I prefer to use the term conditioning or energy system training rather than terms like interval training and cardio. Conditioning means simply training any one of the three energy systems our body uses to provide usable energy for our daily activities.

It seems lately that “cardio” has been slammed and the big fad right now is HIIT or high-intensity interval training. Now, I’m not against any of these types of training, in fact, as you’ll see, we should be including all forms of energy system training in our plan. The problem I have is most programs include only one type of training, either high intensity anaerobic training, or low intensity aerobic training, not both.

The three energy systems:

• Lactate Power (Phosphagen) System
Without giving you a physiology lesson, this system provides energy for very high-intensity activities, generally up to about 10 seconds in duration. You will usually be working at a 10 out of 10 intensity.

• Lactate Threshold (Glycolosis) System
This system will give you energy for high-intensity, longer duration activities up to 2-3 minutes. Most interval training programs will develop this energy system. The intensity here will usually be about an 8 or 9 out of 10.

• Aerobic (Oxidative) System
This system gives you energy for low-intensity, long duration activities, and will also help you recover between bouts of higher intensity exercise. A 6 or 7 out of 10 will typically be the intensity here.

Over a period of time, you should develop all three energy systems, not just one system independently. As you progress through your training, the emphasis will move from lower intensity steady-state exercise to extremely high intensity bouts of exercise, never completely abandoning any energy system.

Sample Conditioning Plan

Here’s a sample conditioning plan for soccer, that would work just as well for someone training for general fitness and body composition.

Aerobic (Oxidative) Conditioning:

80-90% HR Max, 6-30min per rep, 1-8 reps with no more than 1 min rest. (rest should be a walk — you would never stand still in a game)

Lactate Threshold (Glycolytic) Conditioning:

>85% HR Max, 3-6 minutes per rep, 4-8 Reps with a 1:0.5 to 1:1 work to rest ratio. In other words if you were to perform a rep that lasted 3 minutes, your rest would be anywhere from 1.5 min to 3 minutes.

Lactate Power (Phosphagen) Conditioning:

>90% HR Max, 20sec – 3 min per rep, 2-4 sets of 4-8 reps with a 1:4 work to rest ratio.

If you want to do the math on the volume for each, it closely resembles the portion of aerobic to anaerobic needs.

I would prescribe each type of workout on its own day, along with two strength training sessions per week. I would also have my athletes perform speed, agility and quickness work on strength days, or before the anaerobic training day.

So early in the off-season a training week might look something like this:

Monday – Lactate Power Focus

  1. Sprint 30 sec, Rest (walk) 90 sec, 4 times
  2. Rest 2 minutes
  3. Sprint 30 sec, Rest (walk) 90 sec, 4 times

Tuesday – Strength Workout

Wednesday – Oxidative (Aerobic) Focus

  1. Jog 8-10 min, walk 1 min, 3 times

Thursday – Strength Workout

Friday – Lactate Threshold (Glycolytic) Focus

This workout is done on Fridays, because it’s the most taxing.  This will give you 2 days rest before getting back to it.

  1. 2-3 min cruise (almost a sprint, and you should not be able to go for much longer than the 3 min), rest (walk) 90 sec, 4 times

The overall plan would of course include mobility work, flexibility, speed drills, plyometrics, agility and quickness drills, as well as warm ups, cool downs and so on.

The great thing about this plan is that it develops all three energy systems, without the focus on just “cardio” or “HIIT”. It’s a much more rounded way to develop performance, fitness, and a lean body.