Behind-the-Doors Look at John Sifferman’s Complete Training Program

John Sifferman
'Round here, we take training pretty seriously.

Some of you have asked about what I do personally on a day-to-day and week to week basis for physical training. The truth is, ever since I started publishing online, I’ve received questions about my personal fitness training program almost every week. Now, I’ve never given much information out because a) it could be misinterpreted, and b) my program, or a program like it, isn’t necessarily suitable for everyone.

The last thing that I want is for someone to assume that just because “John is doing it,” that they should, too. I’ve been training for almost 15 years, and my current program is based on my present goals and takes into account an entire lifetime of learning and practice – among many other things. On top of that, what I do is simply not for everyone, and I would caution anyone who is trying to model exactly what I’m doing just because (but you wouldn’t do that, right?).

So, today, I’m going to go against my better judgment and will give you a bird’s eye view of what I do on a regular basis without letting the cat totally out of the bag. I figure that there’s no harm done if I refrain from sharing the nitty-gritty details, and I wouldn’t want to bore you anyways. Most of my training is pretty mundane.

Just know that this is simply my program for my personal goals and it shouldn’t be interpreted as gospel. It is merely one data point. Also, please note that this program is constantly changing with the seasons of the year and the seasons of my life, and it will probably not look the same even one year from now. This is just a simple overview.

Here goes…

An Overview of John Sifferman’s Physical Practice

Walking – I go for one walk every single day – usually between 20-40 minutes, sometimes longer. This is mostly for our dog’s sake (he has mental problems that require a daily walk to mitigate – kidding – he’s just a bit wacko without his regular exercise. Actually, we both are!), but I’m happy to acquire the health benefits from walking. It’s also relaxing and a great way to start the day. I go at different times of day depending on my schedule, but when I’m trying to lean up, I’ll do it first thing in the morning before breakfast.

Joint Mobility Training – I have been performing a full body joint mobility session almost every single day since 2007. This could be a simple 8 minute session just to meet my daily needs, or a much more thorough session for 30 minutes or longer. On top of that, I’ll almost always perform activity-specific joint mobility exercises before strength and conditioning work, and sometimes before MovNat and other skill training sessions, too. I also perform several mini-sessions throughout the day for those joints which require extra attention, particularly those that are negatively impacted from my sedentary job (neck, shoulders, hips, wrists, etc.). At least once every week, I will spend a long time just on joint mobility training to get deeper into the ranges of motion – usually between 30-60 minutes total.

Yoga – After a few years of going back and forth, I now perform yoga every single day for as little as 8 minutes or as long as 90 minutes – either after my scheduled strength and conditioning work and/or at the end of the day to wind down and deal with any issues that are lingering. Like the mobility work, I also try to do one deep session at least every week – spending 45-90 minutes at a time on getting really deep into my trouble spots.

Movement Skill Training – I also spend a little bit of time almost daily working on skill-specific drills at low to moderate intensity. This takes many forms, and there are a variety of things that I am constantly working on. Usually, it involves MovNat-specific training both indoors and outdoors. I keep the walking and running components constant regardless of whatever skill work I’m focusing on. So, my additional MovNat training usually involves balancing, climbing, jumping, crawling, lifting, carrying, throwing, or catching drills. I also spend time working on self defense skills at least once a week. Some other things that may make it into the mix are new exercises, fitness stunts, and tactical gymnastics and other biomechanical exercises, among other things. It should be said that some of this skills practice is regimented and programmed into the overarching structure of my physical practice, and some of them are more spontaneous and playful in nature. Regardless, this is where I give myself license to have a little bit of fun every single day. Skills practice sessions rarely exceed 30 minutes total.

Strength and Conditioning – I do some form of strength and conditioning work at least twice every week, and up to 4-5 times per week during some training cycles. Training variables like frequency, volume, intensity (etc.) are constantly adjusted to ensure optimal recovery and consistent forward progress. I mostly use bodyweight exercises and clubbells as my tools of choice, but I’m also fond of using kettlebells, stones, sandbags, and other odd objects from time to time. I’ll even break out the ‘ol barbell once in awhile. This is by far the most complex aspect of my entire physical practice as it is an art to find a balance between hard training and optimal recovery. I draw on many different training protocols, and I won’t bother listing them all here. Sessions are usually in the 15-30 minute range, and never exceed 45 minutes.

Running – I also go for a run anywhere from 1-3 times per week. I don’t really consider this conditioning training, even though it definitely comes with conditioning benefits. It’s more of a stress-reliever and recovery enhancer for me. If I run three times in a week, one run will be a long and slow run, another will be a shorter paced run, and the last will be some form of interval training run – usually with short sprints (note: I don’t consider sprints a stress-reliever!). I’ll occasionally do some sprints during a daily walk, too.

