Category Archives: Hill Sprints

Train Like a Man 5: The Real Paleo Exercise

Real Paleo Exericise

Whenever I hear that little nugget of cheese-ball inspiration, I want to throw up, because it’s usually said by some sloth that never reached his goals and he’s just trying to make sure you stay in no rush to reach yours.
I don’t know when exactly sprinting through life and achieving one goal after the next became a bad thing, but have no fear, I’ll address humanity’s aversion to sprinting throughout this article.
Our solar system hurtles around the galaxy at 450,000 mph, so our time here on this rock we call Earth (which is circling the sun at 70,000 miles an hour), in comparison to eternity is less than a blink of an eye.
The way I see it, life is an all-out sprint – and we should attack it that way.
So then what’s with the distance approach to cardio? I hear people say all the time that they entered a 10k or a marathon to get “in shape.” Is that so? I’m tempted to have these folks stand in front of a full-length mirror and ask them what shape were they looking for exactly?
If it’s extra slender, pencil-necked, and endomorphic, then I’ll condone the distance work. If they say, however, that the shape they seek is lean, muscular, and mesomorphic, then they’re barking up the wrong tree.
Furthermore, if I have one more distance-junkie proudly brag about the doctor visits, MRIs, or therapy they’re using to recover from their jogging or ultra-marathon, I’ll be forced to buy a big bat and carry it with me.
You’re proud of being injured, huh? So if I smack you in the knees with the bat and produce an injury, are you still proud? Or then are you just a masochist? Maybe such drastic measures are what it takes for you to realize that pain doesn’t equal productivity, and that you’ve been chasing the wrong dog – and way too slowly at that.

Enjoyment Versus Results

Real Paleo Exericise
I understand that (unfortunately) many of us need something to drive us and get us moving besides the ultimate fact that training will help you live longer. And I understand that some people may simply enjoy distance jogging and/or be genetically suited for this style of training. I’m not here to argue either of those things.
The purpose of this article is to argue in favor of the benefits of sprinting. And interestingly enough, whether you like jogging or are naturally skinny or slow, you can still benefit from this all-powerful training medium.
Don’t think we need this argument? Then explain why most people stop sprinting by high school. Explain why most parents tell their children to stop running and slow down.
Plain and simple, besides the Olympic 100-meter final, sprinting gets much less love than distance work. Whether it’s the marketing of jogging gear, the social aspect of distance events, or the fact that “No Pain, No Gain” is imbedded into the average training psyche, you’re sure to see more people walking and jogging at your local track than to see them sprinting short portions of it, resting, and repeating.
In a world slowly being taken over and dominated by brightly colored equipment tools and fancy programming, we’ve forgotten to use the most important piece of equipment we were given, our body. And we’ve definitely forgotten to use it the way it was designed – to sprint.

Why Do We Run Marathons?

Real Paleo Exericise
In Train Like a Man Part 4, I suggested that if Baron Pierre de Coubertin loved American folklore instead of Greek tragedy, perhaps we’d have millions of people lining up to test themselves in the 100 meter instead of 26 miles.
If our hero was a steel drivin’ sprinter, rather than a solitary noncombatant whose chosen pursuit literally ran him – and millions of poor souls centuries later to follow – into the ground, just perhaps the world and its view of fitness would be different.
In all the emails I’ve ever received, I don’t think I’ve ever received anything from a recreational athlete telling me they’re entering a 100-meter dash.
Why? Because it’s not okay to suck in a sprint.
If you jog – especially if you enter a marathon – it’s okay to be mediocre. By contrast, it’s decidedly not okay to suck at sprinting.
Show up to an actual race and take thirty seconds to run 100 meters and you’re absolutely exposed for the world to see. Suck at sprinting in the wild, and you’re somebody’s dinner.
Suck at the marathon, on the other hand, and they’ll hand you a juice box and a medal, even if you come in last.

The Paleo Idea

Real Paleo Exericise
Add speed and power to any movement and the body changes. Look at a sprinting athlete versus a distance athlete. Large, developed muscles are the norm on just about any athlete involved in sprinting.
So why does this happen? You could cite the activation of the larger fast twitch fibers in sprinting or how cutting weight and losing muscle improves distance performance, but what about the “why” behind how sprinters look leaner and more muscular from seemingly much less work?
I have an interesting theory using the popular Paleo concept.
No one thinks twice about applying the Paleo concept to eating, but what about its application to movement? In terms of body development, sprinting is the ultimate Paleo exercise – and perhaps many of the problems we face today as a society are because this movement is no longer used during most peoples’ daily routine.
(Granted, like all Paleo arguments, this is mere speculation. Were we meat eaters or vegetarians? Were we distance runners or sprinters? Until we invent a time machine, we’ll just continue to enjoy the brainstorming and debate, but it’s still interesting to speculate.)

