Here’s How to Transition Into New Fitness Training Cycles

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. (U.S. Marine Corps photo/Matt Navarra)
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. (U.S. Marine Corps photo/Matt Navarra)

For over 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 that works well for someone who needs to fully develop all the elements of fitness throughout the course of the year includes 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 since, typically, everyone has some weaknesses they need to make better and some strengths they need to also maintain. The year is broken up into seasons of four 12-13 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 burnout.

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

Winter -- January through 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 towards 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 warm-up 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. (6-7 minute mile pace typically for the candidate tactical athlete)

Spring -- April through 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 (Sept-Oct), we make that transition from higher repetition and higher miles into decreased reps by adding weight (TRX, sandbags, etc) and sprint r 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 through December: Lift more weight and drop the high reps as you work towards strength and power. Taper your running into more non-​​impact cool down 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 climates for cardio workouts. Obviously if going Army add rucking. If going Navy SEAL, SWCC or Diver, add in more swimming and swimming with fins. Both activities are great post-leg day lift workout cardio options.

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 min bike, elliptical, row, or swim

5 min stretch, foam roller, or massage tool

Another option that is highly recommended 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 for sure.

Repeat 5 times

5 min bike, elliptical, row, or swim

5 min stretch, foam roller, or massage tool

Pool Optional:

Swim 10 min

Tread 10 min

Dynamic Stretches in chest deep water 10 min

Adding this in 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 into 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 prior to 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.

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