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The Smart Program Design Series: Incorporating Variety & Making Progression Seamless Part 5 – Selecting Exercises for Conditioning Work

The Smart Program Design Series: Incorporating Variety & Making Progression Seamless

Part 5 – Selecting Exercises for Conditioning Work

By Sarah Rippel, Author of The Ultimate Group Training System & Build ‘N Burn


For the sake of simplicity, I am going to focus on three specific interval formats for conditioning workouts in this article:


10:50, 15:45 & 20:40 = “Short & Fast”

30:30 = “Grinder”

60:60 & 90:90 = “Strongman Cardio”


“Short & Fast”

This format involves super-light loading & almost-all-out intensity. I think of this format as being “almost-sprint-like” in that the intensity is a notch or two below an all-out sprint.


Exercises that work well with this format involve movements that are more explosive in nature that can be cycled through rapidly. Some examples are kettlebell swings, battle ropes, Inertia Wave, medicine ball slams (using a ball that bounces), band-resisted fast runs, hill sprints, empty sled sprints, air bike sprints, plyometrics, and Ultimate Sandbag (USB) power cleans.


The goal is to be able to go hard for 15 seconds and then have sufficient recovery with a 45 second break. 10:50 and 20:40 are other options in this realm, with the 10:50 allowing for even more intense work intervals (recommended for advanced exercisers). I recommend circuits of this intensity to be 16-30 minutes in duration, but shorter blocks can most definitely be performed.


16 Min – 2 Rounds:

1) All-Out MB Slam x 10-15 seconds, then rest 45-50 seconds x 3 rounds

2) 5 minutes steady-state cardio @ moderate intensity


In the example above, I partnered three rounds of this format with a 5-minute block of moderate-intensity cardio. Two rounds of this pairing are completed for a 16-minute workout.



This format uses light-to-moderate loading & sustainable intensity. Movements tend to be more of the “grinder” nature (hence my name for this format, lol).  


Exercises that are best for this format are not too complex. To me, this means the kinda stuff that allows you to just get in there and grind out reps at a moderate pace. Most “strength-type” movements work well here. Some examples are squat & deadlift variations, suspension trainer rows, lunges, Ultimate Sandbag Around the Worlds, USB Shoveling, and KB & USB overhead presses. Basic “cardio” movements work here as well, ie: rowing, air bike, & jump rope.


The work to rest ratio is equal with this format, allowing for good recovery between bouts. Workouts can be anywhere from 10-30 minutes in duration.


20 Min – 30/30 (5 exercises x 4 rounds):

1)  Rope Waves (not too hard, not too fast) 

2)  USB Bear Hug Sprinter Stance Squat (switch legs at halfway or stay on same side for entire round)

3)  KB Power Swing

4)  Band Archer Row

5)  USB Shoveling


“Strongman Cardio”

Strongman endurance, or what I prefer to call “strongman cardio,” challenges a person’s ability to maintain proper posture under load. It is an effective method for improving grip strength, core control, and posture.


Any type of loaded carry is suitable for this type of training, such as farmer carries, yoke walks, overhead carries, bear hug carries, & front rack carries. In addition, sled pushes and drags are great for this type of work.


With this method, 60-90 seconds of work is performed with 60-90 seconds of rest, typically for a total of 4-6 sets. The loading should allow for continuous work to be performed. Another way to format these workouts without the use of timed intervals is to rest until the heart rate comes down to 100-115 BPM.


4-6 Rounds: Heavy Slam Ball Carry Ladder

  • Carry a moderate weight slam ball 50 feet, then jog back
  • Carry a heavier slam ball 50 feet, then jog back
  • Carry an even heavier slam ball 50 feet, then jog back
  • Rest 60 sec


This format can also be used for longer workouts, if desired. In designing workouts that use this format but for a longer duration, I tend to incorporate other modalities other than “strongman-type” exercises. As with the “grinder” intervals, basic cardio-type work can be plugged in here. In addition, the option of a “rest walk” instead of a pure rest interval may be appropriate with some combinations of exercises.


60:60 x 3 rounds (30 min):

1)  Sled Push

2)  Sandbag Bear Hug Carry

3)  Heavy Slam Ball to Shoulder

4)  Row (moderate intensity)

5)  SandDune Loaded Marching


So, there you have it, folks! I really hope you have enjoyed this article series! I had fun sitting down and working on it. I hope I have given those of you who are newer trainers some insight into solid principles that you will be able to build off of long-term. For those of you who have been doing this for a while, I hope I have given you a different slant or helped get you excited about designing programs again!


As fit pros, we are in this pretty awesome position to help people get better each and every day. “) I know some of you work with groups of older individuals, while others cater more to athletes. Some of you work with groups outdoors, while others have any piece of equipment available to them. As with anything we do as fitness professionals, know your audience & make the most of your training environment!


In case you missed it: Part 1 Part 2  Part 3 Part 4



…in the mean time…….

Go grab The Ultimate Small Group Training System”  The most Comprehensive Guide to Semi-Private and Small Group Training for Fit Pros.













Build N’ Burn  – Done For YOU 16 Wk Metabolic Small Group Training Program for Fit Pros











The ALL NEW Done-for-You Build ‘N Burn 2.0 for Fit Pros:













Other articles by Sarah Rippel:

SGT Workout Breakdown- Program 4  Part 1

The Conditioning Based Warm-Up: 10 Minute EMOM

SGT Workout Breakdown Program 4 – Part 2

Metabolic Circuit Revamp V1.0

Unconventional Cardio: Strongman Conditioning Circuits

Density Training for Metabolic Conditioning & Strength Work

Using Cluster Sets To Spice Up Strength Programming

Wall Ball Conditioning Workouts+4 Tips to Improve Wall Ball Technique(Videos)

Using a Tempo Focus with Build ‘N Burn Workouts

Speed Ladder + Static Core Continuous 30-Second Circuit Version 2.0


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