Anaerobic Conditioning Methods Explained

Jul 19, 2023

Edited by: Danielle Abel

We often see that conditioning is just tacked on to the end of a workout, but conditioning is much more than adding cardio at the end of your session. So in this article, we'll break down the physiology of anaerobic conditioning so you understand how to program this for athletes. 

You can expect to learn more about:

  • Cardiovascular adaptations, including lactate threshold 
  • Work-to-rest ratio
  • Practical application & strategies 

To understand cardiovascular adaptations, first, you need to know the energy systems:

  • Alactic energy system - less than 10 seconds of work 
  • Lactic - 30 to 90 seconds of work 
  • Aerobic - 90 seconds or more of work 

Keep in mind that energy systems aren't either on or off; it's more about a primary, a secondary energy system, and a tertiary energy system. One energy system is being used more while the others are being used less. 

  • 100-meter run - mostly alactic, very anaerobic; possibly 90% of the energy is from this system, whereas 10% is coming from the aerobic energy system

Energy systems are going to shift based on the level of effort being exerted and the length of time at which the athlete is performing the movement or activity. Also, based on the time of the year, different athletes are going to have different needs based on the season of the sport they are in. 

For example, during the in-season, athletes will likely need more power-based, anaerobic conditioning, whereas, during the off-season, athletes may benefit from developing their aerobic systems to build more endurance and capacity. 

Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) athletes are a good example of this because they need:

  • Anaerobic - In season 
  • Aerobic - Off season

Athletes who are very power based like baseball players, American football lineman, or a shotput athletes don't need a large aerobic base, but they do need some level of aerobic capacity to help them recover more quickly between powerful and very intensive plays or efforts. 

Whereas athletes with mixed energy system needs that require anaerobic & aerobic capacity, like soccer, tennis, field hockey, basketball, or volleyball players, ideally need to build their aerobic base up over time and then layer in anaerobic conditioning over the top of this closer to the in season of their sport. 

Lactic Power Intervals & Work to Rest Ratios

Lactic power intervals are programmed as maximal or near maximal intensity work followed by complete rest to allow the substrates of the energy systems to replenish fully. For example, from an alactic perspective, enough time for phosphocreatine to reform and be used for energy. 

This allows the athlete to give a full hard effort repeatedly, up to a certain extent, of course. 

  • 20 - 40 seconds of maximal intensity work, followed by 1 to 3 minutes of rest; this could be done 2 to 3 times in a series and then repeat for 3 sets as a workout 
    • For example: 30 seconds of a hard run, followed by 2 minutes of walking

Lactic Capacity Intervals & Work to Rest Ratios

Capacity is more focused on submaximal efforts with incomplete rest between sets. 

  • 1 minute of hard work, followed by 1 minute of rest 
    • If we wanted the athlete to be fully recovered, we would program 3 minutes of rest (as in the Lactic Power Intervals explained above) but with capacity intervals, we want to build up their tolerance to breakdown lactate and train them to work in a more fatigued state 

Many athletes compete in a fatigued state, so using lactic capacity intervals often have great carryover into the athlete's sport. 

  • Wrestling athletes 
  • MMA athletes 

Here's an example of how you could program lactic capacity intervals:

  • 1 minute of hard running followed by 1 minute of walking, repeat for 8 minutes 
  • The athlete will be working for 5 or 6 minutes here in a fatigued state 

Lactic capacity intervals aren't going to improve your maximal power in sport, nor will they increase your top-end speed, but they can help athletes perform better under fatigued conditions if that is seen or required in their sport. 

Considerations When Programming Lactic Power vs. Lactic Capacity 

If you're working with athletes new to training or their sport, they probably lack anaerobic conditioning. If this is the case, then using Lactic Power Intervals is probably more beneficial to them until they get better at working under fatigued states, which can be developed through their sport or by gradually introducing small volumes or frequencies of Lactic Capacity Intervals. 

However, if you're training seasoned athletes with good conditioning, it may be more helpful to have them work on Lactic Intervals. It's also important to note that seasonality will also play a factor here. So an athlete in their in-season who needs to be very power-based, and isn't working under fatigued conditions in their sport, may be better suited to perform Lactic Capacity Intervals during their off-season. 

Selecting Movements to Program

If you're wondering what movements are best to program, remember the needs of the athlete and what season of their sport they are in. For example:

  • Cyclists need to do cycling
  • Runners need to do running 

However, it doesn't mean that you can't program movements or exercises that the athlete enjoys too. Especially during the off-season, cross-training, by introducing some movements that get the athlete doing other things, can also be helpful. It's also important to remember that keeping training fresh can keep athletes excited about training & as a result, be more consistent, which typically results in greater performance. 

  • Programming rowing for cyclists in the off-season if they would enjoy that
  • Programming swimming for runners in the off-season if they would enjoy that 

Support & Courses Available

Ready for even more support? Our Program Design 101 Course teaches you exactly how to organize an annual training plan that includes conditioning and provides sport-specific examples and even includes done-for-you programming templates by phase. Click the link here to check it out.




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