All weightlifters share a common goal of reaching their strength potential. Plenty of time is spent working on adding weight to the bar, but there’s more to the story than just repeatedly going heavy day after day. Your weightlifting-specific training should still include conditioning workouts.
Conditioning is a type of exercise that targets your cardiovascular system. The continuous movement elevates your heart rate and increases your body’s demand for oxygen. Time spent working your conditioning helps you lift better, for longer, when it’s time to go heavy.
For a full-time weightlifter, conditioning is not as detrimental as it might seem. In fact, the right conditioning plan has the power to improve your lifting experience, as long as you’re going about it properly.
The Best Conditioning Workouts for Weightlifters
- Conditioning Workout for Beginner Weightlifters
- Conditioning Workout for Advanced Weightlifters
- Conditioning Workout for Competition Season
- Conditioning Workout for Cutting Weight
- Conditioning Workout for Recovery
What Is a Conditioning Workout?
During conditioning sessions, your body trains in this state of increased activity for a specific period of time. Conditioning targets a combination of all the body’s energy systems, which contrasts the strict anaerobic style of Olympic lifting.
The Energy Systems
The body has three energy systems: the aerobic energy system, the anaerobic energy system, and the ATP-PCr system.
You need to understand how each energy system works to know what’s really happening during a conditioning workout.
The Aerobic System
The aerobic system uses oxygen to create energy (ATP) during exercise. The production of ATP in the aerobic system is slow, but long-lasting.
Low-power endurance activities such as jogging, biking, or other forms of cardio work the aerobic system.
The Anaerobic System
For activity involving higher power, the anaerobic system comes in. It’s used when the body produces energy without the presence of oxygen. The energy is produced more rapidly but lasts for a shorter period of 30 seconds to 2 minutes.
The ATP-Pcr System
The final and most powerful energy system is the ATP-Pcr system, which is also anaerobic. The ATP that’s produced is readily available for use on-demand, but in a very limited quantity which lasts 2-5 seconds. Activities such as Olympic weightlifting, high jump, or throwing are driven by the ATP-Pcr system.
The important thing to note about your energy systems is that they’re always working in combination to make energy for the body. Even when the energy is primarily coming from one source, energy supplied by the other two is still used in the process of your activity.
For the first weeks to months of weightlifting, the intensity of your lifts should be on the low end. The weight has to stay light during this time so that you familiarize yourself with the correct technique.
For the time being, supplement your lifts with the right conditioning to account for lower-intensity barbell work. This workout even gives you more time with the barbell in your hands.
This workout is for emptying your tank of energy after you finish your lifting practice. It’s fast-paced and involves foundational movements of beginner weightlifting, such as deadlifts and power cleans from the hang.
It also includes box jumps for maximizing the power of your legs. Practice this as accessory work 2-3 times per week.
Complete 4-5 rounds with minimal rest between movements:
- 8 Deadlifts
- 10 Hang Power Cleans
- 12 Box Jumps
- 250-Meter Row
After a while, things start to get heavy in your weightlifting training, and your agenda becomes more focused. Narrowing in on your sport-specific training means spending the majority of your time in the gym on your heavy lifting.
Still, conditioning workouts remain relevant. Even though it seems like time spent doing conditioning could be distracting from your lifts, the right conditioning actually compliments your heavy training by acknowledging what the lifts miss out on.
During this workout, you use the clock to find a tempo for your workout. The time periods are short so that you can keep a high intensity, but the reps add up quickly to raise your heart rate and break a sweat.
The movements are simple and accessible to weightlifters, so this conditioning can be safely practiced as desired in addition to your weightlifting plan. Do this conditioning workout 2-3 times per week, after your lifts for the day.
Complete 3-4 rounds, with 45 seconds of work and 15 seconds’ rest:
- 15 seconds on the assault bike.
- 5 Alternating Dumbbell Snatches
- Walking Lunges in the time remaining.
You can make sure this doesn’t happen by doing some tactical conditioning work in the weeks leading up to the meet. This prepares your body to get you through the meet.
Conditioning for meet prep keeps you fresh and snappy in the back room. This workout increases in reps so that you get used to maintaining solid technique as you get tired.
It requires fast, high-power lifts, with a touch of challenging bodyweight movement — burpees. Complete this workout 1-3 times per week after your lifts leading up to your meet. Drop it the week before the meet itself.
- Snatch: 10×1 with 30 seconds’ rest.
- Burpee: 1 set of 10 reps.
- Rest 3-5 minutes.
- Power Clean & Jerk: 10×1 with 30 seconds’ rest.
- Burpee: 1 set of 10 reps.
During your competitive career, you might need to consider if it’s appropriate to cut weight to fit a weight class. If you’ve made the decision to go for the weight cut, conditioning work is a great strategy to do so. It increases your caloric expenditure and rate of perspiration, which both assist acute weight loss.
