Maybe it’s just the nature of the times we live in – we enjoy almost instant access to a massive variety – but many people we talk to still seem to be searching for training programs with “a little bit of everything.”

The buffet model works fine for weddings and events, but you wouldn’t want to eat that way every day.

Well, don’t train that way either!

You’ll get much better results when you prioritize and focus your energies.

Doing so helps you stay motivated and gives you a chance to emphasize different areas in turn.

The best way we’ve found to manage multiple goals and still prioritize each one with the attention it deserves is to adopt a training model we call cycling.

The Cycle Principle of Organizing Your Training to Address Multiple Goals

Cycling is more than just fighting off boredom, and it’s definitely not “randomizing” your workouts.

Instead, it’s like stacking your building blocks every time you finish a program dedicated to a particular goal. You aren’t just moving on – you’re using your new capabilities to springboard into the next phase of your training.

Though it may feel like you're going in circles, each iteration of the cycle solidifies your skills at a higher level.

Though it may feel like you’re going in circles, each iteration of the cycle solidifies your skills at a higher level.

But the clever part – the part that gives this cencept its name – is that you eventually come back and work on the original goal again.

A well-designed program that incorporates this cyclic style of training can help you develop a variety of skills and attributes without compromise  These types of plans divide your regimen over time with changing emphases, all leading up to your chosen goal.

Whether that goal is a muscle-up, a backflip, or just stronger arms, cyclical programming is a smart idea.

Below, we’ll discuss some examples of the Cycle Principle in action, and how to incorporate it into your current training program.

Simple Examples of Training Cycles in Action

A simple way to sequence your training is to break it up with a monthly prioritization of different objectives. Some examples:

  • For a bodybuilder, one month may focus on your chest and shoulders, the next on your back, and so on.
  • For an athlete, one cycle might emphasize power generation, while the next refines technique.
  • For an average dude trying to look better, alternating cycles of muscle building and fat loss emphasis might be the ticket.

Basically any outcome can be broken down this way, but an even smarter view would be to plan each phase of your training to support the next, so that each cycle moves you closer to your primary ambition.

An Old Fashioned History Lesson

The idea of cycles is nothing new.

The idea of cycles is nothing new.

A theory of planning for athletic peaking was named Periodization in the 1950’s by Russian sport scientists. But they probably had a Russian name for it too…

They developed their training schemes for the sole purpose of organizing each session to prepare the athlete for an important performance or competition.

We’ve talked previously about how peaking every week just isn’t sustainable (or useful) for recreational athletes, but for professionals, peaking at the right time for a competition can mean the difference between a gold medal and watching the winners from the sidelines.

But let’s cut to the chase – why should YOU do this type of programming?

3 Reasons to Cycle Your Training Priorities

Even if you aren’t a world champion or professional athlete, you can still gain many benefits from the cycling process.

It’s been said by smarter folks than us that one way to ensure success is the make your number one goal your top priority. It sounds simple, but as we all know it can be tough to focus.

Priorities are like arms – if you think you have more than two, you’re crazy.

~ Merlin Mann

Instead of going crazy trying to juggle too many goals at once, the cycle model allows us to adjust our training as our priorities in life go through natural shifts and changes.

Let’s dig deeper…

1. Enjoying Purposeful Variety

Sometimes you eat boar. Sometimes dragon. That's what the Chinese zodiac is about, right?

Sometimes you eat boar. Sometimes dragon. That’s what the Chinese zodiac is about, right?

Planned changes in your exercise routine help keep you motivated to train.

It’s a rare person that can do the same workout time and time again. Most of us enjoy a change and that helps us to keep consistent and working. The trouble is that random variations in training have a tendency to make your results random as well!

A good program gives you variation in its different phases to keep you interested, but it also has an overarching goal at its heart.

2. Preventing Overwork

In theory, if you have a particular skill you want to achieve or improve upon, you would simply work on that skill and/or its elements as much as possible. Unfortunately, repeating the same patterns again and again can overwork your muscles and joints.

