The Art of Seasonal Training

Get Jacked and Athletic for Life

Sure, getting ripped is cool. But staying jacked and athletic as you age is even more impressive. Here’s how to do it.


The best way to improve your physical quality of life as you age is to improve, or at least maintain, all the capacities that naturally decrease over the years. Here’s what happens as you age:

  • Muscle mass decreases by 3-8% per decade from 30 to 60 years old and declines even faster after that.
  • Power (and speed) decreases by 17-23% per decade after age 35.
  • Strength decreases by 10-15% per decade.
  • Mobility is down by 20% by the time you reach 50 years of age and continues to drop at a rate of around 1% per year.
  • VO2max declines by around 10% per decade.

That’s what happens in normal adults as they age. In some, it can be even more pronounced than that. Let’s say that you’re 30 now. At 50, you’ll be 25% weaker, 30% slower, 20% less mobile, 12% smaller and you’ll get out of breath climbing stairs. Doesn’t sound good, does it?

The good news? With proper training, you can maintain a large portion of those capacities and, in some cases, you can even keep improving them. Strength, VO2max, mobility, and muscle mass can be increased even after 60, though speed might be harder. You can absolutely fight this natural decline.

Seasonal Periodization

One option is to train all those capacities at the same time. (See my Eternal Warrior article.) This allows you to improve everything, but the rate of progress might be slower and programming might become complex.

Another approach is seasonal periodization. One of the most impressive older guys I knew trained this way. He was more muscular, stronger, faster, more explosive, and better conditioned than most guys half his age. He changed his training style/focus every season:

Autumn: Train like a bodybuilder
Winter: Train like a powerlifter
Spring: Train like an Olympic lifter/thrower
Summer: Train like a track athlete

Programing is much simpler because for each 12-week cycle you only have to focus on two to three capacities. It looks like this:

Autumn: Hypertrophy and endurance
Winter: Strength lifting and loaded carries
Spring: Olympic lifts (or their easier variations), jumps, throws, some strength work
Summer: Sprinting, jumping, maintaining strength and power

Note: You do mobility year-round on an as-needed basis.

Autumn – Bodybuilding

Here are some guidelines on how you can plan the bodybuilding phase. The 12-week total duration is divided into three 4-weeks blocks. Program the blocks like this:

Block 1 (weeks 1-4): Effort-based hypertrophy
Block 2 (weeks 5-8): Volume-based hypertrophy
Block 3 (weeks 9-12): Load-based hypertrophy

Finishing with the load-based plan makes for a smooth transition to the powerlifting phase. For energy systems work, progress from a steady-state emphasis to a high-intensity intervals focus.

Block 1: Low-intensity steady state (LISS) cardio. Something like 30-45 minutes at a heart rate of around 120 beats per minute, 2-3 times a week.

Block 2: LISS twice a week (30-45 minutes) and medium intensity intervals. Think, 30 seconds fast, 30 more relaxed for 8-10 intervals once a week.

Block 3: Do LISS once a week. Add high-intensity intervals (15 seconds all-out and 45 seconds more relaxed for 6-8 intervals once a week. Then include medium intensity-intervals, 30 seconds on 30 off for 8-10 intervals, once a week.

Winter – Powerlifting & Strongman

Use any powerlifting template you like. However, an approach with a more gradual load increase is a smarter choice than something like the Westside Conjugate System. Why? Because maxing out when you haven’t spent a lot of time practicing maxing out is a great way to get injured. Plus, this is a longevity program. Maxing out weekly is neither smart nor necessary. Do an 8-9 week powerlifting peaking plan. My 915 program is a solid choice. If you don’t want to go full powerlifting and just want to lift heavy, the best option is my Built for Battle program.

Opt for an 8 or 9-week strength cycle. Conveniently, you can do the 915 program for 9 weeks or even 8 weeks if you skip the peak week, which isn’t necessary for seasonal training. The last 3-4 weeks of the phase would shift more toward “functional” strength work with a greater focus on various loaded carries.

