Tactical Tailor

Archive for the ‘Corps Strength’ Category

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.

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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.

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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
MGunz

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

MGunz

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

MGunz

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

MGunz

Corps Strength – A Glimpse Of Our Past, Today

Saturday, September 22nd, 2018

A few weeks ago, as my wife and I were working our way back home south from some vacation time in the north woods. We spent a couple of days with my oldest son who runs his very successful business out of lower Manhattan in NYC, (Snack Crate Inc, if you’re interested). Mostly, we did the tourist thing, visiting the WTC Memorial, eating a fantastic lunch in China Town, shopping, etc. The weather was perfect and we had a great day walking everywhere, (almost 8 miles by my wife’s Fit Bit). A great time overall and quite the contrast to the quiet pine covered mountains we had spent the last week in.

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At one point my wife needed to use the bathroom, so we decided to duck into a McDonald’s. As usual the line to the women’s room was long and slow, so as I was waiting for her, I did my usual scanning the area to see what was up. It was a huge place with at least a 100 people crowded in there. Mostly families with kids and groups of teenagers and tourists visiting the city is what I gathered. Then, out of the corner of my eye I caught something that looked out of place. Near the back of the line to the ladies’ room was a small group of what I knew instantly to be Amish women. Not hard to figure, as they were dressed in the traditional clothes that they are well known for.

Plus, I know Amish people, as they have large communities up north where I’m from, but I had never seen them in a fast food place? I then noticed a group of Amish men standing near the doorway and I guessed they were waiting for the women. As none of them were seated, eating or carrying bags of food. My guess was like us, they only came in to make a head call. The must have been on a tour, or just visiting the city? I then noticed that in the line with the Amish women were at least half a dozen young kids between the ages of 5-10 years old. Both boys and girls, all dressed in Amish attire.

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However, what really stood out about these kids was that all of them were thin and very healthy looking. One little girl of about 7-8 was nearest too me and she seemed to be literally glowing with health in her little freckled, sun kissed face. The women themselves (other than one women who seemed to be in her 70’s) were all tall, slim and athletic looking. Not being racial here, but as they were all mostly blond haired and fair skinned they all seemed something out if a 1930’s German propaganda film. The Amish men, with their beards and old school hats gave off a similar vibe of strength and health. Tall and rawboned looking with rough hands and sunburned faces, they stood quietly talking by the door. Their way of standing took me back to my childhood when I used to see my dad and uncles standing together at a family picnics, or when they were playing horse shoes. Men who work with their hands have a certain look, it’s a natural thing that can’t be faked or misread and I know it when I see it.

Looking at these simple quiet people, they stood in stark contrast to the rest of loud and colorfully dressed patrons around them. Unfortunately, the majority of the other kids and adults in there were far from any picture of health. Most were noticeably overweight as they worked their way happily through Happy Meals and Big Macs. This got me thinking about how these Amish were somewhat of a snap shot from the past. Not in any way about their race, religion, or ethnic background, but in their basic appearance and in the obvious state of their physical well-being.

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I say this as most people know that the Amish lead a simple and traditional lifestyle, based on very strict religious beliefs that restrict them from most of the conveniences of modern life. No electricity, no machinery, no TV and certainly no computers or video games. This lifestyle also has a big influence on their diet, which is made up primarily of homegrown fruits and vegetables, their own livestock, dairy and poultry. The grow food, cure meats and prepare their meals in the most basic of methods and rarely eat out, or buy processed foods. With that, they don’t do Cross Fit, run marathons or attend spin classes. They just work. Work on farms, building furniture and other types of physical labor. It’s my understanding that all the children are expected to work and help with family chores also. Where I grew up, they’re well known for their handmade furniture, quilts, outdoor sheds, baked goods and vegetables. They are also very active generally, with a lot of walking and bicycle riding as part of their daily routine.

Curious about them, after I returned home I did some research on the Amish and I was surprised to find out a number of different health studies have been done on their community. Some of the results I discovered were surprising and some were not. Even with our over sized caloric intake as a country, the average Amish man, or women consumed more calories, (especially high fat content calories, which is mostly due to their use of full fat dairy products) than the average non-Amish. However, they had a lower body fat %. Amish children have very low rates of being overweight and their long-term health was better in almost ever respect. Though they do have some issues, as they tended not to go to doctors for any preventive care, or medicine. They also showed much better sleep patterns as they had zero exposure to our constant media world and they had much lower levels of stress related aliments. They were many other interesting findings, too many to discuss here.

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In any case they are (as a community), a look back at how most of the people in this country looked decades ago. I say all this as a fitness trainer and author, because as the more I study and learn about fitness, health, diet and exercise the more I find myself looking to the past, to try and figure out a better future. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not proposing that anyone, myself included take up the Amish lifestyle to get into shape. Far from it. What I’m saying is that a diet made up of simple foods and an active lifestyle has far reaching, long term benefits as far as your health and fitness goes. Now add to that some real separation from the 24/7 media stress rodeo, better sleep and some actual exercise and IMO you couldn’t help be on the way to better health, better fitness, a healthier body weight and a less stressful day to day existence as a bonus.

In other words, while I’m not be ready to trade in my Tundra for a horse and buggy, I do feel like we can all learn something from people who supposedly are nothing more than uneducated throwbacks. Most of all that maybe in the end, getting and staying in shape is more of a by product of the right life, than the latest fitness trend, supplement, electronic monitor, or workout routine? It’s worth considering in any case.

I hope everyone reading this stays safe if you’re in the way of the incoming hurricane and are all looking forward to some cooler weather, I know I am. We’ll talk next month. Till then:

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

Semper Fi

MGunz

Corps Strength – The Long and Short of it

Saturday, August 18th, 2018

I have a buddy who is an Army Ranger and Green Beret. A guy with multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. Your typical SOF type, (at least in my experience) easy going, down to earth, smart as a tack and a one tough bastard, both inside and out. When he isn’t deployed, or deep in a training loop, I get him down here to be a guest speaker for my international leadership class. He’s a great speaker and the students love him. I love the fact that we get to hang out and catch up later over some chow and beer. As he’s still on active duty, I get to pick his 50 lb brain, especially on current ops, weapons and PT.

When it comes to PT we think a lot alike. More functional, than sports minded and definitely more outdoor, than gym stuff. He has shared a lot about his team’s PT routine and their other training. Much of it wasn’t a surprise, (other than the insane amount of live fire they do). But, one thing that surprised me on their PT program, was that they almost never do any long-distance running? In fact, he told me that they rarely ever run more than a ½ mile at once. The vast majority of their PT is combination workouts of short runs/sprints, functional movements with tires, sandbags, ammo cans and calisthenics. Intense, functional and in the dirt. Of course, as a matter of operational training, they do a bunch of humping with heavy packs, and on his own time he likes to lift weights. That shows, as he’s built like a linebacker at around 6’ 220lbs. Funny thing when I was a young Jarhead, most of the SOF I saw were all skinny? Now they’re almost all big, stocky guys? I guess it’s more Capt Crunch and Creatine, than Marlboro’s and Jack Daniels nowadays.

In any case I asked him, you guys don’t ever do any longer runs, 5-6 miles every once in a while? “Naw, almost never, some of the guys like to run, they do marathons and all that, but that’s their own thing. It doesn’t help us for what we need. What good is it to jog around in PT gear when in real life we’re carrying weapons, ammo, water, etc. and it’s all in full uniform and in the dirt? When we’re forward it’s humping hills, short dashes, climbing up, around and over crap, and always carrying gear (and sometimes people). We need to train here, for how we fight there. Besides, I hate all that long running, hurts my knees and it’s boring.” I was a typical response from him on any issue; Cut to the chase, let’s do what’s important and forget the bullshit.

Thinking back to my Marine infantry days, we did a lot of running. Many times we went over 10 miles at a pop and lot of it was pretty fast too, even in formation. It seemed that most times it was more of a manhood test than anything else, but I never questioned its value then, as it just seemed like a must do thing, to be in top condition. However, as I’ve grown older (and maybe a little wiser) I find less and less value in long running: just jogging along for mile after mile on the side of road. God knows I’ve done more than my share of it. Having run many marathons, triathlons and other road races, I’ve done training runs over 20 miles for those events. However, if your aim is to achieve a high level of all around “real world” conditioning, I think spending a lot of time on long runs is overrated and frankly probably counterproductive.

Besides being as what my buddy calls; “F’ing boring”, it yields little overall conditioning and can lead to repetitive motion injuries. Especially after you reach the level where you can easily run a 10k. Now I get the fact that it’s mindless and burns calories pretty well. I also get that many people don’t care about “functional fitness”. They just want something simple to keep in decent shape and maintain a good body weight. Running an hour everyday will do that, no doubt. However, if you’re in the military, a 1st Responder, or do have a desire for something better, you need to do more than just jog.

Not that running isn’t valuable, it’s extremely valuable and IMO necessary for conditioning. But, running will serve you better by mixing up the distance and intensity. Interval running that combines fast runs of up to a ¼ mile with jogging, or walking. Beach runs and hill sprints in different combinations and all of this made even better when combining it with some other movements. Besides, taxing and conditioning your body in a more realistic way, it’s almost impossible for this type of workout to become boring, as there is an endless variety of combinations you can dream up. I do at least one of these workouts a week and it’s never exactly the same way.

I shoot for an hour workout total, which is about 5 minutes of warm-up, 45 minutes of continuous running, calisthenics and functional stuff with tires, ammo cans and even some big rocks that are down near the beach here. In the end I probably run 2-3 miles total and all at fast clip, but never more than ¼ mile at once. I finish up with 10 minutes of stretching out and cooling down. A workout like this will hit every area of your body and builds strength, muscular endurance and aerobic fitness all at once. Certainly, much better overall than just jogging for the same amount of time and a whole lot less boring.

In the end, a lot of finding the right workouts for you is more about what you need (and want) vs. than what is just “mindless”. Mix up your running workouts and I’m sure you’ll see some good results. Besides if it works for SOF, I’m pretty sure it will work for the rest of us.

Headed north for a few weeks of climbing, hiking and relaxing. We’ll talk next month. Till then;

“Be Safe always, be Good when you Can.”

Semper Fi

MGunz

Corps Strength – The Simple Truth

Saturday, July 7th, 2018

Here at the International Training Center I work with a lot of very experienced professionals, retired enlisted and officers from every military branch make up about 90% of our instructor staff. As we are in the training business, training methods and course content are an ongoing subject of discussion and despite our varied backgrounds and regardless of the subject to be taught, the one thing that I think we all have in common is that we all strive to provide the best, no bullshit training possible. Useful training that provides measurable and sustainable results. I’ve learned a lot from these pro’s since I retired from active duty and I like to think I brought some of my own training expertise (what ever that is) to the table. However, every once in a while they will surprise me with something that seems 180 out from this normal mindset?

I had a conversation recently with one of our swim instructors, a smart and talented person who many years ago was at age 16, the youngest certified dive instructor in the state of Florida. He told me once he stopped logging his dives after #1000. Having observed him poolside training students many 100’s of times, he is one of the best swim and water survival instructors I’ve ever seen in action. A no nonsense and practical guy. So recently, he tells me about this new eating plan he was trying, which surprised me as he isn’t overweight and has always appeared to be in excellent shape. “It’s a vegetarian meal plan, you sign up and they send you all the meals. They’re organic and have no meat, no diary, no sugar.” He said it was pretty strict, expensive and they don’t taste all that great. So far it was ok, but somewhat a pain in the ass. I asked him; “What got you interested in this?” “You know, THEY say that for long term health; vegetarian eating is the way to go.” was his response. “Who are THEY?” I asked. “You know, THEY, the books, articles and experts out there” “Well, let me know how it goes” I said. “I will, but I doubt if I can stay on it for much longer.” He has since dropped it.

This is a very common example of something that I’ve seen a lot of over the years I’ve been involved in physical training; the quest for the perfect diet to help keep you healthy and fit. Vegetarian, Paleo, Atkins, Mediterranean, Slim Fast, The Zone, Vegan, Weight Watchers, etc. etc. The list is long and each has it’s own group of devoted supporters. They all have their share of amazing stories of weight loss and improved health on each of these diets. The problem with most (if not all) of these “plans” is that for a variety of reasons they are very hard to maintain long term, despite their very good short term results. The cost, the bother, prep time, boredom, lake of taste, etc. just make them unsustainable for most people.

When I’m working with someone on a weight loss and fitness program, the eating part is (by far), the hardest to get people to buy into. They normally have no problem following advice and guidance on an exercise program, but the eating plan? Never an easy sell and I think a lot of that doubt is due to all the options that are out there. People worry that they aren’t following the best (and easiest) plan out there. So what is the fix? Now as this is both my occupation and something I’ve always had a personal interest in, I’ve done a lot of reading and research over the years on this confusing subject. However, there is a couple of things that are absolute and proven and from that we can build a plan that works and works long term, for life in fact.

