SESSION NOTES: Heavy Barbell Conditioning (399)

Calculate the average of your maxes for the following movements. Load a single bar to 70% of this average. Two sets of: Two rounds, 180 sec rest, one round 90 sec rest. (2, 1, 2, 1). Break each exercise maximum once.

  • 4 Power clean
  • 7 Back squat
  • 4 Push jerk
Programming Science:

This session contains one element of each of the four major barbell movement types, through a combination of powerlifting and Olympic weightlifting. Movement types include anterior chain (or squat-based), posterior chain (or deadlift/hip hinge), upper body press and upper body pull.

The inclusion of all movement types ensures musculo-skeletal balance, and also creates a ‘blood shunting’ effect, where your body is required to deliver oxygen and fuel, and remove waste, from large and alternating muscle beds.

This session isn’t the most effective method of getting strong, nor is it the best way to build cardiorespiratory endurance, however, it is highly effective at achieving a mix of both in one session as a form of concurrent training. Percentages are programmed rather than weights to ensure the correct stimulus, that both cardiorespiratory endurance and muscle stamina are trained equally.

It trains your ability to lift moderate weights under cardiorespiratory duress.

The varying reps for each exercise is indicative of the difficulty of that exercise. Stronger movements have higher reps, weaker movements have less reps. The average reps for all movements in the session is ten.

If one movement takes significantly longer time than the others, it’s a sign of a weakness or imbalance in that movement. This movement will therefore become the limiting factor, and will therefore be the primary element trained – helping to eradicate the weakness.

The work to rest ratio will be approximately 2:1, allowing higher levels of intensity without sacrificing training volume, training the lactate threshold.

Health and Body Composition Benefits:

This session delivers benefits from both resistance-based training, and cardiorespiratory training.

Resistance training (using your muscles to lift heavy weights, either external weights or yourself) makes you stronger. Strength is one of the greatest predictors of both your lifespan (how long you live) and your healthspan (how long you live in a healthy state).

Resistance training like this will also improve your flexibility (by going through a full range of motion), posture and coordination. It will also build stability around your joints and spine to give you a healthy musculo-skeletal system and reduce joint and back pain.

The session will minimise losses in bone mineral density and will improve your balance. Strength and balance are the two strongest predictors of falls later in life, so this is an effective way to train fall prevention, and insure your independence into old age.

This session increases your lean muscle mass and muscle fibre size. Muscle is a metabolically active tissue, so increasing it will maximise how much energy your body burns at rest. This makes it an effective session to reach healthy levels of body fat, both visceral fat (around the organs) and subcutaneous fat (under your skin). After this session, your body will go through a prolonged state of ‘EPOC’ (excess post- exercise oxygen consumption), meaning you’ll continue burning energy long after you finish training – further aiding healthy body composition.

The cardiorespiratory element of this session also has considerable health benefits, with this session creating favourable changes to cardiovascular disease (including reductions in blood pressure) and respiratory disease. This session will also lower your resting heart rate and increase blood flow to the brain.

As a result of this style of session, you will experience changes in blood chemistry, including favourable effects on cholesterol, blood glucose, triglyceride and lipid levels.

Performance Benefits:

The heavy levels of resistance in this session are designed to increase your strength – increasing both your one rep max, and your ability to lift submaximal weights. By being stronger, you can lift more weight, and you will be able to lift submaximal weights faster and for higher reps because they’ll be at a lower percentage of your max.

As strength is an element of power, getting stronger will also improve your ability to move faster – beneficial for more power-based, explosive movements (like Olympic lifting).

This session will also improve the efficiency of your fast-twitch muscle fibres (those responsible for lifting heavy and fast), and will improve your neuromuscular efficiency (your ability to turn on a very high percentage of your muscle fibres).

The primary benefit of completing resistance training under cardiorespiratory duress from a performance perspective is to improve the ability of your body to sustain repeated muscle contractions.

This session achieves this by training the glycolytic and oxidative energy systems which generate ‘ATP’ (adenosine triphosphate) which fuels movement. By completing this session and training these energy systems, we’re able to raise the lactate threshold, the intensity at which hydrogen ions begin to accumulate, causing cell acidity. Raising this threshold allows you to exercise at a higher rate for longer, with less fatigue.

As a result of this session, you’ll experience performance-boosting changes in intramuscular substrate storage (increasing energy availability for muscle contractions) and increased enzyme activities (increasing the rate of energy delivery to the muscles).

Additionally, the repetitive muscle contractions create positive changes at a muscular level.

The high repetition movements in this session train the ability of your muscles to resist fatigue – increasing their stamina. This comes from improvements in the efficiency of slow twitch (fatigue resistant) muscle fibres.

As a result of the volume of repetitions, this session will increase the mitochondrial density in your muscle cells, allowing them to more efficiently convert energy into fuel. This means you can sustain higher rates of muscle contraction before fatigue or failure.

The higher volumes will also increase capillary density in your muscles, allowing for efficient delivery of oxygen and fuel, and removal of waste products (further adding to the fatigue resistance).

These muscular changes also occur in the ventilatory muscles, particularly with the need to breath and brace while lifting heavy loads, improving breathing efficiency.


The high loads, and the ease and speed at which they can take you to a very high rate of perceived exertion, mean you should start at a controlled pace. Your workrate (the amount of work you’re doing in any given period of time) should remain constant over the majority of each interval. Your workrate should never drop over an interval, and if it does it’s a sign you’re working at too high a rate.

At the end of each interval, you can increase your workrate to take advantage of the upcoming rest interval (and the recovery you’ll get from it), but don’t increase it to the point that you are not able to return to your chosen workrate for the start of the next interval.

At the end of each work interval, your rate of perceived exertion should be slightly higher than it was in the previous interval, culminating in maximal effort at the end of the final interval.

You should be in control of your workrate, rather than the session determining it for you.

Singles are a great strategy for any movements lifted from the floor (with the exception of deadlifts which benefit from the elastic energy stored in the muscles as part of the ‘stretch-shorten cycle). Pressing, pulling from the hang, and squat based movements are best completed in small sets (but not singles) with short rests.

In the rest intervals, you should complete active recovery (keep moving), to help to ‘buffer’ hydrogen ions out of the blood and maximise your recovery for the next interval.

How it Should Feel:

You should feel equally limited by your cardiorespiratory endurance and strength/stamina. It should be difficult both because the loads are heavy, and because you’re breathing hard.

During each interval, even though you’re holding a consistent workrate, the rate of perceived exertion should increase.

Scaling Guidelines:

As this is based on a percentage of your own max, you shouldn’t need to reduce the weights. If you have a low ‘training age’ (haven’t been training for long), you may need to ‘scale up’, increasing the weights to ensure that you’re equally limited by both ‘heaviness’ and ‘breathing’.

If you have a major imbalance, and one movement is more than 85% of your max, set up a separate bar for this movement, loaded to 70% (and get to work on eradicating this weakness).

If you’re new to Olympic lifting, consider lifting from a higher position (for example, from the top of the knee or the power position) to preserve your technique.

Modify around injuries with exercises as close as possible to the stimulus of the movement you’re modifying.

Common Mistakes:

Working too hard too early, and therefore seeing a drop in workrate is a common fault here. As is doing big sets of each exercise which then require a long break. Short sets, short rests.

Lying down, or resting passively in the rest intervals (though it feels good at the time) will also impact your performance in the following work interval.

Sacrificing form and technique under fatigue is a danger here. Although this may get you a higher score in the session, it will damage your technique and will blunt your long-term health and performance gains.