Top Ten List: Mental Toughness

buds seal training 3

Mental Toughness – How do we obtain it?  Make it stronger?  Many young people ask these questions of me each day and I wish it was a simple answer.  I wish you could be mentally tough by figuring out a magic solution of phrases or training programs.  But it is not that simple.  Being mentally tough requires you to keep competing when your mind wants you to quit.  Humans have a “safety switch” in our brain that tells us to stop in order to prevent us from hurting ourselves.  We are natural born survivors built to conserve our energy, store food, and just simply live to survive another day.  There are times you can actually shut that part of your brain off.  When you do this, you realize your body is ten times stronger than your brain will let it be. Training programs in the Special Operations world helps you tap into this mindset, but often your life experiences and habits can build a mental toughness and resilience that no one can beat.

Here is a top ten list of common denominators in many people I know who have accomplished great things in their lives and continue to keep moving onto bigger and greater goals:

Daily Persistence /​ Focus – Never Stop!  Do what you have to do every day even when you are tired, feel lazy, etc.  It does not matter if it is physical training, studying for a test, working to a deadline, or just getting out of bed every day with a positive attitude – do it no matter what.  Make MOVING a habit.  You may find all you needed was a good meal and hydration to give you the energy required to stay focused and finish or start a new task.

No one becomes mentally tough overnight.  It takes a lifetime.  Some of the toughest people I have met in my life know they have some level of toughness, but still say they have to work at it every day.  In the Navy SEAL Creed, there is a line that says, “I have to earn it (the trident) every day.”

Stay Motivated:  Why do you put yourself through painful training, long hours working or studying?   You have to answer this question – not me.  It is no one’s job to motivate you, it is all SELF-​​MOTIVATION that keeps you moving.  Have goals that you see each day getting closer and closer one step at a time into fruition.   Prepare mentally for the weeks, months, or even years required to get to where you want to be one day.

Have a quote that resonates with you – There are many great motivating quotes to get and keep you going.  Here are some of my favorites when I need that extra affirmation:

1 – “Mental Toughness is finding the fuel when the tank is empty.”  (My favorite – it sums up what mental toughness is in so many ways)

2 – “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”

3 – “If you are going through Hell – keep going.”

4 – “Never Quit.”

5 – “Go for it now – the future is promised to no one.”

These are basically performance cues used by sports psychologists at every level of performance.  There are many, many more to find online.  Find one that works for you.  Find a poster /​ make a poster – see it every day.  Say it when you need it.

Train to Compete – Not Just Survive:  In relation to special ops training programs, athletic events, or even business — this is the biggest difference in those who graduate training or succeed and those who do not.  You should try to be in the type of shape and mindset that will allow you to win or be in the top 10% of the class in many events — at least some.  Too many of us, in general, just get by each day “putting in their time” and barely living.  Knowing that you are stuck in survival mode is a realization that can be the first step to learning how to change your life and compete for the first time in your life.  I developed this saying, shortly before I ran a marathon for the first and last time.  My goal was to finish a 26 mile run.  I saw a skinny kid from Africa warming up and I realized he was about to run the same race as I was but his goal was to drop a minute off his best time.  My goal was to survive the event.  Who has a better chance and finishing the race?  The kid who was in competition mode – not me.  I succeeded with my goal and was able to use the Complete – not just Survive quote many times that day and ever since in my life.

Dissociation Training:  There is a fine line between mental toughness and stupid, but when it is a life or death situation, there is no stupid method if it keeps you alive.  Basically, how much pain, discomfort, and even fear can you play with? That is an immeasurable element of success.  Dissociation refers to being able to take instructors yelling at you, cold water freezing you, sand chaffing you, and exhaustion slowing you AND not let it get into your head.  There is a bit of “find your happy place” in these dissociation skills, but you still have to be focused on the mission at hand and not just be some zombie who cannot follow orders stuck in some Zen state.   Maybe it is just being SO FOCUSED on the mission at hand – nothing else matters.  That is why I put Daily Persistence and Focus as the #1 trait.

You can practice this skill with mundane, monotonous, long workouts like long runs, rucks, swims, high repetition pyramid PTs that can get pretty boring if you do not have an ability to think of something else besides counting reps, miles, and time.

Laugh:  Finding humor in what happens to you daily is one of the best ways to get through the daily grind.  Find humor in what challenges you.  You would be surprised when going through a stressful event how a humorous comment or action will lighten the mood and keep you focused on the task at hand.  In a group setting, finding humor and laughing can bond a team together like nothing else.  By yourself, you have to laugh as it will help change your mood, gather yourself and get over any negative thoughts you may be having at the time.

Know your Weakness – Make it a Strength:  You have to have a level of internal awareness and realize there will be things you are not naturally good at doing.  I have found that when working on my weaknesses that I have to check in and use a certain level of mental toughness to keep going than if working on something I was naturally good at doing.  For instance, prior to SEAL training, I was a powerlifting football player whose idea of long distance running was anything greater than 100 yards.  It took me years, to get my running times down to where I could actually compete or at least stay in the middle of the pack of my class when doing beach runs.  Running was something that I had to check in mentally each time I ran, where-​​as the calisthenics and swimming were not something that challenged me as much.  Even this day, running is something I have to focus on to “stay in the pack”.

Plan your Dive – Dive Your Plan:  In training, we learned how to “Dirt Dive”.  This is a simple walk-​​through of a mission where we take each phase of the mission step by step and discuss how we achieve the desired outcome.  Discussing and creating contingency plans is one of the outcomes that helps us to be immediately flexible in case something goes wrong.  Create different routes for you to achieve your goal.  There may be 3–4 different ways to get from point A to point B.  Consider every possibility and don’t get discouraged if your original plan fails.  Move onto plan B or even plan C.  STAY FOCUSED ON THE END GOAL.

