Many people have developed a seasonal approach to fitness, adding or subtracting exercises over the course of a year.
Someone who's just starting out may add fitness to their schedule during the New Year's resolution period, while others may wait for the weather to break in the spring when it becomes practical to wear less restrictive clothing.
They may repeat that cycle with many months of inactivity between these "fitness seasons.'' An athlete has a similar approach with preseason training, in-season maintenance and postseason training, rebuilding and recovery.
Others have found what works for them and have built solid and consistent fitness training habits. The hardest part of this year-round journey is finding enjoyable activities that don't bore you when progress stalls.
Eventually, a lifelong fitness goal must evolve as you age if, as Abraham Lincoln said, you really want to "not only add years to your life, but life to your years."
This article was inspired by a retired Army command sergeant major (CSM) who lives in my area. When I moved to my current location about 25 years ago, I would see a gentleman biking, running and swimming frequently at 60 years old. He was still competing in triathlons, lifting weights, doing yoga and was a picture of inspiration for many of us much younger than he was.
Fast-forward 25 years and I see him still riding bikes, swimming, lifting, walking and doing yoga in his mid-80s. He has figured out a way that works perfectly for him, and he continues to inspire many of us who still share his biking, running and walking path today. This CSM has found exercises he enjoys and made them a habit and a lifestyle.
A similar bit of inspiration comes from the 70+-year-old bearded Marine I see in the weight room. He warms up his lifting routine by juggling 4-5 balls in the air and stretching before lifting heavy weights. He looks like a jacked Papa Smurf who has sharp hand-eye coordination skills to go along with surprising flexibility and mobility.
I often see him rucking for his cardio on his leg days, a practice that has given me many ideas for how to incorporate rucking and swimming with SCUBA fins on leg days for people seeking military/special ops service. This Marine has found something he enjoys and is therefore consistent with maintaining his lifelong fitness habit.
Personally, I also have a seasonal approach to fitness, but not in the way you may be thinking. Each season is focused on a different area of fitness. The activity is year-round, but the seasonal changes add variety and give me a way to maintain all the elements of fitness that are important both to the members of the tactical professions and to the civilian who wants to remain an asset when confronted by one of life's potential natural or man-made dangers.
I have made my Seasonal Tactical Fitness Periodization Training model a habit since I turned 30 over 23 years ago.
Focus on transitioning out of the winter lift cycle by adding calisthenics and more cardio activity to your daily workouts. This means increases in running mileage, swimming time or other cardio. You should also increase calisthenics volume in steady increments.
Make your lifts lighter and transition to weight vest calisthenics, sandbags and suspension training (TRX). All seasons have a flexibility and mobility recovery focus.
The next season is a continued progression of the spring calisthenics and cardio cycle designed to peak during the longer days of summer. Depending on your goals and cardio desires, you may want to start using a triathlete's running and non-impact cardio approach. Make two-thirds of your cardio non-impact activity and one-third of your cardio a running or running/walking mix to limit the impact forces that plague many year-round runners.
This phase is about peaking in volume of repetitions and a variety of cardio miles to focus on muscle stamina, cardio endurance. Mixing in some maintenance lifting every few weeks can be a great way to de-load from the high volume and high mileage cardio.
The next two cycles start to lower miles and repetition to get you to the point of maintenance instead of focused improvement. The lift weight increases, the repetitions decrease and the miles get shorter (but faster).
Increasing the weight will reduce the total volume of the workouts as the focus is on a combination of strength, power, speed and agility
Heavier lifting begins, but we still warm up with enough calisthenics to maintain our PT test scores and do just enough running cardio to maintain good pace on timed runs. The running decreases significantly to about 20% of summer totals but replaces cardio with more swimming and biking for non-impact joint care.
Depending on your goals, you can try to lift heavy for strength and add power movements with speed and jumps as a primary focus or keep the heavy weight limited to body-weight lifts, do weight vest pull-ups and keep up your timed run pace if you are looking to maintain tactical fitness test scores while also getting stronger.
These seasonal changes offer many options for anyone trying to be consistent with training without getting burned out by pursuing the same goals, exercises or activities month after month.
A diversity of training will allow you to develop many fitness skills that will help you to stay healthy for annual physicals, perform standard tasks around the yard and house and remain an asset in survival situations.
If you want to make fitness a habit, you need to find a physical activity you enjoy doing as much as you enjoy not doing anything. That can be a difficult search, but start out each day walking and breathing and stretching and move on one step at a time.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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