The effects of calorie and carbohydrate moderation and intense exercise

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While deployed to Afghanistan, one of the soldiers under my charge was nearing the end of his contract with the Army. He wanted to reenlist, but he was overweight, his body fat was too high, and he couldn’t pass a physical fitness test. I had to utilize everything I’d learned over the years about diet and fitness to help him reach his goals. I reported the results to StrongFirst. Following are my dispatches. The process worked, as the soldier was able to reenlist against many odds and when many others didn’t think it could be done.

Hello everyone. my name is Douglas Moore, and I’m a long-time disciple of Pavel’s and an NCO in the US Army who is currently deployed to Afghanistan.

I have a story to tell, so I came here to tell it, knowing I’d find people who’d be interested.

As an Non Commissioned Officer, it’s my job (or one of them) to keep the troops conditioned, strong and otherwise physically capable. One of my soldiers in particular was overweight, and his conditioning was such that he could not run 2 miles in a time that meets the Army’s standard. He was fat, slow, and weak–a bad state for any human being, let alone a soldier. He was on the verge of being forced out of the Army because he could not reenlist while being so fat. He came to me and told me that he wanted to reenlist; his wife was pregnant with their third child, he needed and wanted a job, and this was a terrible time to lose the job he had.

I agreed to help him, but only if he gave me his best effort, not the weak effort he’d given that got him into so much trouble. He agreed. He only had two months, so we’d had to get straight to it.

There was an obstacle in our way: Afghanistan. We are currently deployed to Afghanistan, FOB Warrior in Ghazni Province. Not only is the heat oppressive in June and July, but we sit at 7000 ft above sea level and the soldier would have to pass his two mile run in some seriously thin air.

We weighed him and measured his body fat. 246 lbs, 25% body fat, at 6’2″ . Moreover, his diet was wretched. Cramming in the starches, he tried to stick to a vegetarian diet, assuring me that he heard this was healthy. I told him that if he wanted to keep his job, he’d have to eat as I told him, which meant he’d have to eat a balanced diet, with meat in it. I told him he’d could have three square meals a day, no seconds or deserts except on weekends.

The soldier had lost weight since he arrived in Afghanistan–almost everyone does unless they try to make weight gains. But he was still blubbery and too heavy. Worse still, he was weak, a triad of doom for the professional soldier. I set about designing a program that could meet his needs. I decided that since the Army’s physical fitness test focus on pushups, situps, and running, we’d begin there, then introduce other methodologies. The running would address the bodyweight problem, which would make his pushups and situps easier, at least in theory.

I had the soldier running or doing other cardio exercises, at least 20 minutes every other day, in addition to calisthenics circuits. I made sure to vary the intensity and duration of the training sessions, monitoring the soldiers demeanor and motivation. Mind you, the whole time we’re trying to get him fit and strong, I’m hearing negative comments. “He won’t make it.” “I don’t think he’ll do it.”

These comments made me want even more this soldier to succeed.

Eventually I introduced the soldier to kettlebells. We have a few of them here at FOB Warrior, a 35, a 44 and a 53 lber. Swings were the order of the day, served on a plate of dust-ridden, low oxygen air. We started with the 44, doing sets of 20, with a minutes rest between. I worked them in after bouts of pushups, dips, and situps, sometimes mixed into a giant, evil stew.

His first physical fitness test since I began training him was around the corner. And he only had three weeks to pass the PT test, and get his body fat down to 22%. It last stood at 24%. unfortunately, all the cardio work had reduced his neck size by one-half inch, which meant by Army calculations (waist to neck ratio, factored with weight), that he’d gained a point of bodyfat despite the cardio blast. I added one minute interval sprints on a stationary bike, ten intervals, and told him to limit the starch in his diet to an amount that would only fill one small section of his tray at each meal, and upped the kettlebell weight and volume. Now he was swinging the 53, sets of 20, up to 160 total reps.

Finally, the day of his test came. The soldier did more pushups than he’s ever done on any other test in his Army career, and easily passed his situps, too. But then the tough part: The run around a dirt track, surrounding a giant smouldering dirt pit (in which the base burned all of its trash), in 90+ degree heat at 7000 ft.

And he failed.

It was back to the drawing board. In two days, I administered another test. This time he did even more pushups than before, breaking his old record–and passed the run with 14 seconds left. No small feet in this environment. Many other soldiers, even well-conditined ones, have failed the run test here.

His body fat was still high. I calculated that he needed to add .5 inches to his neck and lose 1 inch off his waist. Since the PT test was out of the way, I decided to take a different avenue: Barbell training combined with kettlebells and low-intensity cardio ie walking.

I discovered that this soldier was incredibly weak. All the cardio and calisthenics had done virtually nothing to enable him to contract his muscles harder. I don’t care what someone scores on an Army PT test, if they are as weak as this soldier was, at his weight, they’re not very useful on a battlefield. He struggled with 135 for 5 reps on a barbell, but he managed. The first session, he did 20 half squats with 225, for one set. And then 6 sets of 5 rep shrugs at 315, in order to increase the girth of his neck and give him some overall strength.

His second session was kettlebell swings, kettlebell military presses, and 3×5 squats.

Today, went pulled out the measuring tape and scale. He’d lost over an inch on his waist and gained that needed half inch his neck and lost another pound. In other words, he passed. He was at 22% bodyfat, no boasting rights to be sure, and he’d have to get taped again because he was so close to being over, but a success nonetheless. Over the two month training period he’d lost 11 lbs and 3% body fat.

If I had to do it over again, I would have started the barbell training and the heavy kettlebell swings earlier. Still, it was a tough call knowing how tough the run would be up here. But the weight training changed his body much faster than did the running, and the running sapped him of his strength.

We’re not stopping here. He’ll get stronger–the iron and steel will ensure that.

Update:

I’m continuing the soldier’s “special populations” ie fat people, training. As I mentioned in my post, he’s lost significant weight here, but with it, he lost what little strength he started with. The cure? Old School barbell and kettlebell training. The challenge is keeping his body fat low enough to stay in the army. He hovers at 22%–exactly meeting regulation requirement, but his retention in the army is a unit commander decision, and the commander states that he wants this soldier at 21% before he can reenlist.

The program’s core is now 5×5 squat and bench press, with hi-rep kettlebell swings. He’s continuing to lose weight and his strength is improving every workout, especially on squats and swings. His schedule is every other day, but I’m not dogmatic about this; recently he failed to progress on bench, so he took two days off. When he returned he was stronger than ever.

Looking back, his biggest problem was not his weight, but his lack of strength. His feeble strength made every training session more difficult than it needed to be.

Yesterday, he was able to complete 200 kb swings, sets of 25 with a 53 lb kb, averaging 1 min 30 secs rest between sets. Kettlebells have increased his work capacity by vast amounts and in a very short time.

I’m hoping the squats force his body into the adaption it needs. I’m waiting for that cascade. The interesting factor will be how this affects his body fat levels. We weighed him and measured body fat again last week. He’d lost 5 additional pounds, but was still at 22%.

As I noted previously on this thread, my intent with this soldier was to provide him with a significantly better strength base, something the running and calisthenics did not do to a sufficient level.

He’d passed his PT test, and lost some weight. But he needed more physical capability and muscle. This soldier is not genetically gifted, but I remembered what Pavel said on one post: The term, Hardgainer, does not contribute to a helpful mindset. So I trusted the process. Commit to A as action, and B will follow. 5×5 barbell with linear weight increases and kettlebell work would make him stronger, fitter and torch the fat from his body.

We were still in a race againt his enlistment clock. he either lost the weight and increased his fitness, or would be barred from reenlistment. But the dilemma. Running to make him burn calories, or weight training to preserve muscle and change his body’s composition. We’d done the running and cals. It helped him pass the PT test–barely. But he was weak as a moth. I had to trust the iron and old fashion dietary common sense were enough. Who wanted a soldier that was skinny-fat and barely passed his run test? Strength is the foundation of any athletic endeavor and no soldier–no real soldier– can do without it.

We began his strength routine July 1st, every other day. At first it was the three big lifts, with a few 20 rep KB swings thrown in.

His squat (5×5) weight has gone up in every workout. In order to accelerate the fat loss, we upped the kettlebell volume. The last three days of training this month, he achieved the highest level of physical ability he’s ever had. He weighs less than he’s ever weighed in the Army, including just out of Basic Training. He is stronger than he’s ever been. And his fitness? Two days ago I put him through a kettlebell complex that most people could not finish, especially at 7000 ft above sea level. Here it is–give it a try.

Do this complex 5 times, 1-2 minutes rest between each exercise and each interval.

53 lb KB swing x25 reps

35 lb 1 hand KB swing, 20 per arm

35 lb KB Clean and Jerk, 10 per arm

53 lb KB High Pull, 10 per arm

And our command has decided to allow him to reenlist. He says he feels great, and his new confidence is apparent.

Kettlebells work, and faster than anything else, without the loss of strength associated with lots of running. Have faith in the process.

