Greetings and happy spring!
I don’t mean to rub it in, but here in Arizona we have beautiful outdoor weather pretty much all winter long. It makes us quite sad for the many of you who read this blog in other areas who aren’t so fortunate. We are glad that you’re slowly getting around to be able to enjoy the outdoors again. Since we’ll all soon be getting outside, I figure this might be a good month to bring up another subject in our ongoing series of “Fitness Lies You Need to Stop Believing” with my two cents on cardiovascular conditioning. This one may be a tough pill for some to swallow, so proceed with caution…
Lie: “Cardio is unimportant. Strength training is the key to your goals!
I only run when chased.”
Truth: If the only time you run is when being chased,
that thing that is chasing you will get you.
Some may think the phrase “I only run when chased” only comes from overweight, de-conditioned office-dwellers, but you may be surprised to know that most of the time I hear this from dedicated gym rats who love strength training and believe cardio is four-letter word. “You’re killing all your gainz, bro!”
When people hear/read about all the success stories that have come out of our program, the most common question is, “So what’s the big secret?” Often my answer is something along the lines of, “A lot of practice and repetition. We’re not here to entertain you, we’re here to get you better at stuff.” But there is a part 2 here: The art of balancing the program. If you can deadlift 2x your bodyweight comfortably, but can’t run a mile in under 8 minutes, something’s missing.
I decided a while back that when I wanted to become proficient in a particular thing, I seek out the best sources of that thing and immerse myself in them. Also, while immersed in that curriculum, I completely ignore everything else that’s outside of that box. As humans, we have a bad habit of chasing bunnies when it comes to training. I’ve heard it said that if you chase two bunnies at the same time, you come home hungry. For any argument that one can make for a certain fitness modality, a similar (seemingly intelligent) sounding argument can be made against it. Since bunny-chasing seems to be the thing to do (which causes results to suffer), I’ve decided that in our system we will do the opposite… focus. For this reason, this is my MO:
- Find the person/company/community who is the foremost thought-leader in what I’m attempting to gain proficiency in.
- Immerse myself in to their curriculum.
- IMPORTANT: Completely ignore everything else.
- Once the principles are assimilated, figure out how to incorporate them in a way that does not violate other key principles.
- Rinse and repeat until fluffy.
Is it possible that when this process is over we look outside of that particular thought-leader to expand our horizons? Sure. Being overly dogmatic has its issues too.
These were the critical first steps in creating what is now simply known as The Protocol. After many years of trial-and-error we have made many modifications to the system, to the point where perhaps now it may look like it is its own unique thing. But there is nothing new under the sun. The starting template has always been what I described above. I’ve spoken extensively in the past about who the big influencers were in our mobility and strength training programs, so I won’t bore you with that here. But in the world of cardiovascular training, one of the foremost authorities in my opinion is Dr. Kenneth Jay. If you wish to follow my lead in immersing yourself into something that will ellicit the best results in this genre of fitness, I highly recommend picking up his book, The Cardio Code.
No one system of training is without flaws. There is a cost-to-benefit ratio to take into account every time we decide to take up a certain physical task. Heck, even sitting on our butts and watching TV has this C2B ratio: The benefit is that it’s very relaxing, but we all know that too much sitting around makes us sloppy and soft.
In strength training, we can (and should) utilize a similar thought process. Coach Charles Staley says that every time we grab the barbell there is a cost, but there is not always a benefit.
For many years I believed that if I got my heart rate up, I was doing cardio (20-rep breathing squats!). Kenneth Jay’s response to that is, “If that were true, I could scare you into shape.”
The truth is, strength training makes the heart thicker and less pliable. Even my beloved kettlebell swing is not the superior tool for true cardiovascular training. Heresy you shout! Yeah, I know… go complain on the internet about it. But before you do that, think about this: If you’ve been doing swings as long as I have, you have become incredibly efficient at this movement… I have ladies at my facility that consider a 32kg kettlebell to be a ‘warmup’ weight for swings. If someone who is that efficient at the swing wanted to take it into rep ranges (with a smaller weight) that would elicit a true cardiovascular response, the muscles and the grip would give out long before the cardio would. If you love kettlebells as much as I do and think they are THE tool for conditioning, you’ve obviously never done an all-out 2000-meter time trail on a Concept 2 rower.
“But Jerry, doesn’t lots of cardio makes you frail and weak?”
If you asked me to name the three toughest people I know, they are all endurance athletes… so that statement falls flat for me. There is a certain grit that endurance athletes have that is rarely seen outside of that circle (with maybe an exception for certain military units). All three of the guys I’m thinking of right now are anything but frail and weak, and anyone making that kind of statement is just out of shape and making excuses about it.
Cardio for the everyday athlete
Cardio isn’t everything… but it is something. So how do we, as ordinary folks, add/program this into our everyday lives? The simplest suggestion I can make is to start by adding one steady-state activity (about 45 to 60 min) and two brief and intense cardio sessions per week (under ten minutes is good and the best ones are under 5). If a 5-minute cardio workout sounds easy, you’re doing it wrong, and a good ten-minute burner will leave you saying, “Thank goodness it wasn’t eleven!”
Steady state cardio can be a wide variety of things and intensity can be relative. For some, this could be an easy jog. For others, and hour of jogging won’t work and a nice hike or light bike ride would be better. The same thing goes for the brief and intense cardio sessions. Just like strength training, gradual progression is the key.
If you haven’t seen the blog from Strength Matters about “The Lost Art of Athleticism”, and haven’t rated yourself on a 1-to-10 scale on the 8 different characteristics, I highly recommend doing so. It may be a very humbling task, and you may even wish to have your coach or training partner do yours for you for an even bigger dose of reality. If you are a specialist in your particular sport, you may need to be lower in certain characteristics in order to perform at the level you do. But let’s face it, if you were one of those high-level specialists, you wouldn’t have read this far down. Chances are, you probably need to expand your horizons. If you need assistance, I know a guy who can help you.
Until next time,
Jerry Trubman – Senior SMK Instructor
Jerry is the owner and founder of The Protocol Strength & Conditioning, a fitness facility and coaching program specializing in teaching people how to move better and become stronger. With over a decade of experience, Jerry has devoted himself to seeking out better answers, then distilling those answers into practical programs that produce great results. He provides workshops, clinics, and kettlebell certifications all over the world through the UK-based company, Strength Matters, and writes “The Healthy Addiction” blog which has thousands of readers world-wide. For more information, please visit theprotocolsc.com