General Conditioning – does it even exist, and if so, how do we improve it? Plus, the *BACK BURNER STRATEGY REVEALED* teaching you how to master several different physical skills or fitness qualities simultaneously

The phrase General Conditioning has problems in and of itself because we don’t know what we’re talking about. There isn’t a world-wide definition of what general conditioning entails. Certainly, general conditioning is different from one person to the next. The general conditioning of an olympic swimmer is very different than the general conditioning of a traveling businessman. The U.S. military has a different definition than the Chinese military. Even U.S. colleges have different definitions of what general conditioning is.

Think about it…

Is being able to run a 10k in 50 minutes good general conditioning?

What about being able to do 10 pullups, 30 pushups, and 50 bodyweight squats?

How about being able to carry an 80 lb rucksack through moderate-difficult terrain for a weekend?

Aren’t those all qualities of general conditioning?

So, the first problem is that general conditioning requires a definition – which immediately makes that conditioning SPECIFIC. Even if you make the definition of general conditioning very broad, you still have specific means of obtaining it.

For instance, the MovNat domain of fitness includes:

12 natural capacities of movement: walking, running, jumping, balancing, moving on all fours, climbing, lifting, carrying, throwing, catching, swimming and defending.

This is a VERY broad definition of conditioning that spans many different and unique skills – each of which can be quantified and qualified to fit specific criteria and categorized as “good” or “poor” conditioning. And yet, the only way to improve the “general conditioning” of those skills it to practice them. You won’t get better at moving on all fours by running more.

It’s common knowledge that training for one movement skill will seldom (or never) transfer to improved performance in another movement skill. This is true because of the SAID Principle – Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demands.

Lance Armstrong is an excellent example of this. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you probably know that Armstrong is the worlds greatest road racing cyclist in history. He has won the Tour de France for a record-breaking 7 consecutive years, from 1998-2005.

In 2006, Armstrong decided to try a different type of road race – the marathon, a 26.2 mile foot race. At the New York City Marathon, Armstrong finished in 856th place – hardly the position of a world-champion.

You see, Armstrong may have had the cardiovascular conditioning for both race events (at least in regards to how they’re measured in a clinical setting), but that doesn’t mean his whole body was conditioned for it. In simpleton terms, his heart and lungs may have been conditioned for both types of races, but his muscles, joints, and nervous system were not. And sure, he didn’t do that poorly. I mean, he broke the 3-hour mark in his performance, which is nothing to scoff at – but needless to say, he wasn’t ranked in the competition. (and I will give him credit because his next marathon in 2007 was a major improvement)

Being the best cyclist in the world didn’t transfer over to being a talented runner. I’m sure it didn’t hurt his performance, but it certainly didn’t help him as much as we’d like to think. That’s because his conditioning was specific to olympic-level cycling, not for running.

We run into the same problems with our fitness programs. Depending on who you talk or listen to, everyone has a different definition of what general conditioning is.

Circular Strength Training has 3 wings of fitness in which fitness is subjectively measured.

CrossFit has the 10 domains of fitness: cardiovascular/respiratory endurance, stamina, strength, flexibility, power, speed, agility, balance, coordination, and accuracy.

The Russian Kettlebell Club has a different definition from the American Kettlebell Club who has a different definition from the International Kettlebell and Fitness Federation. Even within these organizations, each coach has a slightly different take on what “general conditioning” entails.

I’m sure you see the problem – general conditioning sounds pretty SPECIFIC to me, too.

So, how do we tackle the question “how do I train for general conditioning?”

Well, the obvious answer is that “whatever you do, you’re conditioning yourself for that activity – even if you don’t want that conditioning.” Yep, if you sit all day long, your body will get conditioned to repeat that activity more efficiently and effectively. This means tighter hips, rounded shoulders, and a protruding neck among other things. So, if you spend a good majority of your day in front of the computer, even if reading up on blogs like mine – get your butt off the chair and get MOVING.

On the flip side, if you practice running, you’ll get better at running. If you practice lifting heavy things, you’ll get better at doing that, too. The issue is that most people want to get good at a lot of things. Most guys want to be able to bench press 600 lbs, run a marathon while carrying an injured girl on their back to safety, fight like Bruce Lee, and move over urban terrain like a parkour athlete. You’ll find comparative examples for most women, too. This obviously puts a personal trainer in a mind spell that’s more complicated than quantum physics.

How the heck are we supposed to train for all of these things at once?!?

I’ll tell you – you CAN’T.

You’ll have to practice each skill, one at a time. Sure, you can mix things up in an individual session, but each skill must be practiced exclusively. If you want to get good at all of these skills, then you’ll have to practice ALL OF THEM, fairly regularly. That’s the only way you’ll get good at all of them. Training for the Tour de France won’t help you run a marathon much better, just like lifting weights won’t help you perform in a mixed martial arts fight much better. It doesn’t work like that.

Now, I know what you’re thinking…

“I can’t possibly train for all the things I want to get good at.”

And maybe you’re right. Henry Ford knew what he was talking about when he said, “whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right.” If you don’t think you can train for all of the physical skills you want to master, then you won’t be successful at doing that.

I’m sure the excuses are already bouncing around your head.

“I’m too busy…”

“I don’t know how to start…”

“I’m not strong enough…”

“I need a good coach, I can’t do it alone…”

“I can’t…”

The truth of the matter is that YES, YOU CAN begin to start practicing what you’ve always wanted to master. You can master many different domains of movement and fitness skills. You can become a specialist of “general conditioning” – and fit for almost every possible fight. It will take a lot of work, more than you’ve ever done before probably. Do what you’ve always done, and you’ll get what you’ve always got. There’s no hidden secret to getting to this point, you just need to go out there and do it, EVERY DAY.

