Ask 10 people what makes up a good conditioning exercise, and you'll likely get 10 different answers. However, the consensus seems to be that a good conditioning workout is hard, will leave you gasping for breath, and should require a hand-truck and a pair of bulky Yugoslavian twins to remove you from the field.
But although it's important to work hard, simply working hard within a mediocre program can inhibit improvements—not to mention increase your risk of injury.
It's important to balance hard work with correct technique, proper progressions and exercises that complement each other. A prescription to Back Squat 225 for 10 reps, then backpedal for 100 meters might be a great combination, but it's hard to coordinate exercises like those unless you have access to a large training facility.
With this in mind, here are four conditioning combos that will promote the most pure athleticism for the effort given. They can be done anywhere and require minimal equipment.
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Double KB Squat with Farmer's Walk
To do this, carry two kettlebells at your sides in a farmer's walk position. Make sure your posture is set and your core is tight. Walk the bells for 100 feet, then bring them into a front "racked" position. Continuing to keep your core tight, do 10 Front Squats. When finished, drop the weight down to your sides and walk another 100 feet. Repeat to continue.
This exercise is often prescribed for up to 10 sets, but many athletes struggle to finish six at first. Be patient and take your time in improving, as both of these moves are directly related to real-world strength and athleticism.
This is an amazing circuit that engages almost every muscle in the body. It will crank up your heart rate without limiting your recovery ability. It's fantastic as a finisher on a lower-body day or as a transition between resistance training and athletic drills/sprinting.
Grab the dumbbell you would use for heavy DB rows, and load a barbell that you could press overhead for 8 reps. Place them together and measure 50 to 60 feet of space. Grab the dumbbell with one hand, stand up tall and walk one length, then switch hands and walk back. Drop the dumbbell, pick up the barbell and press it overhead. Walk the entire lap with the barbell overhead. Rest 20 seconds, and repeat for 6-8 rounds.
This circuit is effective because it's not extremely taxing on the muscles, but it does teach full-body tension and core control, which are extremely important, especially when the lungs and heart become burdened.
Bottom-Up Kettlebell Lunge with Push-Up
This is the ultimate conditioning workout for athletes who want to enhance their grip strength and hone their ability to maintain posture control under pressure.
Grab two kettlebells and bring them to shoulder height with the bottoms facing the ceiling. Go light here—this gets difficult quickly because it taxes the weakest link first, which for most people is grip or wrist strength. Measure out 50 to 60 feet, and go to work.
Keep your core super tight, and lunge down one length. Set the bells down and do 10 Push-Ups. Jump back up, grab the bells, and repeat. After doing the full length with both sets of Push-Ups, rest for 30 to 60 seconds.
This combo is extremely demanding physically and mentally, so start slow. Shoot for 3 sets of 1 full lap to start, and gradually work up to heavier bells and additional laps.
If you don't have two matching bells, start with just one, and switch hands each length.
All you need for this is a heavy kettlebell and good form in the KB swing. Start with 10 reps of the Swing, then transition back into 10 reps of a Goblet Squat with the same weight as the Swing. When finished, drop to the ground and perform 10 Push-Ups.
Repeat with 9 reps, then 8, all the way down to 1. This equals 55 reps of each exercise. Try to finish the entire circuit without rest.
Any of these conditioning circuits can be used in conjunction with your existing workout or in place of a workout or an off day. Make sure to start light and gradually increase the load, striving first for perfect form and completion of each round before increasing the weight.
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