Big Goals with Sub-​​Goals:  We all want to be successful in what we do.  One event in my life that I knew was going to be a kick in the nuts was Hell Week – a 120+ hour evolution at SEAL training that requires everything out of you to complete.  You eat every six hours with little or no sleep breaks the entire week.  I knew if I broke up the week into twenty — 6 hour segments, it mentally seemed more obtainable that one 120+ hour /​ 5 day event.  Parallel this in the business world by keeping track of weekly, monthly, quarterly goals and the next thing you know your annual projections can also be obtained even if you have to change course to get there.  But you won’t know to change course if you do not assess.  Remember — “you get what you inspect, not what you expect.”

Stay Positive:   Positive thinking and planning goes a long way.  If it is not in the schedule or plan it does not exist so make sure you stay positive with your planning and actions.  You will always have negative thoughts and doubts that pop into your head every now and then.  A trick to quit having obtrusive, negative thoughts is called “Name it and Tame it”.   The next time a negative thought or doubt pops into your head or spoken by another on your team, give it a silly name like “dumbass”.  Then tell yourself out loud so you say it and hear it, “I can’t think about “dumbass” anymore.”  This may take a few rounds of practice, but it works to help you stay positive.  Naming a thought takes away its power and shows you that you have control of your fears and anxiety.  That is powerful.

This mental toughness top ten list works for me and many people I consider successful, motivated, and mentally tough that I interviewed for this article.  I hope this list helps you.  By no means are mental toughness tips and attributes limited to my top ten list.  There are countless ways to build your mental toughness and resilience that will help you stay motivated, thinking positive, and handle stress /​ adversity throughout the rest of your life.

Hang in there – and never, never give up.





Pull-​​ups: Part Three — Going from 10 to 20+ Pull-​​ups

Navy SEALs Training

This article is part THREE of the three part series on Twenty Pull-​​ups for Women:

1) HOW to get your first pull-​​up,

2) Getting the USMC women’s maximum on the Pull-​​up Test,

3) Getting the USMC maximum on the Pull-​​up Test (20 reps) – this article.

Hitting 20+ Pull-​​ups

When you are able to reach the “double digit” zone of the pull-​​up repetition count, you can now start adding in more creative workouts that will change your strength foundation into a muscle stamina /​ endurance peak.  This transition from strength to muscle stamina is usually a sticking point with many Marines and other Special Ops candidates trying to ace a fitness test with 20–30 pull-​​ups.

Two Schools of Thought (weighted reps or high volume)

There are two schools of thought from going to 20+ pull-​​ups, but both require recovery days in between.
No more back to back to back days of pull-​​ups at this level is recommended.  You can try it with some results in the short term, but if you do 4–5 pull-​​up workouts in a week at weighted or high volume rep workouts, you will most likely see negative results.  Recovery is KEY TO YOUR GROWTH!

High Volume Workouts:

Now that you are able to push 50–100 reps of pull-​​ups in a single workout, this type of high volume workout requires recovery days and only performing pull-​​ups three days a week.  Personally, I recommend the three workouts below to be done on Mondays, Wednesday, and Saturday:

Push your base repetitions in your workouts with these three proven methods:

Monday:  PT Pyramid http://​military​-fitness​.military​.com/​2​0​1​3​/​0​7​/​p​t​-​p​r​o​g​r​e​s​s​i​o​n​-​s​e​r​i​e​s​-​1​-​t​h​e​-​p​y​r​a​m​i​d​.​h​tml

Wednesday:  PT Superset http://​military​-fitness​.military​.com/​2​0​1​3​/​0​7​/​p​t​-​p​r​o​g​r​e​s​s​i​o​n​-​s​e​r​i​e​s​-​2​-​s​u​p​e​r​-​s​e​t​s​.​h​tml

Saturday:  Max Rep Sets http://​military​-fitness​.military​.com/​2​0​1​3​/​0​7​/​p​t​-​p​r​o​g​r​e​s​s​i​o​n​-​s​e​r​i​e​s​-​3​-​m​a​x​-​r​e​p​-​s​e​t​s​-​w​o​r​k​o​u​t​s​.​h​tml

*I like to add another day of recovery in between the Super Set Wednesday and the Max Rep Set Saturday as you can better push your previous maximum repetitions each set with another non pull-​​up day of rest.  You can still do pushing, legs, core, running, rucking on your recovery and workout days however.


Weighted Pull-​​ups

Weighted pull-​​ups also work very well but you still want to push your previous max set repetitions some during the week.  I recommend only doing weighted pull-​​ups 1–2 times per week and cut your total pull-​​up workout repetitions by 50%.  Pick a weight that will enable you to still do at least 20–25 total reps in a weighted pull-​​up workout.

Eventually, you will have to go back to non-​​weighted pull-​​ups

Another Option:  Short Term Daily Pull-​​ups (10 days straight plus 3 days rest = day 14 test)

This works well but do not repeat over and over as negative results will appear within a month.  The Pull-​​up Push works best if your current maximum in under 15.   Many have mixed weighted days of pull-​​ups into this workout and just reduced their daily pull-​​up totals by 50% if using weights.  I would recommend only doing a few of the ten days of pull-​​ups with weights.

Pullup Push http://​www​.military​.com/​m​i​l​i​t​a​r​y​-​f​i​t​n​e​s​s​/​f​i​t​n​e​s​s​-​t​e​s​t​-​p​r​e​p​/​p​u​l​l​u​p​-​p​u​s​h​-​w​o​r​k​out

In conclusion, this three part program is designed to take you from ZERO to 20+ pull-​​ups.  It works if you stay determined with your pull-​​up workouts each week.  Once you get successful at 20+ pull-​​ups, now you want to get creative with your pull-​​up routines and mix in more tactical skills like fireman carries, bear crawls, body drags and stress.  See ideas below:

Running and PT Combinations:  http://​military​-fitness​.military​.com/​2​0​1​3​/​0​7​/​p​t​-​p​r​o​g​r​e​s​s​i​o​n​-​s​e​r​i​e​s​-​4​-​r​u​n​n​i​n​g​-​a​n​d​-​p​t​-​m​i​x​.​h​tml

Advanced Movements with Pull-​​up Workouts: http://​military​-fitness​.military​.com/​2​0​1​3​/​0​7​/​p​t​-​p​r​o​g​r​e​s​s​i​o​n​-​s​e​r​i​e​s​-​5​-​h​a​r​d​c​o​r​e​-​f​u​l​l​-​b​o​d​y​-​m​o​v​e​m​e​n​t​s​-​w​i​t​h​-​p​t​r​u​n​.​h​tml

Weight Loss and Pull-​​ups

Many may find that weight loss is also going to be beneficial to the pull-​​up progress.  Add in more cardio of running or rucking after your calisthenics and weight workouts to best simulate your fitness test as well as optimize your fat burning phase of a workout.

