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Archive for the ‘Corps Strength’ Category

Corps Strength – Closing the Gap

Saturday, May 25th, 2019

The sporting world is full of amateurs, myself included. For every professional golfer who earns a living at it, there are 10’s of thousands of people who play golf for fun. This is very common with all sports, think of weekend softball leagues vs. MLB, or playground basketball vs.the NBA. Or for a much bigger gap, think about the ratio of wanna be body-builders in gyms around the world vs. the very small number of those who make money at it. That number is probably millions to one. In any case true professionals in sports (or frankly in any area), are a very small group. People who earn a living by consistently delivering a superior level of high performance, often while completing directly against other people of similar abilities, is extremely rare, and rarity (like gold and honest politicians), is a valuable commodity. It’s why Michael Jordan made a 1000x more than your average doctor, just by putting a ball through a hoop? It’s because there are a lot of doctors, but only one Micheal Jordan.

In my life I’ve been around a few professional athletes and one thing you understand pretty quick is that they come from a completely different place than the rest of us. The fact is while they normally train pretty hard (not always), they just genetically start at a much higher level than the rest of us. Some people can just run faster, jump higher, are stronger, bigger, are better at math, can sing, etc., etc. That’s just life and we all have to play in the uniform we’re issued. However, it doesn’t mean we can’t improve our game through effort and smart training. Plus, while a mule will never win the Kentucky Derby, no matter how hard he trains, or what he eats. He can be a kick ass mule and in mule world (which is where the vast majority of the world’s population resides), that’s pretty good. I say all this as though I consider my a professional in many aspects of my life. I’m not, nor have I have ever been (and not for a lack of trying), a super athlete. I was pretty good in some sports, but pretty average overall. This last week I was reminded of just how average I am during a climb of Mt. Rainier.
Myself and my two sons joined a climbing team of about a dozen to make a two day climb of Mt. Rainier. At 14,411 ft Mt. Rainier really isn’t that high a hill. I’ve been much higher (almost 18,000ft) hiking in Nepal. However, this is mountaineering, not hiking. Mountaineering requires specialized training and equipment. After years of some pretty rigorous hiking and trekking around the world, we decided we wanted to step it up. So we signed on with RMI (Rainier Mountaineering Inc) to get some training and make a guided climb of Rainier. It was a full day of training, followed by a two day climb in the cold, windy and dangerous conditions. This isn’t a joke and unless you are an experienced mountaineer (or a fool), you need guides to do this. In our case we had three. Three professionals with many years of climbing, guiding and training under their belts. Their climbing resumes were long and impressive. Multiple ascents of numerous high peaks around the world (to include Denali and Everest) and many years of training and guiding amateurs like myself to fund their climbing lifestyle.

My two sons Kyle and Branden and myself on the summit of Mt. Rainier

My two sons Kyle and Branden and myself on the summit of Mt. Rainier

During my time in the Marine Corps I learned quickly to spot professional competence and even quicker how to spot a lack of it. Mission and lives depend on competence and though many will try, you can’t BS your way through it. It’s also been my experience that professionals who know what they’re talking about have a way about them that runs true to form in any occupation; From the military, to sports, or laying bricks. It tends too look, sound and smell the same. Though when you first meet the skinny kid (BTW, anyone in their 30’s is a kid to me), in the beat up Patagonia hat with a pony tail, he may not look like a Marine Corps Drill instructor on the outside, but inside they operate the same way. It’s no bullshit, what works is what’s important and here’s why it’s important. Watch me and I’ll show you the right way to do this. Pay attention, or you could die dumb ass, or at the least fail to accomplish the mission.

From the time we started training until we made the summit and back down, I couldn’t have been more impressed with our guides. From how to climb, what gear to wear/when, what/when to eat and when to drink, they were spot on. They also ran up and down that crazy steep, icy ass mountain like it was a joke (one of our guides has summited Rainier over 60 times). While the rest of us mules struggled to make the top. In the end it was a fantastic two days of little sleep, cold, wind and hard effort that I got to share with my two boys. I have to say that as hard as I trained for months, it was a lot tougher than I thought it would be. Starting out at just after midnight on the second day, we made the summit a little after sunrise. (The views were unreal). Three of our team had to turn around prior to the summit, but our guides stated that only 3 dropping was a very good success ratio for this climb, as many people underestimate the mountain and overestimate their ability. It was both an awesome and humbling experience for this old jarhead. In my defense, for what’s it worth (maybe a lemon cookie, or two dead flys worth). At 59, I was the oldest on our team by a dozen years. But honestly, it would have been a hard hump at age 25, but I would haven’t been so sore and tired the next few days. In any case I was proud to have completed the climb, without killing myself.

Last rest stop, sunrise at 12,500ft.

Last rest stop, sunrise at 12,500ft.

After we all came down and debriefed, we had pizza and beer together. Of course, I had a million questions for my guides. How did they train, weights, cross fit, running, etc? Nope, no weights, Naw, no running, no gym. Crossfit? Huh? no. How about supplements? diet? One guy said his favorite climbing food was Fritos, another; Skittles. No special diets, though one guy said he tried to eat organic when possible. No supplements, unless you count coffee and beer? All were thin guys, not really muscular, pretty average looking really. However, the fitness I watched them demonstrate on the mountain was as good as I’ve ever seen in and out of the military. So what do you do to get in such condition? The universal answer was climb, climb and more climbing. Most of it done at 5000 plus feet, carrying a heavy pack. One guy was on a mountain rescue team and did a lot of back country skiing. Another said he did some rock climbing and a little mountain biking. One guy was a Div 1 swimmer in college. But mostly they just climbed. Ok, any advice going forward? Yeah man, get some more training, work on your skills (mountaineering) and climb as much a possible. In other words, try to close the gap between yourself and the professionals by training like them. There isn’t any tricks here, it’s training focused on a specific desired outcome.

This is sound advice for all of us, no matter the activity you want to get better in. Seek out true professionals for advice and guidance. Bar stool experts in all sports are a dime a dozen and realistically their advice is worth about a dime. I feel pretty good about the advice and guidance I give everyday to students and readers about physical conditioning for military duties and with that, maintaining an ideal weight and health. I do as while I’m not an elite athlete, I’m a hard-headed old mule, (who has been successfully plowing fields for many years), speaking mostly to other hard-headed mules. However, the main point is that we can all do better and trying to close the gap (a least a little), between us mules and the thoroughbreds, is a good way to improve. IMO effort in this direction also provides a lot of training motivation and if you do it right, a lot of personal satisfaction. Which when you really get down to it, that’s why most of us do these things. It’s certainly not for money, or fame, but for the personal satisfaction you can only truly gain from struggling toward a goal, doing something hard. Something that not everyone can do and maybe something you didn’t think you could do. Climbing provides that for me, but what ever your sport is, getting better can only enhance that experience.

After a few beers and pizza and a lot of great discussion, one of the guides asked me how I trained for this climb. I felt embarrassed to admit as I lived in Florida, I did just about everything but climb and I was going to have to make some changes as I wanted to climb some bigger stuff. One guide laughed and said, “Dude, you just summited Rainier and you live in Florida. Try to get some more climbing in, but just keep doing what you’re doing, it’s working.” With that comment I heard the faint squeak of the gap closing (about a RCH worth). But, this old mule will take that tiny victory and run with it, all the way up the next hill.

Please remember our fallen brothers and sisters on Memorial Day and till next month: “Be safe always, be good when you can”.
Semper Fi

Corps Strength – Listen for Success

Saturday, April 13th, 2019

As you might guess, people approach me all the time about working out, diets, losing weight, getting in shape, etc. These are people I know: friends, family, students and many more I don’t know; Those who have read my book, or my posts here on SSD. 9 times out of 10 they want to get my take on the latest diet, supplement or workout routine they’ve heard of, or want to relate their recent experience with the same. What they always want to talk (ask) about is the specifics: calories, carbs, sets, reps, mileage, etc. Which frankly, is the last thing I want to discuss, as I always start off with questions; What is their long-term goal, their work schedule, their present routine and diet? Any heath issues or injuries? Then I try to bring this all around to how they’re thinking about this. While people are normally very happy to discuss themselves (as we all are), you can tell that they’re aren’t really listening when I start talking about how to get their mind around this in the right way, as they normally will bring it quickly back to sets, reps, meals, fat, protein, etc., etc. I’ve had this conversation 100’s of times and they’re all so similar that I can probably provide both sides of it myself.

   You know, human nature is a funny thing. It’s immensely powerful and yet completely unbiased. Meaning that it will work equally as well for, or against you and while most people will say they get that, they don’t seem to really understand it. Certainly not to the degree required to harness it for long term success. I’ve found that much of this disconnect is really due to a lack of listening. Learning to listen and hear what’s important vs. what is the loudest, newest or false, is something we all can have a hard time with. About 40 years ago my first squad leader told me. “Roarkey (he always called me that to break my balls), if you’re ever going to be a good Marine, you need to learn how to tell the difference between fly shit and pepper”. When I asked how? He said; “Get the mud out of your ears numb nuts, pay attention and listen” In other words, BS and the truth often look a lot alike and to tell the difference you need to pay close attention and that means listening. The fact is all the information you could ever need about losing weight and getting in shape is out there, but to make it work is secondary to how you think about it. That is the main thing I try to get people to listen too, with mixed results. 

   Right about this time last year, my son were in Nepal making the Everest Base Camp Trek. It was a great experience and everything we hoped it would be. Besides the unbelievable scenery and the physical challenge of hiking above 17,000 ft, another great part was the people. We met people from all over the world there making the trek, a few professional climbers going for the summit and a lot of locals. However, my most memorable meeting I had was with a retired Sherpa guide. His name was Aang Dawa and he is now retired from climbing and owns a “Tea House”. Which is their name for a hostel. His place was our first stop, just up the trail from the airport at Luka. When we were having dinner, I noticed there were a lot of pictures of a local Sherpa on the summit of Everest and some of the other high peaks of the Himalayas. There was also several framed newspaper and magazine articles about him. I asked our guide who he was and he told us that he was the owner. Later than night he came and sat down with us. He was in his 40’s, with the typical bright smile, cheerful nature and muscular build of a Sherpa. His English was very good and for the next few hours (over a few strong local beers) we had one of the most interesting conversations I’ve ever had.

    His story was that he started as a porter in his early teens, then later attended the famous Nepal mountaineering school in Katmandu and progressed to become a high-altitude guide, (that’s where the good money is). Over the next 20 years he guided for numerous international climb teams to summit all the major Himalayan high peaks, including making Everest 3X. He didn’t boast about his climbing, but spoke like how a man who lays bricks for a living, would tell you how he built a retaining wall, very matter of fact. Even so, he related many very interesting stories about his experiences. As a PT guy, I questioned him a lot about the physical aspect of climbing. He was a firm believer that actual climbing and hiking at altitude were the best physical training for climbing, not cross training. However, interestingly enough he had a lot more to say about the mental aspect of climbing. He had quite a few stories about people who had mental breakdowns during climbs and why some people could handle the extremes of weather and altitude while others couldn’t. Some of his stories were dark humor. Like the time he helped lead a group of climbers to the summit of Everest and once there, one climber told him, “He wasn’t going down”. That he just wanted to make top and now that he had, he just wanted to stay and die there. Aang told the guy he must come down alive, or as his guide he wouldn’t get paid and his family needed the money. So he convinced him to come down as a favor to him. After going lower, the man regained his senses and thanked him for bringing him down, as he had obviously been suffering from altitude sickness and was out of his head.

    The other story that I found very interesting was the time that he was hired by the British military to take a group of about a dozen “special forces”, (what ever that means; SAS, Royal Marines?) to the summit of Everest. They were climbing from the Tibet side and they were a huge party of people that brought in all the best equipment. He said they were all big, tough looking and motivated guys, but in the end, not a single member made the summit after a few hard weeks of trying. Why? I asked, bad weather? No, not really. They wouldn’t listen about the proper process of acclimatization for altitude, they all wanted to rush through it. They all got sick and had to turn around, some having to be airlifted out. I asked if that surprised him? No, he said, they didn’t follow the most important rule of climbing. What is that? You must “listen to the mountain”. The mountain will always tell you when it’s ok to come to the top and when it’s time to stay down. The mountain has rules and you have to listen and they didn’t listen. They thought because they were tough guys they could climb on their terms, not the mountain’s. But they were lucky though, they didn’t die. Many people who don’t listen, do die. It’s the most important thing about climbing. You can learn everything about ropes, equipment, weather and be in the best of condition, but if you don’t listen you may die. At the very least you won’t be successful. I asked him what did they say after nobody made it to the top? Not much, but he added with a grin, they brought “barrels full of money”, so it was a very good trip, they had good food too.

That’s Aang Dawa on the right, me on the left, my son in the center. 

    It was the best night we had on our trip and his advice left an impression on me. It’s a funny thing about many people I’ve met from poor countries. While they don’t have everything that we have here. They don’t have the education, the medical, and certainly not the economic opportunity. They often do have an intuitive feeling about life and living that sometimes seems much more dialed in than ours. I’ve always thought that’s because as they don’t have all the material distractions we have, they actually tend to think about basic things more than we do. In any case I found it to be sound advice and not just related to climbing. 

  I think his advice can apply to many areas of our lives and trying to stay in shape is no exception. Getting in shape and losing weight has rules that you just can’t avoid. You can’t rush it, go in half ass and expect success. You have to listen to those rules, or you are sure to fail. I have learned over the years that your mental state is much more important for success in this area than money, technology or routines. I say all this as I’m convinced that listening to the right guidance and getting the rights thoughts in your head will get you there. A lot of things in life are hard. Getting and staying in shape for many people is very hard, so hard they think it may be impossible, it’s not. Not when you listen for and find the right guidance. You then need listen to yourself and trust that you have the will to do it. Because you do, if you listen. 

I’m off to climb Mt. Rainer in a few weeks and will probably have something to share with you about it next month. 

Till then: “Be safe always, be good when you can”. 

Semper Fi 


BTW I thought his advice was so good I had it tattooed on my calf so I wouldn’t forget.

“Listen to the Mountain” in Nepali

Corps Strength: Transitional Disconnect, Road Blocks and Magical Thinking

Saturday, March 23rd, 2019

This past weekend I spent some time on the road with our Anti-Terrorism/Anti-Piracy class. During all our courses we build time into the schedule to make trips outside of Pensacola to attend training from other bases/agencies and to enjoy some liberty together. I often learn more about my students and their countries on these trips than I do in the classroom, as things are always different (and more open), when you get away from the flag pole. In any case, during this recent trip I was accompanied by an active duty U.S. Navy Senior Chief. He’s currently dealing with some foot injuries and from that, weight gain. During the trip we discussed diet and PT quite a bit. He told me while his foot injury has made maintaining weight standards extra tough, he admitted that he’s struggled with weight for his entire Navy career. However, while speaking to him it was obvious that he had a lot of knowledge about diet and exercise. While it may seem counter-intuitive that a person who is overweight and out of shape would have good knowledge on this, but I’ve found this to be a very common thing.
As we all know, many people struggle with their weight and in our present age of 24/7 cable TV, social media and the internet the world is awash with diet and weight loss information (good and bad). There is also no doubt that people who struggle with their weight spend a lot of time and money trying all kinds of different plans. It’s a multi-billion dollar business and I personally know a lot of people who’ve attempted dozens of different diets and workout plans over the years. Sadly, the vast majority yielded very poor long term results. Why is this? You would think that with more information out there, the more success people would have. However, in most cases the opposite is true. The sad fact is, as more information and options have become available, obesity rates have skyrocketed?

The reasons for the rise in obesity rates are many: People are less physically active in both their jobs and recreation is one reason. The greater availability of processed/fast food is another. There are many more. However, putting aside the causes for now, I want to focus in on why with all the good info out their, most people (despite their obvious knowledge) can’t get a handle on this? Based on my own experience and observation, I have a simple theory.

This problem is what I call; “Transitional Disconnect”. Now, don’t get mental, this isn’t just some high brow physco babble. I’ve actually seen this occurrence in many areas of training. What it simply means (Master Gunny speak here), is an in ability to transition what you know, into successful action.

In this case the knowledge of diet and exercise into successful weight and fitness maintenance. Why do many people have this problem? It’s not a lack of will or motivation, nor is a lack of time or funds. I think the disconnect is much simpler and more practical; Road blocks. With the vast majority of these being self imposed.

When someone makes a decision to get in shape and lose some weight they normally seek out some advice. Which like we said before, isn’t hard to find. Yes, they could get some poor advice, true. But most of the time it’s easy enough to find enough of the tried and true basic stuff, at least enough to get them started. After that it’s time to transition that knowledge into action, this is obviously the hard part and to be successful you need a clear path going forward. But this is exactly where people will unknowingly insert roadblocks that will in short order derail their plan. There are many of these roadblocks, but there are three are the most common and biggest.

1. Attempting a too strict and/or complicated program: Any eating plan that requires a lot of special foods, restrictions and supplements is doomed from the start. I could give you dozens of examples and reasons why this is true. Just trust me, it’s true for 99.9% of the real world. Real foods, in the right amounts, is the only thing that works long term. The same goes for a PT program, try to get too fancy, too intense or just too much and you will injure yourself, or burn out.

2. Losing the balance: Success in anything is really a balancing act. Work vs. Play, Family vs. Career, etc, etc. Eating and working out is no different. To work long term, eating and PT must be a part of your life, support for your life, not your life. People who are trying to lose weight and get in shape very often get this out of balance. They spend way too much time and effort (which is mostly mental) on it. It just becomes too much and then, like trying to balance on a slack line with a 50lb kettlebell in one hand, they will surely fall. Not being negative here, just realistic.

3. Expecting instant results: This a big one. The overall world of today is about instant gratification. Cell phones and the internet allow us to stay connected anywhere and almost instantly obtain the information we want. We have become spoiled in that expectation and think that it should apply to everything, including physical conditioning and weight loss. The sad fact is the human body has not kept up (nor will it ever keep up) with technology. You can’t hit a button and lose 20lbs, or download the conditioning needed to run a marathon. Sorry, the human body doesn’t work in WiFi. But, people tend to give up pretty quick if they don’t see quick improvements.

The bottom line here is that you have to change your thinking first and from that remove the roadblocks to make this work. To expect success without these changes is what I call Magical Thinking; Meaning I’ll just go into this half ass, with a half ass plan and Shazam, it will work great, like magic? Yeah, ok let me know how that works out. Then again you don’t have to tell me, I already know. Getting and keeping your self in good shape isn’t magic, it’s a combination of basic knowledge, sound planning and consistent action. Look at your lifestyle, your routine, the way you eat. From that come up with a eating and PT program that fits into your life. The most successful plans start with small improvements around the edges, not drastic changes. For example, just replacing regular soda with diet (water is better), can make losing weight a lot easier. Consistently going for a walk after dinner is another. These things may seem way too easy, but it’s the small things that you consistently do long term, that always beat out the huge changes that you do for the short term. Now, before you say it, your life is no busier than the rest of us. Mine is balls out, with family, work, travel and play going 24/7. Ask any of my exhausted family and friends that hang out with me. But that’s my life style and while everyone is different, just about anyone can make this work. In my book Corps Strength I lay out in detail how to make good eating and exercise part of your life, not your life. These things aren’t really that hard. Certainly not as hard as people make them. The key here is to remove the roadblocks to your success and that starts (like everything), with the right thinking. Think about it. Till next month.

“Be Safe Always, be Good When you Can”

Semper Fi

Corps Strength – Setting up your Base Camp

Saturday, March 2nd, 2019

When attempting a climb on any of the world’s high peaks, there is always a well established Base Camp. This is a fairly high place that serves as the last large logistical point for a climbing team. It’s also the place where the trekking/hiking stops and the true mountaineering begins. Many of these places are themselves a tough physical challenge to get to. Just for one example, the Mt. Everest Base Camp sits at 17,600 ft and takes a hard week of trekking to get there, (Been there, done that, felt like shit there and loved every second of it). Establishing a solid base camp of health and fitness is kind of the same thing. In this case it means maintaining a well-rounded level of conditioning that can allow you to easily step up to some specialized (harder), training in preparation for a specific event, or activity. Simply put, you get yourself to a fairly high level, but it’s something you can do and then maintain without killing yourself.

I’ve put this to the test many times in my own life as I’ve channeled my lifelong ADD from one sport and outdoor activity to another. I had my high school sports years, then came my Olympic and Powerlifting phase. A few serious years of boxing, then martial arts. Later I was big into endurance events, completing lots of marathons, triathlons, cycling and other races. After that I got my adventure race fix and all along the way hiked, mountain biked, canoed, scuba dived, backpacked, kayaked, skied, road dirt bikes, hunted, fished, etc, etc, etc. Now for the past few years it’s been climbing, both rock and alpine. My poor wife is used to these every changing obsessions and asked me once when I was signing up for the Mars mission? Well……..

In any case, during this hyperactive race through life I was also serving as a Marine, doing typical Marine stuff, deploying and working a lot, with much of it around the world and aboard ship and as you well know, being a Marine has its own physical standards and time demands. Plus, being married with a family, my recreational interests took a back seat to my service and family (who would be glad to tell you how I drug them along on way too many of these things). Meaning that most of time that I wasn’t seriously training for any specific thing. So what I always did and still do during these times, was fall back to my own fitness Base Camp. I have a basic routine that I developed over the years that always kept in me in great all around shape. From that when something caught my interest (and I had the time), I already had a great base of fitness that I could quickly jump right into a harder, more specialized program. This is my basic program that I can maintain (just about indefinitely), without much mental effort, special gear or a big time investment. The fact is I could just follow my basic plan and without any specialized training and be able to do almost anything (most sane adult stuff), I would want to do and perform at a very good level. I know this because I’ve done exactly that, many times in fact.

Everyone has different interests and desires as far what they choose to do in their off time. For those of us that like to do different sports and outdoor activities, you know you need to be in at least decent shape to really enjoy it. I know some of you pursue your own interests very seriously, dedicating many hours of intense effort. I have friends that invest many hours every week preparing for their sport, while others like a more casual approach. In any case being fit is important. In my book Corps Strength I lay out the base camp routine I have used for many years. It has served me (and many others) well for a very long time and around the world. From that base I just add and/or subtract what I needed for more specific needs. For a simple example, as I prepare for some up coming mountain climbs, I have increased the weight of my training pack and the amount of stair climbing and hiking I do each week and due to the zero time equation of training, reduced my bike riding. The point is that for me to go from my basic fitness level to the specialized fitness I need for climbing will be quick, without injury (hopefully) and frankly, seamless.

On the other side after I complete an event, like when I came back from Nepal last spring, I just ramp down to my base camp routine to recover, yet remain in excellent condition. The fact is you need to cycle your training up and down from peaks to recovery, otherwise you’’ll just burn out and/or get injured. BTW, I follow my base camp eating plan all the time, I just eat more of the same stuff when I’m training harder and less when I’m not. The bottom line is if you want to participate in a variety of sports and outdoor pursuits, you need to have your own base camp fitness plan to keep you fit and ready between more specific goals. Mine has worked well for many people as well as myself and it’s easy to tailor it to your own needs and desires. In any case using my plan, (or your own) will give you that solid base of fitness you need to be ready for anything that comes your way. Because something new, fun and challenging is always out there and when it comes your way, you want to be ready.

Till next month: “Be safe always, Be good when you can.”

Semper Fi


Corps Strength – Walk it off

Saturday, February 2nd, 2019

Since my book Corps Strength came out, I couldn’t count how many people have related their experiences with fitness, diet and weight loss to me. They tell me about their latest efforts, ask for advice, bounce off ideas and share their success/non-success. I have always really liked to hear these stories, as I learned a long time ago to get my gouge (on any subject) from actual people, with real life experience. About 90% of what I wrote in my book was based on either my own personal experience, or from the first hand accounts of others. The other 10% is from what I’ve read. The point is I don’t buy into any hyped program stats, airbrushed advertising pictures or those amazing diet ads. I could fill another book with all that crap. One common thing I’ve heard from literally hundreds of people is that they just want to get in better shape and lose some weight. The vast majority don’t care about doing a SEAL workout, running a marathon, climbing mountains, having six pack abs, etc. Most people just want to look their best, be active, healthy and injury free. That may sound like a low bar for many people, myself included. But, sadly most of the people in this country aren’t clearing that low bar. Many millions in fact are obese, sick and from all that, have serve limits on their lifestyle.

Putting eating habits aside, many people nowadays, (especially age 40+) have health problems that prevent them from participating in a vigorous exercise program, or even an active lifestyle. When they do attempt a workout program, it almost never lasts. They just burnout and/or get injured and quit. I’ve seen this movie way too many times. Sad really, as I know that most go into these things with the best of hopes and intentions. So when I’m asked for advice from people in these circumstances, I always recommend just one simple thing in the area of exercise: Walking. Walking is by far the best low impact exercise out there, especially for people that are overweight. Many people say swimming is the best, but I don’t buy it. Yes, swimming burns calories and is no doubt low impact, but it’s logistically hard to do and most people don’t know how to swim well enough to get the benefit. Just splashing around is a waste of time. For the average person walking is a much better choice and you need no special skills, or training. Besides that walking can be done almost anywhere, anytime of year and in even in less than perfect weather.


Walking is also a no-brainer, that you can do while listening to music, news, sports, audio books, or just have some quality time inside your own head to think through stuff. Taking a friend or family is even better. I consider walking my dog with my wife as time very well spent. I think that this very simple habit has good benefits for everyone and not just those in poor condition, but even those who have a good PT program underway. Undefeated heavyweight boxing champion Rocky Marciano always took long walks as part of his training, not in place of running or gym work, but in addition too. I myself have always been a big walker, even as a kid I would walk everywhere. To my mothers dismay (and my sore butt after), neighbors and relatives would inform my mother of seeing me as a little kid many miles from home with my dog, going on some adventure, or another. Plus, for many people this may be the only time they can get outdoors during the work week as too many jobs are inside office work.

Walking burns calories, especially if you put a little ass into it. How much? Well, the standard for most walking programs is 10,000 steps a day. How far that is depends on your stride length, height etc. In any case, nowadays this is very easy to keep track of through an App on your smart phone. I use the Stepz app. On this one you can easily set up the step count for your height and weight. For me 10K steps is about 4.5 miles, which burns approx 450 calories. Now, that isn’t exact but close enough for government work. If 10K is too much to start, shoot for 5K, or just 2K. The point is to start somewhere and stick to it. Burning just an extra 200-400 calories a day by walking can make a big difference in losing and keeping excess weight off. It also provides a base of fitness that you can (if you want too) slowly start adding some jogging to: Like jog a 100 yards, walk a hundred, etc. From there you can go where ever you like, Then maybe add some weight lifting, biking and hiking and you now have a complete PT program. The point is you start at place that allows you to work up from without injury, or burnout and get some benefit along the way. At my work, a few of us have a little weekly walking competition. Every week we post our weekly total, to motivate each other to hit our step numbers. Many times that thought is enough to get me and the others out walking, when we would rather hit the couch.


Attached is a picture of my total steps from last week. Of course mine includes my running, hiking and stair climbing, so some days are pretty high. On days that I only hit the gym, or I’m traveling I don’t get to 10K without some additional walking, which I almost always do after I eat supper. Which BTW is the best way to settle your dinner before you spool it down for the night. It’s a great way to clear your mind of the days battles also. In my book I call this “active rest” and it’s always been an important part of my routine and always will be. Get a step app and add some walking to your daily routine. My hunch is that you will enjoy some real benefits whether you need the exercise or not. Till next month:

“Be Safe Always, Be Good When You Can”.

Semper Fi

Corps Strength – Using the Final Protective Fire to Stay Fit

Saturday, December 22nd, 2018

Using the Final Protective Fire to stay Fit

As a young Marine grunt one of my favorite parts of field training was when we executed an FPF (Final Protective Fire), especially at night. To see all of our weapons firing at their maximum rate was always something to see, very motivating stuff. Now as most of you know the FPF is designed as a last-ditch effort to prevent the enemy from over running your position. Every weapon available fires into predetermined zones. If you’ve seen done it in person, it’s hard to imagine anything bigger than a cockroach surviving in those kill zones. The main thing is when that green flare went up it happened, automatically and instantly. No debate, no second guessing, through planning and training, the actions were predetermined and embedded in everyone’s head. It had to be to make it effective.

Now in the world of diet and fitness I think that everyone should develop and use their own personal FPF. No, I don’t mean shooting up a pumpkin pie, or case of beer to prevent you from over indulging, but having a solid fall back set of thinking about your fitness program. This is especially relevant during the holidays and right after the New Year when many people decide that as a resolution, they want to lose weight and get in shape.

As I often preach (to the point of nausea), the way you think about working out and eating is the most important factor in your long term success, or failure to meet your goals. Not a specific diet, workout or supplement but the common everyday thoughts that fill your brain housing group. Good habits in the form of consistent workouts and eating start and end with good thinking. Experts will give you many theories on how we form habits, how long it takes to embed them and why. I’m not formally trained in this subject, but I do know from long experience how these things impact our ability to maintain good fitness habits.

One thing I know for sure is that people who are successful in maintaining long term health/fitness by PT efforts and good eating, have a solid set of thought “defaults” that act as their own personal FPF. Meaning that outside of unusual circumstances, they make mental choices and from those thoughts act, in an automatic, predetermined way. Just like how an FPF works when put into action. By human nature these defaults can help provide good results and require little effort, or will power once you get them in place.

As a simple example of how this works. When you go to a restaurant, let’s say a Mexican place. These places typically have big menus with a lot of choices. However, if you’re like most people (not my wife) and this isn’t your first time there, you mentally have established a few favorites. From that smaller list you most likely have one entree that if forced to choose one, would be your pick. That is your default choice. You don’t have to think that much about it either, your mind goes right to it and from that you act. What I’m getting at here is that making choices about your fitness routine should start and be held up by a strong set of defaults. All of these defaults together establish your own FPF. Here are some examples of mine:

·       I workout every day, for an hour, first thing in the morning.

·       I alternate my workouts between cardio and strength training.

·       I always warm-up before PT and stretch afterward.

·       Water is my non-alcoholic drink of choice. Light beer is my alcohol go to.

·       I skip dessert.

·       I don’t eat between meals.

·       I don’t do seconds.

·       I choose fish over chicken, chicken over beef, beef over pork.

·       I don’t do fast food.

·       I drink my coffee black.

These are just 10, I have many more “default” settings like these in my head. I don’t think much about them. But they are always there, deeply embedded and they automatically help me make good choices when I need them. Not 100% of the time, but probably 75-80% of the time, which is plenty. Now you may say: “These are just thoughts, I need action.” My friend, all good action starts with thought. My point is that to make these actions a reflex, you need to establish a default thought process. When done so, they will just automatically come up when needed. As such they’re part of my own FPF. Predetermined and ready, no debate needed.

Now you may say how do I embed these defaults to the point where they become reflex? That is the tricky part. First you have to sit down and think it through and come up with realistic, basic and practical points. To try and set silly, or unrealistic thoughts into your plan is just a waste of time. Like:

·       I run 10 miles a day

·       I lift weights 3 hours a day.

·       I never eat bread.

Those are unsustainable long term and frankly silly. How about: I always park at the end of the row so I can get more walking in, or I skip an appetizer before dinner. After you come up with your own (feel free to use mine as they are pretty effective and general), Then post them on your frig, bathroom mirror, computer screen, smart phone, etc. Where ever you need to, until you have them memorized. After that it’s a matter or reps, mental reps till they become embedded and eventually reflex.

You will be amazed at how having these default thoughts can improve your chances of maintaining a long term fitness routine. I teach students this technique all the time and seen it help most of them. This may seem like a small thing, but there is nothing small about the power of the right thinking. Don’t underestimate its influence. Give it a real try it and you’ll see what I mean.

I hope everyone has a safe and fun Christmas and New Years with friends and family. I’m off to do the northeast “test of manhood” winter climb of Mt Washington. (Weather permitting as I don’t plan to become a statistic). In any case say a prayer and lift a glass to our brothers and sisters deployed forward and our 1st responders who are working. It’s their sacrifice that allows us the freedom to enjoy the holidays. Till next month:

“Be Safe Always, be Good when You Can.”

Semper Fi


Corps Strength – When Tires were just Tires and why Consistency beats Intensity

Saturday, November 24th, 2018

Many years ago, before I was born again as a Marine, I worked. I didn’t go to college, or join the military right after high school like most of my friends. I just worked and not inside flipping burgers, or on a factory assembly line. Hard labor is the only way to describe most of my life between the ages of 17 and 21 and it was all outside in every type of weather the northeast has to offer. I first worked setting concrete foundations for my Uncle, until he got tired of my smart mouth and shit-canned me. After that I worked at a gravel plant (for a whopping $2.90 an hour), where they turned raw cut bank into aggregate for concrete. Week nights I pursued a hazy dream of a boxing career and on weekends (which most of the time meant just Sunday off), drank a lot of beer, chased girls and routinely put my boxing skills to test in local gin mill parking lots, all of which yielded mixed results. Looking back on it now after almost 40 years, it was all at once a very physical, simple and fun life. The kind of life that many people lived back then and the kind of life that made you old quick. But, no doubt it was a great prep school for my future life as a Marine.

My boss at the gravel pit was a huge old Italian guy who ran our collection of misfits, drunks, convicts and other wanna-be tough guys with a huge iron fist. He rarely spoke to me other than to point out my mistakes, “If I was to open your head, I would find nothing but two people F**king!” Was one of his infamous lines for my daily screw ups. However, he was a great man, that I deeply admired. A WW2 Army Sgt and natural leader who I learned a lot from, mostly about how to lead rough, hard-headed men “down in dirt”, like is often the case in the Marine Corps. In any case, early every morning, when it was normally still dark (as we always started work there at the: “Crack of Christ”). He would pull out his already well chewed cigar just long enough to bark that day’s work orders to me. I was not only by far the youngest person there, but lowest of the low on the pecking order. When I first started working there, I was somewhat at a loss as to what I was supposed to be doing? So like the young dumb ass I was, I asked my boss for guidance. I’ll never forget what he said. “Kid, have you ever been to a chicken farm?” “Yes”, I said, I had. “Did you ever see a pile of chicken shit there?” “Yes”, I had seen those piles. “Did you ever notice that at the top of every pile of chicken shit there is always a little white dot?” “No, I never noticed that”. “Well, there is and do you know what that dot is? “No”, I said, now curious. “It’s Chicken Shit like the rest of the pile, but that little white dot is you and your job is to stay on top of all the chicken shit jobs that need to be done around here.” That was my first and only in-brief as to my new job. My official title was “yard man”. Which meant my daily duties could be anything from greasing trucks, testing sand gradation, to shoveling out spilled sand from the rock crusher, to helping the mechanics. In the two years I worked there, I don’t think I ever had two days of work that were exactly alike. It was all hard work in any case, most of it I enjoyed, however;

One freezing cold winter morning my boss says; ‘Today you go help Frank”. “Ok”, I said, But shit, that wasn’t good news. Frank was our tire guy. He worked in the basement of our main garage. It was a dark, cold and dirty place. If you’ve every spent any time working on truck tires and I don’t mean the nice clean tires you see people flipping around for PT nowadays. But, the dirty, greasy tires that constantly go on and off trucks and bucket loaders. It’s a hard and very dirty job. Frank was an older man in his 50’s. A small, wiry, tough little guy who almost always worked alone. By himself, he would just toll away, repairing flats and changing tires in the “Dungeon”. Frank was friendly enough, (a former Korean war Marine), a little weird though, kind of a “Ben Gun” type if you ever read the book “Treasure Island”. A few times before I’d been assigned to help Frank and while he was a decent guy, it was a shit job I despised. It was cold as hell in that dark, damp place and I knew I would filthy five minutes in. Plus, if you didn’t know it, setting split rims on those big tires is a very dangerous job. Many people have been killed by exploding split rims over the years. Needless to say I wasn’t happy.

The reason I had to help Frank on this particular day was that we had gotten a few dozen new tires delivered and he had to get them rimmed up and ready for use ASAP. When I got down there Frank pointed to the big pile of huge tires that had been dumped by the garage door. He told me that he needed me to spread them out around the floor so he had room to mount the rims. Feeling pissed at my assignment and already freezing my ass off in that damp place, I just got to work, flipping and moving the heavy tires around as fast as I could. One big tire was too much and as I was standing there catching my breath, thinking about how to move that big bastard. Frank came over and said: “Hey kid, you need to slow down, you can’t rush this stuff.” “Why, I want to get this crap over with.” I replied. “I get that son, however. Your going to hurt yourself doing like you’re doing, you need to use your legs more.” With that he deeply squatted next to the same big tire (and with a Lucky Strike hanging from his mouth), in one quick motion flipped the several hundred pound tire over. Now like I said Frank was a little guy, white haired and about 130lbs in his heavy winter work clothes. I doubt if he had every lifted a weight in his life and probably hadn’t done a lick of PT since he left the Marine Corps many years ago. Taking a drag on his smoke he said: “I’ve been doing this for over 20 years, but you may not make it through the day if you don’t take it easy.” As hard headed as I am, it was impossible not to see he was right and from then on worked at a more deliberate pace moving the rest of the tires.

Now what is the point of this long boring story of a blue-collar kid’s life? The point is as how this relates to the fitness world of today, both in and out of the military. One of the biggest things I have seen over my time as a Marine and PT instructor is injuries, especially in “older people”. Which for the sake of today’s argument, anyone over 40, though over 30 may be more accurate when speaking of military folks. I feel that much of this has been caused by misplaced effort during their PT. Specifically, I’m talking about the long-term effects of too much intensity as opposed to long term consistency. We all know that it’s a common attitude that you have to push yourself during PT. To improve you must do more, do it harder and longer. This is commonly referred to as the “Overload” principle of physical training. This is a must do to improve, but my own experience and observation is that it’s pushed too much and far too often.

Just for one example, look at the Cross Fit World. Their workouts are based on almost always pushing to their limits. Their goal is high intensity, always trying to meet or exceed the WOD times, numbers, etc. The unintended result is to always be working to failure. IMO this is a sure recipe for injury and/or burnout. Most of the people I know (and I have know a lot) that have gone into the Cross Fit world, despite their initial motivation and buy-in to the program, have come out the other end injured and/or burnt out. Now, having said that I’m sure to get some strong push back from the “cult”. LOL. That’s fine, I get it, fire away. I don’t have anything against them, I’m just making a point here. That being that after many years of training myself and others, I have come to the conclusion that consistent training at around a moderate intensity (66-75% effort) everyday will yield better long-term results than going all out (95% plus), 2-3 times a week. Now having said that, if you are training at around 75% most days and one day you come in and fill especially good, should you hold back? No, on those days you should push as hard as you feel you can safely do. This method of only pushing hard when you feel especially energetic and maintaining a moderate intensity on most days, will yield the best long-term results. Your body and your attitude will stay motivated, fresh and result in a high level of fitness, that lasts. You will also feel better, less sore and of course have less down time due to injuries.

Think about it this way. We’ve all heard and probably have seen: “Old Farmer Strength”. Farmers (or other people) who do hard physical work that are cock strong, but they never lift weights, PT, etc. Well, when farmers go out to stack hay bales, they don’t try to break records on how many bales they can stack in an hour, or a day. They work hard, but steady as they can’t afford to stack bales for just an hour. They have to be able to work all day, every day, for years in fact. That’s how they develop that long-term lasting strength they have in their back, their grip, their connective tissue and in their legs. If they followed the WOD method of work, they wouldn’t last very long and IMO it’s the same with PT programs.

People who have known me for years, know that I PT just about every day, but I rarely try to really push myself to my upper limits. I seem to have a really good feeling day about once a week, and on that day I push much harder. However, on most days I get to a good working pace and just do my work. On days that I feel tired and not at my best, I still PT, but I go at an even slower pace. When I say pace, I’m not just talking about running, but lifting weights, throwing sandbags, etc. I just go slower, lighter and easier. The point is I vary my intensity and more importantly I don’t beat myself up about it. Does it work? Well, at 58 I have no chronic injuries, physical limitations, or body weight issues. As a simple measurement of fitness, I can still easily score a 1st class on the Marine Corps PFT on any given day. This isn’t because I’m some type of physical phenom, I’m not and never have been. I may have some good working man’s genes, but I was always a very average athlete and was never the strongest, fastest, best built, or toughest among my Marine buddies. But, I have managed to stay pretty close to what I’ve always been able to do, and I think at least a little of that is from what I learned in that cold, dark garage so many years ago. Old Frank was throwing tires around a long time before it was a cool thing to do for PT. For him it was just work and he was right about how to do it back then and I think it’s still good advice today.

Hope everyone is enjoying the start of holidays with friends and family and keeping their PT going to lessen the effects of all the great food and drink. In any case have fun and remember to lift a glass and say a prayer to our brothers and sisters deployed. As most of you know, this is the hardest time on them and their families. Till next month:

“Be Safe Always, Be Good When You Can.”

Semper Fi


Corps Strength – Another Attempt At An Old Question

Saturday, October 27th, 2018

With the roll out of the U.S. Army’s new PT test, formally known as the ACFT (Army Combat Fitness Test), the Army is attempting to answer a question that is as at least as old as Sparta and the Roman Legions. That being, what is the best way to prepare and gauge the physical readiness of military people for combat? As a student of military history, you can go across time and around the world to learn about the various methods used by both ancient and modern armies to physically prepare (and test), their soldiers for battle.

Some of the older methods seem silly and frankly brutal by today’s standards. For example, the Zulu made their warriors go without sandals and walk on thorny bushes to toughen their feet and make them run faster. Those who complained, were just killed. Now there is a remedial PT program for your ass right there! However, Zulu armies were known for their ability to travel over 50 miles a day, (with no food or water), proving those that didn’t complain seemed pretty capable. For a more recent example I have a collection of Marine Leatherneck magazines from the early 60’s and in one, there is an article written about physical training for infantry Marines. The article was written by a WW2 and Korean war Marine veteran who stated: “The most important physical tasks of an infantryman in combat is marching under load and digging. Marine physical training should be tailored to increase ability in those areas and this cannot be accomplished with modern sports programs.” This illustrates that the push by those with combat experience to focus physical readiness on actual need vs. sports measurements is nothing new.

I could give many more examples of how this issue of military physical preparation and how to test for it, is a question that has been asked over and over, with many different solutions having been tried. The new Army test is only the latest in a long line of attempts in the U.S. military. My hunch is that this one was inspired by our extensive combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan over the last 15 years. That experience has pushed the conversation to more practical training vs. the long formation runs and endless calisthenics we used to do in the 80’s and 90’s. In 2008 the Marine Corps implemented the Combat Fitness Test (CFT) to be conducted basically along side the older PFT and while IMO not perfect, it was a step in the right direction to measure combat readiness.

While I’ve heard about this new Army test for quite a while now, it was two articles I caught in the news recently that got me thinking more about this. One article was very critical, one very supportive. From everything I’ve seen and read, I find myself somewhat in the middle on it. I do know the Army spent a lot of time and money evaluating this new test. I also heard about all the medical and PT “experts” that were consulted. At first glance it seems a good attempt to better measure overall physical readiness, but I as an NCO it just looks much too complicated logistically and, in the end, tries to do too much. As a career Marine I was involved in physical training at every level and for the last 10 years I’ve been training international military people. I also have a lot of friends that are fire fighters who also require physical testing requirements. I used all of that background for the training routines and methods I laid out in my book Corps Strength. However, in my book I never really discussed testing, I spoke about some of the tests that I knew different services and occupations had to pass, but I never really suggested a test of my own. However, over the years I’ve experimented with a lot of different PT tests on myself, Marines and now with internationals, From that I have something that I think would provide a pretty accurate (basic) physical readiness evaluation and is something that is also logistically easy to do.

To start off, the point here is to test potential physical combat readiness, the training required to obtain that readiness is a different subject. This is an important distinction as many exercises are great for conditioning, but IMO aren’t good indicators of physical readiness. A good example of these are calisthenics like push-ups and sit-ups and weight lifting movements like the bench press.

Secondly, as we go to combat in boots and utilities, that is what we should test in, not running shoes, shorts and tee shirts. With that, you don’t run on tracks and chip trails when deployed forward. While I’m not saying you should test on a sandy beach or up steep hills, (as this would not allow for a consistent testing over different locations), but you should conduct this test in the dirt, or on a grass field. I’m against testing with full gear, as the extra weight, while realistic, would surely lead to a lot of injuries.

If anyone would like to try it, my simple test goes like this:

After a standard warm up, the first event should be a 1 mile run for time. The easiest way is to just a ½ mile down and back on a flat, off road surface.

The next three events can (and should) be run in random order. With large groups, you can break into smaller groups and preform the different events at once to save time. Events should go from one to the other without any excessive rest time in between.

1) A combination pull-up with leg raise. I think that doing the combination of these too movements together is much more realistic than just doing pull-ups. In a real situation you pull your body weight up, to get you up and over something, not to do strict exercise reps. Do a dead hang pull-up, come down, then raise your legs (bent knees) up to your chest, then legs down for one rep. Continue till failure. The leg raise also prevents excessive swinging when doing the pull-up. This tests your abs, grip and pulling power all at once in a real-life way. Goal: 15 or more.

2) Body drag and fireman’s carry with a person of near equal weight. 25 yards drag the person down, then fireman’s carry them back for time. The benefit of including this in a test this is pretty obvious. Goal: Under 2 minutes.

3) Sandbag lift (40lbs). From the ground to overhead for 1 rep, (no just dropping on the return downward), 2 minutes for max reps. I never liked the ammo can press Marines do in the CFT. The can is too light (30lbs) and in real life objects are picked up off the ground, you don’t start at your shoulders. Sandbags are cheap and easily obtained. This is both a test of aerobic capability and muscular endurance with a weight and movement that is common in many combat tasks. Goal: 40 or more

Finish with another 1 mile run, with your final run time for score, being the average time of both runs. Now this may seem weird, but IMO this is the best way to test actual readiness, as in real life situations there are no structured physical tasking A-Z. You may be tasked to do different things, that require different types of fitness completely randomly. Running a mile first to “pre-fatigue” and at the end after preforming the other events, tests your overall endurance and toughness. Goal: A two run average under 7 minutes.

The goals I laid out for each event aren’t scientific, that would take some trial and error to come up with a max and passing score range. They are numbers that I know from my own experience, if you were to meet or exceed, will indicate a very good level of useful physical readiness. However, I don’t think that there should be any grading scale for age or gender. Of course, there will (and should be) a big variance in what an outstanding (max) score and just passing will be. This encourages effort and competition, which is a good thing. This test is easy to do logistically and will accurately measures the basic type of physical readiness that military and 1st Responders need. As this is a basic test for all hands, specialized combat units should do full geared-up forced marches and “O” courses to help measure their people’s readiness. The same goes for MOS’s that have a swim requirement. That is something that is not feasible for non-combat units, it’s not practical, or frankly needed. Those are specific needs, for specific occupations that need specific tests.

I don’t have all the answers on this, I wouldn’t consider myself an expert beyond what I have learned from my own practice experience and observation. In the end this debate will continue, but I am at least glad to see the services are trying to improve real life readiness and try to cut down on injuries. But I will close by reminding everyone something I told many an officer in my day; Something doesn’t have to be complicated, or high tech to be effective. In the end when we have many options to solve a problem, it’s always best to go with the simplest answer that gets the job done.

I’m getting ready for some winter climbing and I hope everyone is enjoying the cooler weather. Till next month: “Be Safe Always, Be Good when You Can.”

Semper Fi