The Basics of Seasonal Training for the Tactical Athlete

(U.S. Marine Corps/Cpl. Elijah J. Abernathy)

Many fitness elements such as strength, power, speed and agility are frequently paired together in training systems because they complement each other. You can see this in how football players train in preseason, lifting and sprinting to be bigger, faster and stronger. Endurance and muscle stamina pair well; calisthenics and cardio go hand in hand. This is why these fitness elements are often tested in pre-military fitness assessments, using exercises such as swimming, running, pull-ups, push-ups and sit-ups.

Improving these types of exercises together is not difficult. Here is an email asking about creating a training program to improve all the elements of fitness, in an effort to be a more well-rounded tactical athlete:

"Does sprinting and lifting weights go together well, or do you have to train these separately? How about calisthenics and cardio? Do those go well together? Can you mix all the above in a training program? Sorry for the multiple questions, but thanks in advance. I appreciate you. -- EP"

EP, this is a great question. I have based dozens of articles and books creating my training system for the last 25 years on the answers to these questions, as tactical athletes need to improve at all the elements of fitness. Tactical fitness requires an operator to be "good at everything." This means having a foundation of strength and power, speed and agility, muscle stamina and endurance, flexibility and mobility, and grip.

Setting up a well-structured training program is crucial for tactical athletes. It's not about random workouts of the day, but a strategic, long-term approach. This type of training requires a fitness budget for the year. Consider these seasons of training ideas that allow you to build all of your fitness elements together in seasonal cycles. This approach, similar to the preseason, in-season and postseason training cycles of athletes, can be highly effective for tactical athletes as well.

Like the athlete's training cycles, the tactical athlete should also consider cycling.

Spring Training

This is a great time of the year to start progressing your running, rucking and calisthenics repetitions so you can focus on building muscle stamina, cardio endurance and overall work capacity. Try this for 8-12 weeks. You can mix in some supplemental lifts, but consider doing it every fourth week as a running/high-rep de-load -- also known as block periodization.

Summer Training

From my experience, we tend to peak in our running and high-rep calisthenics workouts in the summer, working hard to maintain muscle and stay lean and fast during this cycle. However, if you have hard-earned strength and muscle mass gains that you do not want to lose, keep up the intake of calories and do a lift week every fourth week to help with that maintenance. 

Plus, it is a nice break in the seasonal progression that can get tedious.

Fall Training

This is a transition from the higher reps and miles of the summer, slowly reducing the reps and adding weight to the training. This cycle is usually done with sandbags and weight vests to help with that goal. However, a lift week can be added every fourth week. The runs also get shorter and faster with sprints, hills and shuttle runs. This cycle focuses on building strength, power, speed and agility.

Winter Training

This is the lift cycle. Gain weight and/or get stronger. The goal here is strength and power and the cardio is shorter, while the running is faster. However, the warm-ups are calisthenics and the cooldowns are runs, swims or rucks to help maintain the cardio base from previous cycles. 

If you need to keep up the calisthenics and cardio, we also add in a block periodization week every fourth week, drop the weights and do a typical spring/summer week of muscle stamina/endurance training. This makes for a good lifting de-load week, and people come back stronger, maintain and even improve typical fitness testing scores.

If you are wondering what this system is called, I have used this Seasonal Tactical Fitness Periodization model for more than 25 years. If you prefer, you can mix your favorite lifting workouts into the lift cycle or lifting weeks. Many of my favorite workouts to add to these cycles can be found in the Military.Com Fitness Section, but I also have dozens of books and programs that take the guesswork out of these yearly fitness creations for you at

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