Balanced-Diet

The first thing to understand and accept is basic human history (if you don’t believe in evolution stop here, this isn’t a religious debate). As a species we dominate the earth for two main reasons. The first is obvious: our brain power. Our advanced ability to think, to reason, to learn, solve problems, make tools and communicate with each other, allowed us to adapt and eventually dominate every region of the earth. It allowed us to hunt bigger, stronger, faster animals and survive in the harshest of conditions. That’s the big one. The second one is less obvious but no less important in our long climb to the very top of the food chain. It’s our ability to thrive on an extremely varied diet. If you study, and/or personally observe (as I have) the eating habits of people around the world you’ll see every thing and almost any thing being eaten, with the unique result is, that groups of people with extremely different diets, are still are pretty healthy and strong. I’ve also seen this in various militaries around the world. I’ve seen people who rice is the main food of their diet with very little meat. Then there is the opposite, lots of meat and almost no carbs. The Inuit people of the north traditionally ate a diet that was almost exclusively meat and fish. Yet they survived in some of the harshest conditions on Earth and they suffered almost no disease until they were exposed to the outside world. The same could be said of many other remote tribes around the world. The Zulu warriors of South Africa were some of the toughest fighters on earth but ate mostly a diet of vegetables. The stable food of Roman Gladiators was surprisingly: Barley? So much so that gladiators were called “Barley Men”. In our country alone there are differences in eating habits based on location and background. There are many examples if this variance. So what is there to be learned going forward?

The simple answer is that the perfect diet, in the sense of certain foods and strict guidelines does not exist. That has been proven over our history, but there are some very basic things that if followed will work. First, as with most things concerning health and fitness (or anything else) the more simple a plan is, more likely it will work and you’ll stick with it. Food closer to its natural state is generally more nutritious, more filling, reacts better with our bodies and certainly have less of the things that tend to make us eat more than we need like: Fat, sugar and salt. Go with regular food, not the prepackaged cardboard that makes up a big part of many modern diets. Second, I never thought that everyday people, even those who work in physical jobs, should should be on the 5-6 meals a day program, which is a part of many eating plans. To make that work you need to have very small portions that are broken down in a very strict way. These requirements make it something that very few everyday people can manage effectively. Besides, as I often say, we aren’t babies and don’t need to be fed every couple of hours like a baby. Three meals a day is a good place to start, limit snacking. With that I think that you need to give your body a break from eating for several hours between eating. IMO it’s a mistake and just a bad habit to be eating all the time. Third, don’t eat out so much. Make your own food at home, from good basic stuff. I take my lunch almost everyday to work, though I don’t always like to take the time to make it. It’s a far better option than buying fast food. With this people need to drink more water, much less soda, coffee, sweet tea, juice, etc. there is a lot of empty calories in most of it. I would also avoid a lot supplements. I’ve tried many over the years, with few real (lasting) results. I do think everyone should take a good multi vitamin as insurance more than anything else.

These things seem almost too simple to even mention, but as I said before while simple is almost always better, people tend not to believe it? Maybe as it’s boring and people want the flash and promises of quick and easy results that a complicated plan offers? I get that they’re looking for an advantage, an edge to help them with their fitness goals. While simple may not have much flash, I know it works and in the end what works is the biggest edge of all. Try it. In any case I hope everyone is a having a good start to their (very hot) summer. Take care and we’ll talk next month.

Be Safe Always, Be Good when you Can.

Senper Fi
MGunz

Corps Strength – Tough Is As Tough Does (Thinks)

Saturday, June 2nd, 2018

Sorry I’m a little late this month guys. I just returned from the better part of this past month in Nepal, during which my youngest son and I made the trek to and from the Mount Everest Base Camp. It was a great experience, the views were beyond belief and to be honest, it was a little harder than I thought would be. The actual up and down climbing of about 25,000 total vertical feet, over about 80 miles wasn’t the difficult part. We had trained hard in the months leading up to our trip and actually had little issue with the actual hiking aspect of the trip. Our packs were less than 20 lbs and we only hiked 6-10 miles a day. The real issue was the altitude. We had never hiked over 10,000 ft before and during this trek we went to 18,000 ft. No, not the summit of Everest (I don’t have the money for that one, not yet anyhow) but pretty high. For reference the highest point in the lower 48 is the summit of Mt Whitney, which is 14,505ft, or about 3500ft lower than our high point of this trip. Like I said, pretty high.

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The basic plan for the trek was to climb about 1500 ft a day for two days, then have a rest day to help adjust to the altitude. On the rest day we would make a “training hike” of about a 1000ft or so, then return back down for the night. This is the well known altitude acclimatization method called “Climb High and Sleep Low.” It seemed to be working well for us, as we didn’t have any symptoms of altitude sickness. We powered through 8K, 9K, 10K, 11K, 12K and 13,000ft, without really any issue, other than being a little out of breath when climbing up the very steep spots, but that was to be expected. However, around a week into the trek, there was the day when we went from 14,000 to about 15,600ft during a long day of climbing up and down a steep ridgeline through a beautiful snow covered trail, which also took us above the tree line for the first time.