The TFW Lock-And-Key Mechanism of Sprinting

Real Paleo Exericise
When I address groups of people, I ask them if they think ingesting 1000 calories of junk food has the same effect on the body as ingesting 1000 calories of fruits and vegetables.
Without fail, according to the Paleo dogma, every attendee answers the same way – they believe that a calorie isn’t just a calorie. So in terms of energy intake, most people agree that due to the way the human body was designed and has evolved, there are particular foods that can act as keys and unlock specific pathways to either promote health (muscle gain, fat loss, etc.), or allow detrimental effects (diabetes, cancer, heart disease) when those proper pathways aren’t accessed.
Well if we can all agree on energy intake, I’m confused why people rarely discuss caloric output in the same manner? If there’s an optimal input mechanism of calories to achieve optimal health, what about an optimal output mechanism?
If muscle growth, fat loss, and health are what you’re after, I argue that sprinting may be the key that no one’s using – because those thousand calories you’re burning when you jog aren’t nearly the same as when you burn them off at a sprint. Not even close.
That’s because when you jog, you’re not using your body the way it’s designed to be used. That’s what sprinting is for. I mean, why have an Achilles tendon if we’re supposed to run on our heels? Why have huge glutes if we’re supposed to simply jog monotonously and see how long we can last?
Is the reason we have big traps because we’re supposed to act as perpetual motion machines for the better part of five hours at a time? And why the hell are our quads so big if we’re just supposed to pound them with muscle-eating eccentrics from jogging? It makes no sense to me, and it shouldn’t make any to you, either.

Sprinting: The Real Measure Of Fitness

Real Paleo Exericise
Distance jogging makes your lifts go down. Your muscle mass decreases and you have to accept it. On the other hand, sprinting mandates that you get your numbers higher to complement it.
To lower your marathon time, you need to get out and log miles, cut weight (including muscle), and get ready for pain. To lower your time in the 100-meter sprint you need to get strong, pack on muscle, lose fat, and get in some explosive, technical workouts.
So if you want to run faster, you have to do a few things:

  • You have to increase your relative body strength, so you have to get stronger for the amount you weigh. You can accomplish this by adding muscle or losing fat, or both.
  • You have to improve your sprint technique. This will be done through technical work, which will improve coordination. Here you may recognize specific areas in which to improve strength while developing muscular endurance specific to sprinting. And this is where my next article will focus.

So, to review, sprint training involves improvements in speed, strength, diet, endurance, coordination, and flexibility. Sounds a whole lot like fitness to me. To top it off, sprinting will also help any marathon runner. Too bad the opposite isn’t true.
But before you fans of distance running fire off your emails defending your chosen sport, I’m not saying that elite distance athletes aren’t impressive in terms of time Ð I’m saying they’re usually not impressive in terms of physique.
A guy that can run an under 5-minute mile pace for 26 miles is impressive in ability, no doubt, but he’s probably not concerned with having bigger arms or legs, or is even reading T Nation for that matter.
My Train Like a Man articles are for guys concerned about building mass, getting strong, and being able to clean clocks. And if I have to scrap, I’ll choose to battle the jogger over the sprinter every time.
Now that I’ve made a case for sprinting, Train Like a Man 6 will cover one of the muscle groups that will benefit most from this exercise.

The Return of Aerobic Work

The Return of Aerobic Work
Not long ago, I frequently used the word “conditioning.” I thought the best way to condition athletes was through anaerobic workouts that tested the limits of pain and pushed the boundaries of regurgitation. After all, we’re taught that sports are anaerobic, and that blasé aerobic work has no place in a serious program.
Today, the word “conditioning” makes me cringe. As you can imagine, I cringe a lot. And, unlike before, vomit-inducing anaerobic work is rarely in the cards for me or my athletes. Thanks to people way smarter than me (Joel Jamieson, James Smith, Buddy Morris) I have an appreciation for different types of “conditioning,” much like I have an appreciation for different types of strength.

Conditioning Conundrum

I can’t define “conditioning” as the very word is akin to the phrase “lifting weights.” You can lift weights in many ways and for many reasons. Most of us do it to get stronger. But others do it for more specific reasons, like training for strength-speed, strength-endurance, and starting strength. For those of you that managed to get past the first ten pages of Supertraining, you know this list continues seemingly ad infinitum.
So if we lift weights to get stronger, do we perform conditioning to become more conditioned? The problem is ambiguity. We have different types of “conditioning” just like we have different types of strength.
Conditioning, in its true sense, refers to training the body’s energy systems. We easily distinguish between the anaerobic (without oxygen) and aerobic (with oxygen) systems. We even associate different body types to proficiency in each system. Jacked football players and sprinters are anaerobic beasts. Gangly marathoners, however, are aerobic creatures.
But neither stereotype is correct because jacked football players frequently rely on the aerobic system. Yeah, I said it. Football is aerobic. Before I face the stones, let me explain.

Energy Systems

The Return of Aerobic Work
Breaking the energy systems into anaerobic and aerobic isn’t enough. The anaerobic system can be further split into the  and the . Each corresponds with the energy deriving metabolic processes.
ImmediateIntermediateLong term
Bottom line is, all anaerobic work is not created equally. Football is a prime example. In an effort to “condition,” coaches rely on suicides, Prowler pushes, and Tabata intervals until their athletes’ legs are loaded with lactate and loopier than Gumby’s.
Anaerobic? Absolutely.
But the right kind of anaerobic? Nope.

