By Patrick Striet, CSCS ProSource
Cardio. Iron heads like us hate it. The thought of spending 30 minutes at 70% of max heart rate on an elliptical trainer sounds about as pleasurable as watching a Lifetime movie marathon or listening to Kenny G. However, as unfortunate as it may be, in my opinion, some form of cardio is a necessary evil. Even if your goals are solely to get jacked and strong, there is something to be said for being "in shape" and fit in a general sense. What's more, choosing the RIGHT KIND of conditioning can help keep you lean by ramping up your metabolism for hours post workout, allowing you to take in more calories in order to promote growth and recovery.
Note that I'm not talking here about a traditional long, slow, distance approach where you plod along at a low to moderate intensity for 30-60 minutes. This does nothing more than raise cortisol levels, sap your energy, and bore the hell out of you. No, instead, I'm talking about hard yet brief muscle sparing conditioning known as metabolic conditioning or "met con".
Met con is nothing new and has been promoted by strength coaches for years now. With the explosion in popularity of MMA and Crossfit, met con techniques and workouts have made their way onto the mainstream fitness landscape and are being utilized by competitive athletes, hardcore fitness enthusiasts, and recreational exercisers alike. Met con is basically moderately resisted interval training using some combination of multiple joint body weight, suspension trainer, kettle bell, barbell, dumbbell, medicine ball, sandbag, sled, prowler and resistance band exercises. For those us looking to get or stay strong and jacked, met con allows us to get all the heart healthy conditioning and fat loss benefits of traditional cardio and interval training, but without all of the drawbacks: muscle loss, impeded recovery, boredom, and a substantial time commitment.
One of my favorite forms of met con is complexes. Complexes are nothing more than performing a series of multiple joint exercises, strung together one after another with no rest, using the same resistance and the same number of reps on each exercise. One of my favorite--and most grueling--complexes involves performing 10 exercises: 8 using a single kettle bell, for a total of 200 reps. This complex will obviously enhance your level of conditioning, but it will also improve your power endurance and, by using offset or asymmetrical loading, you'll get a helluva core workout as well. Here's the X's & O's:
Offset Squat (right side) 10 reps
Single Arm Push Press (right side) 10 reps
Offset Reverse Lunge (right side) 10 reps
Single Arm Swing (right side) 10 reps
Single Arm RDL (right side) 10 reps
Single Arm Row (right side) 10 reps
Single Arm High Pull (right side) 10 reps
Swing 10 reps
Jump Squats 10 reps
Plyo Push-ups 10 reps
Upon completion of the last exercise, you'd immediately start again at the beginning of the complex and switch hands, targeting the left side of the body. All in all, this totals 200 reps.
There are a couple of ways you can use this met con complex:
As a Finisher
The 200 rep complex, as described above, makes a GREAT finisher to any strength workout. Trust me when I tell you, ONE of these complexes will likely be enough to finish you off. If you are brave, try a 2nd complex, resting about 2-3 minutes after the first
As a Stand Alone Conditioning Workout
If you are going to use this exercise as a stand alone conditioning workout on the days you do not strength train, I'd suggest modifying things a bit: instead of doing 10 reps of each exercise, cut it down to 5 reps. This brings the rep total to 100. Rest 2-3 minutes between complex circuits and perform 4-6 total complexes.
Finally, before I present a video showing you what this complex looks like, I urge you to keep the kettle bell load to no more than about 25% of your body weight. For a 200 lb. guy, we are talking about a 50 lb. kettle bell. If you are not that advanced, consider dropping down to 20% of your body weight...about a 40 lb. bell for a 200 lb. guy. Remember, this is NOT pure strength work, and is more of a conditioning workout, so keep the loads moderate. I like to use the term "annoying heavy" here: the weight should be heavy enough to feel it and get you breathing heavy, but not so heavy as to prevent you from completing the full number of reps on any exercise. Got it?
Here is the video (I only did one side of the body for brevity's sake):