Developing Strength and Conditioning in the Same Training Session

TAGS: group strength and conditioning, concurrent programming, box programming, Jason Brown, group training, rate of force development, work output, training clients, strength and conditioning, hypertrophy, cardio, conjugate method, gpp

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The topic of whether or not it is prudent to perform strength and conditioning in the same session is often debated. I will preface this article by saying that the optimal scenario would be for athletes to separate sessions so that each has one specific focus. Clearly in the group setting this may not be possible, so what is the cost of performing both "strength" and “conditioning" in the same session? In the CrossFit community—and at just about any CrossFit certification you attend—the belief that multiple qualities being performed in the same session does not make sense is echoed, but there really isn't any science or evidence behind these claims.

This article is specifically geared toward training clients in a group setting where we won’t have the luxury of knowing all of our clients’ schedules or when they are going to train next. I hope to delve into why it is possible and even prudent to use both strength and conditioning. However, there are some concrete rules that we’ll want to discuss first. I'll also tell you specifically how I program this work to ensure that both qualities do not interfere with one another.

A Quick Personal Story

This past September and October I trained at a commercial gym doing only strength and hypertrophy. I did not have access to sleds, so GPP work was out. But I was still using the conjugate method, which means there was still a consistent rotation of variations. The goal was to change things up and just focus on getting stronger and improving imbalance and body composition. The end result was cracking several plateaus, namely in the back squat, front squat, and bench press.


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I was happy with the results and how my body felt, but I was bored with the process. I missed conditioning and GPP work and was ready to change things up. The reason for this is that most personality types (like myself) that are drawn to CrossFit love novelty. They love new and exciting things. Doing the same ole thing day in and day out gets old — fast. Even with an approach like the conjugate method, I was still bored. Having variety is fun. Having variety keeps you entertained where you always have areas of your fitness that need attention.

In short, it was great to crack plateaus, but at the end of the day I'd rather still have fun and be able to change things up with my program design. Being able to include sled work in my max effort and dynamic effort training allows me to stay engaged and breaks up the repetition. This is a key component of keeping your clients healthy—both mentally and physically—and training at your facility.

What Is Strength and Conditioning Work?

Specifically, what we are referring to is work that is done to improve inter/intra-muscular coordination (max effort work). Within this same realm is our work that improves our athlete's ability to enhance rate of force development (RFD) as well (dynamic effort work). On the other hand, our accessory work is instrumental in improving our strength work, as bringing up one's limiting factors is highly responsible for assisting in longevity and performance, but this work is commonly used in rep schemes that facilitate hypertrophy (muscle-growth) more than maximal strength.

Our conditioning work seeks to improve our athlete's ability to perform higher levels of work-output across all three energy systems. Our focus here is improving aerobic, anaerobic lactic, and anaerobic alactic qualities. Sounds like two entirely different things when compared to strength work, right? Yes and no. Let's separate our training into categories so we can delve into our logic here and how things fit together with our system of concurrent programming.

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Clearly, there are a lot of parallels, as well as some distinct differences among modalities. So let's talk in terms of certainties that we can take to the bank:

1. Aerobic work will ALWAYS be separated from strength work. The two modalities are too different to combine and strength work can take away from aerobic work. This is a non-negotiable.

2. Max effort or dynamic effort work can potentiate higher-threshold work (alactic work) if movement sequencing is done correctly. For example, if you perform a two-rep max deadlift and then perform a high-threshold conditioning piece with heavy deadlifts, it's likely there will be high levels of interference, as the deadlift is the most demanding movement in our arsenal. On the other hand, if you were to sequence a one-rep max front squat and then perform moderate to heavy deadlifts on your higher-threshold conditioning work, the chance of interference is much lower and the front squat can actually potentiate the CNS for your conditioning. The combination of knee-dominant versus hip-dominant is much more favorable in this case.

3. Sequencing and volume of compound movements must be taken into consideration. This is another reason why I'm a huge fan of one-rep maxes and dynamic effort work in the group setting, as the intent is clear and both combine easily with conditioning work. Higher rep maxes will drastically impair your athletes’ ability to perform subsequent conditioning work. This really isn't rocket science, when you think about. Keep intensity high with max effort work but volume low.

4. Accessory work will be separated (more times than not) from conditioning. Of course, some of our conditioning pieces may include unilateral movements that can double as accessory work, but what we are referring to is work that is done to compliment our training session for the day, usually done as straight sets.

5. GPP work can be used to satisfy multiple goals. Remember, though, that the key here is that the demand is low due to significantly lower external loading and less skill required. This work can also facilitate recovery done after strength work as a "finisher."

6. Single modality days are crucial. Having a single element day has a number of advantages, but outside of the physiological benefits, the psychological benefits of mixing things up and giving your athletes a "break" from time to time are important.

In short, our goal is to help our clients become better versions of themselves in terms of fitness, longevity, and body composition, so well-rounded concurrent fitness is the best course of action. Of course, we know dedicated work to improve one modality in a given session may be optimal (if you’re training for a powerlifting meet, separating your GPP-based work is optimal), but that's not to say that we cannot use "strength work" to prime our CNS and potentiate our conditioning work. We certainly can.

Will your clients’ fitness decline from this method? Of course not! What if your clients are trying to compete in Olympic lifting or an endurance event? Then take the time to encourage them to use individual programming geared toward bringing up where they are weakest and preparing them for their specific event or goal.

Header Image Credit: langstrup © 123rf.com

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