Conditioning is a vital component of being strong and able to perform. Not only do you need it to stay lean and mean, but building up your work capacity is the only way to push yourself in the gym on a continual basis and amp up your volume. If you are out of shape, you cannot progress. Bottom line.
For many people, they fear conditioning will take away from their gains and they are unsure of how to fit it into their programming. Have no fear. If you are training the right way, and not running yourself into the ground, you will shed some fat and build some muscle at the same time.
First of all, you should know what kind of cardio to limit yourself to. Read this: Cardio For Getting Shredded
The main thing you need to realize is that you should treat your cardio as you would a lifting session. What I mean is that you should base your programming around the effort you use for those conditioning sessions and the frequency and timing in which you do it.
So, to throw an example out there, you don’t want to go through a heavy squat workout and then go perform a 100% puke inducing hill sprint session the following day (or vice versa).
There are two simple ways to fit in your high-intensity cardio.
The first is to pair your conditioning sessions with your lifting. Tack on an extra 20 minutes to your workout to get your hill sprints and sled work in. Then give yourself a full 48 hours of rest before you tackle another conditioning session. Some of you may have the discipline to do this. Others read this and probably say “F*ck! The last thing I want to do after lifting my ass off is do a conditioning session.”
The remedy to this would be two-a-days. Separate your sprinting from your lifting session by 6 hours or so. Back in the day, I would jump and sprint at 10am, then go lift at 4pm. For those of you really trying to cut the fat, hitting up your sprinting sessions first thing in the morning in a fasted state might help you burn more fat than you otherwise would later in the day. Just make sure you drink some coffee or caffeine to increase the thermogenic effect and take in about 10 grams of amino acids to prevent any form of muscle loss. If you are keeping your sessions to 20 minutes or less and only a couple of times a week, you shouldn’t have too much to worry about anyway.
By doing either of the above, it ensures you are resting on your rest days instead of trying to fit a conditioning session in.
If you must run a day after lifting, you should tackle those sprints at 60-75% of your max effort instead of going 100% max effort. A lot of times, these sprints may even help in your recovery after the previous day of hard lifting. When running on off days just take into account what you did the day before and base your effort on that.
For most people, two 20 minute sessions a week will do the trick for staying lean and maintaining the ability to put on muscle mass. If you are above 15% bodyfat, or fat loss is your main goal, you can tack on an additional session or perform a couple of high-intensity finishers at the end of your lifting workouts. Five minutes of things like battle ropes or medium height box jumps work really well here.
As a side note, I know I stress high-intensity cardio, and that should in fact be the focus of your conditioning. But do not underestimate the power of a 30 minute walk upon waking. Back in the golden age of bodybuilding, and even dating up to Arnold himself, walking on an empty stomach in the morning was mostly all they did to keep fat off. Not to mention it does wonders for mental focus and your psyche to start the day.
Don’t make conditioning too complicated. Vary your efforts and allow yourself enough rest so you don’t jeopardize what you are doing in the weight room. Follow these rules and you will be well on the road to making gains and shredding fat.