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Cardio-Strength Training

March 3, 2010

While many of the articles here on UltiTraining have focused on the S in S&C–Strength&Conditioning–it’s important not to forget the importance of staying well conditioned during the college/club season.

Many teams rely on LSD [long-slow distance], scrimmages, and sprints after practice for their conditioning, but can we do better? There’s definitely been a trend away from LSD towards interval training in the last few decades. What boxers call roadwork we often may associate with slow jogs/runs, but modern fighters often incorporate interval training, circuits, and complexes into their conditioning routines.

In this blog post, I’ll explain some basic ideas and programs adapted from Coach dos Remedios‘s new book, Cardio Strength Training, and describe two KB-based complexes you can try out in your own conditioning routines.

Coach Dos’s book starts out with the reminder that Dr. Tabata’s 1996 study showed that “a simple 4-minute protocol using negative rest periods (20 seconds of high intensity work followed by 10 seconds of rest) five times a week (a total of 20 minutes) was more effective than traditional steady state cardio performed for 60 minutes, five times per week.” In fact, “in a fraction of the time, they found greater aerobic and anaerobic gains in the short, high-intensity interval group!”

That said, it’s somewhat difficult to replicate the intensity you need for the Tabata protocol in your average University gym, but coaches have tried a number of variants to this basic method.

In Cardio Strength Training, Coach Dos and Alwyn Cosgrove put forth the hypothesis that “a strength training–interval training hybrid outperforms both strength and interval training… something that great coaches already know. Wait for the researchers to catch up…” Coach Dos then describes a number of different ways to hybridize strength training and interval-cardio work, including complexes, density training, on-and-off circuits, and repetition sets. To keep things simple, this blog post will only briefly touch upon kettlebell complexes (the book has more details on dumbbell and barbell complexes).

What is a complex? Alwyn Cosgrove defines a complex as “performing two or more exercises in a sequence with the same load”. In other words, you might perform a number of snatches followed by a number of overhead squats without putting down the weighted implement.

Cosgrove argues that while sprint-based training does condition for cardiorespiratory fitness, one must also condition the muscle groups themselves to handle high levels of lactate. And while there are running-based methods to condition muscles / lactate processing, Ultimate players definitely get plenty of running in during practice, tournaments, and sprints after practice. Enter dumbbell / barbell / kettlebell complexes, which allow athletes to train for improved “metabolic conditioning”.

The following video demonstrates a basic Kettlebell complex and an advanced, double K’bell complex. These complexes were adapted from Coach Dos’s book and slightly modified.

Beginning KB complex:

  • 3 sets of 6-8 reps of {KB swing, Goblet squat, Push Press}. Rest 1-2 minutes between sets.

Advanced/Double KB complex:

  • 3 sets of 6-8 reps of {High Pull, Clean & Push Press, Dbl. KB Snatch, Front Squat}. Rest 1-2 minutes between sets.

[Note: the KB form demonstrated in the book could be a tad bit better. Instead of the quarter squat, try performing the KB swing like a moving deadlift, hiking the 'bell between your legs. When you clean the 'bell to rack position, keep the 'bell & elbow close to the body. Finally, when pressing the 'bell overhead, keep the wrist "straight", as in a punch or a knuckles-down push-up.]

Alwyn’s article on complexes has two different DB complexes and CorePerformance has an interview with Coach Dos that mentions how to do bodyweight complexes. Start light, with longer recovery periods. With less than 100 lbs on a barbell or 12-16kg on your K’bell, you’ll still rack up thousands of pounds of total work per set.

Don’t forget that your body/mind adapts to what you do, and simply doing the same sprint intervals you’ve done for weeks, months, years may not create the same kind of “metabolic disturbance” that they once did. Coach Dos cites The New Toughness Training for Sport where Jim Loehr talks about “the concept that if there is no personal confrontation, there is no progress… if you are not doubting yourself or not thinking of other things that you could be doing instead of the task at hand, you’re probably not working hard enough on your complexes.”

Work hard, comrades.

30 Comments leave one →
  1. March 3, 2010 3:16 pm

    That looks intense! I’ve become really interested in learning more about kettlebell exercises particularly for the purpose of getting stronger and better at Ultimate.

    Since you say the second complex circuit is only for experienced users, what would you recommend for beginners?

    I am used to squat/deadlift/shoulderpress with barbells. Can I pick up the kettlebell routine easily?

    • March 3, 2010 5:28 pm

      Hi Brandon,

      The first complex is a good place to start, with 3 sets of 6 reps of {swing, goblet squat, push press}, rest for 2 minutes.

      After doing so with a light ‘bell, eventually you can add a rep each week, and then reduce the rest from 120 seconds to 90 seconds, then 90 seconds to 60 seconds.

      The first kettlebell routine is not too hard to pick up, as there are good video tutorials on KB swings online, such as:

      http://optimumsportsperformance.com/blog/?p=1093

      with corrections from Jordan:

      After you dial in the swing, you can go faster / add more power (glute/hip thrust), and then transition from the first complex to the second. For example, you could add a high-pull after the swing, since learning the high-pull is much easier than mastering the “snatch”.

      Good luck! As Coach Dos says, WORK HARD =)

      • March 3, 2010 7:02 pm

        Great! I’m really looking forward to trying this out.

        BTW, I went to the gym over lunch today and I didn’t see any kettlebells anywhere. From the amount of press they are getting lately, I’m really surprised that my university gym doesn’t have any.

  2. March 4, 2010 12:05 am

    Kettlebells, soon they will be among us =)

    In the mean-time, Olympic plates with handles can be used. I also bring my ‘bells to the gym once in a while!

    Some other thoughts on cardio via the Fitness Spotlight:

    http://www.fitnessspotlight.com/2010/02/22/best-cardio-workout-routine/

  3. March 4, 2010 1:10 am

    I do agree that endurance training needs to be used, sprint intervals and complex training tend to be good for this purpose, but sprints do not necessarily have to be the only high intensity complex that can or should be used to create an interval program or even barbells, kettlebells, dumbbells, etc. Problem I see with most is that even conditioning should be specific, not just random exercises to be thrown in a complex for conditioning purposes. ie: Lance Armstrong highest VO2 max, but blew chops in a marathon run.

    Since you have to be mobile on the court, S-Phase drills should be at the forefront (side shuffles and crossover shuffles added in the HIIT training). Since most of your practice probably deals with such – training is best used to do what you aren’t.

    Since UF deals with forward throwing and forward flexion – you should reverse the movements to balance out the body and homoculus. Backward throws + Side shuffle is simply one example. And any other movements not typically performed are best (mirrors and opposite movement qualities). This is best in a group format of course, whereas biofeedback training would be best on a personal basis.

    Thoughts?

    • March 4, 2010 3:43 pm

      Agree–I was going to make a blog post about “training is best used to do what you aren’t” or “train what you don’t do in practice / games” but I couldn’t remember the specific StrengthCoach podcast where they talked about that in more detail.

      Marking drills do essentially address “side flow” in theory, but in practice the side flow mechanics aren’t quite what S-phase teaches. I have been experimenting with S-phase type side flow for marking (specifically putting more weight on the inside of the feet), and I think it’s worth practicing. A topic for another blog post =)

      I talk a bit about using reverse lunges with thoracic twist on one side only here:

      http://ultitraining.wordpress.com/2010/01/13/3-steps-towards-being-a-sustainable-ultimate-handler/

      and more generally about bodies in “balance” here,

      http://ultitraining.wordpress.com/2010/02/01/athletic-bodies-in-balance/

      but actually it makes me think that actually many lunges in Ultimate are in the transverse plane or even the frontal plane rather than the sagittal plane (forward lunging is not actually that common, even though pretty much everyone does this in warm-ups hmm).

      Balancing out flexion/extension has def been important for me, and I’m still trying to figure out how to make sure my shoulder stays balanced after pulling hard up/downwind some dozen times over a tourney weekend.

      In general though, many Ultimate athletes suffer ankle and knee injuries. Coach Boyle has a good section on knee prehab in Advances in Functional Training where he talks about glute medius tissue quality, landing form, ankle mobility, and RNT (reactive neuromuscular training) w/ mini-bands and SLS (single leg squats) for lateral musculature activation.

      I guess back to point one, I’m trying to figure out how to balance the imperative re-iterated by Dan John, “if it’s important, do it every day” vs the need to balance and avoid over-use. I have programmed runs/sprints as part of KB complexes (swing, goblet squat), but that hasn’t been an everyday thing.

      I suppose the question of how often to sprint per week has been on my mind (esp. pre/after a tourney weekend), as has how to incorporate CST (cardio-strength training) into a tourney schedule. For me, I tried the KB routines demonstrated (but not for all sets) the week before the latest tourney and seemed to have above-average conditioning.

      But back to specificity, I think it’s a challenge to interpret SAID in the real-world, as by nature of weight training / ESD / CST work, you are using multiple stimuli to get a specific response, it’s just hard to predict what that response actually is. And as for Ultimate, as a strength+endurance sport, teams often practice 2-5 times a week even on tourney weekends (we have Monday / Thursday / Sat team practice, Tue handler practice, Wed off-day workout / S&C office hours in the gym, and sometimes Fri throwing / turf practice, then the tournament would be Sat / Sun), so folks definitely get a bunch of movement practice in during the week.

      Rather than side flow (which I think I’d rather practice as a technique first before conditioning, plus we have marking drills for conditioning, and extended V-cut for conditioning + cutting/catching), I have thought about using a lunge matrix as part of BB/KB complexes, as the lunge is mentioned in Coach Dos’s CST even if he doesn’t talk about lunge matrices.

      But yes, what players may not be doing that they could benefit from:

      - Lunge matrix
      - Jump matrix training
      - Side flow focused on keeping weight closer to ball-of-foot than heel but on *inside of foot* (medial)
      - Reverse lunges w/ thoracic twist (see previous post)
      - Balancing out internal / external rotation deficits in the same way that pitchers do for GIRD
      - Ankle mobility! (previous post too)

      There’s also dominant hand flexion, but the challenge I’ve discovered is that if you start programming hand extension waves, you will feel better, but forearm/upperarm/hand soft tissue work and mobility work does feel good but can screw with catching dynamics (moreso than with throwing dynamics), but maybe that’s just me.

