I have had a desk job as a programmer for the last 3.5 years and I have gotten pretty unfit. I am not fat or overweight however I am not fit and healthy either, I struggle to run to the end of my road without getting out of breath and I cannot lift weights that are that heavy either. So I am fairly unfit and asthmatic.

I would like to change this and I am trying to find or even come up with an exercise plan that will help me achieve the following goals:

To improve my conditioning level, currently I have a peak flow which is between 300-400 which is seriously low for a 22 year old male and should definitely be a main priority in increasing this to 580-600.

I would like to be able to lift respectable weights things like squatting 1.5 x bodyweight, deadlifting 2 x bodyweight etc.

As I was growing up and had a much higher level of fitness I never really followed an exercise program but I did a lot of sport and this kept me very fit. Activities such as swimming, jujitsu, sprinting etc. At the moment I don't really have time to get back into multiple activities to keep me fit and I think for now I would prefer to follow an exercise program which will help me to achieve the goals set above. My problem is I do not know how to achieve these goals.

Most exercise programs I have come across seem to focus on getting bigger or running further (some sort of specific goal), whilst both of these are things I am aiming for my main overall goal is to get fit and healthy. My low peak flow reading is a concern for me and I need to increase this but at the same time I don't just want to do conditioning work and not get any stronger, similarly I do not want to just get strong and ignore my terrible conditioning level. I am quite unsure how to approach this. I did find and follow CrossFit WOD for about 3 months (before stopping because I just fell out of the habit) but I had two problems with it.

1) Some of the WODs require lots of equipment which can be hard to get hold of at the gym and secure for the whole WOD.

2) My strength level whilst following it didn't really seem to increase. It felt as though you would maintain a current base of strength following the program but you would struggle to improve upon it by following the WOD. I did notice that my conditioning did improve whilst following the program though.

So I suppose my question really is, is it possible for me to work on both of these goals at the same time, if yes then what is a good way to approach it? I am not looking for a quick fix here and realise it will take hard work and commitment from me, but I would like to feel if possible that I am targeting both of the goals outlined above rather than just one or the other. Currently I have not come across and effective way to do this.

  • Well stated question. Commented Jul 13, 2012 at 4:18

2 Answers 2


I think your twin goals of strength and conditioning are good ones. You might consider adding mobility to that list at some later point, but those are the basics.

Strength First

Generally speaking, strength training should take precedence over conditioning, since strength carries over into conditioning challenges more than conditioning carries over into strength challenges. In particular, since you haven't been working out, you have the awesome opportunity to do a novice's linear progression. That is to say, by focusing on strength above all else for a while, you can make substantial gains. Then, you can add conditioning and other goals to your programming.

If you want to do that--dedicate yourself entirely to strength for a time, then moderate that after a few months when the easy gains have tapered off--you should look into Starting Strength or StrongLifts. (This answer talks about the minor differences between two.) They're both fine programs.

The Starting Strength wiki gives you the bare minimum of information in order to take on the program. The 2nd or 3rd edition book is details the program in full. StrongLifts, as I understand it, is entirely run through e-books, emails, and Mehdi's online forums.

Strength Plus Conditioning

The alternate approach, which is just as awesome, is to add conditioning work to your strength program. You can do whatever strikes your fancy: sprint on your off-days, push a Prowler at the end of your lifting session, drop by a CrossFit gym on the weekends...the beautiful thing about conditioning is that it's supposed to be varied. Circle back every few weeks to a benchmark test (e.g. "how many kettlebell clean and jerks can I do in ten minutes?" or "can I do six 100-meter sprints without feeling like microwaved vomit?") to track your progress.

Your strength progress will be severely impacted under this approach. You'll need to add weight to your lifts less often, and you'll be unable to continue adding weight for as long. However, you'll stay lean and in shape while slowly getting stronger.

For some deeper information regarding how to structure weightlifting according to different possible goals, this answer may be helpful.

  • Thanks for taking the time to answer I am looking over the information you provided and checking out Starting Strength and StrongLifts. Will just lifting weights have a significant impact on my conditioning level?
    – Aesir
    Commented Jul 14, 2012 at 8:36
  • @Aesir Lifting weights can be done for conditioning, depending on how you structure the lifts. The methods I know of are barbell complexes (where you load the bar with a light weight and do reps of several different exercises without stopping, e.g. 8 cleans, 8 squats, 8 presses, then rest and repeat) and the infamous 20-rep squat program. But no, lifting weights for strength (like in SS or SL) will not get your conditioning much past a minimal level. Commented Jul 14, 2012 at 23:28

Stronglifts 5x5 is a really good place to start. A lot of people have had good results with it - I have too doing a similar variation, although very quickly I had to change up the schedule to several more rest days. The base principle of a few compound lifts with progressively increasing weights stays the same. The exercise selection and frequency might change a bit depending on the results you're getting.

Strength is pretty much a necessary foundation for everything else. Getting stronger will improve your endurance and cardiovascular performance (although obviously endurance training will improve it more). So you'll build up your strength first, maybe spending a year to hit your target of 1.5-2x your bodyweight, and then look at other workouts you might want to do (or perhaps see just how far you can work your strength).

You could try to work on both at the same time, but I'd say focus primarily on strength, as it's something you can build into a habit before you start throwing in something else. If you try to pile too much on, you'll find it much harder to make a habit of.

  • Thanks for the answer, I'm looking into this program at the moment.
    – Aesir
    Commented Jul 14, 2012 at 8:37

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