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The Case for a Cals and Cardio Cycle

Stew smith

Why YOU Need a Calisthenics and Cardio Cycle This Spring

Outdoor Pullup Bars, Beach Runs and Open Water Swims - Get Outside!

Calisthenics and Cardio programming is nothing new to the world of fitness, especially as you prepare for military, police, and fire fighting fitness tests, boot camps, basic training, and police/fire academies. Sure, you need to be strong and have some athletic history that helps you to build a foundation of strength, but topping off your strength and power with muscle endurance / stamina and cardio endurance (run / ruck / swim) depending on your job, is also needed.  In fact, depending on your athletic history, cals and cardio may be a majority of your preparation training. 

If you talk to any strength athlete who has endured a tactical training / spec ops selection they will always tell you - "man, I wish I had run / ruck or / swam more".  But ask the same question about the preparation recommendations to an endurance athlete and they will say - "man, I wish I had lifted more". So, when I say, "Time for Cals and Cardio" it is mainly just poking fun at those who "lift for cardio" and think anything over 100m is long distance running. (Note - I was once that guy before I served).

But Spring / Summer is a great time for these type of training programs for many reasons - See why:

1 - Get some Vitamin D - Getting outside to do this type of little to no equipment  needed programming helps you get some Vitamin D too - especially after a cold / dark / indoor lifting cycle of the winter.  Find yourself an outdoor pullup bar and get moving outside. From article why outdoor training is so important:

If you have low energy levels, pain in your muscles and joints, sleep problems or even anxiety and mood swings, get your blood levels screened for vitamin D and other hormones to see if you have deficiencies that you can correct with better nutrition, more direct sunlight and smart supplementation. Follow the advice of a nutritionist to create a healthful and balanced diet alongside proper supplement recommendations.

Read more about Vitamin D from these references:

2 - Time to Lean Out - After a Winter season of holiday feasts, a sport's season infamous with over eating, snacking all day and over-drinking, weather that kept you indoors, and quite frankly too much time in your man-cave, Spring is a perfect time to make a change.  Often this winter season is a season of adding weight either as a purposeful bulking season when combined with a solid lift cycle or just an excuse for a "dirty bulk" of just weight gain with no purpose.  Time to rip it up, wear less clothing and enjoy the beach or other outdoor activities in the Spring / Summer. 

3 - Calisthenics - Not Just Pushups, Situps, Dips, and Pullups - Learn how to Diversify - Add in some weight vest, sandbags and a TRX for easy ways to add variety to calisthenics if you need it. There are SO many ways to do more with less. 


4 - Crush PT Tests and Get in Killer Shape (Work Capacity) - Face it.  Every fitness test has a form of cardio and most still have a majority of high rep calisthenics in them. By adding is a cycle of high rep calisthenics and a progressive run, swim and/or ruck program you can maintain or improve your endurance and stamina better with both aerobic and anaerobic activities. This will improve your overall work capacity to last longer staying active and recover fast to do it again.  These cycles are important for the level of ability you need to endure spec ops level selection programs and just long days on the job.

5 - On Travel or Gym's Closed - No Big Deal - If you go on the road or find yourself with no gym facilities available, having a GO TO calisthenics and cardio can be a good idea if you want to train still.  When the gym's closed due to COVID, we did not miss a beat and transitioned from our lift cycle into and early Spring / Summer Cals and Cardio cycle.  Easy Day.  When I am on travel, I will often go for a run, find a park or playground where I am staying and do pullups and other calisthenics right there - no issues with workout facilities when you can work out literally anywhere. 

6 - If you are a strength athlete - You need a cals and cardio cycle yesterday if you plan on taking military / spec ops level fitness tests in your near future. If you think anything over 100m is long distance running - you need a change to add more endurance. Even if you have good PT scores with the first set, but cannot come close to those numbers on sets 2,3,4+++, you need a change to add more muscle stamina. 

7 - If you are an endurance athlete - Even though you can crush the run or swim tests, you maybe lacking on the necessary strength to do multiple reps of calisthencis (especially pullups / pushups). If you are a swimmer, you need a progressive running plan, plus build some base strength with calisthenics, THEN get in the weight room.  If you are a runner, drop your miles if you are through competing in athletic events, add in more calisthenics though you will need to spend some time in the weight room too.  Usually endurance athletes progress quickly with the muscle stamina demands of calisthenics, but they still need a foundation of strength for more of the load bearing challenges (ruck, boats, logs, fireman carry, etc) in their tactical training future. Don't skip leg day - or anyday in the gym for that matter - you need it. 

So try a cycle of calisthenics / cardio especially if you are a hardcore lifter. It will be tough at first, but you will find the new found aerobic ability to be helpful in the weight room as well.  You may even have a quicker recovery period in between lifting sets after such a cycle. I am not saying give up your lifting for a year or never lift ever again - quite the contrary.  I am just recommending a way to train that offers the following:

- a break from heavy lifting and a focus on muscle stamina

- a short focused cycle on weaknesses like running, swimming, rucking or other cardio activities (bike, rowing, etc). 

- then when you need a break from the high rep calisthenics and running(or other cardio) go back to your lift cycle and rebuild your strength quicker than you realize.  In fact, you may not have lost much of anything that a 3-4 week lift cycle cannot fix.

More About Cals and Cardio and Spring / Summer Training Cycles 

Calisthenics and Cardio Program - If you are looking at making a change that requires less equipment and a focuss on muscle stamina and endurance, there is a beginner program to build basic strength / endurance, an intermediate program that takes it to another level and and advanced training program that rivals my Navy SEAL type calisthenics and cardio programming (run, swim, bike, and cals).  This is an ideal plan if you are unsure where to start and want to see a progression of abilities this year!  One of my best creations is called the Calisthenics and Cardio - No Equipment Needed Guide For Body Weight Exercisers and maybe a good option for people of all fitness levels to stay home or get outside and train.

Book or EBOOK

Who Needs This Type of Training? 

Seasonal Tactical Fitness Periodization Options
- Spring / Summer Season Options -

Spring and Summer Cycles tend to focus more on calisthenics and cardio with some supplemental lifts placed into the progressive running plan. 

2019-2020 Cycle vs 2021 & 2022 Cycle

Seasonal Tactical Fitness Periodization vs
Seasonal TF Block Periodization

The workouts above are similar with a slight difference in the way they supplement adding weight training strength maintenance into a challenging progression of calisthenics, running, swimming, and rucking (aka military cardio).  Both have a steadily progressing mix of calisthenics and running, swimming, and rucking too, but the way the added weight training is done is differently with both for maintenance of strength.

If you are preparing for the Navy PST or the Air Force PAST as well as other Combat Fitness Tests in our military, you need to try this method of training. This will help you not only get TO the training (Phase 1 of tactical fitness), but prepare yourself to get THROUGH the training (Phase 2 of tactical fitness) Also, if you are preparing for special ops training pipelines where all the elements of fitness (strength, power, speed, agility, endurance, muscle stamina, flexibility, mobility, grip) need to be highly developed, try 3-4 months of block periodization and maintain your strengths while building up your weaknesses.

Other Tactical Fitness Programs Specific to Your Goals

These Seasonal Tactical Fitness BLOCK Periodization programs will walk you through 4 x 4 weeks cycles with 16 weeks of each season in two programs. (32 total weeks)


Who is Stew Smith? Coach, Trainer, Author, PodcasterI'm the former Navy SEAL that special ops candidates go to for books, ebooks and online coaching to prepare themselves to get to and through intense tactical assessment and selection programs and qualify for service in their chosen tactical profession.  See More at

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