      Thanks Darryl =)

    • Leslie Wu permalink
      March 4, 2010 3:46 pm

      As for VO2max + Lance, there’s also the skill of running, plus the arguable way in which one needs to condition the appropriate muscles in a “metabolic conditioning” way.

      Coach Boyle has some interesting thoughts on the (non-)importance of VO2max / lactate threshold in Advances in Functional Training. I’ll have to re-read that chapter and give it some thought. Read that book? Good stuff…

  4. Chris D permalink
    March 4, 2010 7:31 pm

    @Leslie

    Where do you stand on so called “classic” strength goals for athletic traning, are they useful goals? eg.
    - 1.5 to 2x bodyweight squat
    - 8 single leg squats
    - 2x bodyweight deadlift
    - 10 pullups, 20 dips

    Thoughts on much maximal strength work is appropriate to pair anerobic conditioning work?

    • Leslie Wu permalink
      March 6, 2010 4:16 am

      Although arguably somewhat arbitrary, these seem like decent goals to shoot for.. the question more pressing might be, should you mainly train with back/front squats, deadlifts, and dips?

      Some prefer deadlifts over squats (Gray Cook), some argue for split squats / RFESS over deadlifts (Mike Boyle), others aren’t such big fans of dips (Eric Cressey)–me, I’m still trying to figure out what works best for me, and I guess every person is different.

      What Coach Dos suggests on p.45 are a few different ways to pair lifting days with cardio strength:

      3-day lifting:

      1) Lift / CST / Lift / CST / Lift / Off / Off
      2) Lift + complexes / Off / Lift + complexes / Off / Lift + complexes / Off / Off

      4-day lifting:

      3) Lift / Lift / CST / Lift / Lift / CST / Off
      4) Lift + complexes / Lift + complexes / Off / Lift + complexes / Lift + complexes / Off / Off

      The main point here is that there’s at least as much max-strength type lifting work as CST, as it helps to be strong (max-strength lifts) first and then endure (CST) later.

  5. Leslie Wu permalink
    March 6, 2010 4:22 am

    PS, some critiques on this method of training:

    http://kbforum.dragondoor.com/kettlebells-strength-conditioning-forum/141589-cardio-strength-training-kettlebell-complexes.html

    Interesting how these responses conflict with Coach Dos’s claim that

    “The main reason complexes are so effective is that they are THAT hard. If you are not pushing the envelope just to the brink of complete failure with each set, you are not going to get all you can get out of these highly effective, challenging exercises” (p.47)

    How hard and how heavy should one do CST, if at all? Hm…

  6. Alex permalink
    March 6, 2010 4:43 pm

    This is somewhat unrelated, but I have been lifting pretty heavy over the past few months, 5x week, pretty standard mix of bench deadlifts squats cleans plus plyos. I weight pretty much 145 consistently for the last 6-7 years, eating whatever I wanted without seeing a change, but in the last 3 months I have gone up to 165 with the combination of lifting, high protein intake and creatine.

    With ultimate season (tryouts) starting in about 5-6 weeks, what’s the best way to dropping down. I arbitrarily thought 10 lbs, but I think I’ve gained a lot of water weight because of the creatine.

    As I start to prep, what’s the best way to get down to playing weight? Should I stop taking the creatine? I understand I should be eating at a deficit, but do you recommend any supplements?

    Thanks in advance

    • Alan permalink
      March 7, 2010 11:11 pm

      Alex,

      I guess you’re saying that the 20lbs is not all lean mass (if it is, I say keep it and use it to your advantage on the field)? If not here goes…

      My personal recommendation would be to stick with the creatine… The benefits of increased aerobic activity, increased recovery, and increased body comp are reason enough for me. If you really need supplements, I would just add fish oil into the mix. It’s not necessarily something that will have a huge impact on weight loss, but it’s definitely a high impact supp in terms of health. Another choice is to add green tea and drop any calorie-filled beverages. The tea will give you some caffeine and other beneficial antioxidents/polyphenols to keep you healthy and increase your daily burn (although not by a huge amount).

      Take a look at your diet for a few days. It may be best to just start putting 2-3 servings of veggies and a single serving of lean protein with every meal. It’s an easy way to not feel like you’re in a deficit while running in one. Basically, 2 servings of greens stuffs you up better than the equivalent calories in bread or pasta (at least, that has been my experience). It will also cut out a few carbs from your diet and help you figure out how much extra water you are actually retaining.

      Leslie’s post on CST will be great for you at this point. I would recommend just throwing some intervals at the end of workouts or on off days. I’m sure Leslie will chime in as well, but it’s a low-impact method of increase caloric burn. If you take your body with 20 extra pounds and hit the streets for additional miles you may begin to rack up some overuse injuries before the season even starts. Start by cutting some of the excess before you hit the ground running.

      Alan Janzen
      http://www.alanjanzen.blogspot.com

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