Altering your body weight with conditioning can be detrimental to your lifts if it’s overdone. The right workout will avoid this by doing only what’s necessary to burn calories without burning you out. During this workout, you start your cardio off easy and try to go for a longer period of time that is not too taxing. The longer time you spend breaking a sweat here, the better.
Note: For safety reasons, discuss cutting weight with your coach or a qualified professional prior to doing so. You shouldn’t attempt to cut drastic amounts of body weight — think more than three or four kilograms — close to a competition.
In this workout, slow and steady wins the race. You’ll engage in your cardio movement of choice for a brief period and then alternate to a higher intensity movement — a weighted step-up. Practice this conditioning 1-4 times per week based on how much weight you need to cut.
Repeat 3-5 times through, with minimal rest:
- 7-10 minutes of row, bike, or jog at a light to moderate intensity.
- 10 weighted step-ups on each leg.
Weightlifting training requires balance. If you want to go heavy all the time, making time in your plan for light activity keeps your body healthy. Conditioning is great for recovery because it keeps your body warm and breaks down soreness and tension.
You’ll undoubtedly notice a better quality of training if you’re willing to get off the couch on your rest days and include some form of active recovery.
The main goal here is to get warm through movement. Since the purpose is recovery, there’s no need to push yourself to high expectations. Take your time through these movements while focusing on your breathing. Practice this conditioning session 1-3 times per week.
Complete 1-3 rounds in order, resting as needed:
- Walk or Jog 200 Meters
- 25 Air Squats
- 10 Push-Ups
- 5 Box Jumps
Why Weightlifters Should Do Conditioning
Even when you strictly want to work with the barbell, you should still make room for conditioning work at least once in a while. Learn the benefits of conditioning for weightlifters so that you remember why it’s important when you’re gasping for breath between rounds.
Conditioning is what keeps you sharp as an athlete. The high energy demand of conditioning puts your muscular power to great use. It challenges variables such as footwork, posture, acceleration and deceleration, and reaction time, which are all necessary tools for the competition movements themselves. This type of training takes your coordination up a notch as an athlete.
Weightlifting and conditioning provide different stimuli to the body. Conditioning sets last longer than sets of snatches or jerks, which require a different type of mental and physical toughness.
If you properly balance your volume and intensity during your conditioning workout, you’ll be able to build up your work capacity and improve your general “toughness” as an athlete. This will translate over to your sport-specific training and make you more resilient.
If you have a goal of improving your body composition, conditioning work helps you get there a bit quicker. Weightlifting training involves a low amount of repetitions per workout, which may not result in significant changes in body composition by itself.
As long as your diet is actively facilitating your goals, a conditioning workout (or two, or three) can help kick up your caloric expenditure and account for the long rest periods often found in weightlifting workouts.
Not all conditioning is intense physically (or mentally). When it’s a lower grade, it’s healthy for the body and purposeful for the mind. Cardiovascular exercise energizes your body and helps flush out some of the fatigue that may persist from an earlier workout.
Ironically, one of the best ways to get rid of soreness is to work out again, and conditioning is best for doing just that — without beating you up in the process.
Conditioning Workout Tips and Tricks
Before you work yourself to a pulp in the gym, consider the fact that there’s more that goes into a solid conditioning session than simply trying as hard as you can (though that certainly helps). There are some insider tips you should be aware of before you start breaking a sweat.
Conditioning is quite different than weightlifting, so give yourself a chance to ease into it when practicing. Remember that your conditioning should not drain the energy from your weightlifting workouts.
A little conditioning often goes a long way, so start easy and increase the difficulty as it feels right.
Just like lifting, conditioning takes time and effort to practice. That said, conditioning should take up minimal amount of time on your weekly program so that you can keep lifting for as long as needed.
Stay productive by going in with a well-thought-out plan for what you’re going to do.
Conditioning is as difficult physically as it is challenging mentally. When you primarily practice weightlifting, it’s not always easy to make quality time for conditioning. Moreover, it might be a hard transition if you’re only used to exerting yourself for a couple of seconds at a time.
Select conditioning exercises that you enjoy doing so that it is worth your while in the gym. If you’re having a bad time doing your conditioning work, change things up rather than slogging through a routine that brings you no joy.
Full Speed Ahead
If you’re totally enamored by your weightlifting training, it’s really quite easy to make excuses or push your conditioning aside. This is not only a lapse in judgement but a tactical error — you’re leaving potential gains on the table and maybe even short-changing yourself on the competition platform.
If you think you’re missing that one piece of a complete and well-rounded weightlifting routine, grab a conditioning workout and get after it. It might just be what you need for everything to finally come together.
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