Do A, expect B

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25 thoughts on “The effects of calorie and carbohydrate moderation and intense exercise

    Lou said:
    September 1, 2013 at 1:06 am

    I’m always interested in weight loss stories, since I am short and fat. People are all so different in what works best for them. I’ve always had a weight problem being as short as I am, but I am athletic. We ride bikes, and I do and old ladies version of cross-fit three days a week. In April my daughter talked me into doing the Whole 30 diet. I have lost 20 lbs, but it has been slow going. Dang it. The kettle bell swings interest me (light bulb going off over my head).

    VXXC said:
    September 1, 2013 at 2:14 am

    You Sir are an NCO.

    Now have you seen this? Doesn’t help your problem here, but it works…Elevation Training mask. No, I’m not selling them. I do own one though.

    http://www.amazon.com/Elevation-2-0-Training-Mask-Medium/dp/B008B91KH4/ref=sr_1_1?s=sporting-goods&ie=UTF8&qid=1377997945&sr=1-1&keywords=elevation+training+mask+3.0

    Douglas Moore said:
    September 1, 2013 at 11:00 am

    Lou,

    The kettlebell swing, in many people’s opinion, is the single best conditioning exercise there is. If you’re already athletic, you may be able to use a 35 lb bell. I do swings whenever I can.

    Douglas Moore said:
    September 1, 2013 at 11:00 am

    VXXC, Yes, several guys were using them in Afghanistan.

    Douglas Moore said:
    September 1, 2013 at 11:14 am

    Just read about the Whole 30 diet. Seems good to me. Not sure what it suggests for a schedule, but I would stay away from eating more than three meals a day while trying to lose weight. 90% of calorie increase for Americans since the 1970s comes from snacking. Essentially, losing weight comes down to calories. Studies show that people on low carbohydrate diets eat fewer calories. The mechanism is not clearly understood. With the soldier I wrote about above, it was 3 meals, no snacking, no dessert except on weekends. At the end when we needed to speed up the process, He had to keep his starches down to one small compartment on his tray. Otherwise, he could pile as much food on his plate as he wanted.

    Count plates, not calories, make your eating style a habit; we are what we do often.

    Bill said:
    September 1, 2013 at 6:32 pm

    I was the worst type of fat which was thin most of my life, then getting fatter in my 30s. I made a little progress with the Warrior diet after I read about it on your blog but as much as i travelled I had trouble keeping to it. I figured “maybe just do everything you did before you got fat” which was mainly run 50+ miles a week, lift weights 4 days a week, pretend elevators didn’t exist leave the car in the garage unless you’re driving over 2 miles away – eat whatever you want as much as you want while doing all of this. Other than the 50 miles a week thing, I started this back early August and it’s working like a charm, but of course the second I went to Pavel’s site, I was hooked.

    Bill said:
    September 1, 2013 at 6:33 pm

    P.S. I could swear you were the one I heard it from, but are you familiar with Phenibut? Started using it lately and really impressed.

    Douglas Moore said:
    September 1, 2013 at 6:40 pm

    Bill, whatever you are doing, if it works, keep doing it. It’s tough to beat the good old fashion way of eating and maintaining weight loss: Three meals a day, and watch the sweet stuff. I think you mentioned Phenibut before, but I’m not familiar.

    Bill said:
    September 1, 2013 at 6:52 pm

    Well, its working in my case b/c in order to run I need to stop eating as much and need to do a lot of supporting exercise (situps mainly). you got me thinking though – a few months ago when I started running, I was heavier than this guy, but I’m shorter too. What rough strength #’s would you expect to see from a moderate/strong guy with his body type? I changed my schedule so I make sure I run regularly, if time runs low it’s lifting that gets tossed out alhtough I’m doing ok keeping both schedules.

    Someone told me about Phenibut and I can’t remember who it was – everyone that comes to mind says they only heard about it from me. Apparently it’s somewhat popular in Russia and is similar to the Blue Nitro stuff that was popular in the 90s until it was outlawed (how that stuff was considered a Date Rape drug is still beyond me but we all know Congress only makes laws based on reason , not on emotion or trendy stuff 😉 ) Depending on who you read it can give you a boost or slow you down – on my side I see the boost part mostly but I’m dying to figure out who I heard it from originally.

    Douglas Moore said:
    September 1, 2013 at 7:18 pm

    If you have kettlebells, try working in some swings. Some people swear they can get by with a total of two sets of fairly high reps per week, say, working up to 75 consecutive swings with a moderately heavy kettlebell.