NOTE:  Also you may notice in this three stage progression series, we did not mention kipping pull-​​ups.  You cannot kip in the military fitness tests and if you do not have a solid pull-​​up foundation, you could easily injure yourself attempting kipping pull-​​ups. 


Pull-​​ups: Part Two — Going from 1 to 10 Pull-​​ups

Little Known Hardgainer Supplement To Build Muscle

This article is part two of the three part series on Twenty Pull-​​ups for Women:

1) HOW to get your first pull-​​up,

2) Getting the USMC women’s maximum, (this article)

3) Getting the USMC maximum (20 reps).

Adding Pull-​​up Repetitions — Turning Pull-​​ups into an Endurance Exercise

After you have reached the first and toughest hurdle of this journey, this step is easy comparatively.  The pull-​​up bar rules of progression are the same as in the How to Get Your First Pull-​​up article, but now we add another step to the equation to help you build up your endurance (muscle stamina).

Two Schools of Thought — Failing at Pull-​​ups or Not – Both Work 

Some trainers teach to push your perceived limits in an exercise to be able to do more repetitions. In other words, you have to push yourself to the point of failure during your workouts several times in your workout that day.  Some will recommend doing multiple sub-​​max effort workout sets throughout the day multiple days of the week (4–5 days /​ week).  Both work and it is up to you to find what works best for you.

I am of the “train to failure” once a week school of thought. If you choose this method, you must place an extra recovery day in between future pull-​​up workouts AND not fail every set and every day you do pull-​​ups.  Pushing your max effort is essential to get to the next level, but it does not have to be done 100% of the time.  You especially do not want to do failure sets on back to back pull-​​up workout days.

NOTE – I have seen people progress nicely in pull-​​ups using many methods.  But the true similarity of success in pull-​​ups is to just practice pull-​​ups at least three days a week.

So, I recommend a combination of both methods done every OTHER day of the week and only do failing max effort sets ONCE a week with two rest days afterword.  A sample workout to get to 5–10 pull-​​ups is the following:

Monday Wednesday Saturday
Pullup Progressions Plus Weights and DumbbellsBuild your endurance with this workout.  Shoot for 50–100 total repetitions during your workout combining pullups, assisted, negatives, jumping pullups, pulldowns, Db rows, bicep curls.  Select at least 4–5 progression exercises after pullups each set to get your total pulling repetitions to reach 50–100 total reps in a workout.Rest with pushups, planks, crunches to work the core and pushing balance muscles.

Follow workout with a run or ruck distance of your choice /​ capability.

Max Rep Failure SetsRepeat 4–5 timesmax pullups plus failure of the last pullup (as soon as you cannot hang on the bar or pull yourself up – drop from the bar

-       Follow with negatives, pulldowns, rows, etc to build up your repetitions for that set.


-       Select running, squats, lunges, pushups, abs, lower back (calisthenics or weight)

Follow workout with run, ruck or swim or combination of the three options.

Pyramid Workout with Assisted Reps upon Failing to Complete Pull-​​up numbers per set:Using the PT Pyramid:  Increase your reps each set with pullups, pushups, situps/​crunches.  Always try to get the first few reps doing pullups, then resort to the next easier version of the pullup progression list until you get the reps required in each set.Follow workout with run, ruck or swim or combination of the three options.

As you can see when making the pull-​​up an endurance exercise, pull-​​down and pull-​​up assist machines are not totally useless.  They certainly have their place in a strength /​ muscle stamina training routine, as do other auxiliary exercises that work the pull-​​up muscles (back, biceps, lats, shoulders, grip, etc).  They should not be used as the primary means for working the pull-​​up movement pattern.  Strength training is good for its own sake but it should not replace exercising on a pull-​​up bar; rather, it should augment it.  Now that you are doing pull-​​up sets, finish the set with an easier version of pull-​​up to work the same movement and muscle groups for extra repetitions required to spur growth in higher repetitions.

The Exercises PLUS NEW Supplemental Exercises  (How to video description)

As discussed in Article #1 these exercises still are part of your workout.

In order of Hardest to Easiest Options: (Downward progression for max rep sets)

Do as many Pull-​​ups as you can – when you fail, resort to the next level of the progression that challenges you the most. 

Start in this order:  Follow failed pull-​​up rep with a few of the following that challenge you:

Partial ROM pull-​​ups – Try half pull-​​ups.  Half way down /​ back up.  All the way down /​ half way up.

Partner /​ Equipment Assist – Have spotter push you when needed and lower yourself without a spotter helping the downward motion.  If using a char or bench, step up to the UP position and bend your knees and control your descent for 4–5 seconds.

Jumping Pull-​​ups – Drop off the bar and try to get back to the up position by jumping /​ pulling yourself.

Pausing Negatives – Stop your downward movement for 4–5 seconds half way down

Negatives – Lower yourself off the bar slowly counting 4–5 seconds

(also demonstrated – L sit negatives, and weighted negatives)

After you have failed with the above pull-​​up set as well as the assisted, negatives, etc downward progression, continue with the next easier full range of motion exercises below:

Weighted Options and Dumbbells Added to the set after failing at Pull-​​ups plus any of the pull-​​up progressions above:

Pulldowns or Gravitron Machine – Pick a heavy weight close to your body weight and aim for 4–5 repetitions.  For the Gravitron Machine you would want to use LESS weight helping you with the pull-​​up.


DB rows – Pick a heavy weight and aim for 4–5 repetitions each arm

Bicep Curls – You can top off each pull-​​up set with a final few reps of bicep curls of moderate weight 5–10 repetitions.