Obviously, this is a higher call to physical mastery – this goes beyond every gym rat, every weekend warrior, and every half-hearted attempt at “getting in shape.” This is the REAL McCoy, folks – a lifelong study of physical mastery, a worthy study indeed.

Now, if you’re deconditioned – if you’re not already in “good shape,” – then you’ve got plenty of work cut out for you. If you’re DEconditioned, then you need to UN-DEcondition yourself before you jump right into a vibrant physical lifestyle. Many people get started on a new fitness program and have to drop out due to injury because they try to tackle more than their sedentary-loving bodies can handle. If you’re not in good shape, then you need to REHABILITATE yourself until you are in a healthy position for long-term physical mastery. Now, that’s a medical term that carries a lot of weight, but unfortunately, your doctor probably can’t tell you anything about what you need to be doing to get out of this position of needing rehabilitation. It’s likely that you’ll have to walk the journey alone.

The good news is that you can get started today.

One of the first steps I took towards obtaining movement mastery was to work on the mobility of my joints – just trying to recover and coordinate the natural range of motion that my body was capable of achieving, but had lost. I used the Intu-Flow program to get me to where I am today, and I still use it almost daily as my method of “cleaning the slate” and now PREhabilitating myself from injury or worse.

Pick up a copy of Intu-Flow here:

Intu-Flow Complete Package

Now, hear me out. I’m not saying that I have THE answer to YOUR problem. What I AM saying is that there IS an answer – and it’s out there, waiting to be discovered. And only you can find it.

For instance, if you present a laundry list of physical goals to a personal trainer who works at the local Gold’s Gym, he will likely either tell you…

1) this can’t be done – he will say this because he’s only thinking “inside the box” of Gold’s Gym. His little mind can’t possibly conceive anything outside of lifting weights and cardio.

2) you’ll have to tackle these goals one at a time – this is because he’s only ever helped people work on one goal at a time, like the most popular goal of “looking better,” which is usually achieved through fat loss OR muscle building based training. Strength and conditioning specialists are a little better off in this regard because they work with real life athletes that likely have many distinct, and equally important goals in the same season.

How do we specialize in many things?

I would suggest you take a balanced approach to this revolutionary way of physical practice. We all have goals that are very important to us, goals that take a priority. Make them your priority, but don’t forget about all of the rest of your less-important goals that you still want to achieve. For these other goals, I want you to employ the BACK BURNER STRATEGY.

Outside of your primary goals, you have some secondary goals. You will pursue your primary goals as usual, but you’ll also be practicing skills for your secondary goals with a submaximal intensity level – nothing that would push you over your training threshold. Think less than 60% intensity.

Here’s an example of the BACK BURNER STRATEGY from my current training plan…

I have some specific goals that I need to meet in preparation for an upcoming Circular Strength Training seminar. Namely, I need to meet some performance goals with clubbell training, and the FlowFit program. These are my primary goals and I am focusing on them in my program, among a few other things like Prasara BodyFlow Yoga.

However, I’m also working on several minor goals, that don’t bear the same importance, but I’m still very interested in achieving long-term. For instance, I’m doing a lot of barefoot walking and running, and I’m also trying to improve my swimming and diving skills, along with many other similar less time-sensitive skills. These are all on the back burner, but I’m definitely making forward progress on them, just not as quickly as my primary goals.

Ideally, you want all of your physical practice to work together to help you achieve both your primary and secondary goals, so think of this when trying to setup a plan. Do keep in mind that you can’t just practice a random variety of skills and expect to make progress – that would be cock-tailing your fitness program. Instead, you’ll want to balance the variety of your physical practice with enough progression in your skills and conditioning. You’ll need to find the sweet spot between variety and progression.

The Bottom Line

General conditioning doesn’t exist – all conditioning is specific. Fortunately, we can train for a broad base of skills. Although, it requires  a higher level of discipline than most people are willing to commit to. Almost anyone can have the conditioning of a world-class athlete, or specialize in broad physical skills, it just takes a tremendous commitment far beyond the traditional approach to fitness. The back burner strategy is one of the best ways to get there safely and naturally.

To your health and success,

Fitness Professional

P.S. If you want the most effective fitness system for practically all general conditioning goals, then I highly recommend you check out 4×7: The Magic In The Mundane Program I’ve heard of athletes setting new personal records as often as every 4 days using this protocol. Best of all, it’s perfectly suited for instituting the back burner strategy long-term:

2 Responses

  1. Great article. I think what bothers me most about a lot of various fitness programs and philosophies is that somehow they think they are more complete, or better, or more natural than others. In some cases, there may be some truth to that, but in reality, the most important thing is to just be active doing something you enjoy. Then, like you say, you can add on various secondary goals as they come up.

  2. Hi Damien,

    You’re absolutely right, and I’ve found that a lot of people share your concerns over the self-righteousness of many fitness programs out there.

    The truth is that there are practically limitless ways to get “in shape,” but no fitness organization wants people to know that because it’s bad for business. Thus, we have the development of pre-defined notions about what constitutes fitness – each unique to the organization that created it.

    I will support anything that gets people excited about physical living, even if it isn’t something that I find to be complete or natural fitness. If people are enjoying the process of getting healthier and being more active, then I’m all for it. People need to feel like they BELONG somewhere.



    PS – I loved your presentation on The Cast for Minimalist Footwear. I encourage all of my readers to visit Damien’s site and give it a look. It’s worth the time spent watching the entire presentation – this is knowledge that needs to be shared.

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