Conditioning That Won't Kill Your Gains

Tim Hendren


Baltimore, Maryland, United States

Strength and Conditioning


Conditioning That Won't Kill Your Gains - Fitness, conditioning, DOMS, hypertrophy, medicine ball, ergometer, concentric, sleds, battle rope


Conditioning is a high-wire balancing act. Choose the wrong modality, frequency, or volume, and watch your gains disappear like an empty bench on a Monday. In part due to the explosion of CrossFit, the fitness industry has been saturated with countless imitators that attempt to take basic strength training and turn it into a bastardized version of cardio.



The philosophy seems to be to decrease load and perform as many reps as possible until form degrades to the point that even a trained professional couldn’t tell what the original exercise was in the first place. Squats turn into good mornings, deadlifts go from conventional to their stiff-legged, rounded-back cousin, and kettlebell swings morph into squats with a front raise. It’s a basic example of “quantity over quality,” and it’s not only useless, it’s going to get you injured. If you want to do this type of BS, then please go back to the group exercise studio where it’s acceptable, and leave the weight room floor to those of us who know what we are doing.


Another trend is to decrease rest periods during strength training to increase heart rate. The obvious issue here is that strength during the given set is compromised. Conditioning should not be a part of your strength training program; it should be an additional component of your training that is designed to positively impact everything else you do in the gym.


Negatives Have No Place in Conditioning

When you choose conditioning work, exercise selection is paramount. The last thing you want to do is detract from your strength and lean mass gains with a squat or deadlift tabata, barbell complex, or one of the aforementioned bastardized exercises.


When following any competent strength or bodybuilding program, the growth stimulus provided by the eccentric portion of the lift is primarily what causes muscles to increase size and strength. The “negative” portion of the movement is also responsible for most muscle damage in any given training session. Proper recovery time is needed to reap the benefits of such training, and to be reckless with frequency is going to get you nowhere fast. A balanced program will have an appropriate split, with recovery periods that allow for each muscle to be trained hard and recover.


To increase frequency or volume of traditional strength exercises for the sake of conditioning is to decrease recovery and inhibit long term muscle mass and strength gains.

In terms of conditioning, the solution is to ditch the negative, and focus on the concentric phase of movement. What makes the concentric less effective in building muscle and strength is the same thing that makes it great as a conditioning tool. Although it doesn’t provide the same growth stimulus as the eccentric phase, it comes without the baggage of muscle damage, overtraining the central nervous system, or DOMS. Volume and frequency can be increased without the need for more recovery.



With added volume using concentric-only training, you will be able to:


  • Increase blood flow to specific areas
  • Increase frequency of HIIT protocols
  • Improve explosive, concentric contraction
  • Increase strength and hypertrophy for lagging muscle groups



While prowler and sled pushes and pulls are popular ways to use concentric-only conditioning, other modes would include the Airdyne or assault bike, rower, hill sprints, medicine ball throws, and battle ropes. Most gyms don’t have them, but the SkiErg and VersaClimber also make the list. While Olympic lifts would qualify, only athletes that have a high level of expertise and know exactly when form is compromised can get away with using these movements for conditioning. For most lifters, this is a fast track to the orthopedist’s office.



Proper implementation of conditioning work will ensure that you are complementing each specific training session. Use this list as a reference to pair the right modalities to your training split:



  • Use anything except battle ropes


Upper Body

  • Battle ropes
  • Rower
  • Medicine ball throws
  • Sled or prowler pushes or pulls
  • SkiErg
  • VersaClimber


Chest and Shoulders

  • Airdyne
  • Sled or prowler pushes or pulls
  • Medicine ball throws
  • Battle ropes
  • VersaClimber



  • Rower
  • Hill sprints
  • Medicine ball throws
  • Battle ropes
  • Sled pulls or rows
  • SkiErg


Arms, Cardio, Total Body

  • Any of the above

Medicine Ball Throw and Catch from Subversive Fitness.


Choose Your Conditioning Wisely

We all want to get bigger and stronger, but if you want to maintain a decent physique and a general level of fitness, conditioning is a necessary evil. The good news is that you don’t have to waste all that hard work under the bar if you choose your conditioning wisely. Keep the negative out of your conditioning to keep the gains you have earned.


Need a bigger motor? Gravity is your friend:

Ultimate Conditioning: The Benefits of Hill Running


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