    A good strength base, for any male is 1.xBW bench press, 1.5xbw squat. Some trainers would set those numbers at 1.5/2 respectively. This is very doable with a classic strength training protocol, like 5×5.

    As I stated, he was a “low responder”. His weight did not go up as much as it would in the average person.

    I read that Phenibut is required for Russian cosmonauts. Interesting.

    Douglas Moore said:
    September 1, 2013 at 7:27 pm

    Once I get my kettlebells here at the house, I’ll start posting podcasts on my routines and talking about fitness/diet more.

    Bill said:
    September 2, 2013 at 4:53 pm

    I took your advice on Kettlebells yesterday, probably overdid it. I went out and bought a 25, 35 and 45 lb one (lots of fun lugging those into the car). Felt froggy so I went up to the 45 lb one but backed down to the 35. Not feeling good today – but overdoing it is the only way you learn not to overdo it. I just started doing heavy weights again – did 245 for 5 reps last week, so I’m close to making the cut – I have a feeling taking off weight is going to be easier than stacking on another 30 lbs on the bench. I have the squat down, and I’ve always been able to deadlift a lot (not sure how that works b/c I’ve always had really week wrists and biceps). You’re more motivating than any personal trainer Doug ;- I mean that.

    Bill said:
    September 2, 2013 at 4:55 pm

    I ordered that Elevation mask, on the same page I saw one of those weighted vests, I’m thinking of trying to go run with an extra 40 lbs and see how it goes. Probably don’t want to try the mask and the vest

    Douglas Moore said:
    September 3, 2013 at 12:20 am

    Bill, congrats on the kettlebells. Another squat routine you can try is a 20 rep routine. It’s tough, but you only need to due one blaster set once or twice per week. It was part of the training protocol later on for this soldier.

    Bill said:
    September 4, 2013 at 7:14 pm

    You actually got me into the Kettlebells and I do love them. They don’t lend themselves well to my travel schedule, but wha’ts been working is, basically, overtrain them while I’m home, rest while I travel – this fixes the whole problem of missing workouts and it’s given me tremendous stamina. I’m actually about to go brave the heat and try the Elevation mask. I got froggy and bought a weight vest which I tried yesterday, nothing like running with an extra 60 lbs to motivate you to not carry any more weight than you ned to. A friend of mine has made really amazing gains over the last two years doing powerlifting – if I didn’t know the guy so well there’s no way i’d believe he did it without roids,, but diet, determination and good genetics can get you pretty far. I’m thinking about taking up deadliest in conjunction with moving up the weight on the kettle bells.

    On a related note, I’ve followed your exercise advice for a while and it’s tremendously helpful – I can certianly understand why a colleague enlisted your help to lose the weight. I know some people that are morbidly obese and have been fat all of their lives – it’s got to be hell. I was lean most of my life and then progressively got heavier over the last 10 years. I have to say, being overweight is the worst curse there is – I hear people talk about how bad drug addiction is but I think getting out of shape and overweight is every bit as bad – the shame, the compulsivity, the detrimental effects, the deterioration, the cost and time – and b/c you do it to yourself it’s all the worse. Blaming others does no good (in anything ) but I can say that for most of my life, I heard nothing but ‘high carb, low fat’ diet – which worked great when I was consistently running 60+ miles a week and walking up steep hills all the time, but diet seems to be the one thing that’s been my problem for a while now. Few things are more depressing than having to buy a bigger pair of pants – except working your a55 off, doing tons of cardio and still having to buy bigger pants. Anyone on the side of helping people lose weight is doing God’s work and I’m sure i{m not the only reader who really appreciates your exercise related posts.

    Bill said:
    September 4, 2013 at 11:52 pm

    Just curious if you were familiar with/a fan of Tabata? I just heard about it, then in the context of Kettlebell – considering it although I think I’m sticking with the plan i have now for the time being.

    magus71 responded:
    September 5, 2013 at 12:12 am

    Tabata is a form of interval training. 20 seconds all-out work/ 10 seconds rest, usually 8 intervals. It was originally used on stationary bikes for speed skaters. It’s extremely effective but extremely tough. I recommend it if you can tolerate the pain.

    Jay said:
    April 17, 2014 at 10:45 pm

    A few questions for you magus, as I also have a PT test coming up soon, however my issue is not from being overweight.

    1. I’ve researched and received mixed results. In your experience does lifting to increase muscular strength such as bench press correlate over to muscular endurance to increase pushup #s?

    2. What would a weekly workout look like for a good mix of strength/conditioning and cardio in your opinion?
    3 days of strength, 2 of cardio, 2 rest?

