The Conditioning Chronicles: Barnes Fitness

With 6 weeks to go until my first bodybuilding competition of the year, it’s time to step up the conditioning and get shredded! I’ve called in various favours and asked some people in the biz to blast me, beast me and generally put me through my paces.


Today’s installment of the Conditioning Chronicles needs a bit of background.

I used to be a swimmer. I wasn’t much of a speed-demon in the pool but I could grit it out through hell and high water – and did, swimming the English Channel twice (and the length of Windermere once, and round the Channel island of Jersey) with all the long, long training such swims demand.

So, when I approached my good friend Ellie Barnes of Barnes Fitness with the familiar plea of “get me lean!” (the battle-cry of every Conditioning Chronicle), I did so with a heavy feeling in the pit of my stomach (nothing to do with my fibre supplements). Because I knew that Ellie would either put me on a turbo trainer, make me sprint round a track or – worst of all – pop me in a pool.

Ellie is a Personal Trainer at Reading-based Barnes Fitness, and a very accomplished athlete in her own right. In fact, she has been selected to represent Great Britain as an age-grouper at this year’s World triathlon championships in New Zealand. You can support her here, and I urge you to do so if you can.


I met Ellie at a local pool (outdoors – lovely!) and I’m not joking when I say I was really apprehensive. It was a fear and dread which ran much deeper than “this is going to hurt” or “I’m not sure I can even do this sport”. In fact quite the opposite – I know I can do it, and I know because I’ve done so, so much of it. Hours and hours of training in the cold sea (I’m talking 7 hours on Saturdays and then 6 hours on Sundays) does build up a kind of trepidation on a cellular level. It wasn’t just my brain which was nervous. It was my body. Don’t get me wrong, I love swimming and will always adore it. We just have a tempestuous history and needed a bit of time apart. We haven’t spoken for a while and it was going to be… awkward.

I also had no idea if I could even swim any more. I haven’t done it in ages. I sometimes have anxiety dreams where I’m swimming through glue, or can’t lift my hands out of the water for the recovery phase of the stroke.

Hopefully by now you have some idea of the frame of mind I was in before today’s conditioning session! 😉

Ellie is a great coach and a good friend and put me at ease in no time. We did some mobility work before I lowered myself into the water and set off on a 200m freestyle warm up. My arms worked! My hands didn’t get stuck in the water! I was actually moving. This was OK. I could even tumbleturn still (well, sometimes).

After that I did:
– 100m for time (more on that later)
– 1x200m (this was meant to be 4x200m but I wasn’t feeling the love and asked if we could do shorter intervals instead) – 3:38. We did this using paddles and fins (flippers) to work on power.
– 4x50m – 44s, 47s, 50s (oops), 47s
– a kick set (100m with fins/flippers, 50m without)
– 100m backstroke cool down (ahhhh)

For the amazing, earth-shattering, flabbergasting total of… 1150m. Haha!

Here’s me during the 200m with fins and paddles

And me barely moving during the bit of kickset where I wasn’t wearing fins! This was truly agony (I did a very heavy squat session yesterday).

Ellie said:

“When you asked me to help you with a conditioning session, I wondered whether you’d feel more comfortable with longer intervals of 3-4 minutes (aerobic) or shorter bursts which would call on your anaerobic energy system. I think we can see from today’s set that you find anaerobic efforts easier, hence cutting the planned 4×200 short and turning it into 50m repeats instead. This isn’t really surprising since your weights work is probably quite explosive and, even though you might do a lot of volume and several sets, you’ll be taking a recovery after every set. So you don’t often ask your body to work at a relatively high level for 4+ minutes.”

This is definitely true – even my longest weights set might only be 20 reps (even when I sometimes do a very high rep squat set of 40 reps, it certainly doesn’t take me 3 or 4 minutes to complete the set) so most of my “intervals” or work periods are short, with a recovery. Even when I head out for long cardio, on my road bike for instance, there are still long periods of recovery between efforts like hill climbs.

I was interested in the effects of a short swim session on “pump” so did a bit of posing (I have no shame, bodybuilding has seen to that!), here we go:



Verdict: tough during the intervals but I recovered quickly. Will be interested to see effect on metabolism (hunger?) later today…

Thank you, Ellie at Barnes Fitness! 🙂

The Conditioning Chronicles: Barnes Fitness is a post from The Fit Writer blog.

Nicola Joyce – the Fit Writer – is a freelance copywriter and journalist who writes for the sport and fitness industry. Her main website is here.

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6 Responses to The Conditioning Chronicles: Barnes Fitness

  1. Natalie says:

    Woohoo!!

    I love swimming and have recently taken it up again to keep fit in general. I always feel a bit meh that I can’t swim consistently for 40 lengths or whatever, but I think I’m way more of a sprint swimmer! I shall be using your sets as a template for my future swimming endeavours 🙂

    Oh, and I get mega hungry after swimming….

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    • thefitwriter says:

      Hi Natalie and thanks! I wouldn’t say this set is necessarily one you should use – Ellie modified a typical set to suit me (being a few weeks out from a bodybuilding comp so on a restriced diet!) I can recommend the book I’m holding in the photo – it’s a waterproof ring bound book of swim workouts with tons to choose from, broken down into power/speed/endurance etc. I’ve got a couple of versions and I think I got them from Amazon – search “workouts in a binder for swimmers” or similar 🙂 Glad you’re enjoying your swims!

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  2. Swimming is bit like riding a bike Nic…once you have learnt the skill and technique you never forget it… I think you had the “fear feeling” as much as I did when you asked me to help you with your Conditioning…. You are such a dedicated athlete and will rock the stage at your comp (as long as they dont ask you to kick without fins!!). x

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    • thefitwriter says:

      Ha ha yep I’m much more at home doing a lat spread than a kick set these days. Enjoyed it though – a lot. Thank you! You may even have coaxed me back into regular pool sessions. x

      Like

  3. […] I said in this morning’s Conditioning Chronicles post, I do have a swimming background. Most certainly not a sprinting one, though, and not even […]

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