Another Dimension

Next, it’s important to know that each metabolic pathway has a power component (how fast the system can derive energy) and capacity component (how long the system can be sustained).
So someone with great alactic power can produce a few intensive bursts of energy at a high level. This, for example, includes an Olympic weightlifter, powerlifter, 100m sprinter, javelin thrower, shot-putter, etc. These athletes give a maximal effort, blow their load, and take a long time to recover. Just think of hitting a PR in the gym. It’s not easily repeatable.
Someone with great alactic power and capacity, however, can replicate intensive efforts over time – a baseball pitcher, for example. A pitcher with amazing alactic power will hit triple digits on the radar gun. But if their capacity sucks, their speed will diminish with each successive throw. So a pitcher with good capacity and decent power is likely to be a starter. One with a lot of power and shady capacity, however, more likely a closer.

Importance Of Capacity

The Return of Aerobic Work
Many sports require short-term explosiveness – alactic anaerobic power. This is why the NFL Combine gawks at 4.3 speed.
Over the past few years, aerobic work has been vilified for decreasing absolute explosive potential. But most sports require  in addition to power. There are problems if 4.3 speed turns into 4.7 speed during the second quarter, 5.5 speed during the third quarter, and 6.1 speed during the fourth quarter.
Ray Lewis isn’t known for playing six downs and calling it quits. He’s known for being on the field every play and always performing at a high level.
So what’s more important, absolute power, or the capacity to sustain power? Wouldn’t it be better to run a consistent 4.5 and sacrifice a little power for a lot of capacity?

The Aerobic System’s Role

There are two underappreciated aspects of the aerobic system. First, it’s very important in developing alactic anaerobic capacity (think explosive stuff). Second, most sports are aerobic despite the common perception.
Upon exercise, all energy systems turn on. The power clean is rooted in alactic anaerobic power because of its short duration, not because the aerobic system fails to ignite. The duration, not the intensity, determines energy system involvement.
As repeat sprint exercise continues, the energy system contributions become “truer” to their respective time zones.  (1)(2).
But studies emerged about aerobic work diminishing explosive ability. And we all got caught up in absolute power, foregoing capacity.
 Joel Jamieson says, 
Basketball is another example. There are some sprints and jumps here and there, but for the most part you see guys trotting up and down the court. Yeah, they’re jogging. Fancy that.
Somehow we’re brainwashed into thinking that athletes never jog, but it happens in nearly every sport. In soccer, unless the ball is in their vicinity, athletes lazily move about the field. Football? Jogging to and from the sideline and back to the line after every play.
And what about athletes with their faces in oxygen masks (even though they don’t really work)? I don’t foresee Boba Fett inspired uniforms with oxygen tank backpacks anytime soon, so these guys better start fixing their shitty aerobic development.
To be fair, the sports mentioned also have a short-term explosive component, which makes respecting the work-to-rest interval important. A 2009 study found that, “More than 70% of the total [soccer] match duration was performed at low “aerobic” intensities, while only 1-3% of the match was performed at high-intensities (“sprinting”) (3). The overall work-to-rest ratio of these soccer players averaged out to a 2-4 second sprint every 90 seconds.”
In math speak that interval looks like 4:90. Football usually shakes out to 6:40, barring a two-minute drill (in which case it becomes even more aerobic). Olympic weightlifting, at minimum rest, is about 3:120. Truer alactic anaerobic sports like javelin and the 100m have even longer rest periods.
Compare those ratios to Tabata’s 20:10. Not even close.

Aerobic Work vs. Lifting Weights

The Return of Aerobic Work
Way back, nearly all athletes performed aerobic work. Bill Starr writes about running in The Strongest Shall Survive. Thomas Kurz in The Science of Sports Training notes that weightlifters jog in the early off-season. Old school fighters were known for doing roadwork. Hell, even Ricky Bruch, the eccentric discus thrower, jogged.
Now, aerobic work is shunned. But the aerobic system not only increases overall health markers but also aids in recovery from heavy weight training sessions.
As discussed in Heart Rate Variability Training, an over active sympathetic nervous system – a pitfall of shitty aerobic development – destroys performance.

It’s like this: a developed aerobic system kick starts the recovery process. More time recovering means more recovery.
Also, you’re able to save and concentrate “intense” bouts of energy for when they really matter. The opposite of this being in a constantly amped up state and slowly wearing yourself down – this is what I referred to as “idling” in 12 Tips to Tune the Nervous System.

Methods of Aerobic Development

The Return of Aerobic Work
Aerobic doesn’t always mean distance running. As long as your heart rate stays around 120-150 BPM (everyone has a different lactate threshold) and lactate doesn’t accumulate, you’re training the aerobic system. “Fun” things outside of distance running are stringing together a circuit of the following:

  • Rope jumping
  • Calisthenics
  • Mobility exercises
  • Tumbling and locomotor movements (cartwheels, forward rolls, backward rolls to handstands, inch worm walks, and bear crawls).

