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.
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
Yesterday morning I decided to mix in some interval sprints with my usual walking here at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan. I grabbed a small cup of coffee, drank it while reading Stars and Stripes, then started my walk. I worked in four sprints on the long side of the track, nothing too serious.
Later in the day I felt a tweak high in my hamstring. At first I thought it was a hip problem but later I recognized it as a muscle pull; I’d suffered almost the same injury 2 years prior, also while doing sprints in the morning.
This is the third time since being in the Army I’ve pulled a muscle doing sprints in the morning. I believe that in all three cases I was dehydrated, which contributed to the muscle pulls. We are most dehydrated when we first wake up in the morning. I drank very little water yesterday morning and on the previous day only ate two meals. Low food intake can contribute to dehydration. Also, the the sun is very intense and the humidity is low in Kandahar. I’d been walking for about 30 minutes before I began the sprints without drinking water.
In any case, I’ll be drinking more water before doing anymore sprinting, especially in the morning. The Army thinks training in the morning is best, but I don’t and neither do the US Marines. The Marines usually train sometime around lunch, and only 3 times per week as opposed to the Army’s 5. I think this is much better and the Marine’s results show.
Recently, I read an article in Men’s Journal. The article is about fitness and the author’s attempt to find what real fitness was. He’d been suckered into the world of complicated and relatively ineffective means; things like stability balls and light weights for moderate repetitions, and the belief that aerobic fitness is the king of physical abilities. He’d fallen prey to the human need to over-complicate issues. When he found a trainer who used classic forms of strength training–deadlifts, squats, bench press, pushups and pullups–the author found out just how weak he was. Doing squats with 30 lb dumbells while balanced on a rubber ball had not made him strong.
There are few magic short cuts. You cannot fake the intensity required to build strength, just as in life, it’s only difficulty that makes you better. Read all the self-help books you want, but in my experience, it works like this: stress; recovery; super-compensation; the ability to handle more stress. You must introduce more stress in order to stimulate adaption. Whatever kinds of stress you should introduce are dependant on your goals.
The author, in ending, comes to the conclusion that strength is in fact the key factor in true fitness. Even in his 40s, he ends up benching, squatting and deadlifting more than he ever had before. He’d never performed a deadlift before his recent transformitory routine. He looks 10 years younger than when he began the classic training. Want to get old quick? Just get weak and you’re that much closer to death. Control the feedback loop; old people are weak, therefore, by getting strong you slow the aging process.And as he points out, he can now have some damn respect for himself as a man. No more rubber balls, girlie weights, elliptical machines. All he did was increase slightly the weight lifted in each exercise on each day that he lifted. He kept his reps to 5, since this allowed him to use heavier weights. He’d try to get in 3 sets, and would take 2 days off between workouts. So he may begin a day with 185 on bench press, do a set, then add weight, until he could no longer do 5 reps in a set, trying to end the day with more than he did in the last workout.
I first learned the power of uber simple routines after I read Power To The People, by Pavel Tsatsouline. Using that program, I was able to deadlift 485 lbs at only 175. Enough to probably win a state, drug-free, championship had I entered. I’d added in some kettlebell lifting but that was it.
Whatever your fitness goals, I strongly recommend introducing some basic, old-school strength training to your routine. Many of the old-time strongmen were capable of things no modern athlete is. Athletic feats so incredible that they seem absurd in their scope. Feats such as maintaining a hand-stand while jumping (on hands) from 30 inch tables, one-arm hand-stands while holding a 100 lb dumbbell in the other hand, three-hour long wrestling matches, all-day wrestling competitions at local state fairs, in which star strongmen wrestled all-comers, the biggest and baddest that dared step in the ring–at a time when physical labor made everyone strong. One reason these men were capable of such feats is that they used heavy weights, something which is discouraged now. These men were stronger in their 70s than, I’d approximate, 90% of our current population. In those days there were no fitness magazines. There was only experience which either made one stronger or did not. And the easiest way to get stronger is to continuously use heavier weights.
The metro-sexual movement didn’t just make men more sensitive and spend more time on their hair. It made them weaker in more ways than one.