So to recap:

Blocks 1 and 2 (weeks 1-8 or 9): Powerlifting cycle or Built for Battle
Block 3 (weeks 8 or 9 to 12): Functional strength focus

For the functional strength block, try this 4-sessions a week set-up:

Do a lift-specific approach with one big lift per workout:

  • Monday: Squat
  • Tuesday: Bench press
  • Thursday: Deadlift
  • Friday: Military press

Do one back exercise per day. Hit a different region of the back at each workout:

  • Monday: Rear delts
  • Tuesday: Upper back (horizontal row)
  • Thursday: Traps
  • Friday: Lats (vertical pull)

Do two loaded carries or sled sessions per workout:

  • Monday: Prowler pushing (done for strength); backward sled pull (done for hypertrophy)
  • Tuesday: Zercher carry (done for strength), sled bear crawl (done for hypertrophy)
  • Thursday: Farmer’s walk (done for strength), yoke carry (done for hypertrophy)
  • Friday: Overhead walks (done for strength), kettlbell front-rack carry OR dumbbell goblet carry (done for hypertrophy)

The parameters:

Spring – Olympic Lifting / Throwing

This phase is all about explosive work. Training like a thrower (shot put) is a better guide than training like an Olympic lifter, although most throwers do use the simpler variations of the Olympic lifts. The type of Olympic lifting exercises you should do depends on your level of competency on those exercises. Choices include:

Beginner Options: Snatch-grip high pull from hang, muscle snatch,
push press

Intermediate Options: Power snatch from the hang or blocks, power clean from blocks or hang, power jerk

Advanced Options: Power snatch from the floor, power clean from the floor, split jerk

Even at the higher level I don’t recommend doing the conventional, full Olympic lifts. Not just for technical reasons, but because I prefer the power output in the power variations (when you catch the bar with the knees bent at 90 degrees or higher) more than the full-squat variations.

Here are other elements to include in this phase:

  • Jumps: Vertical, broad side-to-side, hurdle, knee tuck, etc.
  • Loaded Jumps: Jumping while holding with a trap bar (or dumbbells) with 10-20% of your squat
  • Med Ball Throws: From the chest, overhead, rotational, or backward scoop
  • Strength Lifts (still focusing on acceleration): Squat, bench, Romanian deadlift (RDL)

The weekly structure is the same for all three 4-week blocks of the phase, but the content will evolve. Perform three whole-body sessions per week (Monday, Wednesday, Friday) with this workout structure:

  1. Jump and/or throw (typically 2-3 exercises)
  2. One Olympic lift variation
  3. Squat variation
  4. Press variation
  5. RDL variation

Consider Saturday a gap workout: Perform hypertrophy work for the muscles you want to emphasize. Ideally, use mostly single-joint and machine exercises.

Spring Training Progression

Because of the higher skill component of the exercises, use a gradual approach.

Block 1 (Weeks 1-4)

Extensive Jumps and Throws: Do 3-4 sets of 10-20 reps at an effort level of around 75%. This builds efficiency in explosive movements and builds the structures required to do higher intensity jumps safely.

Olympic Lift Variations: Focus on speed and technical efficiency. Do 4-5 sets of 3-5 reps with around 70-75%. Only use one variation for the whole training cycle. You’re not training to compete failure in weightlifting, so focus on a single variation to develop more efficiency.

Strength Exercises: The intent is to accelerate the concentric as much as possible, regardless of the load. In this first block, use a load that’s around 80-85% for 4-5 sets of 3-5 reps (contrary to a strength block, the weights decrease as the phase progresses).

Block 2 (Weeks 5-8)

Intensive Jumps and Throws: Do 3-4 sets of 3-5 reps with all-out effort.

Olympic Lift Variations: Bump up the intensity to 80-85% for 4-5 sets of 2-3 reps.

