Basic Fitness and Conditioning

Basic Conditioning and Fitness Suitable for both Male and Female Trainers

The combination of both weight training (resistance) and cardiovascular exercise are paramount for those looking to improve their health and body composition.  Whilst muscle toning is not the correct term, a ‘toned look’ (with an appropriate diet being employed) can be established with the plan outlined below.  Cardiovascular fitness and health benefits are also associated with such programs along with the aesthetic benefits many trainers strive for.


These benefits of resistance (weight training) and cardiovascular (jogging, cycling and swimming for example) include lower blood pressure and cholesterol, an increase in lung capacity and heart efficiency along with reducing body fat (whilst on a calorie controlled diet).


Initially the article will document cardio based training and later incorporating the weight training plan. The definition of ‘cardio’ training is: ‘An activity that increases the output of the cardiovascular system’


Simple examples will be power walking, cycling, jogging, rowing or swimming.  Many gyms now have equipment which stray away from these standard exercise choices and all are valid for those who wish to start cardio training.  Cross trainers and elliptical trainers are prime examples.  ‘Cardio’ is classified as anything that gets the ‘heart going’ in Layman’s terms.


Initially, the unconditioned trainer will simply build up with three sessions of low to medium intensity cardiovascular activity for around 30 minutes. These sessions are labelled ‘steady state’ as the intensity doesn’t change and the same pace is continued throughout the session (interval training is documented later on). Below is a detailed plan for a new trainer:


  • Monday – stationary bike up to 30 minutes at a pace where you can talk but are giving more effort than walking


  • Wednesday – as above or power walk for the same time and intensity


  • Friday – as above or a cross trainer for the same time and intensity


In short, this is a simple introduction to cardiovascular training and it is in line with UK Government recommendations for exercise participation.  Some trainers may have to build up to the 30 minutes by increasing duration by 5 minutes each week.  This is perfectly acceptable and at no point should the trainer try and go beyond their ‘safety’ levels (as discussed in closing paragraph below).  The beginner or unconditioned trainer will be defined as somebody who has had minimal participation in physical activity within the last 6 months but is of sound health.


The intensity of the initial sessions is little more than a canter with heavy breathing forbidden.  This is neither a run nor a sprint but at the same time slightly more than a leisurely walk. For those with joint pains or previous injuries the bike or cross trainer will offer a slightly more forgiving session as opposed to jogging or power walking, due the low impact nature of the exercise. Find a piece of exercise equipment you enjoy and one which is ergonomically suitable. As the trainer adapts to the base schedule above there are three ways in which the program can be advanced:


  • Number of sessions
  • Length of session
  • Intensity of session


As the body adapts to the initial protocol the work load will become relatively easy and both fitness levels and weight loss can be accelerated by employing one of the methods above.


For the intermediate trainer, I have devised the schedule below which has incorporated all of the factors outlined above.  The definition of an intermediate trainer would be someone who has competently completed the initial program for a minimum of 12 weeks.

The plan is advanced from the beginners plan as follows:


  • Monday - power walk up to 40 minutes with medium to heavy breathing


  • Wednesday – as above


  • Friday - 20 minutes slightly harder effort, the equipment choice is open


  • Saturday – as Monday or similar effort on any chosen equipment


As the intermediate trainer continues through the weeks, fitness levels will increase and body fat levels will decrease (whilst on a calorie controlled diet) in response to the increased work load and frequency of the training sessions.  Adaptation to cardiovascular training is fairly rapid and physically evident, with the benefits being experienced in other aspects of daily life too.  As the trainer begins to find the intermediate plan less challenging they can move onto an advanced plan.  As a standard rule I would advocate at least 16 weeks of the schedule outlined above before progressing onto the advanced plan.


The advanced plan will now incorporate HIIT training.  This is High Intensity Interval Training. It is a mixture of aerobic exercise (with oxygen) and anaerobic work (without oxygen).  The steady state cardio at lower intensity has previously been all aerobic, the intervals on HIIT maybe anaerobic for some.  Studies show that HIIT is great for fat burning (after burn) and increasing metabolic output.  This means you stay slim whilst becoming fitter! HIIT is not for the unconditioned trainer, and is far more intense than the steady state training detailed above.  For the advanced trainer though there will be no health risks for those who have been cleared by their GP or doctor.  Fitness levels will now support the near maximum efforts. I have outlined below is an example of HIIT for the advanced trainer:



