Strength then size then conditioning
I'm basing this explanation on the guys and girls that go to the gym and want to do a few good feats of strength AND look good. At the end of the day that's 90% or more of gym goers today. You want muscles, a little functionality and some definition. Tell me I'm wrong!
Strength should be your number one priority throughout your training life. You don't have to think powerlifting or strongman but without strength everything suffers and with it everything is easier. Strength comes in many forms - maximum strength (1RM), strength endurance (the ability to do multiple repetitions without fatigue) and power (strength x speed) and if you look at Powerlifting there are things like speed strength, strength speed, Maximum Effort (ME) and sometimes you have elastic and static strength too. It can get very confusing.
For what most people need though strength is based around 1RM and strength endurance. This means what you can lift for a maximum lift and what you can lift for repetitions. Some people will be better at one more than another and vice versa. This is because fast and slow twitch muscle fibres make up the human body. Everyone is different. For example, I am predominantly fast twitch. I am quite fast and explosive and find endurance much harder. Someone with slow twitch fibres would be great at endurance but not so good at one rep maxes. It doesn't matter what you are, use what you have and play to your strengths.
Once you have a good level of strength (more on this in another article) you can then use that strength to build size.
Trying to build size without having built strength first is pointless. Big muscles require big weights and even if huge bulk isn't your bag, getting clearly defined muscles won't happen unless you are strong first. Plus why would you want to be big but not strong? It would be really strange to see a big, muscular man who was lifting tiny weights wouldn't it. Of course, some people do get very strong without putting on lots of excess mass but that's usually because they need to stay lighter for their sport. Those that can't put on weight are simply not eating enough.
To get bigger you have to use heavy weights that you can now use because you are strong. Combine that with heavy eating and you will grow. Now whether you put on fat as well will depend on what you eat, your age, your physical make-up and how you train but rest assured that if you eat more than you need to and train hard you will gain muscle. It is that simple.
Conditioning is a general term I use for fitness, athleticism and/or the quality of muscle that has been built. If you are strong enough and big enough then the icing on the cake is conditioning.
Now conditioning, like all three of these subjects is a huge area. It can involve diet, general fitness or general physical preparedness (GPP), jumping and mobility work (athleticism), circuit training and sports specific training or special physical preparedness (SPP). As you can see it is a huge area of training.
However, for most people, you would never need to do all of these things all of the time. I tend to utilize parts of them into my training. For example, I might do a weight training workout and then do a fast paced abdominal circuit mixed with some jumping onto boxes. That in itself would be enough for one workout. Another way would be to finish your weights workouts with 5 x 500m rows on the Concept 2 rower with 1 minute rests in between. That's another way of getting 'some' conditioning into your training. Another way would be simply cleaning up your diet.
You have to be careful as conditioning can become very intense and will affect your recovery and add to your weekly workload. In some ways you could get conditioned first as a good level of all of the conditioning methods would make you pretty awesome but without strength you would begin to struggle I feel. Or you might not want to be massively muscular and would instead rather be strong and conditioned. If your sport is boxing or MMA then that might make sense but I can guarantee that building some quality muscle will help most sports as well. And ladies, muscle is sexy. You will not get too big, ask the men, it is NOT easy to get big even with testosterone running through your veins. So get strong and add some muscle.
I could write tons of conditioning workouts but again they will be saved for another time.
For now remember...
BUILD STRENGTH FIRST - Strength is King.
BUILD SIZE NEXT - As much as you need.
BUILD CONDITIONING LAST - The icing on the cake.
Serge Reding - Strong (and big and conditioned for his sport despite the belly!)
Huge (and VERY strong) Reg Park posing in the 1950's
Bruce Lee knew what conditioning was all about.