But if you enjoy running, tempo runs, essentially “low intensity” interval training, are a great choice. Tempo runs involve running a predetermined distance in a time window that’s of a low enough intensity to tax the aerobic system and yet fail to go anaerobic (70 yards in 20 seconds, for instance). Once the distance is covered, the runner can rest for thirty-or-so seconds to keep the heart rate in check before doing another heat.
More specific to a lifter, however, is a method used by track coach Dan Pfaff that consists of doing many sets of Olympic lifts over the course of 50+ minutes for 1-2 reps, striving to keep the heart rate around 150 BPM.
 A circuit of push-ups, squats, and pull-ups can train the aerobic system, but it isn’t ideal for a soccer player. Lance Armstrong isn’t a world class marathon runner. His adaptations are specific to riding a bike.


Aerobic work is making a comeback. All conditioning isn’t created equally. What’s the work : rest interval? What energy system(s) are utilized? Do you need capacity? Power? Or both?
One thing is for sure: you could stand to do a bit more aerobic work. That is, unless you’re holding out for the Boba Fett technology.


1) Parolin, M., et al. (1998). Regulation of skeletal muscle glycogen phosphorylase and pdh during maximal intermittent exercise. American Psychological Society227(5), 890-900.
2) Haseler, L., et al. (1999). Skeletal muscle phosphocreatine recovery in exercise-trained humans is dependent on o2 availability. American Psychological Society86(6), 2013-2018.
3) Osgnach, C., et al. (2010). Energy cost and metabolic power in elite soccer: A new match analysis approach. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise42(1), 170-178.
4) Oetter, E. (2011, October 10). [Web log message]. Retrieved from
5) Jamieson, J. (2012, February 23). [Web log message]. Retrieved from

Aerobic Hill Sprints

Yesterday, my wife and I headed outside to a local hill to complete our first (of many) hill sprint sessions for the Spring/Summer. There is a perfect hill near our place that is very steep and will literally own you unless you are giving full effort up the entire hill.
(Note: If you’re wondering what the 3 primary constituents of hill sprints are that make them so awesome – and why you’d be a fool not to do them – then read THIS POST by Chris Romanow.)
Given that it was our first time sprinting (outside) since 2011, we were definitely tempted to run until our legs and hearts couldn’t take it any longer, as there’s something incredibly freeing and “human” about sprinting full speed outside. However, we managed to hold ourselves accountable, ensuring not to overdo it, as steep hill sprints can wreak havoc on the achilles/calves if you go too much+too soon and don’t warm-up properly beforehand.
Anyway, this got me thinking: when the majority of us go out for a conditioning session, there is really no rhyme or reason to what we do. We hear that circuit training is good, so we perform a Spartan, “300-esk” circuit until we shoot our spleen out the back of our pants as we writhe around on the floor. Or, we hear that running 400m repeats will help our marathon time, so we run them until our our glutes bleed and our hamstrings no longer recognize friend from foe.
Now, let me be clear: For the average person who simply enjoys the feeling of their lungs burning and the sensation of pushing the limits of their mental+physical faculties, this is fine. I am all for having fun and sometimes we get too complex with things simply for the sake of complexity.
However, for the competing athlete, haphazardly running through conditioning drills can be the difference between a big W and getting crushed by your opponent.
It is beyond the scope of this post to go into all the different means and methods of conditioning (and which methods are best for each sport), but I’d like to touch briefly on the concept of aerobic hill sprints.
What?? How can you be aerobic if your SPRINTING? Doesn’t “aerobic” imply long, slow running reserved for weaklings?
No, sir.

Aerobic Hill Sprints

With aerobic hill sprints, as long as you monitor your heart rate accordingly, you can accomplish a very “neat” training effect: you can improve the aerobic abilities of the fast twitch fibers. In essence, this will train your body to produce high levels of power over a longer period of time.
And who doesn’t want that??
The aerobic system has gotten a bad rep in the industry over the past ten years or so (I’ll admit, I used to shun it), when the reality is the aerobic system is probably the most important of all of them.
How to Do Them
Strength coach Joel Jamieson refers to this method as High Resistance Intervals. The work duration is short, and the resistance is high. In the case of hill sprints, our “resistance” equals the grade of the hill (hint: you want a REALLY steep one). Here’s the protocol:
  • Each “rep” (or run up the hill) should last 10-12 seconds. No more, no less.
  • Every rep is MAXIMAL intensity. I’m not kidding, drive those knees up and elbows back as if your life depended upon it.For me personally, I pretended I was Wolverine right after adamantium was shot into my skeleton and, filled with rage, was breaking out of my container to exact revenge on those responsible for murdering Kayla.
  • Rest to a heart rate of 130-140 beats per minute. This is critical to ensure you’re actually able to give a true maximal effort on each sprint and not deplete yourself too quickly. Most importantly, this will ensure the intended adaptations of the session are actually taking place.
  • Heart rate should be below anaerobic threshold. Again, this is critical. This is not the time for a vomit fest and it’s key that you don’t go glycolytic on these. (Yes, I have read the Tabata study, and yes, it is one of the most misunderstood and ill-applied studies in performance training history I believe).
  • If you haven’t sprinted in a while, start with 7-10 reps. Once you get in the swing of things, 15-20 reps should comprise an average “high resistance interval” workout.
Football and rugby athletes are an obvious group I would have do this (heck, pretty much all field athletes), on top of those in the fighting arts and military. Not to mention, aerobic hill sprints would be a staple to place in the preliminary phases of training for a triathlon or long-distance race.
And last, but not least, these are a fantastic option for those that simply love training and want to ensure they’re being the most efficient with their time when they go out for conditioning. The hills are a perfect place to start, too, due to the minimal joint stress received, on top of the fact that poor running form (something I’m still working on) won’t have as much as a negative impact as it would on a 5-mile run.
One of my favorite quotes by Jim Wendler is “My training plan is simple. It’s three things per training session, usually done 3-4 times/week.
  • Stretch
  • Lift
  • Sprint
That’s it, and that’s all you need. If you stretch hard, lift heavy, and run fast, everything else seems to take care of itself.
Couldn’t have said it better myself. Now go get after it.