Hiking, Backpacking, and Other Outdoor Adventures – My family avidly enjoys the great outdoors. We hike regularly, and try to get out at least once every week if possible. We do a few backpacking trips every year, and an occasional camping or kayaking adventure. I also make an effort to try and coordinate some other “extra-curricular” activities like playing frisbee and soccer with local friends. During the summer months, it’s not uncommon to play a game of some sort every weekend.

So, that’s the gist of everything. Each one of above activities has become a vital component in my overall training program, but the attention to each one does fluctuate constantly throughout the year based on my goals. To give you an idea of what this actually looks like over the course of a week…

Here’s a rough outline of a recent weekly training journal:

Monday – early morning walk (25 min), quick joint mobility session (8 min), tree climbing practice (10 min) upper body intensive bodyweight training session (20 min), yoga cooldown session (10 min)

Tuesday – early morning walk (30 min), quick joint mobility session (8 min), indoor and outdoor jumping and balancing practice (20 min), lower body intensive bodyweight training session (20 min), yoga cooldown (10 min), self defense practice (15 min)

Wednesday – early afternoon walk (35 min), thorough joint mobility session (30 min), crawling practice (10 min), clubbell training session (20 min), yoga cooldown session (10 min)

Thursday – early morning walk with one uphill 400 meter sprint (30 min), quick joint mobility session (10 min), jumping and rolling practice, kettlebell training session (15 min), yoga cooldown session + extra yoga in the evening (30 min total)

Friday – late morning walk (30 min), quick joint mobility session (16 min), tactical gymnastics practice session (20 min), full body bodyweight training session (30 min), short yoga cooldown session (8 min)

Saturday – early morning walk (35 min), intu-flow joint mobility session (15 min), 20 minute paced run, post-run yoga cooldown (30 min), self defense practice (2 hours)

Sunday – walk with some running (45 min), gentle yoga (20 min), self defense practice (10 min)

Note: Training is completely optional on Sundays, and when I do train, it’s usually low intensity work like joint mobility training, yoga, walking, and skills practice. I keep Sundays available for complete rest if I so choose.

Wrap-Up

So, I hope that eases your curiosity. If you have any questions about the specifics, I’ll do the best I can to answer them in the comments below, but I won’t share ALL of my dirty little secrets!

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13 Responses

  1. John,

    I love that your week doesn’t include time spent in a gym with the traditional muscle heads. That said, I’ll be heading there today. I’ve made a commitment to myself for this current training cycle and I will see it through. When I’m at the gym and it’s cold, dark and rainy I’m fine. I’m happy to be there. But when the weather is nice I think I’d rather be hiking. I’ve been reading your posts for awhile now and your whole perspective on “physical living” is very attractive, it resonates on a deep level somewhere inside me. I’m sure that is true for many many people. Little by little I incorporate things into my life based on things you’ve written about.

    Thank you for sharing so much of yourself and your stellar perspective on what a life can be.

    Regards,
    Cyana

    • Cyana,

      Thank you. It’s my pleasure, and I’m humbled daily that so many people find value from what I share, which is just an outgrowth of my personal journey. I’ll keep bringing it if you’ll keep reading it.

  2. Any basic suggestions for starting a mobility protocol? I’ve been focusing on strength and conditioning too long, need to increase joint mobility and overall flexibility. Can you recommend a few movements?

  3. John (aka Wish I Were Riding)

    I’m going to do exactly what you do now. Just Kidding, I don’t have a dog. But why won’t you share the dirty little secrets?

    • Well, for a lot of reasons – some of which I listed above, but mostly because most of my “secrets” aren’t really secrets at all. I might be accused of being a fraud if I started telling people to drink plenty of water, get enough sleep, exercise regularly, etc. I need to keep THOSE secrets extra-secretive or else I might lose my credibility :-)

      But seriously, most of my training philosophy is available on my site in the many articles and videos. I do keep a few training methods to myself because I experiment with a lot of things – some unconventional – and I can’t, in good faith, release that to the public without knowing for certain whether or not it’s a safe and effective training method.

      PS – dogs are great walking buddies!

  4. Hey John,

    Thanks so much for all your great articles on fitness. I want to get started on bodyweight exercises for strength and was wondering what program you’d recommend. Are there any CST or Tacfit programs that teach progressions to the planche?

    Cheers
    Ryan

    • Hey Ryan,

      Thanks for the note. I’m not sure of a specific CST program for the planche, but I would look into Ryan Hurst’s Gold Medal Bodies products to start. The Floor 1 Program may be right up your alley.

      • Hi John
        Thanks! – I’ll take a look at the GMB program.
        Cheers
        Ryan

      • Thanks, John.

        The Floor and Parallettes series will both be helpful, depending on your starting point.

        Ryan, if you want to shoot us an email and tell us more about where you’re coming from, we can help you find the right solutions – even if it means a non-GMB resource to start with.

  5. Very interesting as usual. I would be interested what your current goals are and how thet play into the week described above

    • Russell,

      I was thinking about putting together another blogpost just to answer your question, but I’m not sure if it’s worthy of that or not. So, I’ll just give you a brief explanation here.

      Most of my program revolves around process-centered goals. For example, I simply want to walk every day, and the main reason for that is to give the dog exercise and also to get some myself while enjoying the outdoors and getting a mental break. I don’t bother tracking distance or time because I really don’t care about that right now. The goal IS walking – not how far, how long, how fast, etc.

      Similarly, the daily joint mobility and yoga are also process-centered goals. I just want to get those in every day because they’re good for me, and I feel so much better when I do them. I have specific issues that I’m trying to resolve or improve, of course, like my constant battle of improving ankle mobility and removing tension in my lower back from constantly sitting, but the main goal is to just DO those things regularly so that I can work on the mini-goals a little bit every day.

      At least right now, I run for fun – it’s not training for me and I don’t have specific performance goals, but I do like to maintain a certain level of conditioning so that I have the ability to get out for a run anytime I want. Right now, I’m quite content if I can run 4-6 miles with little effort, and that’s what I try to maintain throughout the year, and it hasn’t been a problem for me with 1-3 runs/week. Like I said in the article, my goals change with the seasons, and my running goals have changed constantly over the past decade. This was just a snapshot of right now. There have been many times when I was working for a specific distance/time goal with running.

      With the outdoor adventures, this is mostly a family and social activity. Again, I just do it for fun and want to encourage this type of lifestyle for my family and my children. As a family, we’ve got goals of progressively more challenging hikes and trips with the kids, but it’s not something we formalize into a rigid structure. We go with the flow with a desire for bigger and better trips and we make that happen whenever possible.

      Now, as we get into the movement skills and strength training categories, things start to get interesting with regards to the goals. Obviously, all the of the skills practice is meant specifically to improve individual skills: self defense, locomotive, and manipulative skills, new exercises, etc. Some of this is meant to absorb and learn new skills, and some of it is to maintain a certain level of proficiency in learned skills, and some of it is just for fun (ie fitness stunts). It all comes with conditioning benefits, but conditioning is not the primary goal. Performance enhancement is the goal. So, I might be working on a faster, or more powerful strike, a longer jump (or a more sophisticated jump – from below/above, to target, from a run or from a balancing position, etc.), or making a new exercise more efficient through practice. There is an entire pyramid of goals beneath each activity, and I don’t micro-manage this portion of my program nearly as much as the strength training portion. I ensure regular practice in each area that is important to me, and I also ensure constant forward progress. I need to see improvement in each area, no matter how insignificant, and in the event that I don’t see improvement, I will either enlist outside help and/or structure in some more deliberate practice time to deal with the issue more directly.

      The strength and conditioning portion of my program is the one where I DO micro-manage almost everything. There is always a pre-written program that I follow – usually in 4-week cycles. That said, what the actual training looks like when it’s all said and done is not always identical to what I came up with on paper. No program is perfect, and I use my own intuition to ultimately determine what and how I train each and every day.

      As far as specific goals, I have a year-round goal to keep my bodyfat under 12%. I’m usually in the 8-12% range, and I don’t bother trying to get leaner. That’s about all I worry about when it comes to body composition – actually, I don’t even worry. There was once a few years ago when my BF% climbed a bit above 12% over the winter and that’s one time when I made fat loss a specific, measurable goal.

      I also have specific performance goals with my clubbell, kettlebell, and bodyweight training. For instance, right now, I’m working up to a 30 minute trial by fire with the 25 lb clubbells. I’m also building my pullup strength in preparation for working towards single arm pullups. The TBF is simply a personal challenge that I’d like to accomplish, and the pullups goal is for a program I’m testing. Again, these are examples of the specifics and they change from cycle to cycle.

      So, all that said, my goals in a nutshell: better health, better mobility and structural strength, more efficiency in basic human movement skills, maintaining a good representation of health and fitness for others (in appearance and ability), maintain a basic level of skill and conditioning to be able to effectively teach others the disciplines that I’ve embraced, and ultimately to be more prepared than the challenges I will face. Some of these goals must be pursued individually, and others are simply achieved from the lifestyle habits I’ve developed over the years. I hope that makes at least a little bit of sense!

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