Strength Exercises: Lower the weight to around 70-75%. Perform the eccentric (lowering) phase slowly in roughly 5 seconds and be violently explosive on the concentric. Do 4-5 sets of 3-5 reps.

Block 3 (Weeks 9-12)

Loaded or Depth Jumps and Throws: Do 3-4 sets of trap bar or dumbbell loaded jumps with 10-20% of your squat for 3-4 sets of 3-5 reps. For the depth jumps, stand on a box around 10% higher than your vertical jump, step off the box and, upon landing, either jump as high as possible or as far as possible.

Olympic Lift Variations: Bump up the weight to 88 to 92% for 4-5 sets of 1-2 reps.

Strength Exercises: Lower the weight to 60-65%, pause for 3 seconds in the low position, then explode up violently for 3-4 sets of 3-5 reps.

Summer – Track

The warm weather is perfect for outdoor training. So use it to focus on sprinting and resistance work (longer sprints, hill sprints).

After the previous phase, you’ll be efficient in explosive exercises which will allow you to transition more easily to track work.

In this phase, focus on training like a sprinter. Focus on maximum speed distances (30-100m) and lactic zone sprints (200-400m) as well as loaded sprints like prowler/sled sprints (for acceleration, so distances in the 10-30m) and hill sprints (for 30-60m).

To supplement this regimen, use jumps and agility exercises, as part of the warm-up/activation section of workouts, and basic strength work.

For the maximum speed work, take the short-to-long approach, pioneered by Charlie Francis: start phase with shorter sprints to build maximum acceleration and speed, then work on being able to maintain that speed for longer distances.

The three, 4-week blocks look like this for the maximum speed sprints:

  • Block 1: 10-30 meter distances (normal sprints, sled sprints)
  • Block 2: 40-60 meter distances (normal sprints, hill sprints)
  • Block 3: 80-100 meter distances (normal sprints)

Along with that protocol, use longer sprints to work on both conditioning and sprinting mechanics. The longer distances are still sprints, but you do them at around 70-80% of your capacities:

  • Block 1: 200 meters form running
  • Block 2: 300 meters form running
  • Block 3: 400 meters from running

I recommend this schedule:

  • Monday: Jumps and Sprints
  • Wednesday: Strength Work
  • Friday: Jumps and Sprints
  • Saturday: Agility Work and Form Running

Let’s break down all the components:

A. Sprints

The sprint volume varies on your tolerance, but here’s a good starting point:

Acceleration Work (10-30m): 8-12 sprints. Do a complex of one sled sprint with 20% of your body weight and one normal sprint with 2-3 minutes of rest between both. Do that complex 4 to 6 times. Do 2-3 submaximal sprints before doing the work sets.

Top Speed Work (40-60m): 5-6 sprints. Think 3-4 normal sprints first with 3-4 minutes of rest between runs. Finish with 2 hill sprints with 3-4 minutes of rest. Do 2-3 submaximal sprints before doing the work sets.

Speed Maintenance (80-100m): After a gradual warm-up of 3-4 sprints, do 3-4 sprints of 80-100m with 4-5 minutes of rest.

Rest: The rest periods are important. Fully recover from a sprint before doing the next one. This is NOT conditioning work; it’s speed work.

B. Form Running

Use a step progression in total distance for the session (only including work sets).

  • Week 1: 1200 meters – 70%
  • Week 2: 1500-1600 meters – 70%
  • Week 3: 2000 – 2100 meters – 70%
  • Week 4: 1200 meters – 80%

It looks like this:

Block 1 (200m runs)

  • Week 1: 6 x 200m – 70%
  • Week 2: 8 x 200m – 70%
  • Week 3: 10 x 200m – 70%
  • Week 4: 6 x 200m – 80%

Block 2 (300m runs)

  • Week 1: 4 x 300m – 70%
  • Week 2: 5 x 300m – 70%
  • Week 3: 7 x 300m – 70%
  • Week 4: 4 x 300m – 80%

Block 3 (400m runs)

  • Week 1: 3 x 400m – 70%
  • Week 2: 4 x 400m – 70%
  • Week 3: 5 x 400m – 70%
  • Week 4: 3 x 400m – 80%

C. Strength Training

At this point, the strength portion is more about maintaining and increasing strength rather than boosting power. With three sprint sessions per week as well as jumps and agility work, there’s no need to use lifting as a way to boost speed. It’ll be a lot more valuable – especially with the longevity focus – to use lifting to increase strength at this point.

Make all three 4-week blocks the same. A weekly progression looks like this below. For each block:

  • Week 1: 4 sets of 8 reps (with around 70-75%)
  • Week 2: 5 sets of 5 reps (with around 80-85%)
  • Week 3: 5/4/3 waves (1x5, 1x4, 1x3, 1x5, 1x4, 1x3 with the second wave being a bit heavier than the first one)
  • Week 4: 5/4/3/2/1 (adding weight on every set as you’re decreasing the weight

Percentages are just for illustration purposes. They’re not an exact recommendation. With strength work, keep 1-3 reps in reserve on your work sets.

As for exercise selection, pick 3 “big” exercises covering the whole body (like a squat, deadlift, and press) which you train with the loading schemes above and 1-2 secondary exercises – one back exercise and one single-joint exercise for a muscle you want to focus on more, trained for 3-4 sets of 6-8 reps.

D. Jumps

Use jumps as an activation drill prior to the sprints. Do your general warm-up, then 2-3 sets of 20-25 reps ankle bounds/hops, just focusing on being elastic. Then do two high-intensity jumping exercises for 3-4 sets of 5 reps, like one vertical jump variation (like knee tuck jumps or box jumps) and one horizontal jump (like broad jumps, hurdle jumps, single-leg alternating jumps).

It looks like this:

A. Light Jogging: (3-5 minutes)
B. Footing Drill
C. Ankle Hop: 2 x 20-25
D. Vertical Jump Variation: 3-4 x 5
E. Horizontal Jump Variation: 3-4 x 5
F. Sprint Work

E. Agility Drills

I use traditional cone drills used in football training for this one. There are two types of agility drills:

Short SAG: These improve quickness/changes of direction at maximal speed.
Long SAG: These are a bit slower but have a conditioning aspect to them.

Since we have one agility session per week, do one of each for 2-4 sets at each session. For the short SAG, if you do 2 sets of each, do one set per side, if you’re doing 4 sets, do 2 per side. The first four are short SAG and the last two are long SAG.

Your agility or form running session look like this:

A. Light Jogging (3-5 minutes)
B. Footing Drills
C. One Short SAG Drill (2 or 4 sets)
D. One Long SAG Drill (2 or 3 sets)
E. Form Running Work

MD-Buy-on-Amazon

5 Likes

Very similar to how I program training.

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Love the idea of seasonal training. Would have liked to see a section on ideas for mobility/flexibility in the article, though fairly easy to find but would have liked to seen your ideas around good options.

Unfortunately at 60 and discs starting to get some degeneration (which happens to all as we age) sprints and other stuff that hits the lumbar hard are out. Would have to find alternatives for many of the exercises (especially sprints and olympic type lifts) in the article but that is part of the aging game as we continue to find ways to train as we age.

But generally I love the idea of different training goals during seasons instead of trying to cram it all in all the time. Very cool.

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You could train as a track cyclist. Which is essentially sprinting on a bike. I’ve trained a couple of elite internatonal sprint/track cyclists and the protocols are similar to that of a 200m-400m sprinter and will have similar physiological effects.

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I’m a little lost when you mention footing drills, are you referring to ladder drills?

They can be ladder drills. But I typically talk about the good ole warm-up exercises we used before a sports practice… stuff like high knees running, heel-to-butt running, A-skip, shuffle, etc. But done with more intent.