As you can see these are several progression options to use each set of your workouts.  Also, do not forget to work other muscle groups while you rest your pull-​​up muscles.  Run, do squats, lunges, flutter kicks, pushups, shoulder presses, and dips in order to work the other muscle groups of the body that are required in your profession.  Don’t just focus on your pulling muscles to ace the test.  These other muscle group exercises make great “resting” exercises in between multiple pull-​​up sets and help create a well-​​rounded full-​​body workout routine.


The Avenger in You


Did I ever tell you about my dog, Loki?  Actually, I’m pretty sure I have but since the tales of my wonder-​​pup grow more profound with each passing year, she’s definitely worth mentioning again.  Loki was a fiercely loyal Siberian Husky and although small for her breed, she packed a wicked temper and a penchant for chasing all perceived foes off of our property including unsuspecting postal workers.  Much like her Norse god namesake, she was as mischievous as my siblings and I were growing up.  Our adventurous and fearless nature made us all quite a handful.  When I finally watched The Avengers movie, I was shocked to find my super dog was perhaps named for a super villain!  Whether friend or foe, superhero or super-​​villain, we all tend to be more powerful when we’re part of a team.  The same is true when it comes to pairing up super nutrients to keep you in S.H.I.E.L.D. shape.  

Pull-​​ups: Three Part Series — From Zero to Twenty Reps

Why Bodyweight Exercises Rule!

I received one of the best email responses in over a decade of writing articles on tactical fitness and fitness testing this week.  In fact, it was such a good introduction to Major Posey (USMC) that I wanted to share the story of this Marine going from zero pull-​​ups to 20 pull-​​ups!

Major Posey writes:  I read your article where you spoke about young girls not being educated physically like they should and about how this is a societal issue.  I couldn’t agree more.  I stumbled across the same information in my research for my pull-​​up paper (Duped by The Frailty Myth).  So, I definitely agree it is a socialization and educational issue.

After I wrote a basic news /​ opinion piece on the USMC delaying the pull-​​up portion of the PFT for women, I realized I needed to focus more on education and TEACH methods to improve on pull-​​ups not just argue that women can do pull-​​ups if they just do them.  With the assistance of Major Misty Posey, we are creating a three part series on

1) HOW to get your first pull-​​up, (this article)

2) Getting the USMC women’s maximum pull-​​up (8 reps), (coming soon)

3) Getting the USMC maximum pull-​​ups (20 reps). (coming soon)

Focus on the Specific Movement:  Specificity

So, we agreed to keep it simple, because the plan has to work for Marines ANYWHERE and ANYTIME.  In fact, all you need is a pull-​​up bar for the first phase of your pull-​​up journey.  We have a three-​​part plan that will focus on the specific movement of the pull-​​up exercise first.  There is NO NEED to touch a dumbbell or isolation exercise at this point.  Later in our progressions, we will add in weights, TRX options, and others when we turn the pull-​​up exercise from a strength exercise to an endurance exercise adding multiple repetitions to your first few pull-​​ups. Major Posey comments about her personal journey, “The reason I succeeded in learning the first elusive pull-​​up was because after months of struggling, I received a bit of pull-​​up training advice that worked:  Get off the assisted pull-​​up machine and onto a pull-​​up bar!”

Here is Major Posey’s personal pull-​​up development story:

When I first joined the Marine Corps, I used to stand on the backs of male Marines to get “lifted” into the start position for the flexed arm-​​hang (FAH).  I did not want to waste precious energy before the clock started for the FAH; lifting my own body weight was not a requirement, nor did I think I was capable of doing so.  A lot has changed since then.  I no longer stand on the backs of my buddies because I can now perform 20 dead-​​hang pull-​​ups (and I am not alone), yet, I do not have a “significant” physical advantage over other female Marines with respect to pull-​​up capability.  I did not play sports in high-​​school or college.  I was never a gymnast.  I only began lifting weights after I could do 20 pull-​​ups.  I am very close to the maximum weight for my height and my body fat is average.  In other words: If I can do it, any female Marine can do it.

Back to the Societal Problem:  Many women do not think they can learn to do one pull-​​up, let alone twenty.  This is because the 40-​​year old requirement for female Marines to perform the FAH created a false perception of their physical potential.  The belief that women could not perform pull-​​ups, in turn, discouraged them from even trying.  Women not trying to learn pull-​​ups subsequently made the behavior true, which reinforced the initial erroneous assumption that weakness was their natural and irreversible condition.

What makes the women who can do pull-​​ups different from those who cannot?  Most Marines don’t ask this question and dismiss these women as hard-​​charging “anomalies.”  These women are not anomalies, however.  They are simply closer to their athletic potential than other female Marines.  Although a woman performing pull-ups—let alone many repetitions—is unusual, this does not mean that a woman who is able to perform pull-​​ups is “uniquely” gifted.

 The Pull-​​Up Training Conundrum

Frequent practice is paramount and specificity is essential.  It is crucial to practice pull-​​ups to learn how to perform pull-​​ups — thus the confusion.  How can a person practice pull-​​ups when s/​he cannot perform the exercise?  The answer is to perform pull-​​up progressions on a pull-​​up bar, using the following exercises:

The Progression of Exercises to Get to Pull-​​up #1:  (see video description)

In order of Easiest to Hardest Options: Try to do a pull-​​up – when you fail, resort to the next level of the progression that challenges you the most.

Start in this order:

Pullup – try to get one /​ do a negative while on the bar.  Follow pullup non-​​rep with:

Dead hangs – Hang with shoulders flexed for as long as you can.

Negatives – Lower yourself off the bar slowly counting 4–5 seconds
(also demonstrated – L sit negatives, and weighted negatives)

Pausing Negatives – Stop your downward movement for 4–5 seconds half way down

Jumping Pull-​​ups – Drop off the bar and try to get back to the up position by jumping /​ pulling yourself.

Partial ROM pull-​​ups – Try half pullups.  Half way down /​ back up.  All the way down /​ half way up.

Partner /​ Equipment Assist – Have spotter push you when needed and lower yourself without a spotter helping the downward motion.  If using a char or bench, step up to the UP position and bend your knees and control your descent for 4–5 seconds.