5 Ways to Improve or Maintain Your Athleticism

highsmith web 5 Ways to Improve or Maintain Your AthleticismIf I had to place a bet I’d confidently say that there are at least an equal amount of people who ruin their athleticism through their strength training efforts, as there are people who improve it. The majority of guys who have been training for more than a decade have worse athletic ability than they did ten years earlier. It’s sad but true.
Most typical training protocols will slowly but surely ruin your athleticism. The overemphasis on maximal strength, the shortened ranges of motion, the imbalances created, the injuries accumulated…
It all adds up and one day before you know it you tear a hamstring playing a leisurely game of beach volleyball or blow out your back helping your mom move a thirty pound loveseat.
When people see you move on the dance floor at your sisters wedding they laugh and count their blessings that they never started weight training so they would never have to move like you, ya big doofus.
OH! Look atcha now. Popped an Achilles trying to do the running man during Bust a Move while the alcoholic stock brokers and sixty year old ladies next to you get down all night without a care in the world.
Everyone wonders what all that training is good for as you’re rushed off the floor on a stretcher.
Thanks for putting another black eye on the game, pal.
Train like an athlete.” It’s a popular, buzzword-ish concept these days. But what does it mean exactly?
If you play a sport it’s pretty obvious that one of your main goals during each offseason should be to improve your athleticism. In my opinion it’s as equally important for everyone who doesn’t play a sport to do the same.
It’s commonly known that when you age you lose your ability to perform explosively and move freely into athletic positions without pain or restriction.
I’d argue and say it’s more of a case of allowing yourself to lose those qualities that enhances the aging process and leads to your first rocking chair purchase.
Some people believe that training like an athlete means you squat instead of leg press. While I agree that those seeking enhanced athleticism should steer clear of machine training there is nothing exceptionally athletic about performing a squat. It’s the first major movement pattern you mastered as an infant. Since then you have probably screwed it up a bit and may not be able to do it as well but there is nothing exceptionally “athletic” about taking two steps back and squatting down. It’s commonly performed millions of times per day in crappers worldwide.
I’m not knocking the squat, of course; it’s a great exercise that will do more for you and will incorporate far more muscle groups, and requires more hip and ankle mobility, along with core strength and stability than any machine.
Just don’t think that just because you put a bar on your back instead of lying down on the hack squat machine that you are magically going to become Jerry Rice.
Exercises like the handstand pushup, overhead squat one arm row all enhance your ability to perform athletically (provided you don’t do anything stupid or injure yourself). However, these are all exercises where you remain in a stationary position.
To really improve or maintain your athleticism you have to move. It’s as simple as that. No matter how “functional” an exercise may be deemed, if you remain stationary when performing it there is still a huge component missing.
natasha hastings espn magaine body issue 5 Ways to Improve or Maintain Your Athleticism
Below are 5 ways to maintain or improve your athleticism.

1) Jump

Every training program should include some type of jumping. Low level jumps like bounding, hopping and skipping rope can be performed quite frequently. I’d recommend jumping rope at least three times per week, if only as part of your warm up. 

Intermediate level jumps should also be performed fairly regularly, but unlike the lowest level of jumps you should be concerned with counting ground contacts. I typically prescribe 5-6 sets of 3 reps, two or three times per week. That seems to do the trick. 

Advanced level jumps like depth jumps and landings should be performed less frequently and in blocks of 2-3 weeks before deloading and switching to another lower level jump.

2) Sprint

This doesn’t really require much of a description I hope. At least one or two days per week you should be getting out and opening it up on a field, beach or hill. Sled work is great and I consider it irreplaceable in my training programs, but sprinting is far more athletic and needs to be included.

3) Change Directions

If you simply sprint in a straight line your athleticism will slowly decrease over the years because breaking and cutting will have been ignored. You need to incorporate change of direction drills. These don’t have to be fancy. Just grab a bunch of cones, set them up and sprint to them in random patterns. The most basic is four cones in a square. Sprint to the first one, side shuffle left to the next one, back pedal to cone four and side shuffle right back to cone one. If you use your imagination you can come up with some more without me listing them all here. These drills should last no more than ten seconds per set and can be performed once or twice a week.

4) Use An Agility Ladder

Now before people get up in arms and accuse me of being some “functional” dude let me explain. I actually believe that the agility ladder is more useful than non-athletes in their 30’s, 40’s and 50’s than it is for those who are regularly competing. The reason for that goes back to what I discussed earlier- most people don’t move quickly anymore once they stop playing a sport and that contributes to accelerated aging. The agility ladder is a perfect warm up for any workout just because it gets you moving your feet quickly again. It’s not going to do much for Cam Newton but I have seen it help the 45 year old office worker who’s been sitting on his ass the last 15 years.

