Continuing down our line of building the ultimate beast, we have to talk about conditioning. This is not about something you put on your hair after you shampoo it either.
Being in awesome shape might be a better feeling than hitting a big PR. When you can run hills as hard as you can until you get bored, and never tire. That is a damn good feeling. A few months ago I ran 40+ yard sprints for about an hour and could have gone on for another hour. I never got tired or breathless. It's an incredible feeling. Your strength tends to not be top notch during this time, but you can knock out high rep sets of squats and be fully recovered in just a couple of minutes, rather than being put down for the day.
Outside of feeling great, you look better, the nutrients you eat get shuttled through your system better, you recover faster, and have an ability to do a greater amount of work.
So to cover the conditioning block we have to take two types of guys into account. Lifters who are out of shape and need to build a decent level of conditioning, and lifters who already have that, but want to take it up a notch.
The other factor is strength, or the maintenance of it. There is a delicate balancing act here. You don't want to run through several blocks of mass and strength training, only to lose a lot of that because you condition too much. Lots of folks get overzealous in their quest to shed fat and get in shape and the next thing they know they have several overuse injuries, their strength is in the shitter, and they wonder where they went wrong. Again, being slightly unbalanced is key. What I mean by that is, each block is geared slightly towards one goal while the other maintains a certain status quo. This is what you need to strive for when it comes to conditioning. You want to improve your conditioning, but not at the expense of losing a significant degree of the strength you have built. Some can or will be lost. But it needs to fall in the realm of what you deem acceptable. That will be different for everyone. You will need to learn to adjust the template I give you to suit your own needs.
Strength Maintenance -
During this phase lifting should be cut down to twice a week. You can still make strength gains on a twice a week program. If you don't think so ask Jim Wendler and Scott Yard who both train that way now, and have set PR's doing it. Is it for everyone? No. It's all about where a guy is in his lifting life and what it is he's trying to accomplish. I don't think that training twice a week is a great way to train for ultimate mass gain, but for pure strength it will work just fine. From a strength maintenance perspective, it's very optimum in my opinion.
There are a few ways you can do this. For guys who are in the 400 bench, 550 squat, 600 deadlift range I advise squatting one week and deadlifting the next. So if you trained squats on Saturday, you would deadlift the next Saturday. On the other lifting day of the week do your pressing and pulling work. So bench one week, overhead press the next, and get your rows, chins, and dips in.
During strength maintenance said advanced guy would do 3 sets of doubles at 85% of your current max (don't overshoot it either ego maniac) for the big lifts for the first 3 weeks. The last three weeks do 5 singles at 90% of your max. After the big lift is done, do your assistance work fast and furious. I personally don't care what it is to be honest. You don't really need to spend that much time thinking about it. If you want to do a curl and side laterals after bench, do it. Just don't overdo it.
Advanced lifter -
Week 1 -
Day 1 - Pressing
Bench - 3x2 @ 85% for three weeks - 5x1 @ 90% the last three weeks
Day 2 - Squats
Squats - 3x2 @ 85% for three weeks - 5x1 @ 90% the last three weeks
Week 2 -
Day 1 - Pressing
Overhead Work - 3x2 @ 88% for three weeks - 5x1 @ 92% the last three weeks
Day 2 - Deadlifts
Deadlift - 3x2 @ 88% for three weeks - 5x1 @ 92% the last three weeks
For a more novice guy, someone in the 200-315 bench range with a 365-405 squat and a 455-500 deadlift I would set it up like this, squatting and pulling every week. With one deadlift session at 70% for a set of 5 then the next squat session at the same. No assistance work to be done after squats and pulls.
Week 1 -
Day 1 - Pressing
Day 2 - Squats and Deadlifts
Squat - 3x2 @ 88% for three weeks - 5x1 @ 92% the last three weeks
Deadlift - 1x5 @ 70%
Week 2 -
Day 1 - Pressing
Day 2 - Squats and Deadlifts
Squat - 1x5 @ 70%
Deadlift - 3x2 @ 85% for three weeks - 5x1 @ 90% the last three weeks
They key during this time is to move those weights fast and keep overall volume low. As I noted on assistance, pick something, do it fast and furious and be done with it. It will be hard enough to keep your strength as is, so don't overtax yourself systemically in the gym. You're going to be doing some hard conditioning during this block and that's the point of it. Not to get bigger and stronger, but to try and keep your strength levels at a good base level while you improve your conditioning.
