Ask Stew: 3 Tips to Help Avoid 'Losing Your Gains' When Changing Training Cycles

U.S. Army Sgt. Joshua Kirby completes the hand-release push-up during the 2023 Region III Best Warrior Competition, Fort Stewart, Georgia.
U.S. Army Sgt. Joshua Kirby, a combat engineer representing the Florida Army National Guard, completes the hand-release push-up during the 2023 Region III Best Warrior Competition, Fort Stewart, Georgia, April 16, 2023. (Pvt. Ayanna Tillman/U.S. Army National Guard photo)

Changing your training cycles periodically is a common way to diversify the elements of fitness you want to improve, as well as give yourself a break from potential overuse. Changing the type of resistance training and cardio options can keep workouts fresh. Here is an email from a friend who has been cycling through different workout types throughout the year but feels something is not right.

Hey Stew. I am doing a Spring Calisthenics and Cardio cycle after a Winter Life Cycle and feel like I am losing muscle and gaining fat. This is my fourth week and though my weight has not changed, I just do not feel like I did while I was lifting. Do you have any advice? I like this method of training that you write about but this year it seems to not be working. Thanks, Victor

Victor, my first question is, do you feel like you are losing muscle or are you actually losing muscle? There is a big difference so measure circumferences of the waist (where fat typically builds) and arms, legs and chest to verify if you are losing muscle. But this is an easy fix with a few options that likely will all be effective.

Increase Intensity

First, four weeks may not be enough to see the type of gains you can find when doing higher-repetition calisthenics and cardio activities. Consider adding repetitions to your workouts (increasing the sets) or the intensity of your cardio events (more sprint/jog intervals or fast/slow bike). You could also add a weight vest to your calisthenics and reduce the repetitions.

Mix both options up each week to add variety as well. A calisthenics and cardio program executed with greater intensity may be a better option for you, versus mixing in some pull-ups and push-ups with longer and slower distance cardio.

Add a Lift Week (Block Periodization)

Second, try a block periodization model. After this fourth week, do a week of your winter lift cycle. Make this next week a way to reduce repetitions, run fewer miles and spend less time doing endurance-based training.

In fact, many of my students are hard gainers who recently put on weight after a lift cycle and do not want to "lose their gains." A way we have found is helpful is to do a three-week block of calisthenics and cardio, followed by a lift week and cardio reduction every fourth week. This setup makes a 12-week muscle stamina and endurance-focused training cycle much more doable for the hard gainer who also needs to improve calisthenics and cardio scores (military fitness tests).

Go Back to Lifting

Third, go back to lifting weights. Consider warming up with a bit of calisthenics and cardio for 10 minutes. Lift weights as you prefer with mid-range to higher repetitions for each set (8-12 reps). Then cool down with a form of cardio at the end of your workout for 10-20 minutes. But measure before and after a few weeks/month to see whether you are just "feeling" like you are gaining muscle or actually doing it.

Any one of the above options may work better and make you feel like you are not losing muscle. Increasing the intensity of your current training, scheduling a lifting week and/or going back to pure lifting again will help you with actual or perceived muscle loss.

Consider trying all three options for a week or two over the next 8-10 weeks and see how you feel after each to find the right prescription for you.

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

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