Don’t Structure Your Workout Schedule Around the Days of the Week – Set Weekly Objectives



By Frank Wintrich, Human Performance Specialist

One of the biggest challenges faced in programming for tactical athletes is dealing with uncontrollable factors in their work schedules.  Uncontrollable factors can be training evolutions or missions planned in advance or unexpected missions or calls.  In the case of planned training / evolutions / missions, oftentimes operators don’t know what type of equipment they will have access to at the hotel or training facility.  This is where the O2X app’s SWEAT tool is such a great application.  They can easily input what equipment they have available, and the app will generate dozens to hundreds of workouts to fit their individual needs.  

A major point of emphasis I have driven home as an On-Site Specialist has been to train with intention, not just train to fatigue. Any workout can make you tired, but is it helping you achieve your goals? We regularly ask about training:

  • What is the purpose of this session?  
  • How does this session fit into a larger overall plan?  

Each session I develop for our operators fits within an overall macrocycle that is a part of our annual plan – in other words, we aren’t utilizing the WOD mentality with training.  We train with intent every time we set foot in the gym.  This helps us stay focused, make wise decisions about training progressions and avoid injury so we can stay in the fight.  It also helps us navigate the unexpected changes to our schedules that prevent us from training the way we planned.  My intent with this post is to show you how to optimize your training utilizing an understanding of residual training effects, when you are unable to follow the plan exactly as it was originally written.

Residual Training Effect – What is it?

The residual training effect is exactly that – how long an operator can maintain physiological benefits of previous training.  It was heavily documented by Dr. Vladimir Issurin in his form of programming called Block Periodization.  Block Periodization uses this residual training effect to limit overall training volume throughout the length of the program (macrocycle).  The concept is to train a specific motor quality heavily during one block, then rely on the residual training effect to maintain that motor quality for a planned period before it begins to deteriorate.

Through Issurin’s studies, maximal strength (think 1RM) is a quality that lasts for about 30 days after it has been trained with a significant cumulative load.  With this knowledge, we can now program an ensuing block of training without the use of a large volume of strength work – maybe not any at all.  This allows for a different or more specific training means to be applied to the organism.  As a result, we now have more energy to apply to the current training adaptation goal, which means greater improvement in that area, while not losing our previously developed physiological abilities.  Instead of having to devote time and energy to general strength development to maintain that ability, we can now leave it aside and be very specific to what we need.  In order to do this successfully, we must know the residual time that each trait resides in the body. 

Look at the chart below showing the training residuals of each of the different training effects.

A common concern from operators is being away from the iron.  “If I don’t lift heavy, I’ll lose my strength.” However, strength, along with the oxidative (aerobic) energy system, are actually the most long-standing physical abilities that can be developed and maintained.  Through his research, Issurin found an athlete could go 25 to as many as 35 days without lifting heavy, and still maintain his strength and aerobic conditioning levels. 

Contrast this with the training residual for Speed.  High threshold motor abilities, like those that improve neuromuscular interactions and motor control have a much more fleeting residual.  When it comes to speed, an athlete has as many as eight, but potentially as little as three days before this vital trait begins to recede.  

Deploying This Knowledge – Planned Uncontrollable Factors

It is important to understand that this methodology is only applicable to tactical athletes with a high training age.  The better refined and dialed in the training is, the better the training residuals will hold.

So how do we utilize this in a meaningful way?  Let’s assume we know we have a two week remote training coming up, and equipment at the training location is limited or worst-case scenario non-existent.  Our current training model is balanced between three days a week of sprints, jumps, throws and strength training alternating with two days of aerobic conditioning in between for CNS recovery and to build our oxidative capacity.  

In the four weeks leading up to this remote training, we will shift our sprints, jumps and throws (High Threshold Motor Unit recruitment work, aka SPEED) as well as our aerobic work to only two times weekly, and ADD an extra day of lifting to our training regimen.  This will allow us to build up our strength and oxidative capacity, while not sacrificing our speed abilities.  Upon arriving to the training site, our focus will become only speed (extensive dynamic warm up, mobility, sprints, jumps and throws) and oxidative work, allowing for a speed session at a minimum every three days, with one day of aerobic work during our two-week off-site training.  That would give us a realistic goal of three training sessions weekly.  The great thing about basic speed and aerobic training is that it requires very little, if any equipment, and can be done practically anywhere (even a hotel parking lot).  Upon returning from training, we get right back into our regular programming routine.  

Deploying This Knowledge – Unexpected Uncontrollable Factors 

We’ve got a great training plan laid out for the next several months and we are ready to GET AFTER IT.  But we all know that No plan of operations reaches with any certainty beyond the first encounter with the enemy’s main force.  In other words – in our line of work, the sh*t is going to hit the fan at some point during our training window.  To help put our hearts and minds at ease with the effect these interruptions will have on our gains, we can utilize training residuals to help us get away from “training by day.”  In other words, Monday is “bench day,” Wednesday is “squat day,” etc.  

Understanding that unexpected missions come up, or in the case of police and fire, our shift work and long calls might make training every trait consistently impossible every week, we can prioritize our training into concentrated short-term blocks, to get us through these tough weeks.  

Take another look at Issurin’s chart above.  We’ve already established that SPEED is the most fleeting of all the training traits, and that at a minimum, we need to attack speed every three days.  Check.  So, in a seven-day week, if we only get two days to train, those two days need to be focused on speed development.  Next in line would be our glycolytic energy system.  Think any type of HIIT training.  This trait has a residual of 18 +/- 4 days.  In other words, we could go as little as two weeks to as many as 22 days and not begin to lose our physiological abilities there.  This should be our tertiary training emphasis if we must lose days of training.  

Setting yourself up for Success

Armed with this information, you can work to build out a training program that can be adaptable to your individual work and training schedule and needs utilizing training residuals.  Every one of us is different and there is no “one size fits all” approach to developing a plan.  The tactical athlete is the most comprehensive athlete to train.  Nothing in the sporting world combines the complete spectrum of physiological demand, mixed with the psychological stress of dire consequences in the event of mistakes or failure – You can never train hard enough for a job that can kill you. 

Questions to consider when building your program:

  • How many days a week can you guarantee training to yourself?
  • How much time each day can you realistically devote to training?
  • What are the individual improvement areas you need to work on?
  • What are common injuries you see in your line of work, and how can you minimize and avoid those through your training?
  • What do you enjoy doing and can be the most consistent with? 

Once you’ve answered those questions, you’ve got a pretty good idea of what your small training blocks will look like.  But there are so many different aspects to train, how do you know how to piece them all together?

Take a look at the two charts below that show which training traits best complement each other:  

Combining modalities that are compatible with each other allows you to emphasize the acute effect of the dominant training modality, but you also need to be cautious when using multiple modalities to ensure they are compatible.  The fact that alactic sprints are compatible with five other training modalities doesn’t mean you should focus on all five at once. Your program should contain no more than two to three training modalities at a time with 60% to 70% of the focus on the main modality. The reason for this is so that you can produce a sufficient stimulus to elicit the desired training effect.  Use this information to develop a plan that best sets you up for success when duty calls.  

Thanks for all you do, and work to get 1% better every day!