Workout Plan: Balance Strength Growth and Maintenance

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Lance Cpl. Christopher Talbot, with 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, curls a 50-pound dumbbell in Iraq. The Marine Corps will soon begin handing out awards for superior physical fitness. (Cpl. Ryan Tomlinson/Marine Corps)
Lance Cpl. Christopher Talbot, with 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, curls a 50-pound dumbbell in Iraq. The Marine Corps will soon begin handing out awards for superior physical fitness. (Cpl. Ryan Tomlinson/Marine Corps)

How do you balance calisthenics, weights and cardiovascular conditioning? On your journey to becoming a tactical athlete that must get good at all the elements of fitness (strength and power, muscle stamina and cardio endurance as well as run, swim, ruck, speed and agility and flexibility and mobility), you may find that you need to cycle through certain training phases that help you improve weaknesses while also maintaining your strengths.

That process is not easy and each program will be different from the next depending on athletic history, current strengths and weaknesses, goals and timeline. All of those matter when considering a training program. If you are not receiving personalized programming, you may have to alter any program you find in a book, online, or magazine to fit your abilities and goals.

Here is a sample workout that shows how we balance building strength while at the same time maintaining a steady level of muscle stamina and cardiovascular endurance.

First, assess: Take a test and actually see where you are when you start or after a challenging training cycle. For instance, we just spent the last four months focused on a running progression (distance and speed), swimming maintenance (cooldown, technique, PST distance 500 yards), and a high repetition calisthenics and muscle stamina cycle.

We were able to do all of that in a training cycle and saw great results. Now, as we transitioned out of this cycle and into a strength, power and speed cycle that includes shorter and faster runs and fewer repetitions but more weight, we took a test to see just how we needed to focus everyone during the next 12 week cycle.

Warm-up: Do the training you're trying to maintain as your warm-up. For most people moving into a strength cycle, we warm-up with calisthenics and running to maintain a certain level of cardio and muscle endurance.

For example, we warm-up with a push-up pyramid from 1-10 or 1-20 with 50-100 meter runs in between each set. That's about a 10 to 15 minutes of warm-up that yields 55 to 210 push-ups and 500 meters to 2,000 meters of running, depending on your abilities. You can also mix in pull-ups as a warm-up too.

Workout Focus: After warming up with pull-ups and push-ups with a short PT pyramid, we work the same muscle groups as the warm-up, just differently and heavier.

Push/Pull Strength Day

Repeat 4-5 times:

  • Bench Press 5-10 (moderately heavy weight)*
  • Rows 5-10 per arm (heavy dumbbells or machine)

Repeat 3 times:

  • Bicep Curl into Military Press, 10-15
  • Pull-ups 5-10 (add weight if you can do 15+ already)
  • Shrugs 20
  • Dips 10-20 (add weight if you can easily do 15-20 reps)

You can also do a similar style warm-up with a squat pyramid and runs and mix in a series of 5x5 or 3x10 sets/reps cycle with heavier weights.

*If you want to go heavier to build strength, do less repetitions and more weight. If you need to build muscle consider doing a lighter weight and higher repetition range in the 10 to 15 zone (hypertrophy).

Cooldown: The cooldown can be a short run of 1.5 to two miles in distance, and if you need to maintain and work on swimming skills, start off the swim workout with a 10 minute tread and a 500 meter timed event. On leg days, add in swimming with fins for 1,000 to 1,500 meters.

If you give yourself plenty of time (8-12 months), you can go through a few different cycles to maintain your strengths and improve weaknesses. Consider focusing on what you need to prepare for in your future such as strength and durability for load bearing activities (rucking, logs, boats, equipment carry). Swimming, treading and swimming with fins, running timed runs and steady paced distances as well.

There are many options for programming that can help you:

 

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