Are barbells necessary for military strength?

offwidth

Level 9 Valued Member
No, it's not!
Kettlebells and/or calisthenics can get you to "strong enough"***. You don't need barbells for "strong enough", hence they are definitely not necessary.
But like I said in my earlier post, they are the best tool for absolut strength and provide the fastest road to get there.
So no they are definitely not needed to be "strong enough for military purposes", but most likely the fastest and most time efficient tool to get there.

Have a look at Tactical Barbell I+II for a good routine that will make you "strong enough" with the needed endurance for military or LEO requirements.

***we throw around the term "strong enough" a lot lately. "Strong enough" of courses varies. For LEO personal (I don't know if it's the same for military) there are different "strong enough's".
For example a breacher certainly needs more max strength than a sniper.
I think there might have been some nuances to @MikeTheBear 's answer that were missed...
 

MikeTheBear

Level 7 Valued Member
Why? I want the long answer!
I'm at work now so it won't be until later tonight.

One problem I have is the high injury prevalence with the barbell lifts. Bench in particular. Why should I risk injury (the #1 goal really being to remain injury free) to gain absolute strength when it isn't high up on my list of priorities?
Powerlifters trying for a 500 lbs. bench are prone to injury. (Ironically, the powerlifting style of bench press with the elbows tucked to the side and not flared out is actually more protective of the shoulder.) Training for a 300 lbs. bench probably is not as risky.
 

Deleted member 5559

Guest
Basing it on my own experience and the ones from friends, family etc. more people injure themselves training with barbells than with calisthenics.
+1

Regardless of method, a strong base needs to be built. Max-loads can hurt you immediately, max-volume can hurt over time.
 

Kettlebelephant

Level 7 Valued Member
I think bench press is a terrible exercise that only very lucky people can perform without any issues. Squat can also be troublesome as hardly anyone has great technique.
Now we're getting into specifics.
For the special case of the bench press. I ditched it completely when I did barbell work and focused on the floor press. You avoid basically every shoulder issues that occur with the bench.
And I couldn't care less for the "but the FP has less ROM" that people talk about. I use it to increase upper body strength and not to compete in powerlifting.
Someone who FPs 100+Kg for reps is strong and it doesn't matter that the ROM is smaller, period.
If you compete in powerlifting you have to do the three competition lifts, but if you just train for strength to make your sport or profession easier you can choose whatever movement you want. Back squats don't go well with your shoulders? Do front squats instead. Straight bar deadlifts bother you? Use the trap bar.
No need to go nazi about the choice of lifts/exercises as long as they make you stronger overall.
 
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Kettlebelephant

Level 7 Valued Member
I think there might have been some nuances to @MikeTheBear 's answer that were missed...
I think I see what you mean.
Yes, the strength that barbells provide is of course necessary for military personal, but you can attain that strength without them.

@SMason22
Yes, always in the power rack. Pins/safety bars set to a level so the bar touches your skin/shirt or is slightly above that so in a case of slip up it doesn't crush in your sternum or head.
 
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MikeTheBear

Level 7 Valued Member
If you're looking for strength, there is no better tool. What do you mean as optimal? All modalities have their own constraints. With barbells you need the barbell, the plates, the power rack, the bench, etc. Those are costly and some people don't want to go to the gym. It can't be optimal for them. But if you have the means, there is no better tool. Sure, one can reach an impressive level of strength with kettlebells and calisthenics as well. Would I consider it as optimal? No. Incremental loading and absolute load capacity give us the most effective training stimulation.

Now, there of course comes a point of diminishing returns, if all you care is strength military personnel need - whatever exactly that is. That point is reachable without the barbell. But, you will reach that point most efficiently with the barbell.
I basically agree with this, and the points that Antti mentioned are part of why I think barbells are necessary for military fitness. And I suppose I should nuance my answer here. I think some level of maximum strength is necessary for military fitness. Maximum strength is difficult to develop without a tool that can provide progressive resistance, a barbell being one example of such an implement.

Why do I think a certain level of maximal strength is necessary? The idea of becoming "durable" and preventing injury was brought up. Based on my experience, a certain amount of maximal strength helps build this durability.

Another reason for developing a certain level of maximal strength is that you'll never know what situation you'll face. You may just find yourself in a situation where you may need to move a heavy object. This is especially true in the special ops community of which you wish to become a part.

The above factors deal with being an operator. Your original post mentioned that you just wanted to pass the initial selection tests. Here again some max strength will help. Not sure what your tests require, but for someone looking to increase the number of push ups (or press ups as the Brits call them) they can do, building some maximal upper body strength will make this task easier. Zatsiorsky even had a formula for this. Yes, there are diminishing returns - a 500 lbs. bench press is not necessary to be able to do 100 push ups.

So I suppose I should qualify my answer to say that I think a certain level of maximal strength is necessary for military fitness. Barbells just make it a heck of a lot easier to develop this quality.

As for the argument that barbells cause injury, that argument is bullsh*t. Most injuries can be avoided with proper technique. You also need to keep in mind that running - something that all military personnel must do whether they like it or not - can also cause injuries. The injury may not necessarily be acute but can result from overuse. Runners tend to get lots of overuse injuries.
 

Al Ciampa

Level 8 Valued Member
Certified Instructor
I do not intend for this to get long, but...

First, selection courses are not meant to test your physical capacity; they are designed to test your mettle. Sure, there are physical testing minimums that you must meet, but your physical capacity will determine your ability to keep moving, and, the extent to which your mettle will degrade over time. No more, no less. Absolute strength is not even close to the determining factor here, in my opinion. So, get your mind right; it won't be Hollywood.

Second, your foot issue is paramount to all of this speak. It may take months and years of doing the the absolute correct things for your feet to become resilient, and without orthotics. Don't minimize this point just because you have an arbitrary timeline.

Running and rucking is third. And you need to establish these activities upon healthy feet, so in the short-to-midterm, you won't be able to follow the progress of your aerobic capacity and leg endurance, you'll have to follow the progress of your feet. I agree with what I think Mike said (I only skimmed the thread) about running, but I do not agree about the volume of rucking. For most of the ground forces SOC courses, you need a lot more rucking in your training. Back to your feet...

Calisthenics. You need to lots and lots of these, not only to pass whatever your PT testing will require, but to accustom your body to the movements that the cadre will use to "correct" you. So, for a few cals, you need to reach minimums; for the remainder, you only need to be fluent in them; for all cals, you need to be able to perform them daily, throughout the day.

Loading. Carries and unilateral KB movements are your bread and butter here. The odd lifts can be beneficial as well. It won't kill you to do a few moderately loaded DLs or overhead presses, but they're not essential.

Remember that is not an athletic competition, which can drive the physical capacity requirements through the roof. This is an event of meeting standards and usually being somewhere in the middle of the pack. It is far more important to not be the first to take your pack off, nor the be the last to get on your feet; again, your mettle.
 

SMason22

Level 4 Valued Member
Thank you @aciampa for the excellent response.

Unfortunately my timeline isn't arbitrary, as I am approaching age limits. Next summer / late next year is the latest I can attempt the course. Hence my reluctance to get out of the orthotics. They are a crutch that can be used in the short term to get where I need to be and then later on I can focus on conditioning my feet. I'm worried that if I get rid of orthotics the build up will take so long (months / years, as you say) that I won't be able to get where I need to be.
 

Bill Been

Level 6 Valued Member
I generally don't agree with Al with respect to the importance of various physical adaptations and how best to attain them, but regarding the primacy of the mental aspect/grit/determination/mettle - I agree wholeheartedly.

When I watch those specials on BUD/S for example, I notice that the physical grind puts the men in a state where environmental discomfort will cause them to quit. Go do log PT for half an hour then go sit in the surf zone in what feels like impossibly cold water for some indeterminate period of time and watch when the dudes quit. They quit in the surf, not under the log. If I was going to BUD/S I'd spent so much time in and out of cold water beforehand that 65 degree water would feel like a sauna and so much time with sand in my underwear that having only half a load of sand in my underwear would feel like tea with The Queen. Army SF selection is also quite tough with the added mental stress of not knowing what the standards are and being told "move out smartly; do the best you can", when it's possible you've already failed too many events and will be asked to go back to your unit. I know our UK allies are equally adept at creating these mental challenges, although I'm not familiar with the exact ones you'll be facing.