5) Incorporate Loaded Carries

lawrence timmons 5 Ways to Improve or Maintain Your AthleticismThese are an essential part of any training program and not many activities can qualify as more functional than picking up something heavy and carrying it. You can use any implement you can think of such as barrels, sandbags, kettlebells, steel briefcases, water filled stability balls, a yoke, whatever. And you can carry them in a zercher position, two hands overhead, one hand overhead, with two hands at your side, one hand at your side, one hand overhead and one at your side, unevenly loaded, in the racked position, on your back, etc. etc. Pick one and do 3-5 sets of 20-40 yards once or twice a week.
One thing to note here is that I would also consider a walking lunge a form of weighted carries, and I believe in doing them in a non-traditional way such as with a log or sandbag over one shoulder. To crank it up a notch you could even hold a kettlebell in the opposite hand of that which you are holding the sandbag over your shoulder with. (Just please don’t do these until your knee stability is up to par). People often argue that single leg training is more functional but how much athleticism is required to do a stationary split squat or step up?
Does your training program include all of those components? If not I can almost guarantee you that you are not doing the most to maximize your athleticism and many of you are probably losing it.
Don’t go into battle unprepared.
And don’t get carted off the dance floor at your sisters wedding.


Conditioning 101

Conditioning 101 - Jim Wendler

There’s no excuse to be out of shape. You don’t have to be a marathon runner and you don’t have to be able to fight five rounds for the UFC title, but there’s no acceptable reason for being an out of shape lard-ass.
Being in shape requires one thing: hard work. And working hard requires no talent. None.
For athletes, you can’t always be the strongest or fastest guy on the field, but being in better shape might be the thing that gives you an edge on both the competition and the up-and-comers trying to take your spot on the roster.
To be the last man standing after a game, you need to be the last man standing at practice. If you’re like me and had minimal to no talent, you need all the help you can get. Being in better shape and being stronger were two things I could control.
For competitive lifters, you certainly don’t need to be running miles every week, and you don’t need to be bored doing endless cardio. But a consistent conditioning protocol will help you recover better, have a lower resting heart rate, decrease body fat levels, improve sleep, and improve your general fitness level. This is especially important for the lifters that have done minimal or zero athletic work in the past five years.
For the everyday lifter, it’s about having pride in yourself. Respectable levels of conditioning, flexibility, and strength will help you personally, professionally, socially, and most importantly, improve your health.
Here’s a list of some of the conditioning activities I’ve done along with the pros and cons of each. As many of you know, I’ve been on both sides of the conditioning spectrum and I’ll never make the mistake of being out of shape again.


Conditioning 101 - Jim Wendler

Much has been written about the Prowler and its benefits. While simple by design, the Prowler is one of the most effective conditioning tools an athlete can have. Any level of athlete, regardless of training level or sport, can use it.
The best thing about the Prowler is the “hard” level of conditioning it can produce with minimal wear and tear on the body. It’s very easy on the knees, hips, and ankles, making it great for older strength athletes.
For younger athletes, it’s a great way to build the lungs and legs/hips with minimal coaching; just load up some weight and push. It doesn’t require the technicality of a squat or the constant coaching of the deadlift.
The Prowler also offers a quick and efficient workout. A Prowler eliminates 60-minute conditioning sessions; in less than 20 minutes, an athlete can push his way to burning lungs and legs. This is a huge plus when running large groups or for the lifter that doesn’t have a great deal of time to train (job, school, family, etc.).
The Prowler also allows you to change weights and distances with ease; a stronger, bigger lifter can load the Prowler and use it along side a weaker, smaller, lifter. This makes it applicable to any size, strength, and conditioning level, a huge plus for personal trainers working with a large variety of clients.
The two biggest drawbacks of the Prowler are the price and the difficulty of “prescribing” a workout. Because the Prowler can be pushed on a wide variety of surfaces (cement, concrete, grass, or turf) that all vary in drag coefficient, it’s hard for any fitness professional to accurately say what weight and distance to push.
People who own the Prowler may have only one surface to push on (for example, the street in front of their house) and this surface may be much harder or easier than what a prescribed workout was based upon. Thus, a Prowler requires some intelligent thinking of its owner, which can be a tall order, especially in the strength-training world.


  • Efficient and effective.
  • Requires little skill.
  • Can be used by a large variety of people due to variable weights and distances.


  • Price is well out of range for many athletes and lifters.
  • No standardized surface and workouts.