  • 1-3               easy warm up on stationary bike at a very steady pace
  • 3.00-3.20     max out effort, no holding back
  • 3.20-4.00     cool down with minimal effort but keep pedalling
  • 4.00-4.20     max out effort, no holding back
  • 4.20-5.00     cool down with minimal effort but keep pedalling
  • 5.00-5.20     max out effort, no holding back
  • 5.20-6.00     cool down with minimal effort but keep pedalling
  • 6.00-6.20     max out effort, no holding back
  • 6.20-7.00     cool down with minimal effort but keep pedalling
  • 7.00-7.20     max out effort, no holding back
  • 7.20 -12/13  cool down


The session will last around 13 minutes with 5 maximal efforts.  Many trainers liken these 20 second intervals to 100m track sprints in terms of the effort required.  Anything less than maximum effort will not prove beneficial.  Initially there are 5 intervals, so 100 seconds hard work.  This is literally everything you have and more to the point of exhaustion in the 20 second period, followed by a 40 second active rest.


The progression of HIIT is done through a number of intervals as opposed to the effort as the trainer will be at maximum intensity throughout.  Initially this looks easy but I can assure you it is very challenging! For your first session simply establish an appreciation of the structure and approximate the effort required in each interval.


As the advanced trainer becomes more interested in cardio they may look to use their heart rate as an indication of effort.  The advanced training plan will include steady state cardio at heart rate intensities (as a percentage of maximum).  For HIIT training, heart rate monitors offer little benefit.  Its either maximum perceived effort or warm down/light spin.


Maximum heart rate can be calculated by manual or theoretical equations and testing.

For those wishing to do the manual test simply sit on a bicycle and increase the intensity level every 2 minutes to around 15 minutes where you are performing an all out sprint.  This progression must be a steady linear effort as opposed to maximum effort being put in too early or holding back and simply sprinting at the end.  See the test as a gradually increasing hill as opposed to a flat road with a sprint at the end.  The trainer should establish a figure within 5 beats of their maximum by doing this.


For the theoretical approach, the male trainer is to subtract his age from 220 whilst females minus age from 226. In theory, based on this calculation, the 40 year old gent will have a MHR (maximum heart rate) of 180bpms.


We will take the maximum figure, whether it was established manually or theoretically and devise sessions to work in ‘zones’ whilst performing cardio.  The different zones will primarily provide different benefits from lower intensity efforts where fat burning is more prevalent to higher end efforts where fitness levels and VO2 are increased. This will partner the HIIT trainer for a ‘steady state and interval training’ combination. The advanced trainer will incorporate both methods into 4-5 sessions per week as detailed below:

  • Monday –    40 minutes at 75-80% of MHR on any chosen cardio equipment


  • Tuesday –    HIIT protocol above on stationary bike


  • Thursday –  45-50 minutes at 65-75% of MHR on rowing machine


  • Friday –       HIIT protocol above on stationary bike


  • Sunday –     optional 1 hour stationary cycle ride at 65% of MHR


This will provide the trainer with a challenging weekly training schedule.  Progression for the steady state training is simply increasing the duration or the intensity, whilst adding intervals to the HIIT will make it a more advanced plan.  The advanced trainer may wish to detail their progression by noting distances, achieved level of intensity or completed sessions in a log book to monitor their progress.  I strongly recommend this for motivation amongst other factors.


For those looking to progress beyond this level to sporting performance I would suggest researching the sport you are interested in and the training principles associated with that particular sport.  The advanced trainers plan above will give a great base of endurance, speed and cardiovascular efficiency and you may also shed a pound or two on the way.

Sport specific training will differ from the protocol above but the base established in the advanced plan will put the trainer in an advantageous position for entering the realms of sports training.


Some general rules should be adhered to before and when performing the plans outlined above.  Primarily, ensure you are in good health and have been cleared by your GP or doctor before embarking on any fitness plan.  This is paramount, your health comes first.  

Wear suitable clothing for the gym and ensure a full water bottle accompanies you during every session.   If the intensity is too hard, appreciate your limits and put health before exercise.  If you feel faint, light headed, dizzy or dehydrated ease down to a canter and terminate the session.  Remain seated until stable.  If the symptoms persist, consult your GP or doctor for a health screening or similar assessment. For those looking to lose weight it must be understood a calorie controlled diet must be adhered to along with exercise to ensure optimum fat loss.


