The Mellow Metcon: Conditioning For Strength Blocks

By Scott Paltos

Strength is king. Conditioning counts, too, though. For many of you, it counts a little too much. If you’re a good coach, or an athlete who knows what you’re doing, you’re always going to include some level of conditioning—whether it’s aerobic or anaerobic—in your programs. Sometimes, however, it’s fun to ramp things down a touch, get away from all the conditioning, and do a straight-up strength block.

If you’re regularly plugging CrossFit-style metcons into your programming, this means easing up on those and doing something different for a few weeks. By switching things up here, I’m not telling you to scrap your entire program in favor of spending two hours in the gym every day working one-rep maxes. Rather, when I undertake a block of strength training, I like keeping some degree of continuity in my workouts. What differs, then, is the fact that I’m not taxing my body with my conditioning quite as much as I ordinarily would.

With that said, I’m giving you a pair of quick metcons that accomplish two goals:

1.  If you’re trying to get stronger, they’ll help you stay within parameters that fit what you’re doing with your current program.

2.  They’ll still give you an interval conditioning feel, ensuring that your work capacity continues to improve, without taxing and crushing your body to the point where it negatively affects the work you need to do in your next session.

The idea here is to make your strength workouts more fun. These metcons are short, they’re fast, and they won’t tap into the reserves you need in order to continue building strength at the rate you want to.

Metcon #1: Hard Loud Shit

Perform six rounds of the following circuit, with one minute of active rest (walking or jumping rope) between rounds:

1.  Heavy Clean: 1 rep
2.  Heavy Med Ball Smashes: 5 reps
3.  Burpees: 5 reps

Increase the weight for the clean every two rounds—i.e., for rounds three and five.

Rationale: I’ve been putting myself through a straight strength block of late, meaning I’ve been trying to put on some muscle—while still burning fat, of course—and I’ve adapted my nutrition to help me do this. With this training priority in mind, I’ve been moving away from heavy metcons. I’ve found this series to be a highly efficient way to continue improving my work capacity.

Between rounds, throw in a minute of active rest. This entails doing something that prevents your heart rate from going back down to normal. Even if you’re going 20-30 percent above actual sedentary rest in terms of your rate of perceived exertion (RPE), the idea is to prevent it from moving all the way back down.

I’m suggesting this because I want these metcons to be a little more metabolic or aerobic. Even though we’re still working within the anaerobic system because of the short duration of the circuit, we still want to use this period to improve work capacity. If we do this at a continuous level of high volume or intensity, however, it’s going to detract from what we have scheduled the next day—or in our next session. This way, you’re still improving your work capacity without actually having to do more work.

Client Results: We’ve been doing this metcon after our strength work—which means we’ve been a little beaten up, but not completely taxed, before starting it. I’ve noticed two things after throwing this in:

1.  It was fun to do cleans after not having included them in our programming for a while, so there was an adrenaline spike involved. Everyone attacked the weights hard.

2.  Doing the smashes and the burpees, followed by some active rest, seemed to provide some degree of central nervous system (CNS) stimulation.

I intentionally didn’t tell anyone how much weight to put on the bar—and when we increased the amount, I didn’t give anyone a specific number. I just said something to the effect of, “Throw a ten and a five on there.” As they loaded more weight during their rest periods, my clients weren’t thinking in terms of numbers, and some of them hit some pretty good weights as a result.

Metcon #2: Really Fast Shit

Perform 7-12 rounds of the following:

1.  Barbell Complex: Deadlift to hang clean to jerk to clean and jerk.

2.  Sprint: 10 meters

Rest for as long as it takes you to walk back to the barbell after you sprint. In our facility, we have enough space to decelerate for ten meters after the sprint. We touch the wall, then walk back to the barbell and immediately do another complex. If, after you begin walking back, you stop making forward progress toward the bar, your punishment is one burpee.

Rationale: One group did this for five rounds, another did it for ten, and a third went for fifteen, all using moderate weight for the barbell complex. It seems as though ten was the top end for these, because the fifteen-rep group was fairly gassed afterward.

teoningThe run is an all-out, explosive ten yard sprint, not a jog-and-go type of thing. I’ve discussed running mechanics extensively with my clients—particularly the concept of gaining distance as you’re driving out and accelerating with your first few steps. In fact, to illustrate what not to do, we watched video of Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o chasing his fake girlfriend in the 40-yard-dash at the NFL Combine.

I conjured up this complex after talking a lot about loading the body before sprinting. You see this concept a lot in powerlifting. Before heavy squats, powerlifters will do maximal squat jumps or box jumps, then get under the bar. Or, before a heavy bench press attempt, they’ll do a couple of plyometric push-ups. The purpose of this is to stimulate the CNS and prime it for what’s to come.

Here, I wanted to give my clients that feeling of “loading up” with the bar in their hands, in order to see whether it carried over into their lower body during the takeoff for a sprint. The last exercise in the complex, the clean and jerk, incorporates the entire body—with the legs pushing through, and the hips extending to drive the bar overhead. When you take off as soon as the bar drops, your body’s primed and ready to move explosively into your sprint.