T Nation

The Four Seasons of Training

A lot of people requested this…

The Four Seasons of Training

I agree. It makes perfect sense. The idea of progressively adding weight to the major lifts in an orderly, logical manner makes perfect sense. Starting at 100 pounds in the squat, one should easily add five pounds a week so in one year we squat 360 pounds, in two, 620 pounds, in three, ?
Except the human body is not that kind of machine. It adapts in rhythms predating the logical philosophers, the inventors of exercise machines and the prayers of lifting hopefuls. Taking inspiration from Vivaldi?s ?Four Seasons,? I would like to suggest a year round approach based on the rhythms of the four seasons of the year. Now, I realize that some lifters may live in states with only two seasons, as the old joke goes: ?July and winter.? But, adapting training to the ancient echoes of our hunter-gatherer roots provides opportunities for continued improvement, enthusiasm and insights about one?s true potential.

Everybody has a story like this: after months of frustration, ?out of nowhere? one makes substantial gains in size, leanness, strength, speed or some other quantifiable, or noticeable, measurement. I work with a young lady who showed no progress in weight loss (although she went from a size 12 to a size 10) for months, then suddenly dropped twenty pounds ?overnight.? Wouldn?t it be nice if we could plan these ?miracles?? I believe we can, but we must respect the natural rhythms and patterns that help, or hinder, improvements.

As a teacher for most of my professional career, it is easy for me to relate to the kind of training that works best in the autumn. It is ?Back to School? time, it is football season. This time of year is perfect for disciplined training programs. Long term programs based on extensive cycling and adherence to percentages can be done in the fall. Disciplined tough programs along the lines of ?Twenty rep squat? workouts are ideal at this time. Construct structured programs in the fall. Trying to learn a new lift? Do you wish to add snatches and cleans to your training? Learning new lifts is ideal in the fall. As the children march off to school, march into the weightroom and spend four months learning the Olympic lifts.

As the winter months approach, we begin to prepare for the cold and the dark. Forget getting lean when nature wants to ?add a layer.? The winter is time for the three GH?s of training: Go Heavy, Go Hard and Go Home.? Traditionally, winter training has been the time for three ?total? body workouts a week along the lines of cleans, benches and squats. Recently, many people have begun training with an upper body day, a lower body day and a third ?total body? day of snatches, cleans and variations. For many trainers, rest time and total training time is more affected by room temperature than fatigue. Garages in the Northern and Mountain States are not the place for long, drawn out workouts. It is hard to do tricep kickbacks with frostbitten fingers.

Yet, in the midst of winter comes New Year?s Day. As the rest of world writes out resolutions, this is an ideal time to look forwards and backwards. Look past over the last year and the list the ?Top Ten? things that have improved. Or, have separate lists for training, personal, and professional. Compare lifts or photos from last year. Then, write out a list of training goals for the upcoming year. Give yourself the full 365 days to lose the inches off the waist or twenty pounds to the bench.

Spring is the time of rebirth, the time to renew. It is also the time to get injured. After months of heavy training, many people want to sprint outside on the first flower filled day and ?snap. Hamstring pull. Yes, all that heavy training led to wonderful improvements in muscles mass. The extra layers of body fat, to keep a cold lifter warm, also change the dynamics of movement. The extra strength and size are wonderful, except that the body needs a few days to adapt before all out sprinting. Spring is time for ?Transformation? programs. Let the reps increase in the gym, but start to measure rest time. Add some movements that mimic outdoor activities. Traditionally, calisthenics have been used to prepare athletes for movement. Burpees (the Marine Corps ?squat thrust?), ?Jumping Jacks,? High Knee Running (?Knees Up, Mother Brown!?) and a host of jumping, leaping, pushing and pulling actions can be done in the confines of a small room. The old dictum of ?If you want to run fast, you have to train fast? certainly remains true.

As the world begins heating up, it is also easier to get lean. By now, most people have forgotten their New Year?s resolution to lose the gut, but this is the time to do it. Use the longer, hotter days of summer to train outside. Although sandbag training can be done year round, it is a lot ?cleaner? to do a sandbag workout on a sunny day rather than in a deluge. Put the weights on the backyard lawn and do some workouts. Whether you ride bikes, rollerblade, run with the dog and kids, play sports at picnics, go to a Highland Games and throw stuff, have fun outside in the summer! Yet, as you are enjoying your fitness review your goals. What needs to be improved? Where are your weak points? What do you need to learn? The answers to these questions will provide the basis of your disciplined fall programs.

A year round approach can be this simple. Subtle changes in training, based on the seasons, lead to a better overall total training program. It is still progressive, yet allows for a great deal of variety. File training ideas and training programs into folders that correspond to the seasons. Hill sprinting is wonderful, but is it safe in the frozen evenings of January? Do you want to spend endless hours in the gym on a perfect summer day? Working with the rhythms of nature keeps the eye on the horizon and keeps progress in the gym. It?s natural.

Thanks Coach:

I was hoping you would post this, and I’m grateful.

Had a rough day. It’s nice to see a little “Christmas-in-August” present.

Thanks again.

How did you get so smart so fast?

Awesome stuff Dan.

Why are high rep bodyweight only squats (25 reps) good (as you said a day or two ago)for someone w/a weird knee “thing”/injury like Keith Wassung recommended?

Is it because of increased blood flow to joints, nutrients being pushed on, etc?


I’ve always liked that article since I first read it in “From the ground up”. If I ever get around to doing something like discus where I would have a sport “season” I’ll apply those principles. Over here in Australia the seasons aren’t as definite and winter isn’t so severe (yesterday was our coldest winter day so far with a max temperature of 15 deg. Celcius) so the restrictions on going outside aren’t too bad.

How would you apply the 4 seasons principle to training for a winter sport like rugby? I’m sure it would have to change from the Go hard, heavy and home as this would probably lead to overtraining during the season. So are there any adjustments that could be made to suit?

On another completely different topic, how would you go about starting a female newcomer to weight training, mostly for general strength and body composition improvements. My wife (27 y.o.) is getting into training at the moment and I’m trying to work out the best approach to take. Other coaches on this site have advocated higher rep, light loadings for the first 6 weeks or so to get the ligaments and tendons used to the movements plus train the muscular co-ordination. Also, many of the exercises are things like single leg bulgarian squats, lunges etc rather than the big compound movements.

Do you agree with these principles or would you go with something different?



Great stuff as always Dan. Thanks.