Hill Sprints

Conditioning 101 - Jim Wendler

Hill sprints are simply brutal. The legs and lungs are taxed heavily if the hill is steep and long enough. Because I grew up in the Chicago area, Walter Payton was a huge influence on me, and his use of hill running to prepare his mind and body for the rigors of the upcoming NFL season made any Illinois kid want to run hills. I’m sure his off-season regimen was partly responsible for his legendary strength and durability.
Anyone who’s ever run hill sprints knows the mental strength it can develop – even more so than a Prowler. There’s something very primal about lacing up your cleats and attacking a large hill for a training session.
Of course, the big drawback of running hill sprints is finding a decent hill. Many lifters live in flat, barren areas where there isn’t a hill bigger than a speed bump. And those that do live in hilly areas may find it difficult to find one that has a good enough surface to run on. So hill sprints, while extremely effective, have enormous geographical limitations.
The other drawback to hill sprints is the wear and tear on the ankles and Achilles. If you’re new to running or are trying to reclaim lost glory like yours truly, make sure you take the necessary steps to stretch and prepare before attacking the hill.
For those that want to find a hill, Google Maps is your friend; I highly recommend looking for sledding hills and reservoirs. These two places are prime areas for some steep hills.
Prescribing a hill sprint workout is much harder than prescribing a Prowler workout. There’s no standard hill length or grade so the athlete is going to have to use his best judgment. As with anything in weight training, set a small, reachable goal the first time out and build slowly.


  • Great workout for the legs and lungs.
  • Builds the body and the mind.


  • Very hard on the ankles and Achilles tendon.
  • Not everyone has access to a hill.
  • No standard hill, requiring the athlete to develop his own training and programming.

Jump Rope

I’ve used the jump rope since junior high and it’s a great way to warm-up the body and hit some basic conditioning work. It’s great for your feet and agility, and I always feel more “athletic” after I’ve jumped rope for a training cycle.
As a warm-up, I used the jump rope for 500+ jumps before training in high school. This was mainly used with double foot and single foot jumps and was followed by a thorough stretching session.
And if you don’t have time to warm-up, you don’t have time to work out. Of all the different warm-up options, this is the most efficient way to get the heart rate up and get some sort of athletic benefit.
There are two drawbacks to jumping rope. First, not everyone can do it. I learned this when I was personal training and saw way too many people trip over the rope or receive a stinging whip from an errant jump. Simply working on technique and slowing down the jumps can solve this problem.
The second drawback is shin splints. In college, I used to jump rope in my apartment and after several weeks of 1000+ jumps/day, I suffered from a nasty bout of shin splints.
Despite these things, the jump rope can be used very effectively for conditioning . After you perform the main lift of the day, use the jump rope between assistance lifts.
For example:


Exercise Sets Reps Rest
A Squat 3 3 *
B Good Morning 3 8 *
C1 Jump Rope 5 50 jumps 60 sec.
C2 Lunge 5 6** 60 sec.
C3 Jump Rope 5 50 jumps 60 sec.
C4 Hanging Leg Raise 5 10 60 sec.
C5 Jump Rope 5 50 jumps 60 sec.
C6 Glute Ham Raise 5 12 60 sec.

This allows you to get your main lifts in without sacrificing the strength portion of your training, along with getting your conditioning in while doing your assistance work. This is optimal for people who have minimal equipment, especially during the winter when the weather won’t allow you to get outside. It’s also a great way to maximize your time in the weight room.


  • Time and space efficient.
  • Makes you feel more athletic.


  • Shin splints.
  • Requires skill and agility many people don’t possess.

Stadium Steps

Conditioning 101 - Jim Wendler

One of the hardest workouts I’ve ever done was running up the press box side of the University of Arizona stadium. The steps get steeper as you go farther and your legs and lungs are on fire. I remember walking back to my car and my legs shaking like a young Elvis. Very humbling.
Like hill sprints, stadium steps build the legs and lungs to a high degree, but also like hill sprints, the area you live in and the size of the stadium largely limit you. Also, the stadiums near your home may not be open to the public.
However, if you can get in, do yourself a favor and run stadium steps.
Stadium steps are also easier on the ankles than hill sprints. And like hill sprints and the Prowler, they’re very knee friendly as the vertical distance of the footfall is much less than running on flat surface.
For people living in big cities, running stairs is a much easier option. Apartment and office buildings have huge amounts of stairs that can be used and abused.


  • Great for building lungs and legs.
  • Easy on the ankles and knees.


  • Limited access to stadiums and tall buildings.

Weighted Vest

The first time I used a weighted vest I was surprised at how much it affected my low back and traps. I thought my lungs would be the first to go but by the end of the walk, my back and traps were screaming. I’ve used the weight vest on walks around my neighborhood and the hill I sprint. For the hill, I did run with the weight vest on, I simply walked up the hill. This killed my legs.
The weight vest is a great way to turn simple tasks, like walking, into something very difficult. We all have access to the outdoors and thus have access to someplace to walk (and I’m not talking about a treadmill).
Add in the low back and trap development one can get from using a heavy weight vest and you have a tremendous conditioning resource. Also, weight vest walks can be done any time of year, unless you’re living in blizzard conditions year round.
I think the weight vest is a great option for older lifters that don’t want to be bored by traditional cardio equipment. It’s also easy on the body (meaning your knees aren’t pounded), yet still requires enough effort and strength to make it challenging and not feel like you’re “just taking a stroll.”
I recommend using the weight vest for distance (e.g., walk for 1 or 2 miles) rather than time.
The drawback to the weight vest is the price. Like the Prowler, it’s out of many lifters’ budgets. And there’s a big difference between using a well-designed weight vest and a backpack stuffed with weights and textbooks.


  • Can make walking around the neighborhood more manly.
  • Great for total body conditioning.


  • Price

Body Weight Conditioning

Conditioning 101 - Jim Wendler

Dave Tate, who learned it from John Davies, introduced this to me. I’m not sure if Davies is still part of the fitness world but this simple bodyweight-conditioning workout was short and brutal. It consisted of the following:

Exercise Time
A Jumping Jacks 30 seconds
B Mountain Climbers 30 seconds
C Burpees 30 seconds
D Split Squat Jump 30 seconds

Don’t be fooled, this is a brutal workout. With people that have limited space and funds, this is a great conditioning alternative. This is also great for when the weather won’t allow you to get out and stretch your legs.
There are two drawbacks. The first is that it’s a very short workout, something that can be remedied by longer rest periods, more exercises, more reps, and more sets. Suffice it to say, doing these exercises as listed above isn’t easy, especially for those who carry more muscle.
Second, of all the conditioning stuff I’ve done, this is by far the most boring. That may be my personal opinion but I’d much rather run hills or push a Prowler.
Feel free to mix and match exercises, time, and rest periods with body weight conditioning, but remember that there’s no need to get too fancy. Simple is always best.


  • Requires little space and equipment.
  • Great for the winter time.


  • Not terribly exciting.
  • Athletes still need to run.

Incline Treadmill Sprints

This is by far my favorite winter conditioning tool. Since most people train in commercial gyms, it’s very easy to prescribe. Running treadmill sprints is also easy to do.

  • Turn on treadmill.
  • Ramp up the incline as far as it can go.
  • Start at 6 miles/hour.
  • Run for 15 seconds.
  • Hop off treadmill (feet on the sides of the belt) and rest for 45 seconds. During the rest period increase speed .5 mph.
  • Repeat until you get to a speed that is challenging for you.
  • Do this 20-30 times.

Incline treadmill sprints have a great built in warm-up (starting at a lower speed) and allow you to adjust the speed for your conditioning and speed level. It’s very easy on the knees and hard on the lungs. Plus, you can do more work in 20 minutes than people who fart around for an hour.
A good option is doing these with a partner – he rests/you go. You can be a little more lax on the rest times than what I listed as it doesn’t matter that much. The key is to run the sprints without taking too much rest in-between.


  • Requires little space and equipment.
  • Great for the winter time.


  • Not terribly exciting.
  • If you misstep, you will fall and people will point at you and laugh.

Sled Pulling

Sled pulling garnered popularity due to the heavy endorsement by Louie Simmons. He got the idea from Eskill Thommason, who visited Finland to see why they were such great deadlifters. He noticed that many of them were lumberjacks whose job required they pull trees down the trails for the trucks to pick up.
Sled dragging is terribly simple – hook a sled up to your lifting belt or harness and walk forwards or backwards. You can add more weight and pull for shorter distance or use less weight and go for time. Jim Hoskinson used one-mile sled drags to rehab a very bad knee injury and returned to the platform for some very strong lifts.
I like hooking up a 100-foot rope to a sled and pulling it hand-over-hand. This is a great compliment to your regular conditioning (which is usually centered around the lower body). This is also great for the upper back and lats, and provided the rope is thick enough, will tax your grip and arms, too.
While standard sled dragging (forward/back) has fallen out of favor due to the popularity of the Prowler, it’s still a great conditioning and strength tool, especially for younger lifters. Like the Prowler, it doesn’t require much skill to walk forward or backward.


  • Easy on the body.
  • Requires no skill.


  • Prowler can have double use as a sled.
  • Not nearly as taxing and efficient as the Prowler.

Putting Conditioning into Action

Conditioning 101 - Jim Wendler
Many years ago, I was at a standstill with conditioning and uncertain where to put it in my training. When do I do it? What if I get weaker? Will my legs be able to handle it? I had a million reservations and none were valid. They were simply excuses.
I believe that if you want to get something done and you want something bad enough, you’ll make it happen. I’ve had some of the best squat workouts during my heavy conditioning phases (which were mainly hill sprints). It didn’t start like that. My legs were exhausted. They shook when I walked out light weights during squat sessions. I lowered my training max and simply willed the weights up when I felt awful.
Eventually my legs got stronger and in better shape. Sure, it took a few months, but 60 days in a lifetime of training is nothing, because training isn’t about an 8-week program – it’s about building your body and your strength over a lifetime of training. If you’re looking for another empty promise of the “6-Week Six Pack,” you’ve come to the wrong guy.
My training plan is simple. It’s three things per training session, usually done 3-4 times/week.

  • Stretch
  • Lift
  • Sprint

That’s it, and that’s all you need. If you stretch hard, lift heavy, and run fast, everything else seems to take care of itself. I’m not forging new ground here, but what I am doing is rekindling the things that were taught to me by “the ancients” that have lost meaning and glam in today’s world of complexity for complexity sake.

Now Go Do It!

Do yourself a favor and embrace what some of the strongest people on earth have done – combine stretching, lifting, and conditioning into a balanced program.
These three things make up the N.O.V. (North of Vag) training program, and these things make up my training past and my training future. A future that will assure my “Sell By” stamp will never have a date on it.


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