Having bad conditioning sucks.
Gasping for breath, knowing you have nothing left in the tank feels terrible. Especially when there’s a game, title, or competition on the line.
So, I’m not surprised that I get asked this question a lot:
How do I improve my conditioning?
But to understand the answer, you have to know what conditioning actually is. And the easiest way to break that down is by looking at the three major components of conditioning.
Essentially, these are the three core things you have to improve if you want to utilize your fitness to its fullest potential.
Key component #1: metabolic systems
Metabolic systems, or energy systems, are made up two major energy pathways:
- The aerobic system- drives the ability to produce power for longer periods of time
- The anaerobic systems- predominantly provides power over shorter durations of activity
While everyone needs to develop both of these systems to improve their conditioning, the key is how much you should develop each—because there’s a tradeoff.
If you focus on training your anaerobic system, you’ll be able to produce greater levels of force and power… but you’ll lose your ability to produce it for very long.
If you go all-in on targeting your aerobic system, you’ll have great endurance… but low power output.
You can’t have a maximally-trained aerobic system and a top-level anaerobic system.
So, you have to determine which system to focus on to make your training most productive. This will depend on your sport, goal(s), fitness level, the amount of time you have to train, etc.
However, you need a solid aerobic foundation for most goals.
Key component #2: movement capacity
Unfortunately, many people fixate on developing energy systems without training their ability to move. But movement is ultimately what drives the need for energy in the first place.
If you move inefficiently by having terrible technique or poor mobility, you’re more likely to gas out. You’re burning more energy than you need to be, which will limit your conditioning.
Simply put, the more efficiently you move, the longer you can do an activity without slowing down.
So, how do you train your movement capacity?
It comes down to two main tasks:
- Develop good general movement- joint mobility, stability, and strength through ranges of motion, and proper technique
- Maintain movement quality throughout all levels of fatigue and stress.
It’s tempting to sacrifice technique as your heart rate rises. But this trains you to move inefficiently under pressure, and it’s a surefire way to make your conditioning suffer.
While it may feel automatic, sloppy movement under stress and fatigue is not inevitable.
Key component #3: mental performance
The mental side of performance is a huge part of conditioning. And I’m not just talking about mental toughness, here.
The goal isn’t to push it to the max all the time and grind through the pain. That will bring you back to sloppy, inefficient movement.
I’m talking about the ability to control your energy expenditure.
If you’re fatiguing during an activity, you need to know how to properly control your energy expenditure to maintain your performance.
This is a skill I refer to as Dynamic Energy Control.
The body can only produce a limited amount of energy. How you use that energy will determine whether you gas out or not.
How do you start training the mental side of conditioning?
The easiest way to become aware of your energy expenditure is by wearing a heart rate (HR) monitor.
As you begin to learn your body’s limits and abilities, you’ll see what levels of energy expenditure are sustainable and what heart rates will lead to fatigue.
Then, the real work begins as you learn how to control your heart rate during activity. You’ll learn when to push and when to hold back and how much margin you have before you’ll start to slow down.
This will make you much more effective at performing at the highest level you can sustain.
My Morpheus heart rate training system is a tremendously powerful tool for monitoring energy expenditure during your workout.
It’s all connected
Conditioning is often oversimplified as training energy systems.
But the reality is that each of these three components determine how good your conditioning is. And each one affects the others:
- Your energy systems determine your potential for generating and sustaining power.
- Your movement quality drives your need for energy systems and contributes to your expenditure.
- Your mental performance drives your movement quality and also drives your energy expenditure.
So, coming back to the initial question of how to improve your conditioning:
You need to determine how much aerobic vs. anaerobic development you need and train your energy systems according.
You have to train movement quality across all levels of fatigue and stress.
And you need to develop your mental performance by learning how to control energy expenditure.
Conditioning is a complicated element of performance.
It makes sense that it takes more than a one-sided approach to fully develop it.
If you want to learn more about how to write conditioning programs that address all three of these areas, I highly recommend checking out my online Conditioning Coach Certification.
This self-paced system shows you how to put all of the pieces of conditioning and stress-management together. And it’s the same science-backed system I’ve used with thousands of people—from Olympic athletes to exercisers who just want to live longer, higher-quality lives.
You can check it out here.
Or, if you want a complete 8-week conditioning program that’s done for you, my new Metamorphosis MasterProgram will help you put all the pieces together and make sure you never gas out again. Click here to see how it works.