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6 Common Mistakes in the Project Ares Gym

Is there a wrong way to “do the gym”?

It’s probably not something we gym rats spend much time thinking about. (After all, we’ve got a lot to do between patting ourselves on the back for being there in the first place and squeezing our money’s worth out of that heaven-sent sauna.)

But even after deciding on a training program to follow, building out a schedule, and carefully selecting equipment, your trainees might still find themselves sitting on the leg press late one evening wondering, “Am I doing this right?”

The good news is that self-doubt can usually be resolved by addressing the root of the problem. Once you help a trainee identify that, the steps they can take to feel like a rockstar in the cyber gym again will become much clearer.

So what are those root problems? In our experience, every uncertainty encountered in the Project Ares gym can be boiled down to one of six basic mistakes:

  1. Not planning ahead of time
  2. Skipping the warm-up
  3. Doing too many things at once
  4. Not “switching it up”
  5. Not taking breaks
  6. Not tracking progress

But we in the Project Ares gym are solution-minded, so today, we’re going to look at how these mistakes happen and what you can do to reframe them to get the most out of your students’ training.

1. Plan Ahead of Time

Think like Hollywood. Before Daniel Craig ever walked onto a set, someone had already thought through how he would be successful. Alongside the script, they’d have organized camera angles, types of lenses, zoom levels, where the B-roll would fill, how the scenes would be edited together, and on and on ad infinitum – all before cameras rolled and James Bond fluttered his sultry eyelashes at his femme fatale du jour.

In Hollywood, that person is the Director. In radio, it’s the Producer. In sports, it’s the Offensive Coach.

In the Project Ares gym, it’s YOU, the Trainer.

In the last article of this series (👇😉), we talked about the importance of creating a schedule and how to make one that you and your students can stick with.

But a schedule isn’t the only part of planning ahead. Other questions you and your students can ask yourselves include:

  • Is my computer equipped for success? (Click 👉 here 👈 to test your network!)
  • Do I understand all the prerequisite material that will make me and my students successful?

Check Out Our Cyber Curriculum Guide!


  • Am I in the right state of mind to focus and learn?

That last question is one that’s easily overlooked but is critically important for success, so let’s dive a little deeper into that.

2. Warm Up

While the Project Ares cyber gym may not require jumping jacks and hamstring stretches before a “workout”, it has its own collection of warm-ups that are equally important for the mind.

It’s hard to get any kind of good training in if the trainee is hungry, stressed, distracted, or otherwise not fully focused on the task at hand. But assuming their environment and health are conducive to productivity, the next warm-up box to tick is the scenario pre-requisites.

Your students aren’t likely to complete a 5K if they’re unable to run a mile, so be sure to check out what knowledge they’ll need before attempting to train on the “machine” you’ve chosen for them. (Psst, you can see the pre-requisites for each scenario in our Cyber Curriculum Guide under the “What you should know prior” section.)

Other important warm-ups in the Project Ares gym that specifically relate to the Specialized Mission Scenarios include the Mission video and References in the Mission wheel. At the beginning of each Specialized Scenario, the trainee will be presented with the situational storyline for their real-world scenario simulation.

Understanding the characters and what’s at stake will provide context for the Objectives that your students will need to accomplish. This is key because it helps ground and rationalize the tasks for a student so they aren’t just moving from task to task without an understanding of WHY they’re doing it.

And finally, the References area within the scenario itself provides external links to study materials that will help students feel fully equipped to accomplish their mission.

By helping students get equipped with the right environment, mindset, context, and tools before beginning the “workout”, lots of potential issues can be avoided. 💪🏼 Productivity for the win!

3. Set a “Workout” Goal

Huge goals like successfully completing a Specialized Scenario without any hints can seem impossible to the beginner cyber ninja, and often that “impossible” goal can be enough to derail even the most motivated of students.

The best way to avoid this mistake is to set a tangible goal for every single “workout”.