Dead hangs:  The dead hang is a simple exercise that involves hanging from a bar and is a great way to develop grip strength, which is fundamental to pull-​​ups.

How to do it:  Grip an overhead bar (or rings) and hang with feet suspended from the floor with arms straight at the elbows.  Keep the shoulder blades flexed down and back and chest ‘up’ to fully engage the back muscles and to keep your arms from feeling like they are being pulled from their sockets.  Sustain the dead hang for as long as possible without losing form.  Rest and repeat. A good start-​​point is to aim for a minimum of ten-​​second holds and build up to a minute.

Negatives:  One of the best pull-​​up progression exercises is the negative.  It is a highly effective technique to train your central nervous system to learn the mechanics of a pull-​​up movement while simultaneously building strength for pull-​​ups.

How to do it:   Get yourself to the UP position using a chair, step, or partner lift and fight gravity on the way down as long as you can.  Try to count to 5–10 on the descent. Once you cannot control your descent, you are finished with the negative exercise for that set.  When you are in the “bottom” position with arms fully extended (dead hang), dismount the bar and repeat.  The idea of a negative is to make your muscles work harder by deliberately resisting gravity on the way down.

Pausing Negatives:  One variation of the negative is to pause during the decent. Pausing for a few seconds while your chin is below the bar is especially helpful in developing strength since the top position of the pull-​​up is relatively easy to hold.

How to do it:  Basically, begin the decent portion of a negative but stop and hold a flexed-​​arm position for as long as you can, then finish with a controlled negative movement.  Stop at 25%, 50%, or 75% of the pull-​​up descent—wherever you are weakest.  Practice pausing at all three positions when you get stronger.

Jumping pull-​​ups:  Jumping pull-​​ups are effective because they strengthen the nerve impulses of the exact muscles of the movement necessary for full body-​​weight pull-​​ups by using explosive pushing, jumping, and pulling strength.  Jumping pull-​​ups provide momentum with the pulling up portion of the exercise by allowing you to use your legs to defeat gravity and help propel your body to the top position.

How to do it:  Start by standing under a bar and be able to reach it by jumping from the ground.  The taller the bar, the harder the jumping pull-​​up will be; the lower the bar, the easier the jumping pull-​​up will be.  If the bar is too tall, you may “shorten” it by using a plyo-​​box or by finding a lower bar.  But in either case, you should have a sturdy platform from which to “jump off” in the execution of a jumping pull-​​up.

Once you determine the height is correct, jump upward, and grab the bar with your desired grip.  Go right into a pull-​​up without pausing, using your momentum to help you get your chin above the bar.  This is one rep.  Now, lower yourself down SLOWLY, dismount the bar, and repeat.  Controlling the descent (resisting gravity) more than normal during the lowering portion of a jumping pull-​​up is known as a “jumping negative.”

Partial Range of Motion (ROM) pull-​​ups:  A partial ROM pull-​​up is when you either do not go all the way down, or do not go all the way up, or both (anywhere from 1/​4 to 3/​4 ROM).  Even though you do not get credit on the PFT for partial ROM pull-​​ups, if you are still too weak or too heavy to perform full ROM unassisted pull-​​ups, partial ROM pull-​​ups will help get you over the hump.

How to do it:  Start by grabbing the bar with your desired grip (palms facing or away from you).  Come to a dead hang, pull yourself half way up (or as far as you can go), lower yourself, and repeat.  To do a partial ROM pull-​​up from the top position, get your chin above the bar and lower yourself half way down (or as low as you can), then pull yourself back up until your chin is above the bar, and repeat.

Partner-​​Assisted pull-​​ups:  A partner helps you with the UP portion of the pull-​​up by “spotting” you on the way up.  By spotting you, your partner allows you to practice the full ROM by reducing some of your body weight.  The concept is similar to using assistance bands or pull-​​up assist machines.  The difference is partner-​​assisted pull-​​ups more closely resemble the mechanics of a full ROM pull-​​up (if done properly).

How to do it:   Begin by pulling yourself up as far as you can go.  Your partner should wait to spot you until you have no more upward momentum.  This will help you get the most out of your workout.  Partners should provide assistance by pressing on your mid/​upper back with their hands rather than “holding your feet.”  Most trainers discourage holding the feet for the same reason they dislike the pull-​​up assist machines—holding a person’s feet provides “too much” assistance which causes you to lose form and allows you to use your legs to assist you too much. Plus, you could face plant if your grip tires and your partner is holding your feet.

Add in the Pull-​​up Progressions below as a supplemental plan to your daily workout routine:

Do pull-​​up progression exercises 4–5 times per week, spread throughout the day, using the following methods before/​after and during workouts.

Days 1 and 3
(Throughout the Day)
Day 2 and 4
(During Workouts)
Day 5 optional 
Partial ROM pull-​​ups:  1–3 reps, if possible.  Skip if unable to do and resort to the next exercise on the progression list:Partner /​ equipment assisted pull-​​ups (ie; chair): As many as you can.

Pausing Negatives:  1–3 reps.

Do this every time you walk past a pull-​​up bar, multiple times during the day.

Workout of the day should have other muscle groups like legs, pushing exercises, core, and cardio in addition to this pull-​​up progression program.

Jumping pull-​​ups /​ Jumping negatives:  As many as you can.Negatives:  1–3 reps

Dead hangs: as long as you can hold.

Perform above as the PULLING exercise during your normal weight room or PT workout.

Follow with cardio of your choice.

USMC PFT:  2 min max crunches.Pull-​​ups:  Try pull-​​up – if you fail — resort to:

Partial ROM pull-​​ups: max

Partner /​ equipment assisted pull-​​ups — 1–2 reps

3 mile timed run

Throughout the rest of the day

*Pausing Negatives:  1–2 reps — for as long as you can.

Do this every time you walk past a pull-​​up bar, multiple times during the day.

  • Do this pull-​​up progression program 4–5 days a week until you get your first pull-​​up.  Rest 2 days per week of your choice.
  • Loss of body fat (if you have body fat to lose) will also assist in your pull-​​up abilities – consider diet, full-​​body exercise, and cardio (anaerobic is especially helpful) to further aid in the attainment of your first pull-​​up.