He's also right about fixing your feet. I don't know how to do that except to say that you have to give them a stress for them to adapt to and this stress must be specific to the adaptation you want them to make.

Finally, I wish we could work past the military's infatuation with cardio. They do it because they've always done it; it's supposed to be "healthy" (as if health should drive the bus rather than combat appropriateness); it's easy to learn; there's no coaching involved; there's no equipment involved. But in a worst-case fight for your life scenario, I'm certain I'd rather be a 225lb guy with a 400lb squat, a 500lb deadlift, a 200lb press, and a 300lb bench than a 165lb guy with a reeeeeealy fast 3-mile time.

But selection is selection and you gotta pass the tests as they are.

Rant off.
 

MikeTheBear

Level 7 Valued Member
If I was going to BUD/S I'd spent so much time in and out of cold water beforehand that 65 degree water would feel like a sauna and so much time with sand in my underwear that having only half a load of sand in my underwear would feel like tea with The Queen.
The extent of my military experience is a desk job with the Army Reserves, so I've never been in special ops. Because of my interest in military affairs I too have seen many documentaries on BUD/S training and have done some reading. So yes, my knowledge of special ops is from book learnin' and documentaries, but at least that's better than the kid who spends all day playing Call of Duty and thinks he's an expert.

From what I've learned from reading and documentaries, the whole point of BUD/S, and I'm sure this applies to other elite units, is to push you to your limits. If carrying a heavy log with sand in your shorts after being immersed in 65 degree water feels like afternoon tea, the instructors will find other ways to make you miserable. That's the point - to test your mettle as Al mentioned. I don't know if there is a way to prepare for this or not other than to just accept that life will suck for the weeks you are there and just drive on.

But in a worst-case fight for your life scenario, I'm certain I'd rather be a 225lb guy with a 400lb squat, a 500lb deadlift, a 200lb press, and a 300lb bench than a 165lb guy with a reeeeeealy fast 3-mile time.
This was my original point. Selection tests are one thing, being a member of elite unit is another. If I were part of an elite unit I would say that having some maximal strength capacity would be necessary simply because of the unknown nature of special ops. I think these numbers - 400lb squat, a 500lb deadlift, a 200lb press, and a 300lb bench - would be ideal. Not sure what a minimum amount would be. Endurance would be important so a good run time would also be necessary. But at the end of the day, I would not want to be part of a SEAL team composed of elite marathon runners.
 

MikeTheBear

Level 7 Valued Member
Interesting fact. Some years back I read that the Navy set up tents at Ironman events to recruit persons for possible future training as SEALS (I believe you need to serve for a few years in some other Navy specialty before you can apply for BUD/S). Most people thought it was because Ironman participants had great endurance and had decent swimming skills. But that was not the primary reason. The primary reason was the mental fortitude it takes to train for and complete an Ironman event. Training for an Ironman takes about 20 hours a week of training. Add this to a full-time job that can consume 20-60 hours a week and it takes a dedicated, disciplined, and motivated individual (some would say a little crazy) to take on an Iron distance event.
 

J Petersen

SFG1/SFB
Certified Instructor
While acknowledging that the original topic is regular military entry, I would contribute that even in special ops selection courses, there is only so much PT a candidate can do in preparation before it all boils down to how much is he willing to put up with.

Case in point, in both of my attempts at BUD/S, our best athletes tended to quit in the first week of phase 1 (after the "classing up" and indoc, when the real fun begins).
 

Snowman

Level 6 Valued Member
I'd rather be a 225lb guy with a 400lb squat, a 500lb deadlift, a 200lb press, and a 300lb bench than a 165lb guy with a reeeeeealy fast 3-mile time.
Just to play devil's advocate, which person would you rather pull out of a burning vehicle ;)? Just giving you a hard time.

I think you really can get fairly job specific with this sort of thing. A crew member for an artillery piece is going to be lifting and moving heavy munitions for hours at a time in full kit, but they won't be doing much rucking at all. A mechanized infantry soldier isn't going to be rucking a lot either, but they need to be able to spend all day in full kit, mostly at "patrol speed" (slow), and occasionally sprint and move heavy things. A light infantry soldier is going to spend a lot more time with a ruck on their back. Ideally, all three of these people could have fantastic deadlift numbers and half marathon times, but there is a limit to how much time and recoverability we have. Depending on the most likely challenges you're going to face (nothing is guaranteed), you have to decide on the most appropriate way to spend your resources. Honestly, endurance will never go out of style (whether it's attained from "cardio" or some other means) when you're talking about the ability to do work all day, 7 days a week, for weeks at a time.

