Friday, October 4, 2013

Rucking, Combat Fitness and Realistic Goals

Ever since Max's post Realistic Rucking I've known that PT was going to be revisited here. John Mosby's Post Fit for the Fight: A Conceptual Approach to Physical Conditioning for Security Patrolling pretty much sealed the deal. Max's recent post Operational Fitness also touched on some good stuff. tte

In no particular order here we go:

1) You get better at a given event and thus more 'fit' by that particular measurement by improving your performance in terms of speed/weight/time. Skipping complex stuff about cardiovascular health, VO2 max and whatever you do not get better at something by simply doing the same thing over and over. You get better by doing it at an increased speed/weight/time. 

2) Recognizing #1 the way to improve is progressive and incremental improvement over time. Tracking is pretty important here (this is something I royally suck at). Say the particular even we are talking about is running. Maybe your tempo run is a 3 mile loop around the AO and you do it 3-4x a month. It would be smart to keep track of time, continually pushing yourself to beat the last time. Of course you would not beat it every single time, maybe it's raining and nasty, you're suck, hung over or whatever. That being said unless the general trend is towards that run getting done faster you are not improving. 

That being said often, especially in strength, the answer is not to train to failure every time. Form goes to pot and injury rates skyrocket. A more balanced approach would be to train intensely, yet not to failure and continually progress over time. Add 5 pounds here, a rep there or an extra set there depending on the goals involved. The bottom line is to increase difficulty towards your goals over time. 

3) There is a balance between accepting the reality of your age/ health/ life situation yet not condemning yourself to be the slow weak animal malingering at the back of the pack just waiting to become lion food. I don't know exactly how to balance as a general rule. The best option I can think of is being brutally honest about your situation then aggressively pursuing fitness goals.

A lot of my stuff is geared toward people pursuing fitness to be able to conduct light infantry operations on an individual basis as a survivalist or in a small unit setting as a guerrilla/ paramilitary type fighter. That goes double for Max Velocity and John Mosby. While I would say the type of martial fitness we talk about translates into a high level of general fitness/ health it is only a viable option for fairly healthy people. 

A 72 year old ex rodeo Cowboy who broke his back twice and legs 3x riding then was in a bad car accident in '89 with arthritis everywhere is not going to be a member of a direct action cell. That old Codger might have a lot to offer but he isn't going to be running around in the woods with a rifle shooting people. On the other hand a 45 year old that is 30 pounds overweight with "bad knees" is probably physically capable of doing a lot. His "joint problems" brought on by packing extra weight around and a lifestyle of inactivity will probably reverse themselves pretty quickly if he gets to a healthy weight and exercises in a reasonable way. If that 45 year old wants to reach a high level of fitness he probably can within a reasonable timetable.

4) On the topic of weight training as it relates to combat and realistic training. If you want to be in the best physical condition (for strength) possible then lift heavy weights. Sure the guys who won WWII didn't lift but they did not have the advantages of our more modern understanding of science and biology. Also a couple other factors influenced this. First those brave men didn't have to fight guys who lifted weights. Brute strength built on the weight pile lets one put other peoples heads through walls. Second the creation of viable body armor against small arms and shrapnel has vastly increased the weight of an average fighting load. Rough ball park it went from 20 pounds to 50. Moving ones self in, around and over obstacles got a lot harder. An average guy in OK shape might be able to do a pullup with an extra 20 pounds. Make it 50 and without serious time at the weight pile that's just not happening. 

Thankfully in the last few years the big Army has moved towards accepting the usefulness of strength derived from weight training as part of a holistic PT program. Like many good ideas it started out in SOF, largely the Ranger Regiment's Athlete Warrior Program. The bottom line is that strength is a good thing to have for a variety of real world combat related tasks.

5) When it comes to weight lifting there is the inherently oppositional relationship between being big/ strong and fast with lots of endurance. At all but the shortest distances (like under 40m) being heavier makes it harder to move your body around. I think if you lift weights with a goal of building strength (vs body building where the goal is to get bigger/ heavier) size gains are generally negligible. Also if you continue doing good aggressive cardio and eating reasonably the vast majority of people will not grow to the point that their overall fitness falls off the rails. 

Remember, there is no such thing as being too strong, only too slow.

6) In my mind it is important to be ready to go at all times. This means you are never a discusting fat body who can't run a mile because it's a "bulk phase" or a skinny weakling "cutting/ focusing on endurance".  I think there is something to be said for pursuing specific goals in one area or another of fitness but not to such an extent that you let another important part of fitness fall off entirely. Example, you decide to do a 10k race with friends and really want to do well. You run a lot more and accept that weight training is going to take a hit either not progressing or maybe even losing a little ground. That being said you do not stop lifting for 3 months. It is the difference between putting a bit more energy into a goal/ weak area while generally maintaining other core capabilities and radically swapping plans/ goals on the drop of a hat.

7) I believe in big multi joint exercises such as deadlift, squat, bench press, standing press and power clean. These are what you do to become a bigger stronger athlete warrior. Leave all the single joint machine junk for body builders with their huge arms and little chicken legs.

8) For combat based cardio fitness I would split my time between an aggressive rucking program and a sprint/ interval based running program. Probably 4-5x a week between the two events. I would do 2 of each if the goal was rucking based and sprint/ interval work outs. If the goals are a bit more general fitness but you still want some rucking capability 3 hard runs and 1 ruck is a fine option (that is what I'm currently doing). 

It is significant to note I would only employ various cardio type machines (other than treadmills which let you run in a more climate controlled environment) for active recovery, alternate cardio or as part of some sort of circuit (an idea largely represented as new in crossfit) workout. These are fine for terrible hangover/ cold days or whatever but don't fool yourself into thinking they are a replacement for covering ground.

9) Functional fitness as shown in Crossfit, Man Aerobics P90X, Military Athlete, Mountain Athlete, etc all is a craze these days. That is a good thing. Getting runners into lifting and lifters into running is good. However as John said these folks can get silly sometimes and fail the common sense test. While it may be difficult doing 5 pound single handed kettle bell snatches standing on a balance ball twirling a hula hoop around your hips will not make you a better athlete warrior. 

10) Do not disregard the warm up and cool down. As I get older this is becoming much more important. I can perform better, have fewer injuries including strains, etc and recover better. Every time I forget I regret it. While not exactly scientific my personal warm up goes something like this. Static stretching of the whole body with a bit of extra emphasis on the areas to be worked. Walk a little bit to limber up, say 200-400 meters. If it's going to be a run workout I do an easy jog for 400 or so. If it's going to be muscular/ weights I do warm up sets starting with the bar then progressing as needed to the weight of my first working set.

Cool down is basically the same as warm up but in reverse order ie maybe jogg, walk then stretch. 

11) Nutrition. Read some stuff on diets and nutrition then do something reasonable. Avoid junk or at least minimize it's role in your diet. You wouldn't put nasty old gas with water in it into a race car and expect it to win so don't shovel McDonalds into your face 5x a week and wonder why you aren't doing better at PT. 

So anyway those are my thoughts on that. As always input is welcome.

1 comment:

Rourke said...

Excellent advice!

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