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Conditioning: How to test and what to do with the results

Everyone knows athletes need to be conditioned for their sport. Some of the common terminology most people would associate with conditioning are: sprints, shuttle runs, gassers, HIIT (high intensity interval training), running, jogging, bikes, air bikes, rowers, intervals etc.

But like most things in life, things aren’t always as simple as they seem.

Taking some of the terms associated with conditioning I listed above and putting them together is not going to create a very effective conditioning program for anyone, let alone an athlete looking to improve performance.

Here is a list of terms that would help us create an effective conditioning program:

  • Time of year (in season or off season)

  • Energy Systems (aerobic or anaerobic)

  • Injuries

  • Skill Level

  • Sport

  • Needs Analysis

  • Fitness Testing

There are more terms to use and some strength coaches may debate on what to include and what to take out but in the end they are going to be very similar to create an effective conditioning program:

  • Testing

  • Asses the testing numbers

  • Create a conditioning program that matches an athletes needs

Also, testing is a way to make sure conditioning programs are working. Having baseline numbers is a must to know if the program is giving us the desired result when retesting. Comparing the numbers to see what physiological changes have or haven’t taken place allows for adjustments to be mare or to stay the course.


7 Minute Max Effort Test (modified Cooper’s test)

Bike or Running (sport, age, injuries dependent)

What we measure

  • Max Heart Rate (helps determine training zone and Aerobics fitness)

  • Average Heart Rate (used to determine approximate Anaerobic Threshold)

  • Distance (work capacity and used for retesting purposes only)

  • Average RPM’s (revolutions per minute) (work capacity and used for retesting purposes only)

  • Heart Rate Recovery (HRR) 1 minute after test (used to determine Aerobic fitness and in program design)

  • Heart Rate Recovery (HRR) 2 minutes after test (used to determine Aerobic fitness and in program design)


What we learn from this conditioning test:

  • Overall Aerobic Capabilities

  • Athletes max heart rate

  • Athletes Anaerobic Threshold (+or- 5bpm of average heart rate)

  • Distance measures work capacity

  • HRR at 1 and 2 minutes is a good indicator of Aerobic Fitness


When creating a conditioning program we take all the information gathered into consideration, that being said almost all of our programs start out the same way. The athletes have just finished their season and have taken time off and our now ready to start their off season program and they are lacking an Aerobic Base. Most sports are Anaerobic (sprints) in nature and the athlete spends most of the year sprinting. The athlete needs to build a strong foundation to build upon. That foundation should be Aerobic Conditioning. That being said an athletes base is going to look very different depending on sport and position. An offensive lineman doesn't need the same Aerobic Base as a soccer player. It is very difficult for an athlete to sprint, recover and sprint again at the same level without a strong Aerobic Base.

Information we need:

  • How many days a week and athlete is going to train

  • How many weeks does the athlete have to train

  • Injuries

  • Sport

  • Position

  • Modified Coopers test results

  1. Heart Rate Recovery 1 minute 30 beats or more

  2. Heart Rate Recovery 2 minute 50 beats or more

  3. Average Heart Rate to predict approximately Anaerobic Threshold and create training zones

Heart Rate Recovery and Average Heart Rate are used to design the Conditioning program. If the athlete has the ability to Recovery 30 beats or better in 1 minute, 50 beats or better in 2 minutes and Average Heart, Max Heart Rate and Distance are good (it is determined that the athlete tried their best and didn’t sandbag the test) they are good to do Anaerobic (sprints) and enough Aerobic work to maintain their current fitness level. If they don’t display the above numbers then our main focus is Aerobic fitness and most of the Anaerobic work will still have an Aerobic outcome.

Here is a 5 day a week example of a phase 1 conditioning program for an athlete starting their off season training that needs to work on their Aerobic fitness.

Phase 1

Monday/Thursday - Low Day - Aerobic

Tempo Intervals

:15 seconds of work at 60%-70% intensity

1:00 active recovery (or more if heart is low enough)

10-15 sets

Purpose - Most athletes find steady state cardio boring. We add a very light “sprint” to mix up the conditioning work. The heart rate will stay well below anaerobic threshold and will typically be between 130-150bpm based on the athletes need. Improving the athletes Aerobic capacity (ability to use oxygen)

Side note: most of our low Aerobic based conditioning is done with Nasal Breathing.

Tuesday/Friday - High Day - Anaerobic

(this early we are still working the aerobic zone and this isn’t true Anaerobic work)

H.R.I. (High Resistance Intervals)

:10-:12 seconds or work (if an athlete is very deconditioned this may be :06-:08 seconds)

Rest to Heart Rate is 130bpm (may be lower for some athletes)

10-20 sets (they time how long it takes to get heart rate back down after each set, once that number increases by 15-20% we are done for the day)

Purpose - We are allowing the athlete to work hard but with such a short time it is difficult for the Heart Rate to get much higher than Anaerobic Threshold. Allowing the athlete to rest until the heart rate is 130bpm tends to keep the athlete between 130-160 beats for the duration of the workout and helps build Aerobic Capacity through sprints.

Wednesday - Active Recovery - Aerobic

Ryan Heickert MS, ATC, PES, SFMA, CSA


Modified Coopers Test

Average Heart Rate - Anaerobic Threshold

Joel Jamieson - Book - Ultimate MMA Conditioning

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