Whether it’s feeling stronger, looking leaner, or running faster, progress feels amazing.
But the problem with physical progress is that the road to success is often elusive– especially after you’ve developed a foundational level of fitness.
How do you keep improving your conditioning once you’ve developed a solid base?
The common answer is to “work harder,” or “get more tired” by the end of your workout. And that’ll work to a point, until all the fatigue you’ve racked up starts working against you.
But to keep pushing your conditioning forward, you need more than hard work: you need strategy.
Which is what brings me to the 3 surefire ways I progress conditioning workouts with everyone from MMA world champions to physique competitors.
Start here: Increase the volume
When you increase the workout volume, you effectively increase the amount of training stress. And at the end of the day, the right amount of training stress is what stimulates positive fitness adaptations.
What does adding more volume look like?
A few ways you can turn up the volume dial are:
- Add a few minutes to your conditioning exercises each session
- Bump up the total training time across your workout week with extra sessions
- Do more total sets for each training method
The key to increasing workout volume is to do it gradually over a 4-6 week period. This will help give your body time to adapt to the growing workload without overtraining.
Once you build your training capacity by increasing volume, you’re ready to leverage the power of intensity…
Next up: Escalate the intensity
Increasing your training intensity is fairly straightforward.
The easiest way is to train at a higher heart rate–or a higher percentage of your max heart rate.
But to do this effectively, you need to have some idea of what your max heart rate actually is–one that’s more accurate than the common formula of 220 minus your age.
You have to do an activity that takes you to your max heart rate, such as a 400-800-m sprint. If you can’t sprint, use an exercise that’s unweighted, fast, total-body, and in a standing position.
Another effective way to crank up intensity is by decreasing your rest intervals.
By shortening your resting time, you overload your work period relative to your rest period. And just as you should increase volume gradually over time, you need to shorten rest periods gradually over a few weeks.
The last lever: Turn up the frequency
Adding in more training days comes back to the first strategy of increasing volume. But rather than tacking on more sets, rep, or minutes to your workouts, you fit in more training sessions.
Be aware that when you increase your training frequency, you also amplify your total volume and intensity by conditioning more often.
That’s why this is the final workout progression.
After you build your body’s conditioning capacity using greater workout volumes and intensities, you can work out more frequently.
The ultimate progression principle
When your progress slows down, you may want to jack up the volume, intensity, and frequency all at once.
That’s a surefire recipe for overtraining, injuries and fatigue.
Instead of turning on the progression fire hose, I recommend you do the opposite:
The ultimate progression principle is to only use the minimum effective dose. This means doing the least amount of work necessary to continue progressing.
When you start conditioning, you don’t need the maximum level of stimulus to improve. It really doesn’t take much. But if you gradually scale your training stimulus as your body adapts, you give yourself the greatest potential for improvement.
For most people, the minimum effective dose is training conditioning 3-4 days a week–and only one of those days is high intensity.
Then, you can start layering in progression methods to:
- add time, reps, or sets to your workouts
- increase the intensity
- train more frequently
I typically spend the first 3-8 weeks boosting the training volume before I adjust intensity.
Once I’ve increased both volume and intensity over a few months, I wait until performance starts to plateau. That’s when it’s time to increase training frequency.
If you want to improve the most, use these progression strategies as you need them–not just for the sake of doing them.
Pick your poison: increase strength or conditioning
If you’re new to training, you can increase all aspects of your fitness simultaneously.
But once you’ve established a baseline, you’ll need to pick a priority to keep progressing: either improve strength or conditioning.
Whichever one you choose, your goal should be to maintain, not increase, the other.
If you’re focusing on conditioning, you still want to train strength 2-3 times per week. But you’ll train at lower volumes and intensities on those days than if your goal was to improve strength.
Picking a training focus uses your body’s limited energy resources as efficiently as possible. And it’s the only way to improve the most.
Try these progression strategies yourself
If you want to see firsthand how I progress conditioning over time, I recommend checking out my 8-week conditioning transformation: Metamorphosis.
This is the exact template I use to help my athletes never gas out. And you can follow along and build on it using the progression principles we just covered.
You can check it out and try these strategies for yourself here: Metamorphosis Conditioning Program.