Treadmills, recumbent bikes, ellipticals, and stair steppers. What do they all have in common? No, not that their over-utilized and provide minimal benefits, (that is, they mostly suck) but that they all plug in and burn up electricity. If it was up to me, they wouldn’t be in gyms; people would be training smarter and training harder. People wouldn’t walk on the treadmill and watch TV; they’d put their mind to use while they trained hard, worked up a sweat, and improved their fitness.
Personally, I think that the coolest gyms have the least technology in them. Barbells, dumbbells, and kettlebells? Perfect. Squat rack and chin-up bar? Great. Add in some strongman style training tools and you’re set for success. Unfortunately, I don’t know of any gyms like that in my area. It seems that Long Island is the capital of corporate fitness, with chain gyms on every corner, filled with sparking new weight machines, row after row of treadmill, and super low membership costs. It sounds like a dream, but it makes you wonder why people are so out of shape.
When it comes to conditioning, I think that the lower the technology, the better. I can think of only two pieces of worthwhile equipment that require batteries, and that’s it. You might say, “What’s so great about that?” There are a few great things about low-tech equipment, including low initial cost, low maintenance fees, ease of use, and possibility for creativity.
Below are some options of low-tech conditioning that I’d recommend you trying out. Most of the things I have already tried out, am currently using, or will be using in the future. You can use them at the gym, at home, or outside. I’ll go from the least equipment to the most, so you can figure out every option that works for you.
Hill Sprints don’t require any technology or equipment, unless you count a hill as gear. If you live near giant hills, you’re ready for the greatest cardiovascular workout of your life. If you live on the south shore of Long Island like I do, you don’t have a lot of hills. Your options involve heading up to the north shore which I’ve done before, or you can find them when you travel. I spent last weekend in Newark, Delaware, and took the advantage of the very steep hill that is part of the Newark Reservoir. (That’s the picture you see above.) After walking the ‘real’ path up around to the top, and a few passes at a jog and stretching, the sprinting began. Two of my brothers in Phi Mu Alpha went with me, and we had a blast. We began with approximately 20yd sprints, and then worked our way down towards that little green box, maybe 50yds down the hill. That ‘little’ green box is actually about 5 feet tall, so the hill is actually much bigger than you think. Those aren’t exceptionally long sprints, but because the hill is very steep, you get hit very hard. The sprints were great, and Andrew, Cameron, and I all got to that point of, “If I keep doing this, I’m going to puke.” Perfect.
Body Weight Circuits are a great form of conditioning if you don’t have the time to get outside or head to the gym. Inside, exercises such as push-ups, planks, body weight squats, and chin-ups can give you a great conditioning workout, and if you have access to them, ValSlides and suspension trainers (TRX/Blast Straps) can give you near-infinite options of using your body weight to create a conditioning effect. If you’re hell bent on training at home, or just can’t get to the gym, I’d recommend three things: An Iron Gym, a suspension trainer, and a pair of ValSlides. The exercise-per-cost options are ridiculous, and when you get creative you’ll never run out of options.
I should point out, that if you lack a base of fundamental strength, you won’t be able to create a powerful conditioning effect at home. If you struggle with 10 push-ups, or 5 chin-ups, and you can’t body weight squat or lunge properly, your strength will be a limiting factor in those basics. It will be difficult to perform 5 chin-ups, 10 reverse lunges, 15 push-ups, and 10 squats without a background of strength. Using some equipment will allow you to regress the exercises, but if your level of strength is that low, you should focus on your strength before you consider the conditioning. After you’ve increased your repetition ability with those exercises, you can use them for conditioning. Sure, chin-ups and lunges are strength exercises…until you perform them back to back.
Kettlebells are a fantastic tool in the tool box to use for strength, power, and conditioning. I only have one ‘bell, but will be loading up on more come the Perform Better Summer Sale. (Free shipping!) If you have access to one, great. If not, get one! The options are endless, and you can combine it with some other at home tools for a great workout. Between kettlebell swings, snatches, cleans, and get-ups, you’re given a number of options to kick your heart in the butt while ‘lifting weights’. Below is a video of Neghar Fonooni swingin’ and snatchin’, and I know you’re going to say she looks awesome. (Also be prepared for a link about her sometime soon!) Pick up some more information from the RKC or the IKFF.
The slide board is something that I’ve never used, but I’m dying to get my hands on. Perform Better sells them relatively inexpensively, and has roll-up portable boards as well as hard ones. They’re obviously great for hockey players, and make a fantastic conditioning tool, but can also be used for a variety of strength training exercises. I’ve included a clip of some the slide board used for conditioning, as well as some of the strength training exercises that are possible with the slide board. Doesn’t the music in the first clip make you want to get up and dance?!
This second exercise is an insane progression of the already difficult body saw. I’ve tried them with one foot and got smoked, but I’ve never seen anybody do them with only one arm and one leg. These look extremely difficult, and while they’re not exactly conditioning, it’s a cool exercise possible on the slide board. I know that I’m going to be trying them with ValSlides tomorrow, and will surely be falling on my face.
Finally, here’s a chest fly done with the slide board by Coach Nick Tumminello. He comes up with some very creative exercises, and this is no different. There are a host of strength exercises you can do using the slide board, and it’s not just a one-trick, well conditioned pony.
Finally, we get to what’s become known as the most difficult conditioning tool ever, The Prowler. The prowler is essentially a push-sled, with multiple handles and tow-strap attachment points, and it’s possible to load with enough weight so that it’s more of a strength exercise than a conditioning exercise. If you go on YouTube, the variety in training with the Prowler is impressive, and I’m glad to say that I purchased one this very morning. My gym decided that replacing the old but functional treadmills was a smart decision, and I spoke with some people at Adelphi that said as long as it didn’t mess up the turf or gym floor, it was okay. I ordered one with regular skis, then ordered the replacement skis as the UHMW skis, which are designed to be used on rubber floors. Between the two options, I can use the prowler pretty much anywhere, which is great. I can throw in some laundry, push the prowler on my driveway, and get in my GTL for the day. Perfect! In all seriousness though, the Prowler could be the most badass sled ever, and I’m excited to get to use one for conditioning, recovery, and getting a sweet set of abz.
The Prowler is notoriously good at making people lose their breakfast/lunch/dinner/preworkout meal, so I’m excited to give it a run. If you’re at Adelphi, the Friedberg JCC, or just in the neighborhood, definitely come out and give it a try, and we’ll have a great workout. Sharing is caring, and if I’m more than happy to share any of my toys to beat you up for a little bit and leave you feeling and looking great. Let’s end this post with a video from Joe DeFranco showing the effects of the Prowler Flu:
2 Replies to “Low-Tech Conditioning”
Kettlebell girl is making me nervous – her knees look like they’re going to snap when she brings the ball up. That’s something I don’t think my knees could take…
Rich, nice observation! She’s creating maximum tension on each rep, which fires up the nervous system and teaches intermuscular coordination. It’s obvious is her knees, but the same thing is occurring throughout her body. Check out the hip snap, that’s REALLY where the power is!