Four Free, Quick, Fit Videos For Office, Average (GI) Joes, Moms-​​to-​​Be, and Yogis!

I’ve been busy — putting together lots of free and quick (and fun) workout videos for you and your whole family. Click on these free, super-​​quick workout videos I did for KnowMore​.TV for the best exercises to work your triceps, biceps, shoulders, upper back, lower back, pecs, glutes, thighs, low abs, obliques, quads and calves and stretch it all out. Some you can even do at your desk with exercise bands or tubing!

Are You a Captain America?

Captain America1

I consider my sister-​​in-​​law, Dana, a real sister to me.  She is kind, compassionate, fun, wonderfully opinionated and loves me unconditionally.  I always welcome her advice and recommendations and she has never steered me wrongly.  Last summer she said I must watch The Avengers movie.  What a fun ride!  It was cool to see so many of my favorite characters like Thor, Ironman, and the Hulk joining forces to fight evil.  The only challenge was that I knew nothing about Captain America.  Friday night, I finally watched the first Captain America movie and can’t wait to see the sequel that apparently was a blockbuster at this past weekend’s opener. What caught my attention was the desire this scrawny little guy had to serve his country and sacrifice for the greater good of mankind.  Fortunately, you don’t have to look too far to find those willing to raise their shields to protect our country.  From our incredible service men and women to every day difference-​​makers, we all have a little bit of Captain America in us.

Plyometrics and Vertical Jumps

Plyometrics became popular for Olympic-​​bound athletes. And many professional and elite athletes are familiar with workouts that include vertical jump training to improve their performance on the track or on the court. But you’re a soldier. Is it possible that plyometric training can provide some value for the military?

The short answer is yes. Let’s talk about what plyometrics is, and isn’t, and how you can use it to improve your performance on the battle field.

The Key to Avoiding Back Pain: It’s not What You Think

They key to the best workout plan is balance. You need just the right amount of push and pull and you need to protect your back. Avoiding back pain while working out is all about balancing the muscle groups your strengthening and stretching, and how often you are rotating those exercises.

The goal is to keep the muscles that support your back strong and flexible. And while most of us work our core, we either do too many of one type of exercise and not enough of the other (causing an imbalance that leads to back pain), or we think we are working one muscle group when we are actually working another and thus NOT getting the results we really want.

Pre-​​Training Meals: Make it Count!

There is more to bodybuilding than just pumping iron. True, resistance training will result in crucial muscle tears that are required to build muscle; however without providing your muscles a strong foundation at the most basic level you won’t get the results you desire.

Think about building anything — like a skyscaper. Wouldn’t you agree that it’s important to build that physical structure, with quality building materials all laid out on a strong foundation?. Your body requires the same kind of thought and planning. Just like a building that is intended to be around for year, it requires the best quality and best mix of nutrients. This helps to sustain your gains for the long haul and allows you to build muscle to last.

Bottom line: Nutrition is crucial for muscle growth and retention.

A New Superhero


I seem to be on a superhero kick lately, if you haven’t noticed already!  It’s hard to talk about Mighty Mouse one week without paying homage to Superman — a favorite of my family, by the way, as the image of this classic cartoon was born the same year as my dad.  On Krypton, Superman would have been just another kid growing up on a planet with a red sun.  According to his fictitious history, Superman’s kryptonian cells absorbed and metabolized the energy from our yellow sun giving him superpowers like leaping tall buildings, running faster than speeding bullet, and having more power than a locomotive.   Beyond that, he even possessed a super-​​human ability to heal, to repel earthly diseases with super-​​duper immunity, super intelligence and that cool x-​​ray vision thing.  Would it surprise you to know that you may be more super than you ever imagined?

Rucking — Calories Burned?

photo (4)

Here is a an interesting question concerning people who like to ruck for exercise as well as to keep them in tactical fighting shape. Whether the enemy is a terrorist in the mountains or a wild fire on a high desert plain, some people ruck for a living.  I have always wondered this question as well, especially when rucking is compared to normal walking or running for calorie burning numbers.  Here is the email question:

Stew, As a former 82nd Airborne Division officer/​paratrooper and current  firefighter/​paramedic, I love your workouts — thanks for all you do!  I have an app (cardio trainer) that I use to keep track of my mileage when I run or ruck. It also keeps track of calories burned but obviously it is not  the primary reason for my workouts. It is a fun motivator though. My  question is, do you know of any sort of calorie conversion for ruck marching?  The app tells me how many I burned for walking 5 miles (and I realize that is just an estimate, but I assume I burn a lot more calories carrying a 40 pound ruck the same distance. It would just be fun  to know how many?  

Great question and thanks!  I do not know the weighted walk conversions BUT I would guess it would be similar to if you weighed an extra 40 lbs you would burn more calories.  As you know a 250 lbs person burns more calories walking than a 200 lbs person.

Walking at 4mph with /​ without weight

I just went to a calorie calculator online and did a 60 min walk at 4 miles per hour for my weight of 200lbs — I burn 468 calories.  With 50lb pack I would weigh 250lbs and I would burn 585 calories for the same pace.

So it looks like you can add in 100–150 calories by adding a 40–50 lb back pack to a 4 mph walk.

Jogging at 5 mph with and without weight 

Since walking with a ruck at 4mph is the bare minimum standards for military rucking — here is a good test if you put out a little more.  Try 5mph or a 12 min mile with 40lbs.  Still not blazing fast but a better indicator of effort with /​ without a ruck.
If you input a 60 min jog at 5 miles per hour for a weight of 200lbs — I burn 768 calories.  With 50lb pack I would weigh 250lbs and I would burn 960 calories for the same pace.

So it looks like you can add in 100–200 calories by adding a 40–50 lb back pack to a fast walk/​jog depending on your weight and pace.

Backpacking Pace

Now there is a calorie burning standard for backpacking, which is typically a weighted stroll at a much slower pace of 1–2 mph.  At my weight of 200 lbs, I burned 670 calories “backpacking” and 840 calories burned if I place an extra 50lbs on me.   So — yes it makes sense that you would burn more calories by either going faster than “backpacking pace” which I would average out at 4–5 mph as well as when you are carrying even more weight in a ruck.

