Dump Read: Energy Systems, 1 Minute Workout Progression

  1. Use the RPE scale for conditioning/energy system work

For weight training, we always focus on percentages of 1-rep max and conditioning tends to focus on percentages of max heart rate.  There may be a better way though.

The rate of perceived exertion scale wins in my book.  The original scale ranged from 6-20 but the revised scale works with numbers 0-10. This scale allows you to measure your effort that day rather than trying to hit a number based on a max that may have been calculated on a better day.

An effort of 7 at the beginning of the week may feel like an 8 or 9 at the end of a long week or a grueling training cycle.  It allows you to get into the right training zone even though your level of output may differ day to day.

The scale is also accompanied by how difficult it might be to talk, breathe and how long you might be able to continue working at that rate.

It may be difficult for people to get away from the percentage-based style of training for weight lifting but I have found using the RPE scale the far more effective for energy system training over the variability of monitoring heart rates.

Using the RPE is a better choice for firefighters because of shift work’s impact on heart rate as well as the body’s response to a tendency to over-caffeinate while on shift.


  1. Progressing the 1-minute workout

If you’ve followed this blog or read anything of mine in the past you’d likely know I am a huge fan of the one minute workout.  An often-asked question from people is how to progress this workout.

The simple answer is push harder.  Try to cover more distance in the allotted 20 second bouts.  However, I understand that over time people can get a little bored constantly repeating the same workout.

The important thing to remember is what systems this workout targets.  The one-minute workouts uses the anaerobic system to train the aerobic system, specifically the power end of the anaerobic-lactic system.  If you can keep the work to rest ratios within the right ranges then you should see the same outcomes from any progression.

One way I like to change it up and progress is to shorten the rest interval to 1:20 from 2 minutes but keep the work interval at 20 seconds.  20 seconds keeps us in the anaerobic power range and 1:20 results in a 1:4 work to rest ratio, down from 1:6 but still within acceptable ranges for training the anaerobic system.

Using this format, the workout can either be shortened. I prefer to complete 4 or 5 reps in about the same amount of time. As with all interval training it’s really your call if it makes sense within the work to rest ratio parameters.


0:00-3:00 – Warm up

3:00-3:20 – Work

3:20-4:40 – Rest

4:40-12:00 Repeating 20s/80s 4 times plus extra 40 seconds for cool down


The 1-minute workout is a solid choice for an on-shift conditioning session. It doesn’t require an extended recovery time, it’s quick and can be done with the whole crew. This progression is no different except, perhaps, slightly tougher on the post-workout recovery, although not enough for me to recommend against using it on shift.


  1. Use music to improve effort during exercise

My friend Matt Stork has shown over and over in his research that music is beneficial when exercising. It’s basically the best pre-workout going. His studies have shown that music can reduce the perceived effort of exercise, improve the peak power output of cycle-based tests and delay the point of volitional exhaustion.

What does this mean for you?  If you listen to motivating music while you exercise then you will be able to push harder, for longer with good technique and it may not feel so bad.

My own studies have shown people that don’t listen to music while they work out at a high intensity are likely serial killers; along with wearing socks to bed and disliking peanut butter and jam sandwiches. I have yet to publish these results.

So, throw on some music that you enjoy, get pumped up and get after it.

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