, 2011
Updated: June 13th, 2020
40.6K Reads
Jeremy Wood tells you how to improve your strength totals via the integration of conditioning work such as barbell complexes, hill sprints and more!

Conditioning for strengthIn the world of powerlifting there is so much focus on strength and recovery that conditioning gets lost by trainees. Conditioning is very important when you are training with extremely weights. Conditioning will allow your body to recover faster and workout longer. You will also recover faster in between your sets, so you can cut down on rest time.

Many powerlifters and strength athletes feel that conditioning will have the opposite effects and cause their recovery to suffer. Many powerlifters are also trying to gain or maintain their bodyweight, so they do not do any conditioning workouts. Remember that conditioning for a strength athlete is not about working yourself until you puke or cannot breathe; you want to do just enough to get in better shape and increase your recovery in the gym.

If you are a strength athlete you should begin to incorporate conditioning workouts in between your heavy workouts. Start slow, by adding one short conditioning workout each week. Even the guys at Westside Barbell do a lot of conditioning workouts, they refer to the as General Physical Preparedness (GPP workouts).

It is important to be in shape for your general health and to help you reach your peak strength. Many powerlifting workouts involve very low reps (under 5) so these types of sets do not build conditioning. Now I will discuss the many different types of conditioning that you can add to your current workout program.


This is a great way to begin your conditioning work. This can be done on a treadmill or outside. I would suggest starting with a 20-30 minute walk once a week and then slowly add another walk as you start to get in a little better shape. Walking puts very little stress on your joints and you can also enjoy some time outside.

Riding a Bicycle

This is similar to walking in the fact that is low stress on the joints and is also another opportunity to get outside for a while. This can also be done in the gym on a stationary bike, but that gets boring quickly. Treat this the same as walking start out by doing this once a week for 20-30 minutes and then slowly add time to your rides or add a second ride.

Hill Sprints

These are obviously for someone that is already in decent shape. These can be very beneficial to powerlifters to increase the workload that they can handle in the gym. This is very simple, find a hill near where you live and run up as fast as you can. I suggest keeping the sprints short 20-40 yards at the most.

You can also start with shorter sprints around 10-15 yards. Also, these can be done on flat ground as part of your walking conditioning. While on your walk you can do a sprint every couple of minutes. This is a good way to transition into more advanced conditioning techniques.

Barbell complexes

Sled Pulls

Sled work has become very popular in the powerlifting world recently. This can be done on your training days or on your off days. You should start very light with these to make sure that sled pulling does not affect your strength in the gym. You do not necessarily need to purchase one of the very expensive sleds you see on the internet. You can simply get some rope and tie it around one of your weights.

Put the other end around your weight belt and find an open field. You then have a weight that you drag back in forth for a while. Start slow with this, do it once or twice a week for around 10 minutes. Make sure that your strength levels are not dropping in the gym, this means you are going to heavy on the sled work.

Barbell Complexes

This is something that only athletes that are in very good shape should use. A complex is using light weights and doing a series of exercises without rest and without letting go of the barbell. The most popular complex is known as “the bear.” This is done by loading a barbell with a very light weight.

You start by cleaning the weight up to your shoulders, and then you perform a front squat. As you are coming up from the front squat you push the bar overhead. Lower the bar onto your back and perform a back squat. Once again as you are coming up from the squat push the bar overhead.

Finally, lower the bar back to the ground and start over. That is one repetition, you should shoot for sets of 6 with very light weight. This is a difficult series of exercises that will leave you very tired. You should only add in barbell complexes if you are already in good shape and do not have a problem recovering from your workouts.

As you can see there are many different ways to add conditioning into your program. Remember to start slow and keep progressing. You will definitely see a difference in the gym as you get in better shape. Your workouts will seem easier and you will be able to move through your workouts faster. Powerlifters are so focused on lifting heavier weights that sometimes they forget about general health, so get out there and get in shape.

Posted on: Tue, 07/02/2013 - 23:37

Thanks for the great article and useful advice. I will be incorperating 'The Bear' into my routine. Fitness and strength training is my main motivation in training and your advice will be of terrific use.

Posted on: Sun, 08/07/2011 - 01:28

Jeremy: Thanks for the great article and useful advice. I will be incorperating 'The Bear' into my routine. Fitness and strength training is my main motivation in training and your advice will be of terrific use.