Redefining the fitness of performance With Joel Jamieson

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What is Conditioning?

Conditioning is a topic often talked about but rarely explained in simple terms. There’s far too much confusion about what conditioning really is. In this episode of 8WeeksOut U, I’ll give you an easy way to understand what conditioning really is and how it relates to power output and performance.

Free Conditioning Program

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Conditioning and Maximum Sustainable Power

As you cans see from the graph in the video, conditioning is most easily described as a measure of your maximum sustainable power output across a given duration. The more power you’re able to maintain throughout an event, the higher your conditioning level is.

Within this, it’s important to consider that there is an inverse relationship between the maximum sustainable power and the duration. In other words, the longer the event, the lower the level of maxium sustainable power will be.

Compare the power output of a marathon runner to that of a 400m runner, for example. Or look at the power output that a Weightlifter can generate compared to a cyclist. Even though the amount of power that a professional cyclist is incredibly impressive, it’s ten fold lower than what gets generated in the Snatch.

The Power-Duration Relationship

Aside from the duration of the event, the other major factor that affects what level of maximum sustainable power is possible is the work to rest ratio. Again, the shorter the rest periods and the longer the work periods, the lower the MSP will be.

Whenever there are very short work periods and long rest periods, this allows for higher levels of power to be repeated over and over again because there is more time for the body to recover from the high work rate and high contributions of anaerobic energy.

Next time I’ll be expanding more on this concept by discussiong the Anaerobic Power Reserve, an incredibly important concept to understand if you want to get at the heart of conditioning and how it relates to power output

Read the transcript of this video

All right. Today, we're going to be talking about conditioning. Obviously, it's one of those topics that a lot of people talk about, but we don't have a very good grasp of what conditioning is at a lot of levels, or people don't give good definitions of it. Today, we're going to talk about what exactly is conditioning, and then we can relate that to how we use training programs to improve it.

Let's look at a simple graph here. We have Power Output on the vertical axis, and we have Duration on the horizontal axis. Really, we are going to look at two different sports scenarios: The first scenario sport we're going to look at is what we call cyclic sports. That's anything where there's this constant power output; marathon running, cycling, swimming, any endurance sports, where there's a constant power output throughout the duration of the entire event. We can see something like this. There's always some level of power output throughout the event, and of course, that's going to vary slightly over the course, so they might speed up or they might slow down, but there is this constant unending of power output throughout the event.

The second scenario is really what we call the acyclic sport. That's where there's a big spike in power output, generally, followed by some period of rest or much, much lower power output, and then a big spike again. We can look at something like a football game where they're going to be going all out, very high-levels of power output for 6 or 10 seconds, rest interval of 30 or 40 seconds, and then they are back at it. Or something like fighting, where you are talking 3 to 5-minute rounds followed by a minute rest. Actually, it'd probably be a bit lower there, but you're seeing the same sort of work with rest alternating periods. Those are really two different models of almost any sport. There's always either some cyclic or acyclic component to a sport.

In either case, we can define conditioning as the maximum sustainable power output, and we can look at it as a line; we'll call this the Maximum Sustainable Power. Really, this is what conditioning is, it's the measure of how much power you can sustain throughout the entire duration, because there's always some level of power output you can maintain. If you're marathon runner and you are in terrible shape, you can still walk a marathon, or you can slowly jog a marathon. There's always going to be some level of power that you're going to be able to sustain for the duration of the event. That's what we call the Maximum Sustainable Power, and that's really what conditioning is. Anytime you go above this level for very long, that's where fatigue is going to start to set in.

Let's look at two different athletes. Let's say one's Maximum Sustainable Power is there, the other has a Maximum Sustainable Power of there. Obviously, this guy has much better conditioning than this guy. He's able to sustain a much higher level of power output over the course of the event than this guy. Does it necessarily mean that this guy's always going to win the fight or win the race? Probably not, because how well you manage your energy comes into play, as well.

Let's say this is this guy's Maximum Sustainable Power, and he operates below that level. This guy is going to be able to maintain that over the course of the event. Let's say, this guy goes crazy and he has power output there, he can only do that for so long, because he's above his Maximum Sustainable Power before he's going to start to gas out. Even though he was sustaining a much, much higher pace than this athlete, he was going above his Maximum Sustainable Power fatiguing and gassing out before this guy.

There are really two components to it: How much power output can you sustain? We're going to talk about that in the next episode; what dictates that and what determines that. How well you maintain your energy over the course of the event? Obviously, you want to have the highest Maximum Sustainable Power output possible because that gives you the potential to have a higher work rate and you have a greater power output over the course of an event, then there's also how well you manage your power output, how well you manage your energy production. Those are really the two aspects to it.

To sum it up, we look at the Maximum Sustainable Power as a measure of how much power you can sustain over the course of your event, be it fighting, endurance sport, or any sport in between; there's always some level of power you can maintain, and that's really the best gauge of conditioning. Then there's also how well you manage your energy. There's really those two factors that are going to define conditioning, and for the most part, define performance. Real simple: Maximum Sustainable Power = Conditioning.

We'll see you again next time to talk about what actually determines this line.

For more videos like, this make sure and subscribe to our YouTube channel, Of course, you can find us on Facebook, or /8WeeksOut, and You'll always find this at We'll see you again next time.

6 Responses to What is Conditioning?

  1. Rourk010 says:

    How does this theory account for repeated sprint performances? For instance hockey is made up of repeated shifts where athletes work at levels higher than their lactate threshold (LT) for 30-60 seconds and then rest 2-3 minutes, then repeat. I guess I’m assuming the MSP and the LT are similar, but that measure of conditioning seems like it would only be applicable to a sport that is cyclic. Isn’t the need for rest between sprint bouts indicative of working above maintainable threshold?

    • Joel Jamieson says:

      I demonstrated how it applies to acyclic sports. The MSP in that case is still a measure of how much power can be repeated from one work period to the next without fatigue. Where the MSP falls in relation to the LT depends on the ratio between work and rest and the duration of the periods

  2. brayjason says:

    Hey Joel, it’s Jason from Hawaii “Leben’s friend”

    The HRV tool has been very helpful in my training man. The biofeedback has been very insightful in calibrating my training. I also like these videos. It really brings to light what conditioning actually is as well as how to train with specificity for any given sport. You are a big help to my and my teams conditioning man!


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