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

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


13 Responses to “Corps Strength – When Tires were just Tires and why Consistency beats Intensity”

  1. Rick says:

    Great story and advice!

  2. EzGoingKev says:

    I was 19 or 20 years old the first time I dealt with split rims on a big rig.

    It was slow in the shop so my boss had me helping out the guy that worked on the trucks. The two of them “briefed” me on the dangers of split rims. I heard multiple stories about guys that had been killed by them.

    I get all the rims/tires off the truck and have them laying side by side on the ground. I am cautiously removing the valve cores from the tires to let the air out. I am nervous the ring is going to come off and kill me.

    As I am unscrewing the core from one of the valve stems my boss sneaks up behind me with a paper bag he blew up. He popped that thing behind my back and I think I jumped about 50 feet.

  3. Roy says:

    Thank you for taking the time to share some of your hard earned wisdom.

  4. Tazman66gt says:

    Always love it when people compare factory work to flipping burgers. Factory jobs like filling and palleting 50 to 65 LB. bags of chemicals, while wearing a half or full face respirator. Factory jobs like building cotton machines or sprayers where you have to pick up and move up to 45 LB. components freehand or move and guide 100 LB. plus components with a hoist. Yep, just like flipping burgers. Not all factory work is sitting on your ass and putting a screw into a machine as it rolls past you.

    • Keith says:

      He did say factory assembly line.

      • Bob says:

        what do you think an assembly line is?

        Besides, you should never look down on someone who works.

      • Tazman66gt says:

        And all of those jobs I listed were on an assembly line. Come on over and apply at John Deere Des Moines Works, last I knew they were still hiring. It’s only factory line assembly.

        • MGunz says:

          I have yet to see it snow or rain on an assembly line? My only point was that I worked outdoors in all types of weather and conditions, not to put down anyone’s work.

          • Tazman66gt says:

            Most of the painted parts we work with at John Deere are stored outside, which means they come on to the line with either snow or rain on them, and drip all over the place and make puddles. In the summer they are hotter than hell and you can burn yourself on them if you aren’t careful. Not to mention we have roll up doors all up and down the line so the fork truck drivers can go and get our parts, so you get blasted with the rain or snow and cold whenever they open the doors. Also, the line that has the cotton pickers the roof is so damn old if it’s raining outside we have to dodge drips coming down. Not trying to compare it with working outside, but factory work isn’t all sitting on your butt in a climate controlled environment.

  5. b_rawrd says:

    Honestly a refreshing viewpoint to read about in a day and age where most people try to get as much big mass as possible in as little time as possible.

  6. Iggy says:

    Excellent stuff.

    I passed in the top third the SF standards at the age of 44, like you, because I been consistent for a time that matched most other guys ages. I’d tell em I’ve been fit like this for over 20 years.

    Main pro was I have very injuries, anything that could break had done years ago, no surprises.
    Only con tho was recovery, can’t compete with a 22 year old.

    For what its worth I’m normal height and weight, wiry.

  7. MGunz says:

    I have yet to see it snow or rain on an assembly line? My only point was that I worked outdoors in all types of weather and conditions, not to put down anyone’s work.