While the story of the “Blackhawk Down” mission in Somalia is well known, most people are probably not familiar with Operation Red Wing, a kill-or-capture mission to be executed by US Navy SEALs and SOF Soldiers in Afghanistan, 2005.
The plan was to disrupt a group of Taliban fighters known as the Mountain Tigers. Ultimately, the team was compromised, probably by a group of Afghan goat herders, and then overrun by 100–200 Taliban. The incident is famously recorded in the book, Lone Survivor, written by Marcus Luttrell, the only American survivor of the US ground operatives.
The operation’s leader, SEAL LT Michael P Murphy, died when he was shot in the abdomen while attempting to contact higher headquarters on his cell phone. The military comms systems were not working properly due to the mountainous terrain.
In the rescue attempt, insurgents sent an RPG round through the open back ramp door of an airborne Chinook helicopter which carried 8 SEALs and 8 members of the elite 160th SOAR. The helicopter smashed into the side of a mountain and fell to the bottom of a ravine, killing all on board. In all, 19 US personnel died. Marcus Luttrell managed to find refuge with native Afghans and was later rescued. Michael Murphy was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.
CrossFit names many of its Workouts of the Day after fallen US military personnel. One of its most brutal workouts is known as “The Murph”, so named for Michael Murphy’s favorite workout, which he called “Body Armor.” It goes like this:
For time, do the following, partitioning the bodyweight drills until you complete the prescribed number. For the hardcore, do the workout like LT Murphy did: wearing 20 pounds of body armor.
1 Mile Run
300 Bodyweight Squats
1 Mile Run
This week, I plan on completing The Murph. I’ll let you know what my time is, and maybe provide some pics or video.
Read below a comment I posted on a friend’s blog concerning the ethics and healthfulness of veganism.
This book The Vegetarian Myth, is written by a feminist who drank all the grape kool-aid and paid the price. Her health was permanently damaged by 20 years of veganism. Eventually she came to explore the real implications of veganism, and found that it is unsustainable as a world-wide diet.
Only people who are motivated by ideology or religion can continue in veganism. They will, over a period of years, watch their health and physical capabilities rapidly decline.
I have never met a vegan who was physically strong. They may be able to run for distance (even this capability will diminish much quicker than if they were not vegans) but they simply have no physical power. If you find an Olympian who is a vegan, it will be in an endurance, aerobic dominated sport, not an anaerobic power sport like bobsledding. This is because power sports exert much more stress on the body. I remember reading something written by All-Pro tight end for the Atlanta Falcons, Tony Gonzalez. He decided to go vegan one off season. When he went to the ream’s first workout session inthe gym, he could barely lift the dumbbells that before he’d thrown around for high repetitions. He made some adjustments to his diet, and in his new book, recommends small amounts of meat.
My sister experienced the same sort of thing when she went to play rugby in college. She was a vegetarian, but quickly found that she only performed her best if she ate meat. In high school, where she was the best female athlete on the track and field team as well as cross-country, she simply didn’t experience the stressors of rugby–which is a power-sport with vast endurance requirements.
Vegan seems to me to attract those looking for The Way. Hence the nearly religious mindset.
Can one survive survive without meat? Oh yes–go to India and find vegans, who because of their religious convictions eat only vegetables and suffer from the worst mal-nutrition in the world, not to mention some of the lowest IQs because of stunted brain development. Can a vegan in the West do better? Yes, by micro-managing their diet to a point that would make me miserable, and that is only sustainable bythe very thing that many in the vegan community would stand against: Industrialisation. Without industry there is almost never the selection of food that we have here. Not in the wilds of Africa or the Rainforests of South America. In other words, the claim that veganism as practiced by the most Westerners is a natural diet, is wrong. The diet is in fact a product of Western living, not nature, in which man will eat anything once living in order to survive.
I have been assigned the duty of Special Populations Physical Trainer for my unit. My duties will commence next month. Special Populations are soldiers who failed their last Physical Assessment test or did not meet the Army’s bodyfat and weight requirements.
Now, I’m producing workout templates, that I can easily reference for a certain day’s training event. I plan on using the near fail-safe method of alternating hard and easy days–a method that everyone seems to ignore these days, even the supposed cutting edge Crossfitters.
