You May Want a Workout, But You Need a Plan

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Sailors perform dumbbell squats.
Sailors and Puget Sound Naval Shipyard workers perform overhead dumbbell squats during a warrior workout on the USS Nimitz at Bremerton, Washington, March 28, 2018. (Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Christopher Jahnke/U.S. Navy photo)

When shopping for a workout routine for the day, it is easy to get caught up in the sheer volume of options available. You can do a full-body circuit, a PT pyramid, leg day, a powerlifting routine, a body-building routine, cardio, stretch and mobility, and truly an unlimited supply of workouts of the day. It also depends on what you did yesterday and what you are doing tomorrow. The main question is, "Is that workout preparing you for anything?"

There are workouts, and there are plans with respect to training for a specific goal. For instance, when seeking a workout that can help you prepare to master the calisthenics of a PT test, a go-to workout is the PT Pyramid. But the questions then start flowing, such as:

  • Do I do this every day?
  • How many days a week?
  • Do I add cardio to it?
  • Should I still lift weights?
  • How long do I do this until I advance and do another workout?

A workout is not a plan or program, as a plan will answer these questions for you. A workout will help you for a day, but a variety of training regimens are highly recommended to prepare yourself fully for any goal. 

Planning and programming is for tomorrow; the workout is for today. A program may have 50-100 workouts in it -- all progressively geared toward building a fitter person to achieve a specific goal. The workouts in the plan often are the exact same exercises, just choreographed to yield a different effect. Or they could be varied so much that you do something different every workout. Plans and programs are typically books or well-developed personalized workout plans created by a trainer who is aware of your limits, weaknesses and future goals.

In the PT Progression Series articles, they have a variety of methods to achieve maximum scores on a PT test. If done every other day for several weeks, the PT pyramid will produce results. The results may be good enough for passing or exceptional for maxing the test.

However, to avoid staleness and potential overuse injuries, it is good to have a variety of workouts together in a system or plan to help you achieve optimal scores. A method to do that is the PT pyramid, super set and max-reps set per week.

In this plan, you do the PT Pyramid on Monday, the Super Set workout on Wednesday and the Max-Reps Set workout on Friday or Saturday. As you advance, you will see that the next progressions will add running and other important movement training exercises that you may see in a career that requires PT tests regularly.

One reason the pyramid workout works well for progressing logically is that you only do what you can -- max out -- repeat in reverse order. It is the perfect warmup, max-out, and cooldown workout, although you should vary the exercises, set reps and even cardio events.

A  plan or program also will have you doing other exercises on the days in between, like leg days and a variety of cardio (both running and non-impact options). You may even be required to top off the PT preparedness workouts with some form of cardio exercises that same day. Running is the typical addition, but depending on your abilities and prior injuries, that also should be progressed logically.

When people start running because they are preparing for SEAL training, they may hear that they should be running 30-40 miles a week. Starting off your first day of running at 5-6 miles with the intention of keeping that distance the same for the rest of the week is not how you start running.

Running 30 miles a week takes time. If you only run 10 miles a week today, progressing to 11-12 miles a week next week is a logical progression. Typically, a 10% to 15% increase each week is a standard rule for running/rucking progressions in a plan. A 30- to 40-mile running week can take a few months to achieve. Doing a five- to 10-mile running workout out of the blue is not going to help you if you are not prepared for such distance.

One of my favorite quotes is: "One important key to success is self-confidence. An important key to self-confidence is preparation." -- Arthur Ashe 

It pays to have a plan. You get better prepared with a plan. You gain more confidence in your abilities with a plan. It is fine to do butt-kicking workouts. They just have to be part of the plan and, in this case, one that also actively pursues recovery, mobility days and more.

Specifically Designed Plans and Programs

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 stew@stewsmith.com.

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