How to Avoid the Training Error of Mixing Programs

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(U.S. Marine Corps/Cpl. James Smith)

People who train regularly while working toward a fitness goal often mix generic programs or add supplemental training sessions to help them reach those goals. Military service members often supplement group training with their own training programs, from bodybuilding, powerlifting, triathlons and ultra-marathons to obstacle course races and martial arts training.

But depending on their group training program, they may be burning the candle at both ends, not allowing for proper recovery and injuring themselves. This is also bad for civilians, but in the military, injuries can be devastating to the readiness and effectiveness of the fighting force, requiring replacement personnel or downgrading deployment-ready status, depending on the operator.

Understanding the differences between training programs and viable supplemental programs is necessary to avoid these kinds of hazards. Learning how supplemental training programs fit into a military fitness regimen for those training as tactical athletes also requires attention.

Here are some excellent ways to make additional workouts more manageable with your fitness goals, as well as your military fitness requirements to perform your job:

1. Recovery Matters

The biggest hurdle to adding supplemental training is recovering from each workout. These additional training periods each day can negatively affect your training if your recovery (nutrition, hydration, sleep) is not optimal. If you have any hiccups with recovery, you could start seeing negative results on both training plans. Learn more about recovery here.

2. Adding a Running Supplemental Plan

If you are preparing for a running event, chances are group PT, weightlifting class or other activities will not be enough. Adding in more miles per week will make sense in this situation, as long as you progress logically each week with your running miles.

Count any miles you do in your mandatory workouts and keep a total track of overall miles each week. A logical 10%-15% progression of running volume each week is ideal not to injure yourself like most people who start running or preparing for a marathon.

3. Adding in a Lifting Supplemental Plan

When adding lifting to your day, the best option is to ensure your secondary lift matches the same muscle groups worked earlier in the day with group PT. This way, you can treat the second workout as a progression to the same muscle groups and allow for recovery the following day. An upper body-lower body split routine typically works well in these situations.

4. Adding in a Calisthenics Supplemental Plan

If you are working to improve your calisthenics and muscle stamina, the same rule applies as if you were lifting weights. If you do push-ups and pull-ups in the morning, add more reps later in the day, but warm up and watch your total repetitions.

Just as you can overdo the running miles by adding supplemental runs, you can overdo calisthenics reps. Tendinitis in the joints is a common ache that will occur when you start adding too much volume.

5. Adding in Other Elements of Cardio (Rucking, Swimming, Nonimpact Cardio)

If you are working to improve your cardio events, you can spend a second workout later in the day focusing on technique; for example, a way to improve your swimming that is not too taxing. You can also add a higher-intensity effort on nonimpact cardio machines if you need to work that energy system more than steady-state cardio from previous workouts. If you want to top off a leg day, rucking or swimming with fins is a great addition to any leg day workout.

Sometimes, group PT is insufficient and is used as a group or team training program by the command. Regardless of how difficult your group PT training is (hard for some, easy for others) when adding additional training options, those options need to be well thought out and organized, like any other budget.

Just as there are food, diet, financial and time budgets (schedules), your fitness budget needs to make sense of your current abilities, equipment, time per day, days per week and goals. Goals should not only be helpful with your overall fitness and tactical abilities, but also parallel what the command is trying to develop as a warfighter.

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 stew@stewsmith.com.

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