Let’s imagine that the beginner student has been assigned a Foundational Scenario with 52 Objectives to be completed within a week. Some students might attempt to study outside of the scenario, then doggedly work their way through the entire scenario in one evening.

Other students, however, might divide those 52 Objectives into bite-sized chunks, completing 8 or 9 Objectives every day.

RELATED: Real World Cybersecurity Experience: From Learning to Earning

Neither approach is right or wrong, but we’d bet our ninja masks that those who set their goal of completing 8 or 9 Objectives per day have the highest likelihood of not only completing their assignment but also remembering what they learned along the way.

By setting a measurable, achievable goal every time they train, students create their own motivation through the act of disciplined achievement. That motivation means they’ll continue to persist, despite it not being easy.

And more often than not, disciplined persistence leads to success.

(Want to learn more about how to help your students stay motivated? Check out another article in this series.)

4. Switch It Up

Most gym-goers are familiar with the dreaded plateau: that situation where, no matter how many squats you do, you’re just not seeing results anymore.

But this is not often the case! Incremental improvement is still happening, but those first big leaps forward feel smaller and smaller as you improve, particularly when you’re looking at those leaps up close.

So how do you help your students combat brain fatigue and the demotivation of seemingly-lackluster results?

Step back and take stock. Don’t forget to build perspective into a “workout” routine. This doesn’t necessarily imply that your students will need a break (we’ll touch more on that a little later) or that their tracking needs to be tweaked (again, more on that in a moment), but rather that it might just be time to switch it up a bit.

Consider substituting some new training material for a bit. Tackle a Cyber Learning Game, dive into a new tool, or take a tour of the Project Ares gym and have a chat about what other areas look interesting and exciting.

By giving their digital forensics “muscle” a chance to relax and recharge (and by giving the brain an opportunity to do the same), the plateau that your students imagine will seem much less of reality from their new perspective.

Improvements are happening. They just have a way of being hard to see when we get too close.

5. Take Breaks

Another great way to gain some perspective is to build in a real break. Even those most intense HIIT workouts will feature a 10-second rest, and the Project Ares gym is no different. We’re only human, after all.

We know the effects of staring at a screen for too long. We know how much more productive we feel when we remember to take a moment to get some water, stretch our legs, and go outside.

If long-term learning is the goal, breaks that are long enough to be relaxing (but not so long that they cause a loss of focus!) should be a part of your students’ “workout” routines in the Project Ares gym. This may seem like an obvious observation, but as anyone with a Nintendo Switch can tell you, gamification has a way of defying the time/space continuum. So set an alarm and remember to advise your students to take a break now and then!

(By the way, did you know students can save their session in Project Ares? Click here to check out how then make sure students get some air!)

6. Track Progress

One of the most important assets available to you to keep your students driving toward success is a progress tracker.

When goals that seemed so far away to them at the beginning are long-accomplished, it can be hard for them to remember what those initial micro-successes felt like. The ability to show real, tangible progress can keep your students from doubting whether their effort is really getting them any closer to their goal.

In the gym, a progress tracker can look like an app, a personal trainer’s binder, or even just a regular analog notebook where you might track the heaviness of the weights you lifted, the time of your mile, or the muscle groups you focused on.

And the good news is that we’ve got you covered here too! Check out this short video to see the reporting features that are available to all our favorite Trainers in the Project Ares gym.


Tying It Together

Ultimately, getting to the root cause of an issue is important because it allows you to streamline the solution process and develop preventative action to mitigate future issues.

By proactively implementing these 6 solutions into your training program, you’ll help your students have every resource they need to be successful in the Project Ares gym!

PS: We all know how important it is to be able to work as part of a group in the professional space — after all, “There’s no ‘I’ in TEAM”. Stay tuned for the next article in this series where we’ll dive into three practical ways to work as a group in the Project Ares gym!

Next in this series: 👇👇👇

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