We should start with a clarification of terms. You’ve no doubt heard of strength & conditioning (well, it’s possible you haven’t…but if you’re here, chances are you will have heard me use the term to describe myself as a strength and conditioning coach).

Most of your workouts are strength workouts. That part is probably pretty obvious.

Conditioning, on the other hand, encompasses what most people know as cardio, but is actually a bit more than just “cardio”. You could think of conditioning as being short for metabolic conditioning.

So, let’s clarify:

“Cardio” is short for cardiovascular: it’s the kind of exercise you do to improve the capacity and function of your cardiovascular system (your heart and lungs). One particularly popular way to develop your cardiovascular system is to go jogging. This type of training is known in the strength and conditioning world as LSD: long, slow distance.

You see, strictly speaking, ‘cardio’ is for building the kind of endurance you need for a long jog, which is not the same as the kind of endurance that will benefit your circus training.

Long-distance jogging doesn’t require much in the way of strength, especially compared to most of the skills you would be performing in your circus discipline-of-choice. In fact, a more precise way to describe it would be to say that the energy demands on your body for jogging are low. From one stride to the next, it doesn’t require much energy.

All LSD really requires is the ability to perform a low-strength move (jogging) over and over, for a long period of time.

Your training program will not include any recommendations that you partake in long, slow distance.

On the other end of the spectrum, we have activities where single repetitions have much higher energy demands. Many of the skills you perform in circus require a greater amount of energy expenditure than a couple of jogging strides.

So, the conditioning recommendations that follow are aimed at training your body to improve its ability to exert a greater amount of energy repeatedly compared to jogging …but for less time than you would normally spend jogging (because a single circus routine pretty much never takes as long as it takes to “go out jogging”).

Baseline: the basics

In most cases, I’m going to assume that you have access to at least one of the following:

  • A stationary bike,
  • An elliptical (or similar), or
Or whatever brand of elliptical machine your gym has…
  • A rowing machine
You, too, can smile while you row!

In this case, for conditioning at the end of your workouts, use the following schedule:

Workout A: 1 mile as fast as you can*

Workout B: 2 miles as fast as you can*

Workout C: 20 seconds fast, 10 seconds rest/recover x8

*Note: “as fast as you can” does not have to mean “sprint”…for distances of 1 or 2 miles, “fast” is all relative.

A note about the rowing machine: the 1 or 2 mile conditioning strategies might prove to be too short here. I would stick with the intervals described in Workout C, above.

Option: running, not jogging

First: why the distinction between running and jogging? As Coach Mike Boyle notes in this video, if all you ever do is jog, then you end up training your body to do incomplete hip extension, and while this is no good for your everyday human-ing, it is even worse for your circus-ing. So, even running provides us with an opportunity to train your body (specifically your lumbopelvic-hip complex) to move in ways that are functional—both for life and for circus.

If you have access to a track (either indoors or out) or some space where you could do at least a 30 yard/30 metre run, then I recommend the following:

  • Run at between 70% and 80% of your maximum speed for the length of your running space (there’s no need to run more than 100 metres/yards)
  • Walk back to the start to recover
  • Repeat for up to 10 minutes
    • Obviously, if 10 minutes is too much, you can start with as little as 2 minutes and build from there.
    • Note that the longer the distance you run, the harder it will be to recover between runs…so you might train for a shorter time.

Or, you could try 4 to 8 rounds of Sprint, Jog, Walk.

  • Where a sprint is 80% or more of your maximum speed.
  • The “jog” (I know, I just made a big deal about jogging…but this is just a wee bit of jogging compared to all the sprinting) is at 50%-60%.
  • Walking is pretty straightforward.

You can, of course, do any or all of this on a treadmill:

Option: mixing it up/fun toys

If you have access to some of these fun toys, you can spice up your conditioning life. Once or twice a week, try one of the following ideas:

Training Ropes

Start with 20 seconds of effort, followed by 20 seconds of rest (or up to 40 seconds if need be). Do 8 rounds.

Build to 30 seconds of effort, followed by 30 seconds of rest. Again, 8 rounds.

Or, if you’re feeling particularly in the mood for a challenge, do 20 seconds of effort followed by only 10 seconds of rest, for 8 rounds. Then you can curl up in a ball on the floor.

What to do:

Weight Sled

The trick here is deciding how much weight to put on the sled. It’s not meant to be easy to push…but you have to be able to move it.

Once you’ve got weight on the sled, all you have to do is push the sled.

Note: you must not allow your back to arch while you are pushing. Keep your core strong and powerfully engaged throughout. Also, keep your shoulders active. (It’s kind of hard not to, but being mindful of it makes it more effective).

Try 10 yards x 6 reps with as little rest in between reps as possible.

That oughta do it.


Start with a ‘march’:

Note that the knee-lift portion is really intended to encourage hip flexion of the lifting leg while the pushing leg extends at the hip.

When you’re confident that you can keep your core from moving, build to a ‘sprint’:

Agility Ladder

The agility ladder is a ton of fun (in my opinion). For conditioning, I would do these in intervals where you keep going until your ability to smoothly complete a pattern begins to deteriorate due to fatigue.

In most cases, I would consider one rep to be up and back on the ladder.

Start with two reps (as fast as you can manage while still being coordinated) and then rest for 30s and do 5 rounds.

Here are some ideas for patterns to do:

In the event that none of the above works for you, let me know and we can figure out a plan that works best for you.