Since the whole point of this block is to increase and improve your conditioning level, this phase will involve doing so 4 days a week. And we are going to make the conditioning very simple. Simple doesn't mean easy, it just means simple. Writing out a diet is simple, following it to the letter can be difficult. Writing out this conditioning plan is simple, doing it can, and should be, difficult.
Each of the conditioning tasks will take into account your current level of conditioning, or lack of.
Day 1 - 1 mile
Walk it, run it, walk-sprint, whatever. But you have to time it. What can you do a mile in? My suggestion is to start easy because you will need to beat your time each week for the next 6 weeks. So if all you can do is walk it, just walk it. But record your time. If you can run it, I'd say to start easy. You don't want overuse injuries from conditioning because they become a real pain in the ass to get rid of. Usually involving time off to fully get rid of them. So take it slow for your own sake, and peak out in week 6.
Day 2 - Sled Hammer on tire -
If you don't have these, go buy them. You can get a used tire for cheap and sledge hammers aren't that much either. You give your legs a break (although your hips will get a workout) and still get good conditioning work in. Go hard for 30 seconds and rest for 10. Repeat this until you feel worked. Make note of how many 30 seconds rounds you did before you called it quits. Try to beat this number each week. This comes back to the honor system. You can go easy and add rounds every week but never get the real benefit while lying to yourself. Or you can go hard, but not crazy, and get better each week, knowing you're really putting in some work.
Day 3 - Hills
Find a hill and run it. How long should the hill be? I suggest a minimum of 30 yards. If the hill is forever long just run up to the same point each time and turn around. Again, run a number that you feel worked from, but not like you're having an asthma attack, and add on to that number each week. Your walk back down should be the "rest' portion, however if you need to take longer do so. Again, start with a number you know you can add on to for several weeks. So the first week should NOT be incredibly difficult.
Day 4 - Steady State - 45 minutes walk, swim, or bike
This is a recovery day and the pace should be solid. Not easy, but not difficult either. If you checked your heart rate it would be in that "fat burning zone" that you see on the treadmill according to your age. That's the best way I can describe the effort involved here. You should feel better after doing this than you did before you started it. I always do anyway. Take plenty of time to stretch after this and foam roll and do restoration work.
Notes about this block -
The conditioning is a little more ambiguous because everyone has different levels of conditioning starting this block (duh!). So I want everyone to be their own judge in regards as to what they can or can't handle early on. If you push too hard early, bad things are sure to follow. If you are smart, you will start at a comfortable pace and slowly add until you're looking and feeling like a champ in week 6.
Do be surprised if your strength goes south for a while, especially in the beginning or middle portion. After a few weeks it will come back a bit. Remember this is a conditioning block, not a strength building block. The hope is maintenance, but if you can't that's ok. It may just mean that your base level of strength isn't as high as you think it is. Don't let this bother you. I don't know how else to tell you that.
Figure out your own schedule here. You may want to do something 6 days a week, or do some of the conditioning after lifting, or whatever. I don't know everyones schedule so just figure out how it works for you in that regard. It's ok to mix and match these around. Just take note that if you run hills on day, then the next day try to run that mile, your mile could suck ass. And vice versa as well. So if you want to stick the sledge hammer work in between the hills/mile run/steady state that works great too. So an optional schedule would be like so.......
Day 1 - hills
Day 2 - sledge hammer
Day 3 - mile run
Day 4 - sledge hammer
Day 5 - steady state
Day 6 - sledge hammer
This doesn't mean you HAVE to do 6 days a week either, what I am pointing out here is if you start noticing an overuse injury (which you shouldn't if you are smart and start slow in the beginning) then go to this schedule and take more rest between days. Or you can use this schedule right off the bat. Again, use some of your own judgement about what looks/feels best and can work with your own schedule.