Every so often I get an email from a future Special Ops student who is preparing for the challenges of some of the toughest training programs in the world (SEALs, Special Forces, AFPJ/CCT, RECON / MarSOC and foreign groups for SAS, SBS, and the Foreign Legion):
Here is the question: Stew, I have been training pretty hard mixing in weights, calisthenics, running, swimming, and a few non-impact cardio options for additional heart / lungs work. I find myself not keeping up with others in the group or even meeting max repetition / faster times standards in the PST. I am feeling pretty discouraged with the workouts but I stay motivated to train with my buddies. Any advice?
There is nothing wrong with not meeting maximum standards as we all have to start somewhere. Besides, I have never seen any Spec Ops PT stud start off at the max rep / fastest times level. It is all about progressing. As long as you are getting stronger, faster, able to recover from previous workouts, you are doing it right. See the overtraining articles just in case you maybe pushing too hard for your current fitness level. Motivation through these times of growth is critical. SELF MOTIVATION! It is no one’s job but yours to motivate yourself to train and put in the time. There are many reasons why people do not make it through training and getting back up after getting knocked down is a critical skill. Call is Resilience, Mental Toughness, Stubbornness — whatever it is — you have to have it. You get this by Never Giving Up!
Here is an article from a friend of mine after having this discussion at a conference a few weeks ago on nutrition for military, police, fire fighters — our tactical athletes. The need for more carbs for highly active people but it goes deeper than that:
Nutrition and the Tactical Athlete
As a firefighter understands fire, the warrior must understand war. Maintaining combat effectiveness via proper training and nutrition is a big part of this.
Nutrition is the one factor affecting each person multiple times per day and therefore has the greatest impact on a person’s overall health and fitness level. Scientists agree that 70+% of diseases known to man are caused by lifestyle factors and many can be treated via lifestyle changes. Nutrition being the number one approach.
For the tactical / endurance athlete this fact does not change. Being fit does not mean being healthy and the level of proper nutrition should address both of these factors.
The level of combat readiness literally translates into life and death. This fact makes the tactical athlete an extreme endurance athlete. Long hours of high stress from limited sleep, MRE’s and massive physical demands provide very unique nutritional demands.
Combat is high stress. The modern day tactical athlete often operates night and day for months without rest. This massive amount of stress not only results in mental breakdown leading to PTSD but also physical breakdown leading to physical injury and less combat effectiveness. This high stress results in elevated cortisol levels. Elevated cortisol causes 3 main problems in the warrior. One, lowered immune functions thus making the warrior more susceptible to illness, two, protein breakdown from muscle to keep blood sugar steady which leads weakness and to number three, increased body fat.
The three issues can be offset with proper nutrition in the field. For years ultra-endurance athletes have developed techniques and products for maintaining endurance days on end during a race. Polysaccharide gels, powders and liquids aimed at keeping blood sugar levels steady along with hydration and electrolyte balance are the key. A tactical athlete must maintain steady blood sugar, water and electrolyte balance. MRE’s do not do this and often have the reverse effect of maintaining combat readiness.
How does a tactical athlete maintain steady blood sugar? First, start by figuring your personal caloric needs. Google is full of BMR calculators. Second, plan to eat 65–70% of your diet from a polysaccharide source. (whole grains, sweet potatoes, brown rice, beans). Third, calculate your caloric intake of starchy carbs. 1 gram of carbs is 4 calories. Finally, use an online resource to calculate the carbohydrate intake from your food.
Example: BMR = 2000cals per day. Add 600 calories per day for moderate activity levels = 2600 calories per day consumed. 2600 x .65% of carbohydrate = 1690 calories from starchy sources. Each gram is 4 calories, 1690 / 4 = 423 grams of carbohydrate consumed per day. Finally to calculate how much carbohydrate is in the food you eat I suggest the online resource myfitnesspal.com.
There is much more to understand regarding nutrition. But, much like a firefighter studies and understands fire those whom wish to become or are tactical athletes must study and understand nutrition. We will further expand on this topic in the next edition.
Dr. Stephen Erle is the training director for the civilian BUD/s program, SEAL Training Adventures, as well as the Strength and Conditioning Coach and team physician for a Virginia University. In addition Dr. Erle instructs tactical athletics, sports medicine, sports nutrition and tactical combat casualty care medicine (TCCC). He can be reached for comment at Steve@SEALTrainingAdventures.com.
Here is an email from a security officer I have known for a few years who primarily does personal security details nearly everyday of the week.
Stew, I am trying to get back into workouts but with 18–20 hour travelling security details, I barely have time to sleep before I am up again preparing for the next day. This last month has been brutal with travel, daily security details, and eating like crap. I am ready to turn this around and start working out hard again. What do you recommend and where should I start?
Have you ever heard the phrase, ” Your nerves are shot?” Basically you are over stressed and need to focus on the basics right now. Truly though, your central nervous system takes a beating when you are not sleeping well and having long stressful work days which can negatively impact your personal life (thus more stress), and not eating right.
Hey Stew, I am working on a project and was curious what your opinion on today’s warrior and Special Ops fitness and which training disciplines best achieve this?
Great question! Over the past decade Special Ops Fitness has morphed into a new fitness genre along with military, police, and fire fighter fitness called Tactical Fitness. In fact, the National Strength and Conditioning Association has created the Tactical Strength and Conditioning Certification Program and hold some of the best conferences I have ever been to. Speakers include those physiologists and athletic trainers who train active duty Special Ops Team such as Delta Force and SEAL Team Six. But the real progress in training is in the Army, Marines, Navy, Air Force, FBI, Border Patrol, and other federal law enforcement programs. Now many of our nation’s branches of service are hiring sports team trainers to run their indoctrination (boot camp), special operations maintenance and injury / rehabilitation programs for instance.
Good questions with answers below…
(1) How long is a workout? Should it be a half-hour or a full hour?
Depends on your goals and current fitness level. 30 min is great for a beginner / maintenance plan or high intense workout. 60+ min is needed for longer events like marathons, triathlons, spec ops training, but fine for a body building workout. Like I said — all depends…
Mine are usually 2–3 hours long full of calisthenics, running, swimming mix in the summer and shorter with weights and light cardio in the winter — see how
Here is an interesting discussion topic on the Paleo Diet. Many love it — some hate it. Decide for yourself…
Over the past few years, I have been asked about the Paleo Diet Plan. Having not tried it myself and only reading reviews by critics and previews from the authors, I did not have enough information to make a good judgment on the Paleo Plan. After researching information for a recent article on Health Screenings for Military.com, I met with several doctors and the author of The Paleo Solution, Robb Wolf and have found the Paleo Diet to be a viable solution for many people (typical Americans) but it may not be for everybody. This article gives some of the PROs and CONs of the Paleo Diet.
Here is an email from an active duty airman who is training / trying out for the AF Para-rescue program (AFPJ). He is having issues with his running portion of the PAST which is arranged after the 500m swim.
I have been doing PAST workouts for several weeks. So far, I have done a practice PAST every Monday for the Past 4 weeks, today being the fourth one, and the running seems to kill me every time. The scheduled PAST that I have officially coming up is during the last week of March, somewhere between March 25–29.
It could be your transition or you need a better recovery program. Can you run well normally without the swim first? Perhaps you need to train for your transitions and do more swim — runs and read:
There are many military related fitness events these days. The GoRuck programs teach valuable lessons such as team work, persistence, and require a never quit attitude pulled from an untapped reservoir of your own mental toughness. These can be great schools for your own personal growth, a corporate team building exercise, or actual Special Ops preparation. The GoRuck Challenge (www.goruckchallenge.com) is one of those events taught by former Army Special Forces soldiers than can teach you to engage your mental toughness through a challenging 10–12 hour event. The cadre have performed hundreds of these 10–12 hour Challenges all over the world. The highly professional cadre let you see a city like you never imagined! Now there are other options for you to progress no matter what fitness level you are:
Go Ruck Light, Go Ruck Challenge, Go Ruck Selection, Go Ruck Heavy. Each progress logically
This is article 3 of the 3 part series of Health Screening 101. The first two articles in the series of Health Screening 101 are the following:
In this article, we will discuss the changes in his Health Screening Test after four months of following a Low Carb / Paleo diet, an exercise program, and a statin drug.
Previous Article in the Series: Health Screening 101: Blood Testing (Part 1)
In this article, we will discuss the recommended courses of action to obtain healthy screening numbers posed to us by an officer with recent blood screening questions. The goal of the recommendations below is to turn the subject’s next blood test into fewer RED LIGHTS and eventually ALL GREEN LIGHTS.
Exercise, Diet, & Medication Recommendations
An exercise program should help you burn the glucose from your body as well as reduce your fat stores. To effectively do both, it is recommended that you start off your workout with resistance training (weight training or calisthenics) for 20–30 minutes to burn your blood sugar (glucose) and glycogen first. The higher your heart rate the more sugar you are using for energy. This is anaerobic training which requires your body to burn glycogen in order produce energy for the challenging demands of this high intensity exercise. Follow your anaerobic training with an easy paced, “fat burning”, aerobic training program like walking, jogging, biking, swimming at a pace that you can still hold a conversation but just barely. See below for a sample full body workout with cardio program:
Health Screening 101: Blood Testing (Part 1)
Without a better understanding of Health Screening Tests, looking at blood screening paperwork can be both overwhelming as well as invoke attitudes of apathy for borderline healthy / unhealthy numbers. Here is an email from an officer who is 33 years old who admits he needs to lose a few pounds, but is concerned with his recent blood work numbers:
Stew, I know you are not a doctor, but can you give me your opinion on these numbers? The left column is my most recent numbers from last week (Nov 2012) and the numbers on the right are the ranges I should be in to be considered healthy. I know I need to eat better, exercise, and get more sleep, but where do I start? Should I be overly-concerned and start taking medication to deal with this?
Wow, great question. I too get overwhelmed when I look at all the different blood test elements and ranges when some are good, bad, or borderline. And, yes, I am not a doctor, but I know several and have interviewed them to help me write this response to your questions. But to help demonstrate where you need to focus, we are going to use the TRAFFIC LIGHT System created by Specialty Health in Reno NV, to help drive home the importance and understanding of these scores as everyone thoroughly understands the standard traffic light:
A question posted about the training of the Tactical Athlete this week sparked some debate and with the help of Dr. Steve Erle, we came up with a very thorough answer. Nutrition will be addressed in a following post:
THE TACTICAL ATHLETE: How specifically does a tactical athlete train?
Here are some specifics on the physiology of training, example tactical specific exercises, and design of a tactical athletic program.
The tactical specific program is going to revolve around high capacity for muscular endurance, cardiovascular endurance and elevated cognitive function under high stress, elevated heart rates and often depleted nutrients.
Here is a good question about performing at a maximum level on fitness testing. As with weight training, you do not want to do daily high repetition calisthenics on the same muscle groups. In fact, when you push the limits of 500‑1000 reps in a workout, you could still be pushing it too much still. See what young hard charger says:
Stew, I used to do 1000 pushups a day and built up to 80 pushups in two minutes. After reading your article on Stop Doing Daily PT I dropped to 1000 pushups every OTHER day. I am doing well with everything else (pullups, situps, run, and swim) but cannot get over 100 pushups on the PST? What gives?
Your problem is pretty common actually. Even though your volume of pushups is very high, you would think that 100 reps in a two minute period is going to happen sooner than you think. Well, this increase is tough. It is like dropping from a 7 minute mile pace to a 6 minute mile pace. It takes time AND practice with two minute pushups tests. Also in the Navy SEAL / SWCC, EOD Physical Screening Test (PST) you have to swim 500 yards first, so when you do your pushup sets you should mix it with swimming. For instance do Swim / PT like this:
Most everyone has heard about the Spartan 300 Workout developed for the actors in the movie 300 by the Gym Jones folks. If you have not seen this or tried it, be warned it is pretty advanced, but you can make your own variations with some creativity as the core of this workout is fantastic.
The 300 is designed like this: Six exercises for 50 reps of each = 300 total reps. Now the original 300 is this specific series of exercises:
Here is a very common email received from a young man seeking to join a local police academy. He has to pass his PFT in two weeks:
Stew, I have about two weeks until I need to pass my fitness test that will allow me to join the County Police Academy. I need to increase my bench press by 40 lbs and drop my 1.5 mile run time by two minutes. What plan do you have or advice do you have for me?
Wow, I have to be honest, I am not sure there is ANY program out there that will allow for that kind of progress on what I am assuming reaching the minimum standards at best. So you are likely not at all ready to push yourself at these levels yet. Simply put — you need more time. Depending on your current fitness level you might be able to get those goals in two months.
Here is an article written by a friend of mine who understands common overuse injuries with athletes as well as special operations training programs with regard to knee tendonitis that can shatter a military person’s Special Ops dreams. Learn how to strengthen the legs / hips to help prevent nagging injuries such as Illiotibial Band (ITB) and add some lateral leg movements to your training.
The most common complaint of pain for a BUD/s candidate it pain stemming from the Iliotibial Band (ITB, or I Tried BUDs). The ITB starts at the crest of the pelvis above the hip joint and runs to the outside of the knee. Attached to the ITB are the Gluteus Medius, Quadriceps and Hamstring muscles. Common issues with the ITB lead to lateral knee, hip and low back pain. A common issue with tight quads is pain under the knee cap and tight hams often lead to low back pain.
This week, a random group of questions crossed my inbox from our Allies from across the pond and I thought it would make a good discussion on the Fitness Blog. I look forward to hearing people’s experiences with this topic on both sides: the Young vs the Old. Here is the first question / topic:
1) At what age does the average man reach his full physical strength and fitness like agility,speed,stamina, strength etc? You can give me a range of age.
There is some research out there on this topic as well as evidence that men peak later in life physically than one might think. Just look at the ages of the fastest times in marathons, triathlons, Olympic weight lifting etc…for the fastest times and strongest lifters.
Here is an email from a veteran who has gotten out of Army shape after he retired a few years ago and now he wants to get back to where he used to be this year.
Stew, Love your work. I retired after 22 years in 2010 and have gained about 10 lbs a year since then. I need to get moving more but do not want to just jump back into what I used to do with this extra weight. What do you recommend as I want to be Army Strong in 2013! ~ John
John, your issue is not much different than many others. As we age, we continue to eat the same way we did in our 20’s and do much less activity. But you are right, start off easy and lay off the hard impact exercises like running and rucking until you drop these extra 20–30 lbs.
A review by Stew Smith CSCS
Combat Fat for Kids is my favorite workout book for kids written by long time friend and exceptional trainer and fitness author James Villepigue. This one appealed to me not only as a father of active kids, but as an elementary school track coach. I loved this book as it offers a tool for parents to get their children more active, eating right, and most importantly — having FUN doing it.
With recent news of the military releasing service members for being overweight / obese and failing fitness standards, it comes as no surprise that as America grows in girth so does our military. In the past year, the military has released more soldiers at the highest rates in history (1600+). Having been in the military fitness writing business for over a decade and served in the 1990’s, this problem is not new. It is not a military problem — it is a NATIONAL problem of strategic importance, as evidenced in an article written several years ago: Troops Too Fat
Not only are active duty / reserve members getting kicked out for failing fitness and body fat standards, but for the first time in history the number one reason for recruits not being able to join the military is failing height / weight and body fat standards. A recruits being overweight / obese is greater than a recruit failing to meet the high school education, criminal record, and medical standards. In fact, more than 50% of the requests I get as a fitness writer are from young men and women seeking a plan to lose weight (at least 30–50 lbs) in order to join the military. Just to give you an idea of what body fat percentage standards are getting people kicked out of the service, see the Men and Women’s Body Fat percentages below: