Advance Your Fitness Level Through Periodization

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Lacey Hancock works out with dumbbells in Smith Physical Fitness Center while Curtis Nelson spots her. The two have become close friends as they share their love of bodybuilding and fitness with others. (Photo Credit: Eric Pilgrim)

The good news for fitness beginners, especially if overweight, is that you will see dramatic results compared to the average trained person working out for the same period of time.

For instance, the person who wants to lose 100 pounds can do that in a healthy manner in 10 to 12 months (at a 10-pounds-per-month pace). However, the hardest 10 pounds to lose are not the first, but the last. The way you achieve any fitness result specifically depends on your goals and current fitness level.

How Should You Begin Training? It Depends

How you should train depends on your goals. Obviously, if you are looking at building pure strength like a powerlifter, you need to lift heavier weights for fewer repetitions. But you also need to add in adequate recovery activities (nutrition, sleep) and limit long cardio activity. Keep in mind that this type of training is good for people who ONLY want to get stronger.

In tactical fitness, you also need to be good at other elements of fitness (strength, power, speed, agility, muscle stamina, cardio endurance -- run, swim, ruck -- flexibility, mobility and job-dependent skills). Where most people (especially in the tactical population) go wrong with focusing on strength is they also add in significant cardio activity and even add in days of calisthenics in between weight training days.

It is very difficult to build strength, cardio endurance and muscle stamina well at the same time. You may see progress at first but, after several weeks, you will find that your strength gains are reduced, you cannot run much faster than before, and your high repetition calisthenics testing scores may have suffered.

However, it is easier to maintain all of the above once you have these elements of fitness, as long as you train them. Getting these elements of fitness to advanced levels is best achieved by breaking down the year into cycles of 6 to 12 weeks. This is also known as Periodization. The powerlifter needs pure strength/lifting skills only; the tactical athlete needs to be good at everything.

Periodization for tactical athletes (and beginners) is a great way to focus on improving immediate elements of fitness, while maintaining other elements of fitness. You can do that with a balanced blend of cross-training.

Cross-Training Effects on Beginners (Weights and Cardio). In this study, sedentary men increased their muscle mass (gained muscle) and lost fat at the same time by mixing weight training with cardio activity. The muscle gained and fat lost was much greater for the group that did resistance training and cardio activity. The impressive results were achieved because they were beginners and had plenty of fat to lose and muscles that were underdeveloped. Now, the journey to maintain and improve these results should evolve into an elemental-focused training cycle: Do a strength cycle to build strength, power and muscle, while maintaining endurance. See how to break up all the elements of fitness throughout the year, making improvements in each while maintaining others that would oppose each other (strength and cardio gains).

One way to arrange your tactical training is to break it up with the seasons:

Winter Lift Cycle. This is the Build Muscle and Strength Phase. Focus on strength (lift heavy weights), reduce running to a minimum (timed run distances), and cross-train only with non-impact cardio. Warming up with calisthenics (push-ups, squats, lunges, pullups, etc.) is a good way to maintain muscle stamina (Tactical Strength). Study a few different ways to build strength with the Gain Strength (1RM) Lift to Failure Study.

Spring/Summer Stamina and Endurance Cycle. This is the Maintain Muscle, Build Stamina/Endurance Phase. Focus on progressing back into running (adding 10-15% time/distance per week) from current weekly mileage. Mix in higher-repetition calisthenics as the bulk of the workout, with supplemental lifts to maintain strength and balance out anything the calisthenics missed. With high amounts of calisthenics, you may have to eat to gain weight just to maintain weight. If you do not want to lose muscle mass, make sure you are getting enough calories (protein, carbs, fat) so you do not lose weight. Check your weight often.

Spring/Fall Cycles. These cycles are more a transition period from one cycle to the other. For instance, add weight vests to your calisthenics as the fall months start and slowly decrease the repetitions of calisthenics and add more weights. Do the same but in reverse in the spring (Tactical Fitness).

Mobility. Never forget the ability to MOVE! Each workout or non-workout day should have some element of stretching, foam rolling, self-massage and relaxing. As we age, the body's ability to recover and move without pain will depend on the effort you put into mobility and flexibility. The addition of flexibility and mobility training into the week (yearly) is critical not only to your recovery, but overall well-being (Tactical Mobility).

This is just one of the infinite methods of creating periodization programs. Periodization must be flexible, and the individual must be able to adjust accordingly to get the results needed. Sometimes, extending a cycle or cutting a few weeks off a cycle is needed, depending upon the timeline, goals and overall performance of the athlete. Be smart and listen to your body.

Feel free to email me at Stew@StewSmith.com with any specific questions on periodization training for the tactical athlete.

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