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Today’s column is broadly about conditioning. I say broadly because there is no perfect exercise program. Everyone is different. We each have different objectives, challenges and capabilities, and no fixed program can accommodate all of these for everyone.

Therefore, we need to identify what it is you would like to accomplish (your objective), known constraints that limit and/or influence your conditioning options (your challenges), and what needs to happen given what you can reasonably do in moving toward your objective (your capabilities).

Your objective should be specific. Running a 5k in 30 minutes is specific. Standing up without assistance is specific. “I want to be fit” is not specific.

Several times a year, I raise the issue of training for your sport. This is aimed primarily at student athletes who are most likely to train at cross-purposes to their objective. For example, athletes training with long, slow runs when their sport entails short bursts of maximal speed.

Training should mirror the physical requirements of the sport being trained for. Long, slow runs do not mirror short bursts of maximal speed. Your training should reflect your specific objective. Going back to the two examples—running a 5k and standing without assistance—each of these objectives would have a different training focus. Training for a 5k would be (potentially) oriented toward building endurance. Whereas, standing without assistance is all about strength. A basic, specific objective will likely lean strongly toward endurance or strength. Orient your training accordingly.

Conditioning challenges are the things that adversely impact your conditioning options. It may be a physical limitation, a time constraint or an accessibility issue, among others. Consider your challenges when thinking about your objective. Is it reasonably attainable? If so, will your limitations alter how you program the steps for you to achieve your objective?

At this point, you are probably wondering, “When does he give me the workout?” I suppose I could have told you sooner, but there will be no workout. Rather, I want you to think about process.

In that regard, we’re on to your capabilities. The flip side of challenges, what can you reasonably do to move toward your objective? Reverting to our two examples, can you run 1k? No? Can you walk 1k? Then how will you build endurance in moving toward running a 5k in under 30 minutes? Can you stand with a walker? No? Can you stand with someone supporting you? How will you build strength in moving toward standing without assistance?

I recognize that most people do not (nor will they) approach conditioning in this manner. That’s fine. However, I would be remiss if I didn’t point out the benefits in having a specific, achievable plan.

So, we’ll just assume a plan is in place. Now let’s talk about plan implementation and what you can expect. START SLOWLY AND LISTEN TO YOUR BODY. That statement is in all caps because it’s today’s most important message.

A few years ago, I had a German trainer. A super-intense kung-fu guy, he was a seriously hard-core, gung-ho kind of a coach. He would bark, “Pain iz veakness leaving ze body!” He was fun to train with, but he was wrong about pain. Pain is your body’s way of saying “Stop what you are doing!” You should be able to recognize the difference between pain and soreness. Soreness is muscle inflammation that often goes away during warm-up. Pain does not lessen with use. It often gets worse. If you experience pain, stop what you are doing. Listen to your body.

Make your training progressive. This is not a political statement. Rather, as your body adapts and you feel less taxed by specific activities, you should increase your effort. This might entail a longer duration, heavier weight or a higher intensity, depending on your objective, challenges, capabilities and plan.

You may be surprised at how rapidly your body adapts. Assuming you don’t overdo your training at the outset (and cause excessive muscle soreness), you should notice some positive adaptations within a week. At four weeks the improvement is usually significant. At eight weeks your self-awareness has typically grown to the point where you can identify positive adaptations each training day.

So, that’s the gist of today’s column: Make a plan, start slow, listen to your body and adapt your plan accordingly.

Here are a couple tangential conditioning nuggets: If you’re looking to gain strength, this may help. I wrote about a study by Schoenfeld,, done last year on strength training ( The study found that strength outcomes were similar between one set (lifting to failure) and five sets. This means that, if getting stronger is the sole objective, then 13 minutes accomplishes the same outcome as 75 minutes. Physique athletes require the longer workout time frames for aesthetic purposes (hypertrophy). Read the study for details.

For conditioning, Coach Mike Boyle is one of my gurus. He was the first coach I ran across who really explained why I like interval training so much. Simply put, it works! The original research on interval training was done by Dr. Izumi Tabata, so interval training is sometimes referred to as Tabata Training.

Where Dr. Tabata exclusively tested a 30 second work/30 second rest interval, Coach Boyle utilizes real-time heart rate and the Borg Scale (rate of perceived exertion) to determine interval timing at an individual level. Specifically, through practical application, Coach Boyle has identified much wider variability in cardiac performance than previously suspected. Testing D1 Collegiate athletes, Coach Boyle found that highly trained individuals who would be expected to have similar peak rate and recovery time frames could be vastly different. This was a real “aha” moment for me.

Our interval may need to be different than everyone else’s. Coach Boyle has an extensive web presence on a number of different pages. If this interests you, I highly recommend him.

So, get to work! Consult with your healthcare professional before starting any weight loss or exercise program.

Tom Duffy is the owner of Good Sports Fitness, a wellness, fitness & athletic-conditioning business based in Babbitt, MN. Email: