Let me start by saying I don’t focus on training muscles specifically but rather focus on training and improving movement patterns. Because of this reason, I love to incorporate “full-body” exercises into sessions such as turkish get-ups (TGU’s), crawling variations, and jumping drills just to name a few.

That being said, I do separate exercises out based on their ‘muscle-area emphasis’. I’m big on “templates” and “categories”…I love to have a menu of movements and then I just “plug & play” so to speak. Meaning, when I’m putting workouts together and creating a program, I will refer to this menu and plug the appropriate movements in to the routine based on the unique needs of the client.

The templates are forever-evolving, however, there are main “categories”, or movement patterns, that have been the foundation of my routines for years.

The main categories include:

1. Lower Body
2. Upper Body
3. Torso
4. Conditioning
5. Extra – Pre-hab movements that include activation, mobility, and stability drills

I realize “conditioning” is a broad term. For this article, I’m simply referring to exercises that really push your heart rate…and your mind-set. There are entire college courses, textbooks and workshops dedicated to the science of energy systems and cardiovascular development. The purpose of this piece isn’t to discuss system pathways and heart rate variability. I’d rather talk about the fun stuff. Not that the Kreb’s cycle and ATP production isn’t exciting…

To an extent, ALL the exercises and movements you do in the gym could be considered conditioning or energy system development (ESD). Wear a heart rate monitor during a heavy set of deadlifts and see what happens to your heart rate. The plan is to keep this simplified and just take a look at a number of conditioning movements that I frequently use with my clients and athletes.

My two favorite methods are sprint work and circuit training. To further break down these two methods; “Sprint work” will include 1) intervals, and 2) inclines/hills. “Circuit training” will include 1) bodyweight, 2) one tool, and 3) multi-station.

Sprint Work
Intervals – Varying the exercise and recovery times, commonly known as “work to rest ratio), we can effectively target the different energy systems. Perform a dozen 20-meter sprints to focus on your ATP-PC system. Work through 6 rounds of 400-meter runs with adequate rest and you tap into the glycolytic system. There are countless ratios that you can “play” around with to stimulate your body in new and challenging ways. One word of caution – start out slow. When done correctly, high intensity intervals are extremely taxing; they are supposed to be. I don’t recommend your first interval session to follow the popular ‘Tabata Protocol’, which is 20 seconds of all out work followed by 10 seconds of rest for 8 rounds. Yes, it only lasts for 4 minutes, however, by the third round your “sprint” will look more like Forrest Gump on the first day with his “new magic shoes”. They are called HIGH intensity for a reason, they are supposed to be hard and fast. For a beginner, giving your body a mere 10 seconds to recover just isn’t enough time. I will have my clients start with a 20:40 ratio instead of the 20:10 to start. Progress slowly over time – after 2 weeks of 20:40, move to 20:35 for a week or two and then to 20:30, etc. Remember, slow and steady improvements are key for consistency and injury prevention. Small improvements are better than no improvements at all.

Inclines/Hills – My favorite conditioning “tool”…I love any exercise you can perform without the need of any special equipment. Have a hill? You can get a great conditioning workout in. One point of caution, as I mentioned above, develop proper technique, start out slow, and build up your stamina.
Basics include:

  • Keeping a slight forward body lean but don’t bend at the hip
  • Drive off the balls of the feet
  • Keep a neutral spine and your eyes fixed ~ 8 feet ahead
  • Pump your arms as well to incorporate your upper body

Similar to the interval sprint work above, there are countless work to rest ratios you can implement for hill work. Of course you are dependant upon the size of the hill that you are using; unless your incline work is done on a treadmill. Common hill repeats include finding a hill that takes anywhere from 20 to 60 seconds to “sprint” up, then walk back down for your recovery. Repeat that 8-12 rounds and you’ll be a new man.

Circuit Training
If you are limited on time, circuit training is your solution. A great, time-efficient way to get a strength training & conditioning session all rolled in to one.

Bodyweight – Like the hills sprints, above, you don’t need much in terms of equipment to accomplish these drills. This video clip shows a basic bodyweight circuit of six moves. An example might be to complete this circuit continuously for 2 minutes, rest for 1 minute, and then repeat a second round trying to complete more circuits within the 2 minutes.

One Tool – I like to use a single piece of equipment for a number of my clients. If I’m traveling to their home, or meeting them outside at a park or beach, I need a portable and versatile tool that I can use that will accomplish multiple goals. A few of my favorites include (clip links to see quick clips):

In the clip below, you’ll see a sandbag circuit that will target the entire body and get the heart rate through the roof.

Multi Station – If you have access to a larger “toolbox”, the multi-station circuits are a great way to get some variety into your workouts. I’m lucky enough to train a number of professional athletes at a facility equipped with many of the latest gadgets on the market today. The options are endless here…in fact, I have a whole DVD dedicated to this one training modality that will be coming out this winter (sorry, shameless plug). I like my circuits to work the entire body to ensure a complete training session. I have countless videos online that provide examples…this clip includes a quick multi-station circuit with professional MMA athlete Paul Bradley.

Of course there are countless “conditioning” drills and movements to choose from. There are complexes, finishers, equipment-specific exercises, etc. that could be included. As I mentioned at the top, my focus for this article was to touch on some of my favorite options for pushing the heart rate and testing your mental toughness. I feel that the conditioning drills – sprints and circuits, are a must in any complete training program. They are a great way to kill many birds with one muscle building-fat shredding-metabolic boosting stone.


About Doug
Doug Balzarini, CSCS, MMA-CC, is the owner of DB Strength, which provides fitness training, education, and resources. He is also the strength and conditioning coach for Alliance MMA where he works with UFC Champion Dominick Cruz, Phil Davis, Brandon Vera, Travis Browne, Ross Pearson, Alexander Gustafsson, and more. Prior to starting his own business, Doug worked at Fitness Quest 10 as a personal trainer, strength coach, and Operations Director for Todd Durkin Enterprises (TDE).

He has completed some graduate work in Biomechanics at SDSU and has obtained multiple certifications including ACE, NSCA-CSCS, MMA-CC, TRX instructor training, RIP training, EFI Gravity instructor training, LIFT Sandbag Certification, and FMS training. He has produced his own 2-DVD set on strength training for combat athletes, appeared in many fitness videos and articles, and was recently a coach on “The Ultimate Fighter” TV show.

For more information please visit www.dbstrength.com.