So a precise answer is tough as this is a bit all over the place. I think a safe calorie estimate for rucking with 40-​​50lbs is to add 40 — 50% to what a walking /​ jogging calorie burn would be at that pace.  So if you are burning 450 calories just walking at 4mph, then you would add 180–225 calories to that number of 450 and get roughly 630 — 675 calories burned an hour with rucking.

Calculator Source: http://​www​.healthstatus​.com/​p​e​r​l​/​c​a​l​c​u​l​a​t​o​r​.​cgi

Can CLA Save the Day?


I’ve never been a big TV watcher, but admit that it has become a habit over the years to turn on a television when I enter a room.   Frankly, I have no idea why I even bothered with the barrage of talking heads and screaming infomercials.  As technology has advanced, my entertainment preferences have kept pace.  With our AppleTV box and Netflix account, Mark and I shun conventional television programing for a huge variety of commercial-​​free options.  It made me realize how far we’ve come in such a short period of time. Back in the early 1940’s when film & television were still in their infancy, going to the movies was one of the few entertainment options for most Americans.  Enter Mighty Mouse.  Originally created as a parody to Superman, Mighty Mouse quickly achieved iconic status as an intrepid hero of the common man.  When evil advanced, Mighty Mouse was quick to answer the call, “Here I come to save the day!”  Could there be a mighty hero to help your weight loss efforts as well? 

Coast Guard Diver Rating Created


Coast Guard divers have been performing hundreds of diving missions each year for decades around the world in support of the multiple maritime missions of the Coast Guard.  Now, starting this year (2014), the Coast Guard created the Diver (DV) rating for qualified enlisted members.  Until now, divers in the Coast Guard had different rating professions and diving was a collateral duty.

Who can Apply for Coast Guard Diver?

The Dive Lockers are looking for experienced Coast Guard personnel.  You must be a qualified E-​​5 in the Coast Guard to transfer to the DV rating.   Also, other service member military divers from E-​​4 to CWO-​​4 can qualify for lateral transfers into the Coast Guard starting in 2015.   The “A” school for the DV rating is the  Naval Diving and Salvage Training Center in Panama City, FL.  The career pipeline for the CG Diver will start as successfully graduating from 2nd class Dive School as an E-​​5.  Upon further competency based promotion criteria, the CG Diver will attend 1st Class Diver school as an E-​​6/​E-​​7.  As an E-​​8 or above, talented personnel can become Master Diver qualified.

What do Coast Guard Divers Do?

Today, they sweep ports and waterways during coastal security missions; conduct salvage and recovery operations; inspect Coast Guard cutter hulls; survey coral reefs and environmental sensitive areas; repair, maintain and place of aids to navigation; conduct polar operations as well as conduct joint operations with United States and international military divers. — See more at:  Coast Guard Compass - Source

Making it TO and THROUGH Training


Many people confuse the training programs groups like active duty Special Ops perform to maintain their fitness levels for the demands of the profession with how they prepare for challenging schools like BUD/​S, SFAS /​ SFQC, and PJ training to name a few.

Here is a question to better describe a very common issue with candidate training program selection:

Stew, I have been watching some Youtube videos showing active duty special ops guys working out like SEALs, Rangers, SF, and others.  They are huge and lifting very heavy weights so I have been lifting more and doing less cardio.  Is this OK?  I am preparing for BUD/​S for the next year and trying to gain some muscle mass.

The short answer to your question is YES.  This is fine.   But you want to arrange the workouts where you decrease your cardio /​ increase your weight training so you cycle through this type of training for 6–8 weeks — maybe 12 weeks if you have a year to train.  Where some special ops candidates make mistakes is they fail to drop the heavy weights and switch to higher repetition calisthenics to help with muscle stamina, and they fail to get good and running, rucking, and swimming at fast /​ high miles per week.  Many people have said, including myself, that they never once wished they had lifted more weights at BUDS — they wished they had run more or had swum more with fins.

For the past 15 years, I have been teaching /​ performing personally a winter weight lifting cycle that reduces repetitions and running distances to give the joints a recovery period from high reps and impact miles.  However, for BUD/​S candidates I recommend this is a great time to add in a progressive swimming with fins cycle for extra cardio work.  Add rucking in as well if your branch of service training specifically tests that skill too.   See related article about how to incorporate periodization though the year.

Making it TO training programs requires you to specifically train for a fitness test.  This has been where I have been specializing for over 15 years now.  Preparing people for tactical professions:

1runptPRE Training — Acing the fitness test /​ building a foundation of fitness so your body can handle the actual training (BUD/​S, SF, PJ, Fire, Police academies is the specific focus on training you must have.  This process can take 1–2 years depending on your starting fitness level or as little as 4–6 months depending on your athletic history.  Regardless, you do not want to go to ANY training program without having reaching near the maximum standards of the fitness requirements.  Otherwise, the likelihood of injury, failure, other delays are certain.  You have to “train for the training”.


Tactical Fitness and Special Ops Training

Prepare for the Duration - Specificity is ALSO required to get THROUGH the training after you have focused much of your exercise on making it TO the training.  If your training program requires graded 4 mile timed runs, 2 mile ocean swims, long runs and rucks, hundreds of reps of calisthenics (pushups, pullups, dips, squats, flutterkicks) several times a week, you need to practice those events and get your run /​ swim /​ ruck mile pace down to an acceptable level to insure success.


UTMlPics-190POST Training —  After the shock of Special Ops Selections, Training, other bootcamps, and acadmies, you have to now focus on the demands of the profession — both tactically and physically.  This is where the Teams, Ranger Battalions, and SF groups have advanced their programming by hiring actual strength /​ conditioning scientists /​ coaches to create functional programs /​ testing criteria to help make a better operator.  There are many elements to consider to creating, building, and maintaining a Special Operator foundation of tactical fitness:

- The constant needs of high repetition calisthenics, long miles of run, ruck, or swimming (or all the above) are decreased — now focus on speed, agility, balance, flexibility, strength, power, endurance, muscle stamina.

