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Posts Tagged ‘Corps Strength’

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: 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 – 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 – 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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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


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.


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

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.


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


Corps Strength – Motivation 101

Saturday, April 14th, 2018

One of the most common questions I get about working out, not only from readers of my book and students, but from friends and family is; How do you maintain the motivation to PT all the time? Well, there are several things that impact that and I’ll admit, not all point to perfect mental health either. But, one thing I’ve learned to use over the years is how to use goal setting combined with cycling my efforts, keeps both my body and attitude fresh.

Cycling is the process of varying the amount and intensity of your workouts. This is nothing new as it’s a tried and true method that professional athletes use for building up to a physical and mental peak that they need for a specific event, game, etc. There is a real art to this process, especially in certain sports that require an athlete to also make a certain weight limit, like in boxing, wrestling, weightlifting, etc. Timing a peak can easily mean the difference between winning and losing, as when a fighter mistimes his peak will, they say; “Left his fight in the gym.” It takes discipline, experience and planning to be able to do this right and the best athletes/trainers have this down to a science.

Now that’s professionals, what about the rest of us? Well, there are millions of unpaid, part time athletes that take their recreational sports very seriously. Just look at the huge numbers of people that participate in marathons, triathlons, bicycling, or those that play golf, tennis, softball, racquetball, etc. in tournaments. The same goes for amateur weightlifting, and body-builders. I have some female friends that complete in fitness competitions and are some of the most dedicated and disciplined people I know, especially when it comes to their diet. It’s a real commitment that takes long term, everyday motivation. But, for or the vast majority of people, who just want to keep their weight down and their fitness and health up, using the basic concepts of cycling and goal setting can have great benefits.

The first step is to fix on a goal, one that has a real date attached to it. Having a no shit day marked on your calendar to do something is very important. Like I tell students, the only difference between a goal and a dream is that a goal has a completion date. A dream is just out there, somewhere floating around. Nice to think about, but not real? Now this could be just about anything; the start date of any planned sporting event of course, or even something less physically specific like the start of your summer vacation, a wedding, or a class reunion. IMO the best time frame is at least 90 days, but you could go longer, or a little shorter depending on the goal and where you’re starting from. After you decide on a date and an event, come up with some tangible result benchmarks that you want to reach on your date. This could be a weight loss goal, a PR of some type, or it could just be to look your best and/or be in your best shape to fully enjoy the things you have planned. I think that training (and thinking) this way (for almost) anything increases not only the anticipation, but in the end the event itself. As you will feel like in a way, you earned the fun times ahead. I can’t explain the why of this exactly, but I know it’s a real thing.

Then divide the time into 1/3’s. You should plan to have a slow, steady improvement as you ramp up in the first third, a bigger improvement the second and then roll through with momentum the last 3rd to your goal date. I always plan to taper off and reduce my efforts in the last few weeks so that I come into my day: rested, loose and very importantly, uninjured. It’s not productive to beat yourself down right up to game day. Mentally and physically you want to be feel fresh and actually somewhat anxious to get to it. To make this work, you need to write this down either in a training log, or on your computer, phone, etc. You don’t need a major diary type thing, keep it simple. But, it’s important to keep track of your efforts and in its own way, will provide some additional motivation and interestingly when you write it down: I find it keeps me honest.

I’ve been doing this for years and for many different goals. Everything from boxing matches, karate tournaments, marathons and triathlons, to adventure races, mountain climbing and backpacking trips. The goals were different, but the process was the same. For an example I have attached my most recent training log. This is my training totals for our upcoming trek to Mt Everest. I keep the daily workouts in a hard notebook, but add up the monthly totals on a computer spread sheet. This trip will be 3 weeks of backpacking, totaling over 100 miles in altitudes from 4000 to just over 18,000ft. Not what I would consider epic, but no walk in the park either.


While I was probably in good enough shape to do this on Jan 1st, I used the upcoming event to motivate my training over the last four months. As you can see I worked up to decent level of conditioning a month out and now over the last 30 days I will level out and finally taper off a little to when we leave on the 28th. I expect to arrive in Nepal in my best condition, rested and ready to go. My level of conditioning will actually make this hike a piece of cake, so my attention will be focused on enjoying myself and the time with my son, rather than even the slightest worry about the physical aspects (I hope). After I get back, I will go back to a somewhat relaxed PT schedule for about a week or so, then I’ll find something in the upcoming summer to work toward. From that new goal I will slowly ramp up my training again. To me it’s a never-ending cycle, that has always produced excellent long term results.


The important point here is that by varying your efforts based on working toward goals, you will keep your body and mind fresh and motivated. Just trying to mindlessly pound it out every day, just to do it, will at some point burn you out. Or, at least make your workouts stale and boring. Find yourself a goal, YOUR goal and set your plan up around it. It doesn’t have to be anything crazy, just something that you want to achieve. Try it and you’ll be surprised how just having a that little something to work toward can get your lazy ass up and moving every day. Which like they say: Showing up is half the battle. Enough for now. We’ll talk again next month when I get back from Everest. Till then

“Be Safe always, Be good when you can.”

Semper Fi