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Thibarmy Questions and Answers No.5

Question and answer

Here’s our Questions and Answers No.5!

QUESTION

Thanks Christian! I’m 18, 6’4, 99kg, my typical training is usually aesthetics and strength, my strengths are mostly strength but I do have to work on it, my weaknesses are cardio and body fat, I really need to work on those. I’m not sure about energy systems work but I’m curious! Anyway, I’ve been training since I was 16 and my athletic background wasn’t much before I was sixteen.

I’m planning on joining the Military reserves and I’m wondering if you could point me to a good workout/training program and if you could give me some tips. Thanks!

Dominic Fitzgerald

 

ANSWER

In an ideal world soldiers would be physical beasts like in “Universal Soldier”. They would be super strong and powerful. However, that is not what is valued the most, at least if you look at the type of PT they have them do.

It almost seems like the physical activity they have them do at bootcamp is to test how mentally tough they are, and not on how physically capable they are.

So, what you should do to become a good solider and what you will have to do are two different things.

At 6’4” you are starting at a disadvantage since you will have to do a lot of body weight exercises like push ups and pull ups, which are harder for tall people since your range of motion is a lot longer.

You will also have to do a lock of running and loaded walks. Which are also harder when you are heavy.

You will need a lot of endurance since it seems to be what is valued the most. And it is important, but not for the reason you think.

When your adrenalin increases (in a combat situation for example) your heart rate goes way up. The higher your heart rate is up, the less precise you are. So if your heart rate goes up a lot your shooting is a lot less effective. That’s why snipers, for the most part, are people who don’t seem to get stressed. That’s also why in competitive shooting (gun or bow and arrow) athletes often dope with beta blockers, which slows down their heart rate. Anyway, the stronger your heart is, the lower is your heart rate at rest (a stronger heart can push more blood per contraction/beat, so it doesn’t need to beat as often. When adrenalin increases and your heart is super strong, heart rate will not go up as much, which means that precision is not affected as much.

So right off the bat we know that you will need four things in your training program:

  1. Cardio work
  2. Loaded carries (walking carrying objects or pushing/pulling things)
  3. Push ups
  4. Chin ups

These are things you must be good at in the military.

Cardio work

With typical trainees who want to gain muscle, strength and look better I don’t often use a lot of cardio because it can interfere with muscle growth. But in your case it will be the foundation of your bootcamp. If you are not good, or even great, at it, it will be a living hell. In this case the interest of survival is more important than looking jacked.

I would get into the habit of doing cardio on a daily basis. I would recommend doing it first thing in the morning (I recommend not totally fasted, something like a scoop of protein or eggs and an orange prior) because that is likely what you will have to do. But for now as long as you do it, it doesn’t matter that much when you do it.

The distance isn’t important for how but what is important is that every week you increase the demand of the sessions. Either by covering the same distance in less time or covering a slightly greater distances. 

You will also have to get used to running in boots. You could go to an army supply store and buy combat boots or simply wear regular ones that look like them. I wouldn’t wear them from the start. Wait until you’ve been running for a few weeks. Starting running, especially at your height and weight is already a stress. Adding the boots might be too much to recover from at first. After 3-4 weeks you can start to wear boots once or twice per week. The goal is just to get used to it because it is a different running style.

Distances of 2 to 8 miles would be a good zone. You can start small and gradually increase. Once you are good at running you can look into starting a more “scientific” running plan where you have “long an steady days”, “short and fast days” and recovery run days.

Loaded carries

Ideally you will find a gym that has functional training tools like farmer’s walk implements, a prowler, a sled that you can pull.

If you don’t have a gym with these things around and you live in a part of the country with no snow, you can get some stuff like a wheelbarrow, sandbags or a pair of heavy dumbbells. Pulling sleds are also fairly cheap.

Loaded carries should be a huge part of your strength work. I personally recommend doing them either at the end of your strength workouts twice a week or doing sessions at your home where you do 2-3 types of carries for various distances twice a week.

For your specific needs I recommend carries lasting 60-90 seconds per set with short rest intervals (60-90 sec), or a medley of 2-3 types of carries done for around 3 minutes of continuous work with a moderate rest interval (90-120 seconds). You must be good at carrying stuff, practice it.

Push ups and Pull ups

You are tall and heavy. So that is a disadvantage. While 100kg on 6’4” isn’t “big” in absolute term it is still heavy when you have to lift and carry your body weight. When you do push ups you are liftin around 60% of your body weight. So at 220lbs doing push ups is like doing reps with 130-135lbs (a 45lbs plate per side on a regular barbell). While this is not super heavy, keeping in mind that you will routinely be asked to perform 20+ push ups. If you can’t bench press 135 for 20 good reps you will lack strength because of your body weight. Doing 20 reps of something uses around 55% of your maximum. So to be able to do 20 reps with 135lbs on the bench press you need a technically solid maximum of around 245lbs.

So we have three things here:

  1. Bench press 245lbs with perfect form for at least one rep
  2. Bench press 135lbs for at least 20 good reps
  3. Be good at push ups

So, you need to train the bench press. Ideally 2-3 times a week. Once you train for maximal strength using plenty of heavy sets of 3-5 reps. And once or twice per week you do higher reps with 135, until you can get 20 easily. There are many different methods you can use…

  1. 60 reps in as little time as possible. Using 135lbs your goal is to get 60 total reps as fast as possible. Doesn’t matter how many sets it take, the only thing that matter is the clock. If it took you 5 minutes to get to 60 last week and 4:30 minutes this week, it’s an improvement.
  1. Rest/Pause sets: Using 135lbs do as many reps as you can (let’s say 12). Rest for 15-20 seconds and start doing reps again (let’s say that you got 6), rest another 15 and finish the 20 total reps (you have 2 left). Do 3 such sets. If you reach a point where you can do 135lbs in one shot, then add more weight to the bar, 20 reps with 135 is a minimum.
  1. Drop sets: Use 3 different weights; for example 155, 135, 105. Do as many reps as you can with 155, lower the weight to 135 and rest 10 sec, do as many reps as you can with the new weight, drop down to 105 and rest 10 sec, do as many reps as possible with that final weight. Again 3 sets are adequate. If you reach a point where you get more than 12 reps with the first weight, go up (e.g. 165, 145, 115).

These are just examples of course. Don’t do them all in the same workout. One method per session then you can do some “bodybuilding work”.

Finally, you need to be good at doing push ups. Bench pressing will give you the muscle strength to do a lot of push up reps. But only practicing the push up will give you optimal results.

With bodyweight exercises the key is frequency of practice. So with push ups (and pull ups once you are capable of doing full pull ups with good form) is to do them as often as possible throughout the day. Watching TV? Do push ups during the commercials. Do push ups when you wake up and go to sleep. Put a chin up bar in your door and do pull ups every time you get in or out, etc. Don’t go to failure on these sets. See them as practicing the movement as often as possible.

With pull ups it can be a bit more complicated because unlike push ups you can’t do them everywhere not to mention that at your body weight you might not be able to do even one solid pull up at the moment.

If you can’t do pull ups unassisted I suggest reading one of my previous Q&A about how to get your first pull up: https://thibarmy.com/thibarmy-qa-1/

If you can do unassisted pull ups, even if it’s just a few, the key is frequent practice. Begin every workout with pull ups. I have two approaches:

  1. Do as many pull ups as you can in 5 minutes
  2. Do 15-30 pull ups (select the number based on your capacity) in as little time as possible

Alternate approaches at every workout.

If you want rapid results you can actually repeat the same process at the end of every session. Remember, with body weight exercises the frequency of practice is key.

Another tip; I don’t know what you look like. But if you have extra fat lose it. In the army PT, body weight is your enemy. You don’t want to become frail but you certainly don’t want to carry extra fat especially since you are already tall and heavy.

Hope this helps.

— CT


QUESTION

It would be good to see some warm ups for squats and deadlifts if possible?

Cheers,

Ben

 I’m not sure if I understand your question 100%. It can mean many things. Are you just looking for a way to warm-up the squat and deadlift (how much weight to use for your warm-up sets) or what do to prior to starting your squat/dead to prepare for the workout.

I will assume the later (mostly because it’s the most interesting answer).

The FIRST STEP is a general CNS activation. What I like the most for this is either low impact jumps (jumping onto a box then stepping down) for 3 sets of 5 reps or sprinting with the prowler (very light weight focusing on speed) for 3 sets of 20-30m. You could also use medicine ball throws, it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t have to be specific to the lift you are going to perform. It is just an explosive, non-fatiguing action to wake up your nervous system.

The SECOND STEP is “opening up’ the involved joint. In the case of squats and deadlifts we are talking about the hip. I recommend the Goblet weighted mobility flow by my team member Mai Linh (follow her: https://www.facebook.com/Mai-Thibarmy-1115676848554075/?fref=ts ).

In her own words:

“The goblet squat position in itself is a great hip opener. Pushing the kettlebell forward allows you to sit even lower and get your torso even more upright. Keep the tension in your hips, you will need it to bring the kettle back to the goblet position.

Putting the kettlebell down and then driving the hips up is an idea that was inspired from yoga: Ardha Uttānāsana. Drive the hips up by pushing through the heels and lengthen the spine.

Do three sets of 1 minute.”

 The THIRD STEP is to increase glutes peripheral activation (mostly by increasing the sensitivity of the neuromuscular junction). My choice in this regard are X Band walks for 3 sets of 8-10 reps per side.

The FOURTH STEP is to facilitate the stabilization of the body. What I personally like to do is squats with the hanging band technique for 3 sets of 5 reps. That actually constitutes the first part of the actual squat warm-up. If I’m doing deadlifts I would use Romanian deadlifts with hanging band technique (you have to stand on a box so that the hanging weights don’t hit the floor).

And the FIFTH STEP is properly ramping up the weight. The fourth and fifth steps are actually blended into one. For example:

Let’s say that your first work set on the squat is 405lbs. Your wamr-up could look like this:

Set 1: Empty bar + 25lbs hanging weights per side x 8

Set 2: 135lbs + 25lbs hanging weights per side x 5

Set 3: 185lbs + 25lbs hanging weights per side x 5

Set 4: 225lb x 5

Set 5: 275lbs x 3

Set 6: 315lbs x 3

Set 7: 365lbs x 1

Set 8: 405lbs … start work sets.

As you can see the reps in the ramp up are kept low to avoid fatigue. We want just to get used to handling gradually heavier weights without wasting  energy and neural resources.

Hope this Questions and Answers helps.

— CT

Christian Thibaudeau

Written by Christian Thibaudeau

Christian Thibaudeau has been involved in the business of training for over the last 16 years. During this period, he worked with athletes from 28 different sports. He has been “Head Strength Coach” for the Central Institute for Human Performance (of…