SESSION NOTES: Heavy Barbell Conditioning (896-899)

April 12, 2020

SESSION NOTES: Heavy Barbell Conditioning (896-899)

For time, using three bars, each at 75% max.

  • 10, 8, 6, 4, 2 reps of exercise one.
  • 5, 5, 5, 5, 5 reps of exercise two.
  • 2, 4, 6, 8, 10 reps of exercise three.
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 strength are trained equally.

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

The ascending nature of one movement, with the descending nature of another, means that the limiting factor of this session will change as the session progresses. This increases the muscular strength/endurance requirement of the session, while still keeping the cardiorespiratory endurance benefit high.

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.


Although the average size of each set is six reps, the fact that there are sets of ten means there are bigger sets than would more often be used in a heavy barbell conditioning session. The high loads and repetitions, 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 session. Your workrate should not drop, and if it does it’s a sign you’re working at too high a rate.

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.

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.

For the bigger sets of more muscular movements (i.e. those where the bar is not moving as far), muscular strength and stamina (rather than cardiorespiratory endurance) may be a limiting factor.

This session will make you feel unfit – don’t worry, that’s normal.

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’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.

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.

Dan Williams

Dan Williams


Dan Williams is the Director of Range of Motion and leads a team of Exercise Physiologists, Sports Scientists, Physiotherapists and Coaches. He has a Bachelor of Science (Exercise and Health Science) and a Postgraduate Bachelor of Exercise Rehabilitation Science from The University of Western Australia, with minors in Biomechanics and Sport Psychology.

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