Corps Strength – The Long and Short of it

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


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