The OP is headed for a selection, meaning lots of running, rucking, moving under load, more rucking, and calisthenics. I think he should probably train for those challenges, with a few "embrace the suck" days thrown in as selection gets closer. If he's at the point where improving strength will help him ruck, move under load and prevent overuse injuries, then he should factor that into his training. Honestly, if you look at his training log, I don't think he needs any more advice from us :p
 

Kettlebelephant

Level 7 Valued Member
But at the end of the day, I would not want to be part of a SEAL team composed of elite marathon runners.
I may go a bit too far from the topic here, but IMO there should be both kinds of guys and the military training should be more specialized. I know this will probably never happen, but although I wouldn't want my whole team to be composed of marathon runners, I'd certainly like to have one or two of those small, fast guys with big time endurance, because they can be very valuable in certain situations. In other situations it's the big strong dude who shines.
Take those longer firefights for example where someone has to constantly provide his teammates with backup ammo. Would you want that guy to be the big one or the small guy with the big endurance?
The takeaway is I want both on my team and they should be trained accordingly and not with a "one size fits all"-approach.

But in a worst-case fight for your life scenario, I'm certain I'd rather be a 225lb guy with a 400lb squat, a 500lb deadlift, a 200lb press, and a 300lb bench than a 165lb guy with a reeeeeealy fast 3-mile time.
This is highly depended on the situation. In a 1-on-1 fight to the death situation where you're out of ammo and lost your knive I'm with you. In other situations maybe not.
When bullets are flying around the 165lbs guy is a much smaller target and he is probably out of the way and behind cover quicker than the bigger stronger guy.
All I'd want from the 165lbs is enough strength to drag me out of the danger zone if he has to.

EDIT: @Snowman basically said what I wanted to say, just got it out quicker :)
 

Manuel Fortin

Level 6 Valued Member
@SMason22 I have no personnel knowledge of how special forces train, but I seem to remember that Jocko Willink, a now retired Navy Seal Commander, mentioned in his interview with Tim Ferriss that the powerlifts were an integral part of how he trained. I don't know if that was before or after selection though. In any case, this podcast is probably worth listening for you if you did not already: The Scariest Navy SEAL Imaginable…And What He Taught Me.
 

Al Ciampa

Level 8 Valued Member
Certified Instructor
Thank you @aciampa for the excellent response.

Unfortunately my timeline isn't arbitrary, as I am approaching age limits. Next summer / late next year is the latest I can attempt the course. Hence my reluctance to get out of the orthotics. They are a crutch that can be used in the short term to get where I need to be and then later on I can focus on conditioning my feet. I'm worried that if I get rid of orthotics the build up will take so long (months / years, as you say) that I won't be able to get where I need to be.
You’re very welcome. As my very last post to this forum, I’d like to wish you the best of luck on your journey, Sir.
 

Boosh32

Level 6 Valued Member
This has been an interesting discussion. The original question was barbells or kettlebells to prepare for British Army parachute training.

Which branch of Service and at which Selection are you aiming?
British Army Pre Parachute (P-Company). Very ruck and running heavy.


Here is a video that gives a good idea of what to expect.
Note: There is a lot of running and it is in military boots. The course is heavy on obstacle course training. The ruck marches are fast and you can expect them to be on hilly trails.

Below are a couple of pages on the selection and training. The first page states a 6-week basic fitness program is available upon request.

The second page has this recommendation. To get fit, and stay that way, we suggest that recruits put an exercise programme together. The programme needs to combine stamina exercises – such as running and swimming – and strength exercises like press-ups.

I would add rope climbing in a gym. It is good exercise and you can expect it at some point of your training.

