"Body conditioning exercises aim to work your full body," says Strong Nation master trainer Renee Picket. "They're a multi-muscle type of workout that gives you more bang for your buck, and are usually a combination of speed and power, mobility and flexibility, and strength and resistance training."
In essence, this type of training is all about having a balanced body. "It focuses on strength, agility power, and overall athleticism," says Melissa Boyd, head trainer at Tempo, adding that exercises will typically have aerobic work in the mix, too. Keep scrolling to learn more about it, plus how to incorporate it into your own fitness regimen.
What exactly is body conditioning
Because this type of workout works so many aspects of your fitness game, there are endless exercises that fall into the category. Essentially, your typical resistance moves, strength training staples, cardio exercises, and mobility moves can count as body conditioning, and they all work together to improve your strength IRL situations. "Most exercises when performed or paired intentionally will help condition the body," says Boyd. That means that everything from walking, running, resistance band work, stretching, and spinning all count—it's just about putting them together throughout the week in a cohesive training plan.
Pickett breaks it down into four key staples that fit into a body conditioning workout regimen: endurance, balance, strength and resistance training, and flexibility. Everything within those categories is a part of conditioning your body for overall strength. "High intensity interval training, or HIIT, is very well known for being full-body conditioning," she says of one prime example that hits multiple elements of conditioning in one.
But more low impact exercises fall under the umbrella, too, like yoga, swimming, and biking. "Activities like yoga and tai chi can be great for increasing overall flexibility and balance, while aerobic exercises like running, biking, and climbing increase your endurance and build your slow-twitch muscle fibers," says Brianna Bernard, Isopure athlete and personal trainer. "Dynamic movements like squat jumps and burpees active your fast-twitch muscle fibers, which build muscle, as do bodyweight or weight training exercises."
The benefits of body conditioning exercises
Because this mix of fitness modalities is so well-rounded, it's got a long list of benefits to your overall health. First up? You'll have less of a chance of injuring yourself during movement. "Body conditioning workouts can help with mobility, which helps to decrease the risk of injuries," says Pickett. "The flexibility and mobility aspect enables you to move all of your joints and soft tissues through their full ranges of motion, and this is crucial in order to build a strong body and to avoid pain and injuries."
You'll also improve flexibility with limb-lengthening exercises like yoga and stretching in the mix. "Yoga and tai chi along with stretching routines can be great for increasing overall flexibility and balance," says Bernard, who points out that this improves the health of your muscle tissues, which boosts your quality of life. "Plus these allow us to help monitor the aches and pains we experience from prolonged periods of sitting, repetitive movements, and poor posture."
Agility and endurance are other key perks, which you'll get from long bouts of anaerobic and aerobic activities like spinning and walking. "This training style helps you to do life better, since you'll be able to do things like work in the yard for longer, pain-free, and full of energy," says Pickett of endurance exercises like stair climbing, running, and biking. And that stamina helps to improve your performance in all other physical activities.
In essence, body conditioning exercises are a lot like functional fitness: They translate into strength in your day to day life. "Improving your overall quality of movement, strength, lung capacity, and endurance is the most real-world fitness that you can have," says Boyd. "Creating a balanced fitness plan that includes strength, conditioning, and mobility will help you feel stronger, and it will translate into more effective workouts overall."
What to know before training
Though Boyd recommends doing some type of body conditioning move every day, it doesn't need to be intense. "It can be light stretching, mobility work, three 10-minute walks, or resistance training, and even 15 to 20 minutes a day will do," she says.
If you're a beginner, though, you can start slow. Pickett advises to begin with just one to two days a week of working out with proper recovery—24 to 48 hours—in between. "Gradually assess your fitness performance over two to four weeks, and know that three to four days a week is optimal for intermediate to advanced, well-conditioned individuals," she says. "Ease into a new program and new movements, and be sure to build a consistent schedule," adds Boyd. "Prioritize the integrity of movement over speed or intensity, and modify before you quit. And schedule your recovery like you do your workouts."
As is the case with all exercise regimens, check with your physician before you begin a program like this, says Bernard. "You can hire a coach to ensure you are engaging in proper form and technique to avoid injury or strengthening imbalances."
Body conditioning workouts to try
For mobility and flexibility:
Yoga: As Bernard mentioned, yoga is one of the best ways to lengthen and stretch your muscles as you strengthen them, making it a key body conditioning exercise. Try this beginner yoga flow to ease into the practice if you're new to it.
Stretching: Yet another OG way to lengthen muscles and increase flexibility is through simple stretching. The stretching routine above, courtesy of trainer Charlee Atkins, works your full body in just five minutes.
Burpee: Bernard loves plyometric movements for strength conditioning, like the classic burpee. Before you drop to the ground (and come back up again, and over and over again), watch the video above for proper form.
Deadlift: For resistance training, she recommends deadlifts, which you can use a barbell, kettlebell, or just your bodyweight to do. Be sure to keep a flat back and neutral spine when you bend forward, keeping the weight (if you're using one) close to your body.
Plank: There are so many plank variations you can sweat through, and a plain high plank is good too—all of them will fire up your core while burning out your arms and shoulders. Boyd suggests taking your plank up a notch with a climbing plank, which involves doing four slow mountain climbers, then four slow plank jacks from a forearm plank, then repeat. "This one gets sweaty fast and builds core strength, shoulder endurance, and pumps up your cardio," she says. Watch how to do a mountain climber properly above, and add on to it as you wish.
Bear crawl: Pickett loves bear crawls to light up every muscle in your body. Begin on your mat in tabletop position, and come forward with one hand and the opposite foot. Alternate hands and feet as you crawl forward and back.
For Cardio and endurance:
Cycling: To build up endurance and cardiovascular health, Bernard turns to cycling—which you can do on an indoor spin bike or via an outdoor ride. Queue up a spinning app, clip in, and ride.
Running: Lacing up is one of the best, zero-equipment required ways to increase endurance. And there are endless ways to do it, whether you're just starting out or you run marathons. Check the video above to make sure you've got proper running form.
Yoga for balance: To improve your balancing skills, yoga is one of the best multitasking methods to turn to, since you're also strengthening and lengthening your muscles. This standing flow only takes 11 minutes but will be testing your skills against gravity.
Single-leg deadlift: On the resistance training front, you can try single-leg deadlifts, which involves leaning over with all of your weight in one leg as you work your hamstring. Watch Atkins demonstrate how to do it correctly, and try it either with or without weights.
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