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Old Forum Training a soldier

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magus71

Level 1 Valued Member
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 3x5 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.

A lesson learned is, if you're StrongFirst, you're "Good to go!"

To our strength, health, and families,

SSG Douglas Moore

2-22 Infantry, 1BCT, 10th Mountain Division

FOB Warrior, Afghanistan

Good to go.
 

Siemen

Level 3 Valued Member
Barbell strength training + high-rep kettlebell ballistics is a perfect match. Congratulations with his progression.

What barbell-training did you made him do?
 

DunteH

Level 5 Valued Member
Excellent work, sir.

I've had the pleasure of serving several of our men before and between their deployments. The strength gains do incredible things for their outlook and focus that even maxing PT tests doesn't accomplish.
 

magus71

Level 1 Valued Member
@Siemen: It was a standard, Mon, Wed, Fri schedule, squats, and bench on Mon and Fri, Sqauts and kettlebell military presses on Wed.
 

Captain_America_02181987

Level 1 Valued Member
First I want to say that is an amazing story to tell! Good job at helping that soldier get through it!

I do have to say from the sounds of it that the actually test that soldiers have to take should be more focused on strength and not these long drawn out mile runs. It's almost as if the Army wants soldiers weak.
 

HerrMannelig

Level 3 Valued Member
I do have to say from the sounds of it that the actually test that soldiers have to take should be more focused on strength and not these long drawn out mile runs. It’s almost as if the Army wants soldiers weak.
There is often a suggestion that the tests should focus on strength, however, I think you'll find that all military testing usually involves endurance.

Even in the Soviet Union, from the conscripts to the special units, high rep calisthenics and running where the training and testing methods. Kettlebells were not widely used in the Soviet Military and no mention of them is in any work I find, although, high rep pushups and running around (with or without loads) are common.

Whether this is ideal or not is another question. Everybody is doing it and was doing it in history. The crunches the USMC have to do are baffling in particular. Pullups, 3 mile run, and crunches? Something doesn't seem to belong. The US Army (as I see from an online reference) is Pushups, Sit-Ups, and a 2 mile run.

I think these are used because they require no equipment and are "easy" to do. No particular skill or training is required. And it can be assumed that people who can pass do have a level of fitness that is sufficient. Rather than ideal training, it seems to be a simple test.
 

magus71

Level 1 Valued Member
@HerrMannelig and Steve Rogers:

I understand the Army standard PT test; it does measure a person's overall fitness pretty well, and as Herr stated, it is an easy test to conduct, especially in austere conditions.

The main problem I have, is how the Army trains on a day to day basis when it has access to the right equipment. Many soldiers in garrison are forced to run almsot daily, with very little real strength training. I am an example that one can train with a barbell and kettlebell with some supplementary lite run days, and still max the PT test--plus be excellent at many things that pure runners are not.  The supplementary running serves mostly to maintain or build motor efficiency, as kettlebell routines are sufficient to maintain cardiovascular strength.
 

tentigers

Level 3 Valued Member
First of all good work Doug :)

to the others the military tend to focus on the tests such as running, callesthenics etc are meant to have some sembalance to the reality of what a soldier does as well as being easily administered to a large group.

I was in The British Army for 14 years in The REME so a tech, but we still had to pass basic fitness tests that were essentially to make sure we could function in battle situation without vehicles and had a basic level of fitness, when i left in 2001 the test we had were

Basic fitness test 1/2 mile group march jog, then 1 1/2 mile individual effort under 10 mins

Multi stage fitness test pressup, burpees, pullups, situps, bleep tests

Combat fitness test 8 mile march, carrying 35lb plus rifle and helmet (worn) then partner carries, climbing on and off trucks, jump a ditch. in less than an 1 3/4hrs.

there were other tests as well, but that was the basic level, for a basic grunt to pass basic training, REME started introducing job specific parts such as carrying full jerrycans set distances etc

PT was generally running, bodyweight circuit training and partner work so almost like crossfit, but before crossfit :lol: alot of rope climbing and assault courses of course.

proper barbell strength training as this site means was pretty unheard of at the time, though i believe now a lot of powerbag and kettlebell stuff is starting to creep in.

hope that helps clear up a little of the confusion as to what they do
 

tentigers

Level 3 Valued Member
ps any other stuff was up to you, as well as regimentally organised sports,  i used to swim and bike a lot as well as an avid user of the universal gyms most units had, and any free weights  too !!
 

Jeff

Level 6 Valued Member
Congratulations on saving this soldier's career, and possibly his life and the lives of those who depend on him.  Hopefully this is only the beginning and not the end of his desire to be fit.

I was active duty navy for four years and in the reserves for 16.  I thought the PRT standards were useless.  We would have to see how many pushups and curlups we could do in 2 minutes, and then run 1.5 miles.  As much as everyone complained about it, the minimum standards were so low that I had no sympathy for anyone that couldn't pass.  There were different standards for age brackets and different sexes.  Women were just being integrated when I was in.  We heard a steady stream of propaganda about how women could do everything men could do, and then twice a year the women were given different standards for the PRT.  I also didn't see how it proved anything that a smaller man could do more pushups and curlups than a larger man, and then get a higher score, when in reality, oftentimes the larger man was more useful.

