Ask Stew: What Are You Going to Do First?

Students with Officer Candidate School (OCS) class 08-20 at Officer Training Command Newport (OTCN), take the third-class swimmer test at the Lt. Michael P. Murphy Combat Training Pool, Jan. 7, 2020. The test consists of jumping from a 10-foot tower into the pool to simulate abandoning ship, five minutes of floating in the prone position, coverall inflation, and a 50-yard swim. (Photo by Darwin Lam/Naval Service Training Command)

Going back to normal! That will be nice, but how do you do it can make a big difference in training smart or preventing injury? In the course of two to three months, you could get either deconditioned from training to a level that you may want to treat yourself like a beginner again, or you may enjoy your current training routine that you created for yourself.

Either way, here is a question from a reader who is curious about getting started again when gyms and pools open.

Stew, What are you going to do first when the gyms and pools open? Are you going back to normal workouts or have you changed some things for the short or long term? Just curious - as I am digging my calisthenics and running phase I am in right now and not really missing the gym. How about you? - Jackson.

Jackson, my advice for you is to keep doing what you are enjoying. I typically take the spring and summer and focus more on calisthenics and cardio. In four to five months of building to higher mileage on running and higher repetitions on calisthenics, I am about ready to start progressing down the backside of the bell curve and taper a bit.

You may find that by the fall you are ready to lift again or at least add weight through weight vests, TRX suspension trainers, sandbags or rucks in order to make the repetitions hard. This will naturally help you do fewer repetitions and fewer miles in your given time to train.

For me, this process of changing my training with the seasons enables me to give my joints a break from the higher miles of running and high repetitions of calisthenics. Shifting into heavier resistance training and non-impact cardio in the fall and winter has been my form of seasonal periodization for 20 years.

Doing hard running, high rep calisthenics (all year round and repeated year after year) is a way to get injured, but by breaking up the lifting cycle when the gyms closed, you found something that is fun and personally challenging by adding a cycle of calisthenics and running. But, just as you need a break from lifting heavy weight year round, you need a break from the high reps, too.

As with anything you have not done in months, start off easy. If for instance, you were on week eight of a 12-week weight lifting cycle when your gyms closed, it is not advisable to jump back into weight training at week nine, especially if you have not lifted since. My advice is to finish your calisthenics and cardio cycle throughout the spring – maybe even into the summer, then as the reps and miles start to catch up to you, go back to a lift cycle but start at week one again.

I have long been a student of grouping elements of fitness together such as strength and power, speed and agility, then a cycle of endurance, muscle stamina workouts. These tend to go well together. If you need to get better at one element of fitness and you are good at others, focusing a cycle or two on those weaknesses will help that weakness be closer to a strength.

You will be surprised how you maintain a high level of your natural strengths even in a cycle or two of other focus. Remember, as a tactical athlete, you need to be good at all the elements of fitness, not great at one to the detriment of others.

But, to answer your question, I also moved naturally from the gym weightlifting cycle into calisthenics and running when our gym and pool closed. I will be avoiding the weight room throughout the summer until it is time for our lift cycle again in the fall. The only thing I am missing is our daily swim workout at the end of our run PT workouts.

So, I will be adding 1,000-1,500 meters of swimming on swim days, swimming with fins on leg days, and warming up and cooling down with 5-10 minutes of treading water and adding 5-10 minutes of dynamic stretches in chest deep water for added mobility work. I am actually looking forward to swimming again as it is something I have done five days a week now for decades.

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 starting a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle. Send your fitness questions to

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