I am retired from the US Army and my opinion is kettlebells are the best option this point of your training. You will get them most result for the time spent. Barbells could be used for an area that needs improvement. I didn't see a post that said where you currently are in S&S other than practicing six days a week. You may need to adjust this if you add other demanding physical training. You need to do press-ups/sit-ups/pull-ups as other training can help with the numbers there is no substitute for doing them.

The Parachute Regiment Assessment Course

You will need to attend a Parachute Regiment Assessment Course which is held at The Parachute Regiment Assessment Centre (PRAC) at Catterick. The course comprises of a series of physical tests to examine your durability and physical fitness. The assessment covers three days and upon successful completion you will be given a start date to join a platoon in PARA Company. (click here to download the PRAC course program) Individuals should ensure that prior to attending PRAC they have conditioned themselves to hill running to improve basic stamina and fitness.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is PRAC?
The Parachute Regiment Assessment Course.

Where does Parachute Regiment training take place?
At the Infantry Training Centre, Helles Barracks, Catterick.

What sort of fitness training should I do?
Potential recruits can contact us for a 6-week basic fitness programme.

http://www.army.mod.uk/infantry/regiments/parachute/24313.aspx

Combat Infantryman's Course - PARA

Much is demanded of recruits at ITC Catterick, both mentally and physically. All recruits must be prepared, arrive with a positive attitude and be ready to learn a lot. Recruits usually find that Army life is different from anything they have experienced, and they need to adjust quickly to the Army’s discipline and rules.

Course overview

The Combat Infantryman’s Course – PARA builds up recruits’ skills and fitness bit by bit. In rough order, this involves learning individual skills first, followed by team/section skills and then platoon skills, ending with an assessment.

During training, recruits are taught the importance of discipline, integrity, loyalty and respect for others. They learn that being a soldier is about putting others first and having the courage to do the right thing in any given situation.

This version of the CIC is two weeks longer than the Line Infantry version. Greater emphasis is placed on fitness, bearing in mind the higher fitness standards of the Parachute Regiment.

Fitness

There's lots of exercise in the course including sports, running, gym work, swimming, the assault course and general physical training. Fitness is very important. The training is tough, so it’s important that recruits get in shape before they arrive at ITC Catterick. The fitter they are, the easier it is. It’s vital that recruits don't let their fitness slip between selection and arrival at ITC Catterick.

To get fit, and stay that way, we suggest that recruits put an exercise programme together. The programme needs to combine stamina exercises – such as running and swimming – and strength exercises like press-ups. Recruits should spend between 40 and 60 minutes exercising, four days a week. Recruits due to arrive at ITC Catterick will find the Army Fitness site useful – click ‘Fitness’ on the right.

Combat Infantryman's Course - PARA - British Army Website
 

David Smit

Level 5 Valued Member
Certified Instructor
Strong enough is a philosophical idea, because it cannot really be measured. At some point, the acquisition of strength is going to interfere with other priorities, result in unacceptable risk, and compromise other abilities. Somewhere before that point is strong enough.

Run durability is simple. More easy run volume. Your response to volume is mostly independent of how it is structured (mostly). You can recover better from small doses than you can from big doses. For example, 4 runs of 5 miles is much easier to recover from than 2 runs of 10 miles, but the improvement in durability is not compromised (fitness improvements either). So training for run durability is best done by lots of little exposures that add up to significant volume over time. For example, if you ran 3 miles in the morning at a 10 minute mile pace (30 minutes total) and did the same in the evening, and did this 7 days per week, you would accumulate 42 miles per week of run volume in a very gentle way. Great leg durability training! If I were incorporating this with rucking and strength training, I would ruck only 1 day per week (with no running on that day) and I would ruck heavy, and only 20-40 minutes. The goal would be to go heavier and heavier, maintaining 4 mph pace. Heavy rucks transfer well to longer, lighter rucks, but the reverse is not true. Rucking once per week is enough if you are also running and doing some strength training.
I competed at the international and World Cup level as a triathlete in the late 80’s and 90’s through until 2000. Looking back as we always do and learn had I have objected more ‘easy’ training my performances may have been more consistent and even better. The great Norwegian cross country skiers did this correctly winning world cups every year by dozens. Polarized training is what they did. As well they were very strong, doing loaded pull-ups heavy low rep squats and presses. Consider this type of training. Your foot is likely to respond...my 2 cents.
 
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