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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.