We all have our own experiences and hear stories from friends about nagging shoulder or knee pain because their only exercise comes from jogging or the pickup basketball games after work. And even in bodyweight-only training, the wrong type of programming can lead to elbow and shoulder tendinitis.

Appropriate shifts in training with even small changes in exercises and their performance change the specific repetitive stresses and give your body a break, while still keeping you on track to your goals.

3. Getting in Your 10,000 Hours

Daniel didn't keep waxing on and off. He also made himself useful sanding the deck and painting the fence.

Daniel didn’t keep waxing on and off. He also made himself useful sanding the deck and painting the fence.

The development of any skill takes deliberate and mindful practice, and often takes an incredible amount of repetition and time. Lately, we hear a lot about the 10,000 hour rule to become an expert.

You have to put in the time.

But just as with motivation, burnout, and injuries, the actual way you put in the practice makes a big difference over the course of those 10,000 hours!

Cycling is important in skill training because it allows you return to the fundamentals again and again.

Practical Planning Using the Cycle Principle

Where do you begin?

First of all, it’s not in seeking the perfect “balanced” program.

Dan John explains two perspectives for planning training cycles in his book, Intervention.

Dan John explains two perspectives for planning training cycles in his book, Intervention.

In Intervention, Dan John talks about the the most fundamental concern of knowing where you are now, Point A, and where you want to go, Point B.

  • From Point A: You have to see where you are now and what you need to do to make those steps toward your goal.
  • From Point B: You have to look at the skill you want and work back from there looking at all the steps in between you need to attain.

You have to look at it from both sides.

In looking backward, you can determine specific benchmarks in your training that need to be achieved before you hit that goal.

If you want to be able to do a muscle-up then you’ll need to be able to do a pullup first. Then you’ll need to perform that pullup with a false grip. You’ll also have to be able to do a dip from a full stretch position.

And so on.

In looking forward from where you are now, you have to figure out what is stopping you from making those steps. In the muscle up example, you know you are having trouble with your pullups.

But what in particular is the problem? Most likely it’s your shoulder positioning and the muscles in your midback that need the most help.

These specific issues are what you need to establish and plan for in the weeks ahead.

Included in Every GMB Program!

When designing our GMB programs, Ryan works both forward and backward, calling on his experience training his clients and in his own training.

He identifies the common fundamentals that needed to be addressed from the start, along with all the steps needed to get you to your goals on the rings, parallettes, and with hand balancing movements. All of these things then need to be arranged into a logical progression.

Each phase is a mini-cycle that has its own specific protocol and outcome.

Within the GMB Curriculum, that’s done by breaking things down into four distinct training phases (which are mini-cycles in their own right).

To illustrate this process, here’s how Ryan developed the P2 program…

Reverse Engineering from the Desired Outcome

For Parallettes Two, there were some specific skills people asked us to teach:

  • the Planche
  • the Straddle Hold Press to Handstand (Stalder Press),
  • the Handstand
  • the Double Arm Lever

Our goal was to create a final routine that was challenging, with cool movements, but not so difficult that the movements would be hard to reach over a few months time.

The P2 flow is actually one of the most difficult of our GMB flows because of the balance and stamina required while supporting yourself on top of the P-bars. Once your feet leave the ground at the beginning of the flow, they stay off of the ground.

After finalizing the P2 Flow, it was just a matter of working backwards on the progressions and programming.

Benefits of the “Block Method” of Modular Progression

GMB’s Level Two programs divide each main movement into a “block” of progressions.

For example, within the final P2 flow, Ryan included a straddle planche hold as a main main movement (or in this case, hold). So, in order to successfully perform the planche in the flow, he broke it down into a series of detailed progressions starting with a leaning plank hold and advancing in difficulty up to the final planche hold.

This is nothing unique really. However, something that is unique to how Ryan programmed all of the Level Two series flows is that you can substitute a different level of any of the movements within the flow and still work on the entire flow.

Modular programming allows you to dial in your level. But our programs aren't this complicated...

Modular programming allows you to dial in your level. But our programs aren’t this complicated…

It’s completely modular.

This means that if you still need work on a particular movement you can work that move at a lower level in the flow yet still get the benefit of working on the full flow.

You can work the entire flow at a lower level and use that to build up stamina and work on individual techniques safely and at your own pace.

With these “blocks” of movements and individual progressions, a person can work and progress at their own level within that particular movement yet still continue to progress towards the full flow at the end of three months.

You might not have the final advanced progression down by the end of the program, but you’ll still be building the necessary strength and skills to allow you to get even closer to the final advanced flow once you revisit the program again (cycling back around).

The desired goal might be getting the final advanced move down.

However, we also strive to make sure that we are helping people build confidence while performing the movements in a safe manner.

That is a big reason why making these movements (and the flow) scalable is extremely important for us at GMB.

Skip the Buffet and Finally Start Moving Up the Spiral (instead of spinning your wheels)

If there’s anything we love more than mixing metaphors, it’s the feeling that the work we do today somehow moves us closer to our goals.

That means giving up on the perfect program and following one designed to address your most important priorities. GMB offers programs that will definitely improve your strength, flexibility, and body control, but more importantly they are skill based programs that are a lot of fun.

Next: Listen to our detailed podcast on applying the cycle principle

Photos via skidderSOS, Dan John, TzolkinCharms Addict

Discussion

  1. Great Article, I can definitely attest to the success of the GMB program. I could not do the straddle planche for P2 or the Stalder press. But working at another level i was able to keep with the program and work at my own level. Since then i have been working on my Planches, Handstands and Stalder press. Now i can go back to the flow and work it at a different level. The programming allows for the success for everyone at any level. That is what sets GMB apart.

  2. Julia @www.cookandburn.com says:

    I do just normal fitness stuff: cardio & body weight exercises, etc. Would you say that I should focus on doing the same exercises each time for a month and then switch to other exercises that target those areas the following month, etc? I have about 50 different exercises that I pull from each strength training day and I usually end up doing all of them in a week’s time. I’m in reasonably good shape but I could do better.
    I really enjoy reading your articles even though I do not participate in the parallette training.

    • Hey Julia, thanks for the question.

      You’ve what what you’re doing, but you haven’t told us anything about why – the ‘Point B’ from the example above. If you’re in good shape, what are you looking to improve? What specifically could be better?

      It doesn’t have to have anything to do with parallettes, but having something to work towards makes a big difference.

  3. I love distance running, but also want to be strong in an everyday sense and improve my core strength. If I concentrate on one the other one goes by the wayside. Can I combine maintaining/improving endurance and improving core strength? How do I maintain where I’m at with one while I shift in focus to the other? I don’t want or need to be competitive, I just like long runs and core strength.

    • Melissa, I would look at your core work as part of your conditioning for your main thing which is running. Therefore I think your main focus should be on cycling your long distance running. For example, taking some time off from very long runs for recovery or even spending some time focusing on shorter more explosive runs. That is when you could work more on your core and conditioning. That is of course just one example.

      • Thanks. i’ve been thinking about doing P1, but I expect to fit in my running I would have to do it slower? Would that work all right?

        • If running is the main thing, you would want to make sure the P1 doesn’t interfere with that, so reducing the sessions from three down to two a week would probably be a good idea (the manual explains how to set that up). Your parallette progress will be a little slower, but over the long term, you’ll still be adding strength while your running can continue to improve.

  4. I really love the P2 program and besides the planche I’m making great progress.After P2 I am planning to start Rings1/2 which gives me another big cycle.My only concern is how can I maintain the strength I builded up with P2 while performing another programm?My plan is to jump back to P2 after absolvation of Rings1/2 but I dont want to start from zero again.So what about doing once a week a P2 workout while still in the Ring1/2 cycle?

    • Andre, I know that it can feel like you would lose out on your strength and have to start over from zero. But you’re actually starting from a higher point when coming back to it because you’ve already built the foundational strength the first time you went through it. And after the ring work I think you will find that the transition back to the pbars will be a lot easier. So instead of trying to throw everything into it (buffet training) I suggest giving the pbars a break and just focusing on the rings.

    • Andre, so glad you’re digging P2. I have two serious questions for you:

      1. What makes you think that doing R1 and R2 will reduce your strength?

      2. How, after all the progress you’ve made so far, would you be starting from zero again if you do P2 a second time?

  5. i am aiming for improving my flexibility to do a side split. At present I can’t even touch my toes without bending the knees. So what should I do?

  6. My thing is t.hat I have goals in somewhat oppisition to one another.
    1. Strengthen my joints to protect injury
    2. Maintain base level of running, 2-3 miles, 2-3 times a week
    3. Work up the gymnastics strength ladder
    4. Continue to develop wrestling and BJJ skills
    5. Yoga and swimming as well

    I know the running/swimming are great because they build a cardio base. Yoga, if done lightly, shouldn’t increase risk of injury or overtraining. But the gymnastics and grappling together could cause problems, because both require 2-3 workouts a week at least, and both affect power.
    As far as periodizing, I think building a base gymnastics strength before gettting back to grappling is best. But what then? Longer term, how to periodize and in what phases? I mean, change it up every 4-6 weeks? Thing is, I can’t really drop gymnastics or grappling for that long and still develop it long term. Any suggestions appreciated.
    I’m pushing 40. But still, this is not for professional competition. It’s for life. So slow progression ok.

    • Hey Jason, your case isn’t that far off from where a lot of people are at.

      Here’s the thing: a lot of your “goals” aren’t really goals – they are activities that, for one reason or another, you’ve decided you should be doing. That’s a different thing entirely.

      For example, “work up the gymnastics strength ladder.” What precisely does that mean? What is the actual outcome you are hoping to achieve? There’s a couple of possibilities:

      1 – A ladder is hierarchical. You want to achieve some sort of status (perhaps only in your own mind) by being at X level. This is a comparative goal, and the outcome is to be higher on the ladder than others or simply higher than you are now.

      2 – You just want to be stronger and have more body control, and you’ve determined somehow or other that gymnastic exercise is the best way for you to do that.

      There’s nothing wrong with either, but you need to figure out exactly what you get out of moving up the ladder and be honest with yourself about your motivation.

      Do the same thing for the other goals.

      For example, if you determine that, out of all of these “goals” you’ve listed, the thing you are *really* most interested in is being strong enough to compete in BJJ and look good enough for your wife to think you’re hot, then a lot of the apparently opposing goals collapse. You can do any of the activities above and still be working towards that. You might structure a year’s training like this:

      – BJJ three or four times a week. Training includes a warm-up and cool-down that will probably give you all the mobility/flexibility you need.
      – Gymnastic-style strength/skill work two or three times a week. Pick a couple of progressions to focus on and cycle to a different focus every 6 to 12 weeks.
      – In the mornings, alternate between a short yoga session and a run. Maybe do running in the winter and swimming in the summer or figure out some way to alternate on a shorter cycle if they’re both important to you.

      You simply have to realize that training modalities are not goals in themselves.

      There’s no inherent benefit to swimming unless you need to be able to swim at a certain level for some practical purpose. Same with gymnastics or wrestling or anything.

      Don’t try to fit *everything* into a cycle just because somebody told you that “gymnasts have the best physiques” or “swimmer are the most fit athletes” or “chicks dig guys who do yoga” or whatever.

      The questions you need to answer are always the same:

      1 – What do I really want?
      2 – Why do I want this?

      Knowing those things makes it much easier to prioritize, which is what cycling is all about.

  7. Would it be beneficial for a triathlete to work on handstands etc.? I have a feeling it would for injury prevention and core strength for efficiency, but am unsure of the best way to incorporate it into my training week. Do you have any advice for me on that front?

    • I don’t know much about triathlons, but they seem to be primarily an endurance event. Since handstands are mostly skill, you can practice them for a few minutes a day, prior to your regular workouts.

      The balance and core strength can’t hurt.

  8. this cycling program may be just what I needed to hear, a few questions though. would specific training cause an imbalance if your goals focus on a muscle group? Let’s say I want to focus on the handstand, elbow lever, one arm chin, front and back lever and human flag. would each goal be a cycle or would I combine a few into a cycle? Any clarification would be much appreciated. =]

    • Hey Eric, that’s a good question.

      First off, I’d say that it’ll be pretty hard to “focus” on SIX different things. You’ll definitely need to break them into smaller cycles, but you could combine some of them.

      For example, handstand might just require skill practice, so you may not need special programming. Or you might – depends on your level. Levers will probably require dedicated strength work. OAC will require a lot of strength as well as tendon conditioning over a year or more.

      Imbalances are a real thing in most people, but they aren’t caused by short training cycles. Sure, if you only bench press and never pull for several years, you’ll train an imbalance, but organizing cycles around movement goals is a different thing. Focus on movements that use the whole body, and you don’t need to worry much about muscle groups.

      As you move from one movement focus to another, you’ll naturally balance over – one cycle may favor inverted pressing, and the next might favor horizontal pulling, but most of the skills we train will work the whole body at least a little.

  9. I´ve been training for months purely with bodyweight exercises and use some equipment like parallel bars, high bar, rings doing some basic exercises: Squats, Push Ups, Pull Ups, Dips, Top Holds, Handstand (still at the wall), Pistol Squats, Single Leg Deadlift and Back Bridge but i wanted something more dynamic. I became interested in Parkour, researched and i found gold medal bodies. I want to be able to do the workouts but add back bridges, squats, pull ups as well into the paralettes 1 program. Since this article is talking about cycling, i am asking this to you… Can i combine paralettes 1 with floor 1? It would be 6 days a week with Rest on Sunday. I love the exercises on the paralettes (L-Sit, Handstand, Flow…), but the Floor also have Jumps, Tumbling that are good for Parkour that i am planning on doing in a few months.

    • Hey Bruno, as the article says, we recommend cycling. You’ll get better results.

      • So doing floor 1 and paralettes 1 at the same time is bad? Or there is something i can do to combine? Because its a 6 months long program.

        • It’s not necessarily “bad,” but you won’t progress as quickly, and you won’t get the best experience with either program. Of course, I’m assuming you’re a grown man, you it’s ultimately your choice. If you think it would be fun to do both, then it’s absolutely fine. You’ll probably need to reduce the number of sets or frequency of training for each program if you decide to combine them, but there’s nothing bad about giving it a shot and adjusting as necessary.

          Still, as one of the guys who designed the programs, I recommend cycling them. 6 months is only a long time if you’re ten years old.

          • So i will take your advice. I will experiment the two programs with sets and reps reduced for a week, then i shall decide if i choose one or stick with it. I need to say this, before having those programs, my workouts were like this:

            Monday (Conditioning, Push Ups, Dips, Planks)
            Tuesday (Progressions and Skills, Handstand, L-Sit, Pistol Squat, Single Leg Deadlift)
            Repeat this 3x. I would rest on Sunday. With proper adjustments Floor and P1 would be similar to this, because i even do crows on yoga practice ha.Like i said before i will give it a shot. Even if i follow just one program, lets say paralettes 1, it would be a good idea to include a handtsand progression? Thanks for your patience.

          • RyanHurst says:

            Sure, you could add in handstands if you do P1 if it didn’t interfere with P1. Just keep the focus on your main goal instead of trying to add in a bunch of other stuff to the mix.

          • Thanks for the advice. Been loving this website. Keep it up.

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