The cardio schedule has now been established.  To complete the plan, restistence training must be added.  As the main focus is on health and an aesthetically pleasing body, weight training will be kept to a 2 day upper and lower body split. One session will be spent working from the waist up, the other from the waist down.  There will be times when there are overlaps as the midsection is taxed in many lower body exercises. All weight training sessions will be incorporated from week one and must be carried out before the cardiovascular work out or on off days (away from the cardiovascular session). Examples are as follows (using the beginner’s protocol from before):


  • Monday – upper body weights session followed by the stationary bike up to 30 minutes at a pace where you can talk but are giving more effort than walking


  • Wednesday – as above or power walk for the same time and intensity


  • Friday – lower body weights session followed by the stationary bike up to 30 minutes at a pace where you can talk but are giving more effort than walking


Alternatively the trainer could adopt the following protocol:


  • Monday – stationary bike up to 30 minutes at a pace where you can talk but are giving more effort than walking


  • Tuesday – upper body weights session


  • Wednesday – as above or power walk for the same time and intensity


  • Friday – as above or a cross trainer for the same time and intensity


  • Saturday – lower body weights session


Either framework or any adaptation of these will suffice as long as there are 2 weights sessions and 3 cardio sessions.  This runs true for the intermediate and advanced plans. The 2 weights sessions are never sacrificed for cardio or rest.  Alter the cardio to incorporate these if the workload proves excessive.


Resistance training is a much maligned activity in media circles, especially for women looking to lose weight and ‘tone up’.  The notion of training on cardio based plans is suboptimal and weight training is paramount for improving body composition and maintaining a high metabolism, which in turn will burn fat.  Training with weights does in fact burn body fat during and after exercise, something the media again seems to forget.  Weight training in this form will not make the trainer bulky, it will simply aid their attempt to create a ‘toned’ look.


The two simple splits below will be performed with at least 1 day apart and the exercise order, repetitions and sets will be adhered to. The reps and sets are stated as 3 x 10. This means the trainer is to do 10 repetitions (full movement up and down) on completion of the 10 reps the trainer rests for 2-3 minutes before completing his 2 further sets.


Day 1 – Upper Body Work Out


  • Dumbbell Bench press 3 x 10
  • Lat Pull Down Machine 3 x 10
  • Seated Dumbbell Shoulder Press 3 x 10
  • Bicep Barbell Curl 3 x 10
  • Tricep Cable rope Push down 3 x 10


If you are unsure of the exercises listed, any qualified fitness instructor will be able to demonstrate, with good form, the technique, range and speed of motion required to complete the exercise.  There are also online videos with training technique tips.  Ensure before progression you have mastered the technique.  Poor form can lead to injury as well as taking the emphasis away from the target muscle groups.  If you are training at home ensure all safety facilities are in place and you have fully maintained, serviced equipment

The weight chosen should tax the muscle but not be too high that the 3 sets of 10 cannot be completed with the correct form.  This figure is to be noted by the trainer and increased weekly to aid muscle development and strength. An example of this progression can be seen below (please note this is merely an example opposed to a prescribed working load).


An example of progression is as follows:


Barbell Squats

Week 1 – 3 x 10 reps at 25kg

Week 2 – 3 x 10 reps at 26.5kg

Week 3 – 3 x 10 reps at 27.5kg

Week 4 – 3 x 10 reps at 30kg

Week 5 – 3 x 10 reps at 32.5kg

Week 6 – 3 x 10 reps at 35kg

This progression will slow down after the initial jumps in weight.  Ensure correct form and technique are adhered to before moving up a weight.


Day 2 Lower Body Work Out


  • Barbell Squats 3 x 10
  • Stiff Leg Barbell Deadlifts 3 x 10
  • Leg Extension Machine or 45 Degree Leg Press 3 x 10
  • Calf Raise (seated or standing 3 x 10
  • Hanging Leg Raises or Cable Abdominal Crunches 3 x 10


Abdominal work is kept to a minimum in terms of isolation as squats and deadlifts recruit the core (midsection) in the previous exercises.  The perfect ‘6 pack’ is not created through thousands of sit ups everyday and this will simply lead to postural imbalances.  Visible, ‘toned’ midsections are a result of a calorie controlled diet, cardiovascular work and minimal total core recruitment.  All of the components stated have been incorporated in this plan.  Do not be tempted to thrash out crunches or sit ups every morning, this is not productive.


The exercises stated above are a combination of free weight, cable and machine exercises that will be used in most commercial gyms.  If you do not have the equipment to replicate any of the movements consult your fitness instructor or gym owner for an alternative.

Excluding some of the exercises on either day will simply lead to postural imbalances.


The safety point documented above for the cardio training applies to weight sessions too, please ensure you are familiar with them before training commences.



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