Recently, I got into a textual pissing match with young (in-)subordinate corporal of mine. The young man claimed that his workout ‘routine’ was ‘better’. However, to my chagrin, he simply did not know what he was talking about. He had been on an injured medical category for over a year and lacks the qualifications and experience to conduct physical training to troops. Taking a step back and looking at the big picture allowed me to analyze his arguments and his thoughts based on his exercise doctrine or should I say lack thereof. Some top-down definitions are needed first:
Doctrine – A system of underlying, universal principles and a belief system that allows you to craft strategic training methods towards a particular and realistic goal (success).
Strategy – A broad plan with objectives that is in line with objectives and beliefs.
Tactics – Specific methods and programs.
Techniques – The mechanical application of tactics, the exercises themselves.
I have taken a page from spec ops trainer, Scott Sonnon, to illustrate an example in the form of martial art.
“Tae Kwon Do
Doctrine: legs, butts are the longest and strongest parts of the human body
Strategy: deep strong stances, kicks deliver greatest amount of potential damage to opponent
Tactics: linear attacks aligning lower bodily joints at maximum chamber delivery
Techniques: side piercing kick, roundhouse, heel hook”
Applying the universal framework above, I can now explicitly state to you the crux of my website and hence, its name — Tactical, as it pertains to soldiering. I am here to show you my findings for the last 13+ years of physical culture in preparing a soldier for war—not necessarily bodybuilding, muscular hypertrophy or looking nice with a physique. But to maintain one’s health (neuro-muscular, joint, endocrine/hormonal, etc.) for performance, which is to ultimately fight in war. Being fit is not necessarily the same as being healthy as I said in my welcome post and about me page.
My Doctrine –> Strategies –> Tactics –> Techniques. I’m always refining and improving it.
Doctrine: a. Tactical operators must have the necessary mobility, strength and health to perform their duties on and off the battlefield. The said operator is often exposed to high levels of duress, combat multipliers and must quickly accelerate from an idle state to full-blown chaos.
b. Tactical responders often carry pre-existing injuries when entering fitness programs. Conventional fitness training programs are not aptly aimed to prepare the operator for the field, e.g., energy systems, movements. Conventional programs often and eventually lead to injuries or burnout and/or exacerbate pre-existing ones. This prevents the tactical operator from enjoying quality-of-life during and post-service.
Strategies: A soldier needs to learn to contract his muscles selectively due to stress, fatigue, lack of sleep, etc. The tactical operator needs to focus only on select bodyweight, kettlebell, barbell drills, as well, as other implements to build maximal + endurance strength. Plus, the necessary conditioning to absorb the hormonal-chemical dump in the bloodstream in order to maintain access to motor and cognitive skills. Joint mobility forms the foundation for physical exercise and promotes the health of the tactical operator. Programs must be relatively intense, brief and cycled without interfering with skill training.
Tactics: Use of joint mobility to heal the joints from head-to-toe and for injury-proofing, warming up, adopting various stances and maintaining nervous system readiness. Soldiers should employ whole-body, low rep (3-5 reps), high tension exercises for maximal strength and high rep ballistics for operant conditioning. Going to muscle failure is counter-productive. As well, soldiers require soft-tissue release and specialized breathing to calm the nervous system down or to prime it for engagements. The emphasis is on form and technique to ensure safety and strength, not merely plowing through an exercise. According to spec ops trainer, Pavel Tsatsouline, “Strength is a skill”.
Techniques: heavy kettlebell lifts, Turkish get-ups, handstand push-ups, one-legged squats, one-armed pushups, high-rep kettlebell swings, snatches, barbell powerlifts, etc. As well, as joint mobility, stretching and other forms of soft tissue release (foam rolling, self-vibration), breathing drills, etc.
Training a soldier is not the same as training a (professional) athlete. Athletes are sport specialists who often receive the best in the following categories, whereas, a soldier can only be described in the following manner by spec ops, Nate Morrison –
- Pay & Benefits: Low to moderate with benefits
- Medical Care: Poor to moderate
- Facilities: None to moderate
- Coaching: None to poor
- Programming: None to poor
- Sleep: Often low sleep, sometimes none at all
- Nutrition: Horrible to good, often field rations
- Mission specificity: Anything it takes to win
Furthermore, the soldier is a physical generalist who must perform the following activities for duration and distance:
- Climbing, surmounting, traversing
- Throwing and vaulting
- Balancing and falling
- Rucksack marching
Back to the Young Corporal
Soldiers cannot afford to be sore, burnout or injured. Yet, everyday I encounter someone in uniform with bad knees, hips, elbows, etc. because they simply wanted to be ‘hardcore’. In The Warrior Diet by Ori Hofmekler, the said author mentions of former olympians and soldiers who burnt themselves out in their prime and became out-of-shape in their later years – shadows of their former selves.
You cannot consistently go high intensity all the time. “Their [sic] would be consistency if I had time”. I would argue that it isn’t a lack of time on his part, per se, but his inconsistency is the result of soreness and burnout in doing just one of his workouts. His program is inconsistent, unsustainable for long-term health and longevity. Programs need to be cycled. “You have the time to do pussy workout. Go on the elliptical for an hour. Do tire flips. Then do some jump rope along with power lifts and sledge hammers. If you can do it without puking come through”.
The young man is not well-versed in program design. His ‘routine’ is a collection of randomized exercises (ingredients) with no cohesive program (recipe). He is easily seduced by the ‘hardcore’ mentality of so-called toughmen. You see anyone can come up with a ‘hardcore’ program in five minutes to “beast” yourself with various exercises. However, know that vomiting is the body’s way discharging of excess bio-chemicals. Your body doesn’t adapt to this chemical discharge and you gain no benefits from it.
Elliptical for an hour — works the oxidative system and presumingly done to pre-exhaust himself. There are much better ways to ‘warm-up’ and his lack of a joint mobility program will compound the stress of pounding on his knees, hips.
Tire flips — explosive endurance done for time/distance, undoubtedly. I am unsure about the weight.
Jump rope with powerlifts and sledgehammers — True powerlifts are meant to be done with low reps and much rest. This isn’t true powerlifting if he’s exhausting himself in between sets with sledgehammer work.
Furthermore, what exactly is he training for exactly? Physique? To prove something to himself (ego, thanks to his salty language) ? Or is he the byproduct of popular physical culture’s trend towards ‘functional training’ ? He claims with his workouts, he just keeps ‘gaining’ muscularly-speaking. Fool’s gold. One day, maybe not today. Maybe not tomorrow, but the young man is going to eat his own words in the form of an injury again and his ‘gains’ will be for nothing.
He then accused me (not shown) of emphasizing form and technique in my kettlebell swings. Form and technique must be emphasized, otherwise, you are creating and adapting to dysfunction in the body, e.g. lift with a rounded back, you will get back pain.”Strength is a skill”. Again, no mention of joint mobility work, work-capacity specificity, cycling or cool-downs/active recovery. My conclusion: not sustainable and bad for your heart, joints and body.
Does this workout sound familiar? See the Sean Sherk workout video. UFC commentator, Joe Rogan initially praised former UFC champion, Sean Sherk’s workouts until he destroyed his body. Only after Sherk pulled out of several highly publicized fights due to injury over the years, did Rogan recant his statements live on-air. I remember hearing Rogan’s words during a pay-per-view. This isn’t a denigration of Sherk (he’s actually one of my favourite all-time fighters). However, we must look beyond the glossy and seductive glamour of TV production and of such training methods alone. We must include recovery and cycling.
I’ve seen old, crusty warrant officers who can’t run anymore because they were jumping out of trucks back in their youth. Now, they look like hobbling vultures during PT group runs. The best workout is the one that you can do consistently. Injuries will eventually catch up with you and hamper your progress if you don’t plan and compensate for it through recovery. If you train to look good or to be functionally fit, your health will reflect it if you put it first. Otherwise, your ‘gains’ will be a thing of the past.
You can read part two on maximal strength and how it benefits soldiers and civilians alike.
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