- This requires a series of training cycles to progress in each of these elements of the tactical athlete. Periodization is critical to the health and longevity of any athlete as the sports athlete has the luxury of pre-​​season, in-​​season maintenance, post-​​season recovery programming.  There is no off-​​season for the tactical athlete.

- TACTICAL athletes have to get more creative to adjust the workouts so they can actively pursue recovery even during times of interrupted sleeping patterns, fast /​ ineffective nutrition options.

- Recovery from stress is the key.   There has to be down times in your training cycles even if that recovery period is just moments of deep breathing /​ relaxing prior to sleep or cat-​​naps.  Learn how to adjust workouts to fit your seasonal demands of the profession creating programs so peaking and recovering are logical progressions for you.

Training hard for these programs is how to prepare obviously, but understanding the differences of the training required to ace the “entrance exam” or PFT /​ PST /​ PRTs depending on your branch of service to get TO the training is critical to your success.  The training required and fitness foundation needed to make it THROUGH the training will build off of the PFT scores and should advance with the specifics of the training required (PT, run, ruck, swim, logs, boats, etc).  Finally, the training you will need to perform the actual job of the tactical operator will differ tremendously and it should take you back to the days of sports training where you focused on speed, agility, balance, flexibility, strength, power, endurance, muscle stamina that helps you perform a specific skill at your optimal level.

PS:  Here is a related audio interview I did recently much about this subject:  AUDIO File


The Great Debate


Given my Italian and Lebanese ancestry, I’m convinced I have bread and pasta flowing through by veins. From fresh breadsticks and pizza crusts to large flat breads, there was always a wholesome, delicious wheat treat available no matter which grandparents’ home we visited.  In fact, I never even knew white bread existed until I sat in a lunchroom at school and saw my Midwestern classmates role their doughy, lilly-​​white slices into chewy, starchy morsels.  It was no surprise that on every grocery store trip, my mom had four children pining for a loaf of Wonder Bread so we could be just like all the other kids at school.  Thankfully, she resisted our pleas.  Whatever you experienced growing up, there’s value in delving deeper into the great grain debate.

Tactical Fitness Ideas — Why Think and Exercise?


Stew, I recently heard you talk about adding thinking games into your workouts.  What do you mean?  How is that helpful to me being a better SWAT operator?   John

Being able to think while stressed is a trait all tactical operators (military, special ops, police, fire, EMS) all need to be able to do their jobs.  I have been experimenting with workouts over the years and realized that by training the brain to think while physically tired /​ stressed can help you when life or death situations occur.  This can be a simple pyramid workout where you have to do math during your workout or more advanced workouts where you have to get creative and think your way through them.  Of course, you also need the required tactical training to help perform your job, but when things are not stressful in “real life” you can simulate it in training and even your workouts.

For instance:  Here is a simple calisthenic pyramid that requires little or no equipment and can be done on a field with a set of monkey bars or pullup bars.   Calisthenics also can be a “gym free” workout routine and successful mix upper body (push /​ pull) with legs, abs, and fullbody movements – for instance:

Pullup /​ Burpee pyramid: 

Do 1 pullup — Run 20yd – do 1 burpee – run 20yds back to pullup bar
Do 2 pullups – run 20 yds – do 2 burpees – run 20yds back to pullup bar
continue until you fail…however – every FIVE sets you have to change your method of moving to /​ from pullup bar /​ burpee area.  For sets 6–10 add in lunges, fireman carries (with partner), farmer walks with heavy DB or KB or sand bag, bear crawls, low crawls, etc…
Once you reach set 10 – repeat in reverse order changing the method of to/​from every set.  There are many options of travel to and from your pullup area — so get creative and see what you can develop when the glycogen levels are low and the brain wants to stop working optimally.

This workout tires you physically but still requires you to think creatively and cognitively (math /​ numbers).  Why is this important?  Well in the Tactical Ops world where you are tired, hungry and stressed out – having the ability to still think is a skill that can be enhanced by adding these type of events to your day.

Why Burpee?  You can also do this with 8 Count Pushups – The “Burpee” and 8 count pushup are fullbody calisthenics exercises made popular recently.  They are tough and work everything just about:  chest, shoulders, triceps, hips, thigh, calves, core.  This is actually a very old exercise done on football /​ soccer fields for decades now brought to the gym floor.  We used to call them “Green Bays” or “whistle drill” on the football field in the 80’s.

You can get creative and add other exercises especially when travelling to and from the pullup /​ burpee area.  Does your brain work when tired?  Give this one a try or check out the standards PT Pyramid (pullups x 1, pushups x 2, situps x 5).

All Eyes on You


I have a unique problem in my home office, especially as I write this article.  You see, the sun is brilliant today, casting abundant light all over my house and yard.  The only challenge is that we are still heavily snow-​​packed around here so the sun’s intensity is magnified by the white blanket of snow in my backyard.  The reflection is so blinding that I’ve reluctantly had to close the shades so I can see the keyboard.  Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining.  I’d rather have the challenge of a sunny day over the dreariness of an overcast sky.  It just made me realize how fortunate I am to have clear vision and healthy eyes.  Eye health, for many, is often taken for granted until something threatens our vision.   Maybe it’s time we put the focus on our eyes so they can return the favor.

Improve The Move — Treadmill Edition


Sometimes winter is just too cold to workout outside, so instead of skipping it, sweat in the warmth– inside on the treadmill!

Too boring, you say? I have the antidode: “Improve the Move” with action on the machine. Print out this “running map,” and follow along. The bonus: changing it up makes the time fly and the calories fly away!

Mix TRX with PT, Weights, Kettlebells


Every now and then, I get motivated by a workout week that I created.  This week I created a program that is centered around suspension training, but each day has a combination specialty that challenges you in a variety of ways.  You need variety to your workouts, but make sure the workouts you select are still specifically developed so you will still reach your goals.  Whether the goals are weight loss, military service, special ops preparation, or law enforcement, adding suspension training can enhance your overall workout experience.  Below are some fun and challenging sample workouts recently tested by our group: