More On High Intensity Training For Cardiovascular And Metabolic Conditioning

Since posting Dr. James Peterson’s Project Total Conditioning case study I’ve received a lot of e-mails from people with anecdotes about how high intensity strength training improved their cardiovascular and metaboolic conditioning, improving their performance in athletics or work. While the plural of anecdote is not data, these confirm what has already been proven over and over through research and the empirical experience of thousands of high intensity training instructors over the last four decades.

I recently received the following in an e-mail from Australian HIT instructor Christian Marchegiani about his experiences with high intensity training and boxing:

Hey Drew,

I thought I would share an experiment I did. My background is boxing but have not boxed in 18 months since getting more into high intensity weight training. I haven’t even done any ‘cardio’ as such (whatever that is). Yesterday I returned to training and participated in an hour of boxing and it was as If I never left. My speed, power, and endurance was unbelievable (even my coach had commented on how fast and powerful I had become). What perhaps was lacking was my skill which is understandable since it’s been 18 months since I practiced boxing. We did push ups, burpees, sprints, etc and it was a breeze (although burpees are not my choice of exercise). I was able to recover between rounds very quickly.

HIT works. Period.

HIT instructor Christian Marchegiani

I’ve had a similar experience with my own training and with hundreds of clients. I have studied and continue to practice several martial arts for a few decades, although for the past few years I have done so very sporadically. There are some months I practice consistently, spending an hour or more most days of the week doing forms or drills, and times when I only do one form in the morning or evening (Wing Chun’s Siu Nim Tao). Other than this, I don’t do anything that might be considered “cardio” other than high intensity strength training once every three to four days. With just these HIT workouts, I am able to maintain a high enough level of cardiovascular and metabolic conditioning that I am able to jump right back into heavy training, including sparring with friends locally, without difficulty.

I’ve trained and consulted athletes at various levels of competition, active military and law enforcement, and people with other kinds of physically demanding jobs, using high intensity training only – no “cardio” –  and clients consistently report being able to do things longer and more easily with less fatigue and score better on physical fitness tests. A woman I used to train who was in her mid fifties at the time told me her doctor said she performed better on her cardiac stress test than some of the Orlando Magic players and was shocked when she told him she only did strength training for about half an hour two times a week.

If you are an athlete or have a physically demanding job which can place demands on stamina and endurance you do not need to perform traditional “cardio” for conditioning. All you need to do to stimulate improvement in all trainable, general factors of functional ability (muscular strength and endurance, cardiovascular and metabolic conditioning, flexibility, body composition, bone and connective tissue strength, etc.) is a proper high intensity training program. During Project Total Conditioning the group who was performing only high intensity training improved more on every measure of cardiovascular conditioning than the control group, which was practicing football and following their own workouts or workouts supervised by their coaches at the time. The HIT group improved their two mile run times by over four times as much and improved their forty yard dash times twice as much as the control group.

Regardless of what you are doing with your muscles, whether it is strength training, running, swimming, cycling, etc., if you are working with a high enough intensity of effort you will also be placing demands on and stimulating improvements in cardiovascular and metabolic efficiency. Since a proper high intensity training workout effectively addresses these factors there is no need to perform additional physical activities for them. Additionally, there is a direct relationship between muscular strength and local muscular endurance; the stronger a muscle is the smaller the relative effort required to perform submaximal tasks, the more work it is able to perform.

The only other work you need to perform to improve your endurance in specific physical activities is to practice those activities to improve your skill and efficiency of movement to make them less fatiguing. Strength training stimulates general improvements in endurance affecting all physical activity, while skill practice stimulates specific improvements in the activity practiced, so if you are training to improve endurance for a specific type of activity you should practice that activity regularly in addition to high intensity training. However, if you are only interested in general cardiovascular and metabolic conditioning high intensity training is all you need.

References:

1. James Peterson, PhD., Total Conditioning: A Case Study, Athletic Journal Vol. 56 September, 1975

2. Maisch B, Baum E, Grimm W. Die Auswirkungen dynamischen Krafttrainings nach dem Nautilus-Prinzip auf kardiozirkulatorische Parameter und Ausdauerleistungsfähigkeit (The effects of resistance training according to the Nautilus principles on cardiocirculatory parameters and endurance). Angenommen vom Fachbereich Humanmedizin der Philipps-Universität Marburg am 11. Dezember 2003

3. Effect of resistance training on cardiorespiratory endurance and coronary artery disease risk. Cardiovasc J S Afr. 2005 Sep-Oct; 16(5):256-9

4. Strength training and hemodynamic responses to exercise. Am J Geriatr Cardiol, 2003 Mar-Apr; 12(2):97-106.

5. Hemodynamic responses during leg press exercise in patients with chronic Congestive heart failure. Am J Cardiol. 1999 Jun 1; 83(11):1537-43.

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