Preparing a Soldier for Competition in the Croatian Army

Croatia is a gorgeous country, famous mostly for its beautiful Adriatic Sea, heritage, and nature. Croatia is also a country with a long military tradition. We are proud of our ability to defend our land and to build the foundation for a modern and democratic republic.

Croatians are very proud of their army and to become a soldier is a thing you carry with pride, not only for you but also for your family. In our Krav Maga sport center in the city of Split, we train civilians (men, women, and children) and we also train the military, police, and bodyguards. For self-defense and fighting techniques, we use Krav Maga (according to the Krav Maga Global curriculum), and for physical preparation, we follow the StrongFirst methodology.

When one of our members, soldier Vilson Skoko, informed us that the annual competition to determine the best Croatian soldier was approaching and that he signed up, we didn’t hesitate to support him. The only option was for him to achieve first place, and so we began to prepare.

Croatian Army Training Program

The Croatian Army Training Program

Our training consisted of:

  • Mobility, corrective, and movement exercises
  • A system of tension
  • Lots of loaded carries (farmers walk, get-up, etc.)
  • Basic kettlebell, barbell, and bodyweight exercises for strength, endurance, and conditioning
  • Big rest intervals (five minutes between rounds of strength training and a 1:4-6 work-to-rest ratio for conditioning training)
  • Krav Maga fighting drills and techniques
  • Simplicity

Vilson’s Krav Maga training included:

  • Break falls and rolls
  • Striking techniques
  • Throws
  • Defenses against punches
  • Defenses against holds, chokes, and bear hugs
  • Defenses against attacks with a stick or baseball bat
  • Defenses against attacks with a knife or sharp object
  • Defenses against gun threats
  • Use of common objects for self-defense
  • Multiple attacker fighting drills
  • Stress drills

Strength and Conditioning Components

  1. Breathing exercises, diaphragmatic breathing, learning the model of tension.
  2. Exercises for mobility, stability and flexibility, corrective exercises.
  3. Bodyweight exercises for:
    • Strength: One arm/one leg pushups, One leg squats (pistol), leg raises, weighted pull-ups. We use the fighter pull-up program. We modified it, from 3,2,1,1,1 to 5,5,5,5,5. We never increased the number of pull ups; instead, we added weight. This program was unbelievable as was shown in results. At first, our trainee could barely do pull-ups with 16kg (3,2,1,1,1), after one month he could easily do them with 24kg (5,5,5,5,5) and his new pull-up max was 40kg.
    • Strength endurance and conditioning: metcon where we combined bodyweight exercises  with kettlebell, sprints, and long distance running
  4. Kettlebell exercises for:
    • Strength
    • Strength endurance and conditioning where we used only the basic exercises (farmers walk, get-up, swing, clean, press, push press, and squat)
  5. Barbell exercises for strength training: deadlift, bench press, and squat
  6. Exercises for explosive reaction and reflexes: sprints, catching targets from different positions, etc.

Croatian Army Training Program

The Training Program

For two months, Vilson trained three times a week with one additional session of running. If we examined his training in regards to load, it looked like this:

Week 1:

  • Monday: Heavy day – 80-90%
  • Wednesday: Medium day – 70%
  • Friday: Light day – 50%

Week 2:

  • Monday: Heavy day – 80-90%
  • Wednesday: Light day – 50%
  • Friday: Medium day – 70%

Monday is heavy because the body is fresh from the weekend and ready to work on heavy lifts. But things are not always so simple in real life. In our experience, people often feel tired on rainy days with low atmospheric pressure, so we pay attention to those elements and modify our training plans accordingly.

The medium day is a day for strength endurance work. We program double kettlebell swings, cleans, presses, squats, and loaded carries (like the farmers walk or get-up) combined with Krav Maga drills.

Light day is based on a one kettlebell workout combined with bodyweight exercises like push-ups, pull-ups, sprints, and Krav Maga drills.

Week 1:

Croatian Army Training Program

Week 2:

Croatian Army Training Program

Competition Day

The annual competition is held in a “classical” military style. This means events include a rifle, shooting targets, climbing over barriers, passing through tunnels and barbed wire, sprinting while wearing full equipment and a gas mask, and doing calisthenics and stress drills. The winner of the competition is the soldier who can complete it all the fastest.

The results of the competition were best described in the military magazine Croation Soldier:

“Vilson Skoko (21 years old) is the best soldier of a new generation of Croatian army. He earned his title on 13 of April on the military base Gašinica where nine soldiers put their strength to the test, three from each division. Vilson was the best prepared, over a minute faster than the second place finisher, but they all get credit for physical and mental strength because they were the best of 468 soldiers, which is the number of men the Croatian army takes every year.”

Croatian Army Training Program

Soon after Vilson won first place, a woman from our sports center who followed our program signed up for the military academy and was named the best prepared cadet. She was tested on push-ups, crunches, and running. She was not only better than all the other women, but also better than all the male cadets.

As Krav Maga Global founder Eyal Yanilov said, “Words show your ego. Actions show your spirit.”

Slobodan Bonkovic
Slobodan Bonković is the director and owner of the Krav Maga Center of Split, Croatia. Currently he is an SFG Level I Instructor, Krav Maga Global Expert, Krav Maga civilan instructor, Krav Maga kids instructor, and personal trainer. He is also one of the main promoters of Krav Maga Global and StrongFirst in Split.

In addition to working with civilians, Slobodan also works with soldiers in the Croatian army, law enforcement units, and professional athletes. His special interests include rehabilitation, mobilization, corrective exercise, neurological training, Krav Maga for professionals and civilians, boxing and kickboxing, strength and conditioning for amateurs and professionals, exploring and spreading the knowledge of martial arts, and physical training.
Slobodan Bonkovic on Email

10 thoughts on “Preparing a Soldier for Competition in the Croatian Army

  • With regards to the strength endurance and metabolic conditioning work would you reccomend a progression to the amount of work done over time? Or would keeping the metcon and strength conditioning sessions fairly static and focusing on progressing the strength sessions be how you ran this program?

  • Hello Yaroslav,

    thank you, a) you are right, but we modified fighter pull up program because we had lot of things to do. Our goal wasn’t to do a pull up with “the beast” but to put soldier on higher level of strength. Even then, just training it once in two weeks results were amazing.
    b) It is very important to know you goals, as we can is in this example with pull ups, if we wanted to be better in pull ups we would trained by Fighter pull up program, we wanted best prepared soldier and we got it 🙂
    For strong minded regular folks my advice is
    1) work on your mobility, flexibility, stability,
    2) then lot of carry loading like farmers walk and all variations, including Turkish get up.
    3) Do the basic exercise and master them (technique)
    4) Lot of rest between series

    You can try to do the program and see is it suitable for you then you can contact me and to see how it goes. We can do some modification according to you.
    If you need anything or have any more questions please ask 🙂

    • As far as my physical demand is to carry some heavy stuff (safes, deposit machines, banking equipment) every day and to work hard in the country every weekend (building a house and related facilities), I’d like to keep all the loaded carries as they are. Also I participate in local obstacle course races and the like, so competitive element is important. For strength work I’d prefer weighted calisthenics (weighted dips, pull-ups and pistols) maybe two times a week if you’d agree and I’d replace Krav Maga skills by gymnastics skills practice. Frequent mobility is a no-brainer. Kettlebell compexes and metcon are ok and double kettlebell technique shouldn’t be also forgotten, even if done not very extensively. Please advise, how to tie it all together? =)

      • So you don’t need more loaded caries 😉
        I advice you to do
        1) at least once/twice a week heavy day , do strength training, it can be like weighted pistols and weighted dips. Do sets like 5 x 5 or 2,3,5,2,3,5,2,3 reps (do 5 minutes break between sets – trust me on this)
        2) One training weighted pull ups 5 x 5 or 2,3,5,2,3,5,2,3 reps + kettlebell swings (lighter bell for conditioning)
        3) your gymnastic work (no heavy loading)
        4) kettlebell complex or metacon

        This can be 4 training in week, or you can combined them depends how you feel an how many free time do you have.
        Hope this is ok 🙂

  • Zdravo, Slobodan,

    the article is just amazing! Glad to see a successful application of StrongFirst methods in a situation with a very high demand. Moreover, a mix of different modalities and athletic skills seems to build versatily well prepared trainees.

    I’ve got two questions, a) the fighter pull-up is supposed to be done six days in a row following by one day of rest, so there we have it only once per one-two weeks or spead throughout a week? b) in sum one should train four times a week, we’ve got roughly: 1 tension day, 1 complex day, 1 metcon and 1 running day. Which modifications could you suggest to suit (strong-minded) regular folks needs?

  • Absolutely fantastic post and program.
    Although not military I have been looking for a new program for martial arts after returning to the simple standard in S&S. I’ve been agonising over my workouts for a couple of weeks and this might hold the answer. Thank you very much for such a brilliant looking program!

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