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5 Ways To Start Improving Your Conditioning Program Design

5 Ways To Start Improving Your Conditioning Program Design

Jan 18, 2023

Perform HQ


It's no shock most coaches have the ability to piece together a strength program and see progress occur.

But, something that i will argue especially for most team sport athletes that is a much more important. Is there Conditioning programs.

The ability to express the strength, power and speed our athlete build through repeated efforts and have that carry over into their sport.

I want to give you 5 tips that will instantly improve your conditioning program design. Looking at this objectively and giving you thought processes to change not only your reps and sets. But, HOW you deliver these.


1. Rest Periods

There's this weird old school belief system that still hangs around thinking that the athlete always needing to be working and doing something when doing conditioning.

This make the coach look great, cause the athlete looks f*cked!

But, this doesn't BUILD their energy systems.

Let them rest, even if it is aerobic conditioning.

Conditioning is based of two key points, intensity and time. If an athlete is unfit they can only hold a certain intensity for a certain period of time. Before they need to replenish that ATP. When they're unfit too, that throws out the usual timelines.

For example we see the work:rest ratios for aerobic work to be 1:1 - 0.5:1

So the athlete rests between half and the same amount of time compared to the length of time they did work for.

Let's just say we're doing 120 seconds of work. So they'd need around 60-120 seconds of rest after completing their set. In the early stages when fitness is lower we may need to extend this out further. We want the athlete to maintain that intensity so as the sets go on, we might need to drag the rest periods out longer.

Seems counterproductive right?

But the aerobic system adapts quick! 

You just need to be patient.

Meaning after weeks of allowing the system to hold that higher intensity and build. You see the rest period being able to drop and drop quick. Meaning after 3-4 weeks we go from 120-150 seconds of rest down to 60-75 seconds of rest. With usually higher intensities too. If we've given them accurate prescriptions.

This is BUILDING an energy system. It's just a matter of getting your head out of the stop watch and watching both the metrics but most importantly how the athletes perform.

Intensity needs rest to be repeated!

2. Conditioning Blocks

The usual prescription of conditioning would be giving someone 8-12 sets of a drill or exercise. A way to instantly improve the output and build capacity would be to create conditioning blocks. This on if the same way you would prescribe sets and reps with resistance training. Let's say you're doing 12 sets of 30 seconds on, 15 seconds off.

Instead lets go;

Set 1: 6 reps of 30 on, 15 off.

Rest 2-3 minutes.

Set 2: 6 reps of 30 on, 15 off.

Monitor how long it takes to recover post block (HR recovery).


3. Weekly Manipulations

Athletes can adapt to conditioning quite quick.

There's much more of a fight for the Lactic and A-lactic kind of work but like strength as progressive overload occurs (with your accurate prescriptions) so does progress.

This means monitoring things week-to-week and making adjustments will help progress continue for much longer. Manipulating volume, intensity and prescriptions.

Not only from a progress stand point but also an enjoyment stand point.


Week 1: Air Bike 2x blocks of 3 sets of 120 sec on, 120 sec off.

Week 2: Air Bike 2x blocks of 3 sets of 120 sec on, 90 sec active recovery.

Week 3: Air Bike 3x blocks of 3 sets of 120 sec on, 60 sec active recovery.

Week 4: Concept 2 Bike 2x blocks of 3 sets of 120 sec on, 60-90 active recovery.

Holding certain watts/speed.

Week 5: Concept 2 Bike 2x blocks of 4 sets of 90 sec on, 60-90 active recovery/speed.

Holding certain watts.

Week 6: Concept 2 Bike 2x blocks of 6 sets of 60 sec on, 45-60 active recovery.

Holding certain watts/speed.

*The shift from an air bike to a concept 2 bike can create more local fatigue in the legs with resistance and set up differences.

4. Intensity Guidelines

Utilising tests like the 6 sec Max Watts, 3 minute threshold or 12 minute coopers test can be valuable way to get an understanding of where the clients rough markers like power output, aerobic capacity and Vo2max are.

In reality these tests are great but you don't have to use these upon starting to sharpen up your intensity guidelines.

Provided accurate effort and intensity is given. Each conditioning session can give you data and information to program for. Having them do kind of max or near-max effort just allows for the extra bit of accuracy. 

From here you can create guidelines and intensity markers for them to hit in their programs. Seeing where their max is at then using % from that max effort to prescribe targets for their training sessions. This is someone you will need to build out with your group of athletes and clients. This helps us ensure the stimulus from session to session is being hit!

The same way you would utilise a Bronco, YoYo or speed test to identify their m/s and create their Maximal Aerobic Speed targets.

We used a peak power output test where the athletes completed 3 efforts to reach their peak watts. Followed by the fourth trying to hold that peak watts as long as they could. Many influencing factors but this gave us a baseline to program for.

I could now times their peak watts by 0.75-0.85 and prescribe that for sets in the following weeks to build their capacity.




5. Phase Potentiation 

Use the current phase to prepare for the stressors and demands we want them to be exposed to in the following phases. Be in the athletes shoes for a second. You walk into day one of pre-season or day one with the new coach and bang. You're annihilated. Some get that high from it. A good bunch get deflated. Along with that which is far more important is that we've built an amount of fatigue that hinders the following days and weeks training sessions. Consistency or output dips. Loads go up and down, up and down and progress is barely made.
So here's a few things to do;
A) Start with a low stress session (in the gym too!): Low running kms, skill work and engagement focus exercises and drills. Create buy-in for the first two weeks. We can still get a good quality output. Keep in mind where the biggest risks of injury are, keep them low, but hit other areas hard! We got the Perth Bayswater boys on the old tug-of-war week one. Fun, can put it down as a bit of general preparation but, mainly low risk! As the weeks go on we can trickle the general prep out and increase the running loads.

B) Utilise off-feet conditioning early: Utilising equipment like medicine balls, battle ropes, farmers carries, rowers, ski erg and so on. Using these forms of equipment in the early stages helps isn't as taxing as the local demands and can help build a broad foundational capacity. Again, take it out and build those running loads as the weeks progress.
C) Start with aerobic conditioning: The starting point of building an aerobic base to improve their ability to uptake and utilise oxygen means when they begin to be exposed to the high intensity training. They can get to higher intensities before fatigue kicks in, they can recover quicker between sets and they can recover much better between training sessions. There is many forms of aerobic conditioning so start with lower intensities and longer work periods before building intensity and shortening work periods.
D) Tissue prep: Filling in more time especially at the start of the sessions with isometrics, jumps, hops and variations of running tissue prep. Combined with gait drills to assist areas like ground contacts, thigh switching, rhythm and timing. We provide a lot of prep to potentiation for the higher speeds and running loads we wish to put them in the follow weeks.

Written by Isaac Davidson.