Here’s How to Transition into New Fitness Training Cycles

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Marines and sailors begin a three-mile run.
The Marines and sailors of Combat Logistics Battalion 31 begin the three-mile run as part of battalion physical training at Camp Hansen, Okinawa, Japan, April 4, 2018. (Matt Navarra/U.S. Marine Corps photo)

For more than 20 years, I've been coaching and writing about a form of tactical fitness periodization created for the tactical athlete candidate as well as the active duty operator.

Many questions occur during the transition from one cycle to another. Some prefer a sharp change from running to non-impact cardio cycles, which is very helpful when feeling the threat of running overuse injuries. Others prefer a gradual bell-curve approach to building up to a peak and a reverse progression during the transition of one cycle to another.

Here are some options as you progress through lifting cycles into calisthenics cycles, running cycles into non-impact cardio cycles or into sprinting high-intensity interval training cycles.

For a refresher, a periodization system should work well for someone who needs to develop all elements of fitness fully -- strength and power; speed and agility; cardio endurance and muscle stamina; flexibility and mobility; grip; and other job-related skills (ruck, equipment carry, swimming, diving, crawling, climbing, etc.).

Seasonal tactical fitness periodization cycle:

A full year of training is ideal to develop all the elements of fitness, because everyone typically has some weaknesses they need to make better and some strengths they need to maintain. The year is broken up into seasons of four 12- or 13-week cycles. Have quarterly goals on the events you are training and then change the focus on your training program a bit just as you are starting to peak or burn out.

The cycles can be shifted to the left or right a month or so, depending on your needs and climate:

Winter (January-March): Lift more and PT less, focusing on non-impact cardio to give the legs a rest. Start to build up the calisthenics and cardio toward the end of the cycle as you decrease weights and increase calisthenics. We call this the "50-50" phase where roughly half of the workout is a warmup with calisthenics, followed by higher-repetition weight training to supplement lifts. Transition from short, faster runs into building up a longer running program focused on timed run pace. (That means a six- to seven-minute mile pace typically for the tactical athlete candidate.)

Spring (April-June): Lift less and progress with higher-repetition calisthenics and longer, faster miles of running. There's minimal non-​​impact options here unless you feel pain when running. The weights get dropped in this phase, and the resistance training turns to more calisthenics repetitions, plus sandbags, weight vests and TRX options to give the muscle stamina phase some challenge. Warm up with short, faster-paced runs and focus on longer runs and swimming cooldowns, both aimed at goal pace for testing events.

Summer (July-September): Lift and more PT, but also start a taper for a max-reps testing cycle in September. The same goes for running. Focus there on timed run speed and mile pace speed. Every year about this time (September-October), we make that transition from higher repetition and higher miles into decreased reps by adding weight (TRX, sandbags, etc.) and sprint or jog intervals (less mileage). This is typically the time when most people in the cycle are hitting a wall on muscle stamina and endurance and need a break into more non-impact cardio (swimming or biking) and fewer repetitions from the high-repetition, PT test-type training.

Fall (October-December): Lift more weight and drop the high reps as you work toward strength and power. Taper your running into more non-​​impact, cooldown cardio after lifting workouts, with your minimal running focused on timed run events and sprints. Consider rucking and more swimming with scuba fins in the winter for cardio workouts. If going Army, add rucking. If going Navy SEAL, SWCC or diver, add in more swimming and swimming with fins. Both activities are great cardio options for a post-leg day lift workout.

Do Not Forget Flexibility and Mobility

This has to be a year-round focus as most post-workout cooldowns should have an easy non-impact cardio option (bike, row, swim, elliptical) and a stretch and foam-roll cycle. Give yourself 15-20 minutes each day to do the following:

Repeat 2 times

5-minute bike, elliptical, row or swim

5-minute stretch, foam roller or massage tool

Another option that is recommended highly is to make a day a week only focused on mobility and flexibility. We call it the Mobility Day Off, and it typically looks like this. It takes 60-90 minutes so it is not a day off.

Repeat 5 times

5-minute bike, elliptical, row or swim

5-minute stretch, foam roller or massage tool

Pool optional:

Swim 10 minutes

Tread 10 minutes

Dynamic stretches in chest-deep water 10 minutes

Adding this once a week is a life-changing workout routine that will make the following days of the week much better in performance. And it is nice to leave a workout not feeling any pain, refreshed and ready to start the day. It's also a nice end to a highly stressful day.

If you are feeling burned out from doing the same workout routine year-round, change it up. You may find some enjoyment in something new that focuses on your weakness or strength again.

If you are finishing a summer program of longer running distances and higher repetitions in weights and calisthenics, the transition begins now into a new phase after peaking -- hopefully hitting some new personal records in running, swimming times and PT reps. Continue to do calisthenics, but mainly as a warmup before lifting heavier weight with fewer repetitions and less mileage. The fall 50-50 cycle is pretty fun, and the decrease in mileage each week will yield results in the weight room as well.

Here's a helpful summer to fall transition sample workout.

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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