Intensity is and always has been the core of my training regiment. It produces the fastest and best results. Low intensity workout are good for recovery and fat loss, but for athletic and health benefits, you’ve got to ramp things up–way up. My easy days will consist of ruck marches and perhaps just a walk. Some of the soldiers will probably be left wondering what benefit they get from so easy a workout. I’ll remind them on the hard days why they need the easy ones.
The two most important sides of the exercise coin are intensity and time. As intensity goes up, time goes down. And as time goes up–intensity must go down. If anyone tells you they work out for four hours at the gym, I can tell you that they’re not doing it very intensely.
Some who see my training may mistake it for Crossfit. I’ve stated before my problem with Crossfit, but also make the concession that Crossfit fundamentally changed the way people trained. Intensity became key–and for that I commend Greg Glassman, Crossfit’s founder. But the cult-like mentality of many Crossfitters is troubling, leading to mindlessly following the Workout of The Day (posted daily on the Crossfit website). Also, Crossfit lacks a significant strength protocol. Again–alternate easy and tough days and watch yourself explode. Try to peak everyday and wither like an over-watered flower.
I’ll incorporate some of the following workouts and ideas into my program:
Dumbbell Complexes: Pick 5-6 exercises with dumbbells and continuously move through them in a circuit.
Bodyweight Circuits: My favorite. I have several templates that I already use. My 100, 200 and 300 workouts are incremental in difficulty and easy to perform anywhere. I use the 300 template regularly and I can assure you, it’s an ass-kicker. Here was today’s 300 workout–300 calisthenic reps in a circuit:
50 Hindu Pushups
30 Frog Jumps (Standing vertical jumps)
20 Diamond Pushups
25 Jumping split-squats–4 count (place hands on hips; jump as in a jumping jack only move your feet front and back instead of out to the sides.)
30 Flutter kicks–4 count
50 wide hand pushups
20 Frog Jumps
25 Mountain Climbers–4 count
50 Regular pushups
25 Split Squats–4 count
I finished the workout a few seconds under 18 minutes. I could feel the bile building in the back of my throat as my body pushed out the Human Growth Hormone….
Tabata Sprints: Remember the gassers you did for your high school football of basketball team? Suck it up Soldier!
Good ‘ol weight training: Guess what? 3 sets of 10 repetitions of bench press and squats works just about as well as anything. So simple people stopped doing it….showing the incessant need for humans to over-complicate.
There are two types of Soldiers that fail to meet Army fitness standards: The uninformed, the unmotivated. Genetic deficiancies as well as issues in the personal life also enter the equation, requiring added doses of dedication and knowledge. My mission is to provide knowledge to those who lack it and to motivate those that don’t care. Of the two, motivation is the more difficult to impart as the greatest drives come from within, not without.
But a good leader makes his troops want to perform to standard. There are a hundred ways to skin a cat and every soldier must be handled in subly diferent way, with varying degrees of praise and admonition. Some require very little of either, others lots of both.
If one person in my PT group fails the PT test, I will have failed my unit.
I spent most of this past Saturday playing Halo ODST. Besies being a very cool game, I found that Halo presents the perfect opportunity to do some circuit training. I made it happen like this:
While playing Halo ODST on Heroic difficulty level, I decided that every time I “died”, I’d do a set of calisthenics. In the end, I’d done the following circuit ( I played for quite a while and also did a couple extra sets at the end of the night when I wasn’t playing)
Hindu Pushups: 130 reps (50, 40, 40)
Mountain Climbers: 100 count
Frog Kicks: 80 count
Jump Squats: 50 reps (30, 20)
Toe Touches: 40
Flutter Kicks: 100 count
Total: 500 reps
Of course, you could do the Halo workout with any game as long as the intervals between you “dying” and playing are not too long–just so you keep the intensity up. Pick a difficulty on Halo that ensures you won’t just walk through the game. Select 5-6 bodyweight exercises and a rep count that challenges you, but does not completely smoke you. Every time your Spartan or Orbital Drop Shock Troopers catches too many plasma shots to the face, punish yourself for failing to effectively kill the enemy. Soon, you’ll be applying to Helljumper school. Goodtimes.