Ask Stew: When Should I Start Lifting Weights?

Chief damage controllman gets in a workout.
Chief Damage Controlman Marcus White, from San Antonio, lifts weights in the gym aboard the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Spruance (DDG 111). (Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Ryan D. McLearnon/U.S. Navy)

Our athletic history will always impact how we approach our next physical challenge. Whether starting a lifting program, training for a racing event, passing a fitness test or getting through basic training or spec ops selection, our athletic history will determine where our strengths and weaknesses are as we start.

Here is an email from a muscle stamina and endurance athlete who has identified a weakness with lifting heavier weights.

Hi Stew. ​I have a calisthenics and running background that I've practiced for 3 years. Do you think it's a good idea to focus on lifting for a year? I'm weak with weighted exercises, especially legs. Thanks, Flavio.

Flavio, great question. If you want to diversify your training, then a cycle of lifting is a smart decision, but that cycle does not have to last a full year. If you want to maintain a reasonable level of your hard-earned muscle stamina and cardio conditioning, perhaps try a 12-week lifting cycle. If you like the results, try another 12 weeks. After that, consider taking a break from lifting and go back to what you have enjoyed for the past three years.

I have been using the system of Seasonal Tactical Fitness Periodization for nearly 25 years. This system enables you to work on weaknesses while maintaining athletic strengths. Maintain your long-time athletic strengths and diversify your abilities by mastering all the elements of fitness: strength, power, speed/agility, muscle stamina, multiple modes of endurance, flexibility, mobility and grip.

How to Maintain What You Have

Mix in calisthenics as a warmup prior to your lifting workouts, then lift a variety of weights. Start with lighter weight and more repetitions, then add weight with fewer repetitions over time. After the lift section of your workout, cool down with a short and moderate-paced cardio session.

It is fine to mix each day's cardio options with running, biking, walking with weight, swimming or rowing. If you prefer to play sports like soccer or basketball as your cardio, that is fine, too.


Squat/run pyramid 1-10 warmup with easy paced 100-meter runs

  • 1 squat, run 100 meters
  • 2 squats, run 100 meters
  • 3 squats, run 100 meters
  • Keep going up to 10 squats and stop

Continue the warmup with a one-mile run or 10 minutes on the bike.

Leg Day Lift

Repeat three times.

  • Kettlebell deadlifts (RDLs): 10 reps
  • Step-ups: 10 per leg
  • Hanging knee-ups: 10-15 reps
  • Easy bike or jog: 5 minutes

Repeat three times.

Barbell or kettlebell squats: 10

Kettlebell swings: 20

Kettlebell farmer walks: 50 meters

Walking lunges: 10 per leg (weighted or not)

Cardio Cooldown

Swim, bike, run or other cardio exercise: 20 minutes

Swim workout or Bike Pyramid: 20 minutes

Tread or Swim

Warm up: 5 minutes

Repeat 10 times.

Swim: 100 meters with fins
Rest: 25-meter turtleback (swim on back with flutter kicks)


Dynamic stretch in chest-deep water: 5-10 minutes

The amount of cardio in the warmup and cooldown is up to you. If the goal is to gain muscle mass, you may want to reduce some of the cardio activity, as it will require eating even more calories at the end of each day in order to see a steady weight gain of about a pound a week.

-- Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Visit his Fitness eBook store if you're looking to start a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle. Send your fitness questions to

Want to Learn More About Military Life?

Whether you're thinking of joining the military, looking for fitness and basic training tips, or keeping up with military life and benefits, has you covered. Subscribe to to have military news, updates and resources delivered directly to your inbox.

Story Continues