The Six Most Brutal Conditioning Exercises

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Conditioning comes in many different forms, sometimes you choose a method that is mind numbingly boring and requires you to keep moving at a steady pace for up to an hour. Then there are other times when you choose a method and it is just down right brutal leaving you on the floor in a puddle of your own sweat and tears.

Different goals require different types of conditioning emphasis but, for the average gym rat a nice balanced mix of both styles of long easy conditioning and short intense bouts is best. Slow, longer distance conditioning builds a strong aerobic base and maintains a healthy heart while short, high intensity conditioning builds increased capacity for times when you need to sustain high power outputs in the gym and in sport.

Related: Military Workout: Elite Bodyweight and Conditioning Program

Both methods of conditioning are options to consider when trying to lose fat however, one method not only helps with losing fat but also helps preserve lean muscle mass and that is high intensity conditioning. Not only does high intensity work help you hang on to precious muscle while trying to lose body fat, it is also a great way to train mental toughness which often gets over looked in most peoples’ training.

High intensity training is also a great method for those individuals that are looking for the most time efficient means of improving their conditioning and their leanness.

Here are six of the most brutal conditioning exercises that will test your mind, body, and spirit and get you jacked in the process.

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6 Brutal Conditioning Exercises

#1 – The Prowler/Sled

Pushing a sled is perhaps the most primitive and effective way getting in a brutal conditioning session at the end of your workout or as a totally separate session. The ways in which you can push your limits with a sled are limited only by your imagination. Push it, pull it, drag it, it doesn’t really matter which way you choose. It will be challenging, and you will be humbled but, one of the great things about pushing a sled is that there is little to no soreness the day after.

This is because there is no eccentric muscle contraction which is the main cause of soreness and stress. What this means for you is that it is relatively easy to recover from so you can perform this method of conditioning often.

One of the best protocols for conditioning with a sled is to perform the Tabata method which only lasts for four minutes. Load up one and a half times your bodyweight on the sled and perform eight sets of 20 seconds of all-out effort with ten seconds of rest.

Download a Tabata timer on your phone a so all you have to worry about is listening for the beeps instead of looking at a stopwatch and be wary of the “Prowler Flu” which will have you running for the puke bucket at the end of four minutes.

#2 – Burpees

The burpee is a great conditioning exercise for a number of reasons but, perhaps the best reason is that it only requires your bodyweight. Another benefit of the burpee is that you develop a sense of body awareness by going from standing to prone and back to standing. There is something surprisingly difficult about getting up and down off of the floor even for some of the lighter gym rats out there.

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The burpee is great from a conditioning stand point because of how intensely it makes you work but, it is also great for maintaining the skills of absorbing your bodyweight as you fall to the ground and picking yourself up off of the floor. These two skills become more and more important the older that you become. Just some food for thought.

One of the best ways to utilize the burpee in a conditioning workout is to perform an EMOM or, “every minute on the minute” for a certain number of minutes. A great example of this would be to perform ten burpees at the top of every minute for ten minutes.

This would add up to a total of 100 reps in ten minutes. It will seem pretty easy on minutes one and two but soon you will notice that its taking you more time to complete each set of ten which means that you are cutting into your rest time. Don’t be surprised if you only have a couple of seconds in between your last sets to rest.

#3 – AirDyne

Performing conditioning on an Airdyne or similar dual action bike is an eye opening experience. Not only are you taking the cycling leg action of a regular exercise bike and adding upper body pushing and pulling to the mix, you are also making it fan driven. This means that when you push hard into the bike it pushes you back just as hard! The result is a really brutal conditioning session.

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When it comes to specific training protocols using the Airdyne, traditional high intensity interval training works extremely well. Spend 15-20 minutes alternating one minute of high intensity riding with three minutes of slower easier riding.

Once you become more conditioned you can alter the work to rest ratio so that you are performing one minute of high intensity followed by two of low intensity. If you’re a total stud you can drop your work to rest ratio even lower and play with negative work to rest ratios like that of the Tabata protocol mentioned above.

#4 – Bear Hug Sandbag Carry

Training with odd objects can be a wakeup call if you think you’re strong. A barbell was designed to be lifted and most odd objects were not. This fact is true with a 100 plus pound sand bag.

Just finding a good way to hold a heavy sand bag is a challenge and carrying it over 10 meters while bear hugging it is enough to make you question why you chose to do conditioning at all. What makes this particular conditioning exercise so brutal is the fact that in order to carry the sand bag you have to squeeze it to your chest which makes it very tough to breath once you get to huffing and puffing.

Try this sandbag carry conditioning workout to push your work capacity to new heights. Begin by lapping the sandbag and then getting a firm bear hug grip, very similar to the clinch in wrestling. Once you are properly holding the sandbag perform a set of eight squats and then walk with it 15 meters or so. Repeat this process eight times setting down the sandbag as little as possible with the goal being to not drop it until your last set of eight squats.

#5 – 400-800m Sprint

If you have ever run the 400m or 800m in track you know how devastating these distances are. There is no simpler way to improve your levels of conditioning than sprinting. If you want a lean muscular body that moves well too, then perform heavy compound movements and sprint.

Your training really can be that simple and it would be extremely effective. Great goals for the average gym rat to set for sprints on the track are to run 400m in under a minute and 800m in under two minutes.

When it comes to using sprinting for a conditioning workout there are some details to pay attention to. First, DO NOT begin your workout cold and stiff or dehydrated, if you do you are begging for a pulled hamstring. Warm up thoroughly before attempting any sprints.

Second, take some time to learn proper sprint technique which means acceleration, top end speed, and deceleration mechanics as these are also important for preventing injury as well. Remember quality before quantity. Third, keep the total distance of your conditioning session to 1600m or less.

Sprinting can be tough on the nervous system so be sure to ease into sprinting and see how much you can handle before seeing drops in performance in the weight room or on the track. Give sprinting a try and you will have a new found appreciation for the athletes performing in Rio this summer.

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#6 – Battle Ropes

It is amazing how brutal of a workout a simple piece of rope can provide. Battle ropes are a brutal conditioning workout for the entire upper body and build stamina and endurance in the shoulders through many different planes of motion. This can help with injury prevention while also exposing weakness. All you need is a rope and an anchor point to get a killer conditioning workout.

Try intervals of 30 seconds on 30 seconds off for up to ten minutes. There are a number of different techniques you can use to make different wave patterns, just ensure that your waves always make it to the anchor point. You can increase the difficulty of your workout by moving closer to the anchor point and make it easier by moving away from the anchor and stretching the rope out.

Wrap up

There you have it six brutal options for your conditioning workouts. Most of these exercises and sample workouts are deceptively simple but don’t be fooled it’s often the simplest methods of exercise that are the most devastating. Try starting with two sessions a week and build up your levels of conditioning gradually.

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Name: Luke Atchley

Bio: I have made it my life’s mission to get strong and to make others around me stronger. There are no secrets to strength, no pills, no short cuts, no easy way out. The path to strength is simple, not complicated as others out there would have you believe.I am here to make the path known, to make you strong, but just because the path is simple does not mean that it will be easy. The truly strong are strong of mind, body, character, and spirit. I call these the Virtues of Strength.