As mentioned, strength (low, heavy reps done while fresh) should be the primary focus and foundation of your physical training. Continuous long-distance running pounds the joints in my experience and leads to pain over the years. Plus, there’s evidence that long-distance cardio weakens your heart after running a certain amount of minutes. Cardio is best done in my experience, after a strength practice, whether it be in a single session or the day after. Conversely, it should be fairly brief and intense to spare your joints and to strengthen your heart. Below are 3 tactical programs to get your started:
- Total Strength & Conditioning Package that gives equal weight to both attributes via separate workouts
- Greasing the Groove for the Fighting Man that emphasizes more strength than cardio
- Force Recon Marine Workout that combines very heavy strength and heavy cardio
Total Strength and Conditioning Package
- Strength practice twice per week and conditioning workouts twice per week
- Perform your conditioning the day after strength
- Example: Monday – strength, Tuesday – conditioning, Thursday – strength, Friday — conditioning
- Use this template for years to come
If strength and conditioning are of equal importance to you, e.g. you’re back in garrison with a full gym and have no operational demands, then you can use Pavel Tsatsouline’s above template to suit your needs by dedicating an entire day to each attribute.
According to spec ops trainer, Pavel Tsatsouline, “…a soldier must exert himself when he is exhausted” for some of the time. If you’re training for the zombie apocalypse or for the decline of western civilization then at least some of the strength practice “must be conducted in a state of fatigue, sometimes extreme fatigue”. If you want to train like a warfighter or if you’re a martial artist then here’s cardio more specific to your fighting needs/energy systems as opposed to long distance running. Here we combine low- rep strength plus light cardio while maintaining the emphasis on strength.
Greasing the Groove for the Fighting Man
- Perform maximal strength exercises for low reps
- Run or shadow box at a pre-determined interval distance or time
- For example, 3 reps of one-arm push-ups followed by 50 metre jogs then 3 reps of one-legged squats. Once a while, you can do one-arm push-ups and one-legged squats together in a set.
Similarly, in my current Simple & Sinister near-daily practice, I moderately perform 10 sets x 10 reps of swings with light jogs in between sets using an 88-pound kettlebell and every two weeks, I perform an all-out set of two-handed swings with a 70-pounder. You’ll see this type of roadwork training become more popular in the future: brief, but intense, powerful contractions (alactacid pathway) followed by steady, recovery aerboics (oxidative pathway). I find that brief and intense cardio is more specific to my line of work, e.g. sprinting, ducking, shooting, etc. I feel energized, whereas, long distance running (in the mornings) makes me feel sleepy afterwards!
Remember that young corporal who complained about my “pussy workout” ? Here’s something for him: a workout designed by Pavel for a Force Recon Marine, which involves heavy double kettlebell drills with low-rep heavy strength and high intensity conditioning combined into one workout. Here, lighter to moderate weighted implements are swung ballistically to increase its ‘heaviness’ or force and done for endurance/higher reps to create a cardiovascular effect. This will also serve as a vehicle for our analysis below. (For below, e.g. 5×5 = 5 sets of 5 reps)
Marine Force Recon Workout
- Weighted pull-ups, 5×5
- Alternate the pull-ups with cleans & presses (military presses, not push presses), a pair of 24kg kettlebells, also for 5×5
- Rock-bottom front squats with a one-second pause, a pair of 32kg kettlebells, 5×5
- Snatches, 32kg kettlebell for 5 sets, hard but not to muscle failure
- Alternate the snatches with strict hanging leg raises, 5 sets
- One-arm clean & jerks, 32kg kettlebell for 10 minutes, play it by ear
- Heavy ab work, 5×5 [e.g. hanging leg raises, one-arm farmer’s walks, heavy get-ups, various side bends, Janda sit-ups, etc.]
- Pull-Ups, 100 reps in total
- Alternate pull-ups with front squats, sets of 10, a pair of 24kg kettlebells
- Snatches or swings, 24kg kettlebells, alternate sets of 10-20 reps with 100-yard jogs (Not sprints! The jogs are for recovery) for as long as you can handle it
- Start over
After three weeks reduce the reps by 50% for a week, which is very important!”
- Strength is placed towards the beginning of the workouts and in the week to emphasize good form with recovered muscles and to better prevent injury
- There is no going to muscle failure here
- One big pull, one big press and one squat is all you need for strength. Cardio in the form of snatches/ swings, as well, as cleans & jerks are done hard in a burst-recovery format and not to the point of destroying the individual; done more towards the end of the workout.
- Weekly and monthly cycling, also known as, periodization for sustainability and injury-free progression
- Obviously, begin with a (tactical) joint mobility program as your warm-up and stretching as your cool-down, as well, as on Tuesdays and Thursdays for active recovery.
- Speaking from experience, you can insert your own variety days on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Practice your form, technique of other lifts for very low reps — it shouldn’t even be called a light day.
We can infer that the Force Recon Marine was not only in a state of exceptional strength and conditioning, but experienced in kettlebell technique. As I said, I don’t recommend double kettlebell drills until you have the strength and experience from mastering singles. Trust me on this one. Nevertheless, the above is a well-designed program and an ego-buffer to my young (in-)subordinate.
As mentioned, you can sometimes perform the Marine Force Recon program in a very pre-exhausted state for military training purposes — go do a rucksack march first. The Marine Force Recon program was designed with little to no equipment in mind, e.g. on deployment. According to Pavel’s Naked Warrior, a soldier only needs select bodyweight and kettlebell drills to train for war. However, a full gym with barbells, etc. is optimal in my opinion and as mentioned in the beginning of this post.
In my next article, I will talk about my routine while I’m on the road and what you can do when you have limited equipment.
You can read part two on maximal strength and how it benefits soldiers and civilians alike.
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