Commando Fitness

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What is the most effective “system” I’ve used for fitness?

I’ve bought tons of books, read nearly every article on fitness and health that I can get my hands on. So if I had to give you just one book, one “system”, what would it be?

People will be surprised, because the stuff I’ve used the most for about the last nine years have been gool ‘ol calisthenics. Actually, calisthenics on steroids. Back in 2001, I saw an advertisement for a book by Matt Furey, called Combat Conditioning. In the book, Furey told of meeting wrestling legend Karl Gotch, then 76 years old. Gotch did not lift weight during his career. Instead he used the ancient Indian wrestler’s exercises: Deep knee bends, Hindu pushups and the back bridge. Gotch began training Furey, who was a former Division II national wrestling champ, a personal trainer, and certainly not  ignorant of fitness techniques. Furey was amazed at the effectiveness of the exercises Gotch showed him. Instead of the stiffness that sometimes came with weight training, Furey found himself flexible and strong. Furey was also surprised at how much strength Gotch retained in his old age.

I have nothing against lifting weights. But difficult calisthenics are better. Things like one-legged squats, hand stand pushups and other challenging bodyweight drills have a very interesting effect: They provide a combination of balance, strength and endurance difficult to achieve with weights.

Combat Conditioning is filled with exercises that Furey learned from Gotch, some from Chinese martial arts, as well as some Furey learned while training under Dan Gable at Iowa State University. Some of them are grueling, like Hindu jumper squats, uphill buddy carries and bridging. Others are simple. Furey also talks about the sublime effectiveness of skipping rope, hill sprints and calisthenic circuit training. He has several workouts set up at the back of his book. Many of these are very difficult, and most people will not be able to finish them when they first begin this type of training. The 500 pushup workout is very tough. Then there’s the Karl Gotch Bible. Take a deck of cards and have someone deal one card at a time ot you. Black means Hindu pushups, red means bodyweight squats. Do the number on the cards. Face cards equal ten and aces can be anywhere between 11 and 20–you set the number before you start the session.

Another man–perhaps one of the greatest scientists ever produced by Russia–Nicolai Amosov–was a proponent of calisthenics and running. Everyday, he performed his “complex” of calisthenic drills and ran about 5 miles. He began his routine after leaving the Russian army, when he found that he was losing muscle and gaining fat. His energy levels shot through the roof. He wrote a book–Thoughts on Health– in 1965 about health and fitness. It made Amosov a literal hero to the people of Russia. Through his studies on human cybernetics, he developed his theory on human longevity: The Theory of Limit Loads. The theory states that for our bodies to maintain youthful vigor, it must be used–and used a lot.

So, to wrap it up–what should you do if you find yourself in a sad physical state? Start moving! Anything! Too broad? Here’s a place to start:

  • Perform calisthenics everyday or every other day. Very the intensity, reps and overall difficulty. Pushups, pullups, situps, bodyweight squats. Oh yeah–and the dreaded squat thrust. If you need help, buy the of the many products out there that give tons of calisthenic variety.
  • To maximise athletic benefits, add some kettlebell training. The KB will hit two areas that are difficult to reach using calisthenics alone: Grip strength and lower back strength.
  • Massively reduce sugar intake. This means dropping the most horrible “food” ever made by Man: Soda. When you eat carbs, do so in the form of fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
  • Skip a couple of meals a week.
  • Keep a positive attitude about life. Cynics are unhappy people and have never changed the world.
  • Challenge yourself. Remember: Progressive overload. Set goals and reach for them. Never give up.
  • Remember the words of Nicolai Amosov:

“So, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, the experiment continues! We are pushing pessimism back. Limits for old men are abolished. Life is a pretty good thing after all.”


10 thoughts on “Commando Fitness

    Michael LaBossiere said:
    November 10, 2009 at 1:53 am

    Charles Atlas advocated a similar approach in his dynamic tension method.

    Amos Volante said:
    November 10, 2009 at 5:54 pm

    I just brought Matt Furey’s “Combat Conditioning” to work. A friend left a copy at the house so I thought I would check it out.

    Interesting that everything here is so simple, but everyone wants a more complicated solution.

    magus71 responded:
    November 10, 2009 at 7:22 pm

    Be nice to my dog-eared copy. And do what the book says.

    Bill said:
    November 11, 2009 at 4:38 pm

    I bought Furey’s stuff a while ago. I was skeptical b/c of the marketing style – nothing real HAS ALL THAT different font stuff, firsthand stories, unverified testimonies etc. But I bought it and gotta admit, other than the hindu pushups, I found the excercises to be amazing (and I think I just wasn’t doing the pushups right). When I started I could barely do 15 deep bends – I can do a few sets of at least 80 each now.

    All in all – I like weight training but can’t argue that ‘difficult’ calisthenics are more than enough.

    You’re a man ahead of your time Magus especially when it comes to health 😉

    So as an aside, why does the military makeyou a major just b/c you’re a doctor? I get the 2nd leiutenant stuff for ccllege grads, but Major gives you a lot of power no? If you can have no people skills and no nothing – and be major just b/c you got through medical school – that seems like really bad policy – but I’m sure I just have part of the story – that’s why I”m asking 😉

    magus71 responded:
    November 11, 2009 at 5:46 pm

    I think they make them Majors as an acknowledgment of the additional difficlty in the study, and to attract people who would take those skills outside the military and make more money. Afterall, a PHD in math makes you a teacher. A PHD in medicine can make you millions.

    Amos Volante said:
    November 11, 2009 at 11:34 pm

    I did Hindu squats. Ouch!

    But they work. Oh, yeah.

    Amos Volante said:
    November 12, 2009 at 6:31 pm

    Ok, today was day 1:

    my goals were simply to do 50 Hindu squats, 20 Hindu pushups, and hold the bridge position with some rocking, fo 30 seconds.

    I did 40 squats, 12 of the pushups, and held the bridge for 20 seconds while experimenting with rocking.

    This the opposite of what I expected: I figured the bridge would be like taking a nap, the squats would be hardest, and the Hindu pushup looked easy and boring.


    Amos Volante said:
    November 17, 2009 at 4:11 am

    Day 2: 5.5 mile walk, ran last 1.5 miles. Very hilly terrain.

    Day 3: I bought gloves and hit the heavy bag at max intensity until total muscle failure. I think mice were laughing at me from under the furniture, but it felt great!

    Everyone should have a heavy bag in the office.

    Joe Roberts said:
    February 10, 2010 at 9:38 pm

    Great post. Furey wrote a great book. Ran into another soon to be classic – Paul Wade’s “Convict Conditioning”. It is a great treatise on building serious power with only BW and can be implemented by the most extreme novice. It might take years to get to a one arm pullup, but I will get there. Either book is well worth the investment.

    Rayce said:
    March 23, 2014 at 12:36 am

    is “thoughts on health” still in print? where can i find a copy?

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