Pritchard: Level up your conditioning through variation (column) |

Pritchard: Level up your conditioning through variation (column)

Jimmy Pritchard
Better Version of You
Jimmy Pritchard A Better Version of You

Energy system development methods traditionally fall under the blanket terms “cardio” or “conditioning.”

Unfortunately, numerous coaches and athletes are led to believe that cyclical linear movements (i.e. running, biking, swimming) are the only modalities that can be used to achieve desired outcomes. While they can be effective in certain dosages, they are certainly not the most optimal methods in which athletes should be trained. Most athletics or outdoor environments carry some degree of variability.

For team sports, variability is extremely high depending on what the opponent does and how each player reacts. In individual sports or outdoor training, the environment dictates a large deal of the variability.

In sports, athletes are driven to react and adapt through stimulus and change to avoid failure. Theoretically, if you train an athlete in a fatigued state to more efficiently move their body through space, then there may be some carryover to competition. NBA players, for example, are expected to make a free throw no matter how tired they are — fatigue cannot affect form. If an athlete is asked to push themselves to exhaustion in an activity like riding a stationary bike, then they will likely be able to do so, but without being aware of how their body is moving through space. Simply put, they may have the hardware built to push, but the lack of software to control it.

What to do?

I do not advocate the exclusion of all simple conditioning exercises such as running and biking. They can be highly effective when sprinting must be done, active recovery days are needed, or as testing procedures.

Equally important, I must clarify that although sports and outdoor environments are extremely variable, not all training must be. Executing certain tasks, such as maximal strength tests, must be extremely rigid and contain almost no variability in order to ensure safety. That being said, if the goal for a particular day is to keep an athlete between 60 and 70 percent of their maximum heart rate for 45 minutes, then variability in movements will be more beneficial than a steady-state jog. A simple way that this can be done is with circuit type training — setting up multiple stations that an athlete can cycle through to ensure they are constantly working.

If the load is appropriate, then the athlete will remain safe and have to continuously adjust to stimulus. Technique must be emphasized, and the athlete will feel more mentally fatigued than if they had went for a jog, due to the focus that is required of them. An excellent example of one circuit performed by my athletes this week was as follows: sled push, twisting medicine ball slams, bear crawl, TRX rows, battle ropes and lateral lunges. We executed one set of each exercise for time or reps on a continuum and rested briefly after one round before continuing. All in all, the session lasted one hour, and the athletes were challenged to move through every plane of motion compared with running that involves a sparse amount.

Besides the variability this type of training provides, a few other benefits are listed but not limited to: use of different movement and muscles, increased motivation, increased enjoyment and increased movement competency.

I hope you find this article to be thought provoking, and hopefully it encourages you to incorporate some different methods into your energy system work. “Cardio” does not have to be using the stair stepper or elliptical for an hour. It can be highly variable and challenge you to move in ways that will serve you better. Thanks for reading as always.

Jimmy Pritchard is a certified strength and conditioning specialist through the National Strength and Conditioning Association. He is the assistant strength coach at Ski & Snowboard Club Vail. Pritchard’s passion is to help others meet, and often exceed their goals in all areas of fitness. Contact him at 970-331-3513 or Visit his website at

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