I always thought there should be a test that was the same for everyone.  I have had several ideas, but what if there was a requirement to pick up an 80 lb bag of concrete and carry it a certain distance, with a time limit?  There would be no discrimination between sexes, or how big someone is.  You can either do it or you can't.  If there was a need to help a wounded shipmate out of a burning compartment, it wouldn't matter that a smaller sailor can do more pushups than a larger sailor.  In my opinion, a timed 400 meter run would be more useful than a slow 1.5 mile run.  It takes a lot more fitness to actually run rather than to slowly shuffle ones feet for a longer distance.

The tests for the army and Marines would necessarily be different than the navy.  The airforce shouldn't need a test because all they do is sit around anyway.

 
 

Captain_America_02181987

Level 1 Valued Member
Well the reason I bring it up is because I myself was in the National Guard for a short period of time and always thought it could use an update.

If I had my way I would eliminate the once size fits all test and have it down to either:

1) Every MOS has it's own Physical fitness test

or

2) If they are going to have a one size fits all test than they change the current test to a Combat Readiness Test, like they were going to partly do originally, emphasize better diet and I mean MUCH better diet!

I say the Combat Readiness Test because it would be a much more practical test that would at least in some way mimic real life and the great thing about it, at least I think, would be the fact that while you would have to no question be in shape to pass it, it would be up to you to decide how you should train for it. It all boils down to you know your body better than I do and I know my body better than you do so let the soldier train for it as they see fit.
 

Captain_America_02181987

Level 1 Valued Member
However I should have also added that if there really is going to be a one general fitness test that everyone takes than first off do away with the sit ups! Over the last three years I've read enough about sit ups and flexing your spine period that it should be avoided as much as possible. Push ups are a tried and true exercise that deserve respect but they don't beat Pull ups/Chin ups. As for the run either lower it to a mile and a half run, keep it the same ( God forbid ) or increase it.

Two event test than: Pull ups/Chin ups and the run. Done
 

Kyrinov

Level 5 Valued Member
Interesting.  Reading this discussion made me wonder about some things since the physical fitness standards for civilian emergency occupations here fits more within something I think you guys would approve of.  I know the RCMP (Mounties) fitness test is a pretty complicated course which simulates the actual movements and loads required to perform an arrest - there is this pivoting push/pull station where you have to push against an 80 lb load, shift this arm against a fixed access about 180 degrees under tension, and then do the same thing on another machine but pulling the same load...there's a carry in there too....its an interval course with all these different pulling/pushing and lifting stations that you try to complete as many times as possible in a fixed amount of time.  I know when I apply for a job as a paramedic I have to do something equally job-specific, dragging a 200 lb dummy and carrying it with a partner up stairs and stuff like that.  Funny that the military is so behind...but I guess that's part of the culture that makes it hard to transform.
 

HerrMannelig

Level 3 Valued Member
Even lifeguards probably have a better test.
Funny that the military is so behind…but I guess that’s part of the culture that makes it hard to transform.
Actually, I think it is not behind that much at all. It is just that the fitness tests are less crucial. For the civilian tests, those are job specific. They are testing what they expect people to have to do.

For the military, their job is more diverse and they have job specific skills which are developed by doing the job (loading a tank's gun is probably quite a workout), and they have a very general test.

I do not know the statistics, but I imagine that the realities of most people in the service is not that physical. Both my parents were in the service at various times and even though one was exposed to the "enemy" (Cold War deployment during the Vietnam war to an area near the Soviet Union), the job was not that physical. And that was my mother...my father sat in an office in the states and was/is fat.

I imagine that the problem is not that the culture makes it hard to change, but that changing to something requires justification and there simply isn't much room to justify any equipment and it is not intended to be that relevant. Can everybody think of something better? Yes...but what is the justification for change? Is there a problem which needs to be fixed? The big picture says no. They are not interested in maximizing individual ability, but uniformity.

 
 

Pavel

Founder and Chairman
Certified Instructor
Douglas, thank you for spreading strength to our soldiers!

Going forward, I would focus on building up to a lot of heavy swings and get-ups.  If heavy KBs are not available, get the guys strong with barbell SQ and/or DLs and do fast light swings.
 

magus71

Level 1 Valued Member
Pavel,

Thanks for the advice, and I'm doing just that.  I'm revamping my team's physical training.  I remember you once writing that heavy lifting was one of the old Soviet olympic teams' secrets to dominations is ALL sport, not just power sports. I find this to be true. It's never a bad thing to be stronger, no matter the obstacle.

Fortunately our unit is not out of touch. We have a world-class gym back at Ft. Drum, to include all sized of kettlebells.

 
 
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