This new high altitude felt like the infamous “wall” (mile 20) of a marathon. But as an added bonus, you felt like someone was holding a pillow over your face. It was noticeably harder to breath without gasping and it took a lot more time to catch your breath when climbing up steep areas. Just bending over to tie your boots and then straightening up too quickly, made you light headed. You got tried very easily and our pace slowed considerably. As we moved up above 16,000 and 17,000ft, I completely lost my appetite and really didn’t sleep, for the three days we spent at those altitudes. During this time we met a young doctor from NC who was prepping herself for a Everest summit attempt (which she successfully did a week later). She had been in country for almost six weeks and during that time had been almost continuously moving up and down between 15,000 and 22,000 ft. She told me that physically you had to be at this altitude range for at least 14 days to change your bodies makeup and actually “adjust” to high altitude. She then flatly stated that as we were only going to be “up” for a few days, we would have to just “gut it out”. Which we did, but it was a real eye opener. Our small team made it to the Base Camp after 10 days without any serious physical issues, other than being tried from a lack of sleep and eating. However, we witnessed many sick people being brought down on horseback and more serious ones by helicopter.

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Now, that was the foreign trekkers and climbers. The native Shepra porters, guides and other locals was a completely different story. I was constantly amazed by the heavy loads we saw them carrying up and down these steep mountain trails. The vast majority of these guys (while sporting some very muscular legs) were overall very small in statue. Almost all were shorter than myself (at 5’8”) and much lighter, I would guess their average weight was less than 140lbs. Yet they routinely shouldered loads weighing over 100lbs and we saw many times over 150lbs. More often than not they had just sandals, crocs or worn out running shoes on their feet and they also went very fast. “Sherpa Speed” was a real thing as we constantly had to move over so a tiny guy humping a huge weight could almost fly past us, going up, or down. They were paid by the kg and the job, so the more they carried and the faster they got to where they were going, the better the pay. For over two weeks I watched this never ending train of human pack mules, as there are no roads, no cars, trucks, or motorcycles there. I never even saw a pedal bike? Everything was carried by people, or animals. Which according to our guide, using the animals were very expensive (and slow). In fact many times we saw a guy carrying a bigger load than the mules, yaks and horses that were also every where on the trail.

Now having humped a heavy (well, what I thought was heavy) pack 100’s of times during my time in the Marine Corps, I found the load carrying ability of these people astounding. Especially considering their simple diet of mostly just rice and local vegetables and their poor foot ware. I was also expecting to witness at least one incident of these porters stumbling under their heavy loads. Especially coming down so fast on these very steep and rocky paths. However, I never witnessed it, not even once?

As we had a local Sherpa as one of our guides on this trip (you really need a local guide to work through all the required permits, language and other logistical BS of a trek there), I spoke at length with him and others about how these little people were able to do this ridiculous level of physical work? Especially at these high altitudes? His answer was simple, “It was their job.” The bottom line is it’s how they can make some decent money in this harsh land, that has few other opportunities. He told us that as far as altitude goes, it was more attitude than anything else. They grew up there and from a very young age had to carry things up and down these mountains 24/7, just to go to school, the market, etc. He did tell us that when Sherpa People left the mountains, they quickly got out of shape and often took ill. He related the story of a local girl, who after she had been at school in the much lower city of Katmandu for a few months, couldn’t even walk the couple of miles up the hill to her home. Her mother had to send a horse down to bring her up. So even genetics will only go so far.

I think in the end this is another example of what people can do, is a matter of what they think they can do. If you tasked the average, healthy, well built and physically fit, trained infantry Marine or Solider to hump a 150lb load up a steep mountain at an altitude of over 17,000 ft, (the porters carried many of these huge loads all the way to the base camp at 17,600ft) while wearing just sandals? He would balk at the mere suggestion of it and my guess is that many (if not most) would injure themselves in the process, if they attempted it. Physically we are bigger, better fed, better equipped and medically healthier than these poor mountain people. Yet, in something as simple and straightforward a physical task there is; Carrying a very heavy load up a steep hill, they are better at it than we are. How is that possible? BTW, I saw all adult ages doing this, from early teens to old men in their 60’s. Though our guide said most try to retire from this work after 20-25 years of doing it? 20 – 25 years??? My simple point of all this is that we are capable of doing much more than we think we can. To get into and maintain excellent physical condition isn’t really that hard, IF you get your mind around it first. To help you with this, I have attached a short video of a Shepra humping a massive load up a mountain. This is just one of many incredible feats I saw like this during my time there. This video was shot at over 13,000ft and our guide told us the guy (who he knew) was over 50 years old and this load was over 75kg. He was paid to bring these steel beams up to the top of a mountain where they were building a new lodge. Think about this guy when you start thinking you’re too tired to do an hour on the stair master. That should help you get motivated, it works for me.

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

Semper Fi

MGunz