    I prefer stamina training. I love to run and bike and hate being stuck in a gym. I have a tendency to keep doing things i like and stray away from my weaknesses that I dislike such as lifting in a gym. However, your posts have encouraged me a bit. Im going to give the kettlebells a shot and maybe 2 days a week of the major major lifts(bench,squat,DL,row,press). I like calisthenics, especially circuits, however I have not noticed much of an increase in muscular endurance or conditioning from doing them. I’ve done a number of the crossfit WOD bodyweight circuits without much results. It may be due to my lack of overall strength.

    magus71 responded:
    April 18, 2014 at 5:03 am

    Jay,

    1) Lifting heavier weights will increase your numbers in high rep calisthenics, such as pushups. But keep doing pushups in your routine.

    2) If I were to give you my preference, it would be 1 heavy barbell day incorporating squats and bench press; 1 kettlebell day focusing mostly on two-handed swings; 2 cardio days; and one day doing calisthenics/circuit training. This would be for maximizing an Army pt test and good all around fitness.

    Jay said:
    April 22, 2014 at 8:57 pm

    Thanks for the response magus. I went for a heavy day doing the basic 5×5 routine incorporating squats,bench,and rows recently. I did notice knee pain the next day from the squats. I’ve had bad knees for a while now. I may forego the squats and focus on deadlifts and hope the kb exercises will strengthen the quads and glutes missed from the squats.

    For the kb day i’m thinking on focusing on these moves in circuit format:

    Snatch
    Swings
    possibly goblet squats
    Clean/press
    Throw in some pullups and pushups for pt testing

    Calisthenics day in circuit format:

    Pushups
    Situps/flutter kicks
    Hindu PUs
    Squats
    Pull Ups

    Finding the adequate rep range + # of circuit completions and adding progression each week should be the only thing i’ll have to play with by pushing myself.

    Sound adequate?

    Thanks

    magus71 responded:
    April 23, 2014 at 4:36 am

    Jay,

    Looks good. Some things to consider:

    1) The KB swing is the most important kb exercise. Heck, it may be the most important exercise, period. If you don’t do any others, do this one, with a heavy kb.

    2) If you have knee pain, consider forgoing high rep calisthenic squats. I have knee problems but usually only have pain when I do high rep squats. I avoid them now, and am able to squat high weights on a barbell no problem.

    3) “wave” your reps and weights. Even within a set. Some sets should be easy, some hard.

    4) Finally, and this may surprise you, the best progress is made with big leaps in volume and intensity. This need not be every workout. But if you increase weight with your squat, don’t just add 5 lbs. Add at least 10 maybe even 20 20. Same with things like pushups and cals. Make sudden, difficult jumps and you will get stronger faster. Slowly increasing difficulty does not impress the body’s system enough to force adaption. Just don’t increase too often.

    “Soviet scientists like Prof. Arkady Vorobyev discovered that sharp changes in load are superior to small changes when it comes to delivering the message to your body: “Get strong!” Russians scoff at those mini-plates many Western bodybuilders add to their barbells. Powerlifting champ Jack Reape told me that at his gym they painted all 2.5-pound plates pink to attach stigma to their use. I approve.”
    http://www.strongfirst.com/a-leap-of-faith-between-kettlebell-sizes/

    Jay said:
    April 23, 2014 at 8:49 pm

    Thanks for the info aobut the high rep squats. I’m gonna cut them out.

    What do you mean by “wave” the reps and weights? Just go all out on some sets and not others? I usually try to keep a log of my workouts to make sure I am increasing either intensity or weight in each workout.

    Also the gyms here on base keep only low weight kettlebells. I assume to appease the females with kettlebells in addition to their medicine balls. I did 1 arm dumbell swings today with a heavy weight, DB snatch, and db clean and press in circuit format x4 I didnt note the reps, I just went hard until I couldn’t complete anymore clean reps. I’m may just keep with the DB complexes such as that today as i believe it essentially accomplishes what the kettlebell would excluding the substantial increase in grip strength.

    Jay said:
    April 23, 2014 at 8:56 pm

    Interesting link you added as well. I missed it and only just read it. I will try and implement a “shock day” every now and again where I substantially increase the load.

    magus71 responded:
    April 23, 2014 at 11:03 pm

    By waving, I mean increasing/decreasing weight and reps within a set. With squats for instance, it could be 185, 225, 185, 205, 235, for instance. If the weight is high enough, you may have to reduce reps, to say 3, depending on your current level.

    magus71 responded:
    April 23, 2014 at 11:04 pm

    Yes, perfect. Shock days work great. They hurt, but the level of fitness increase a week later is incredible.

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