It should be no surprise to anyone, anywhere, by now, that combat is a physically and emotionally draining experience. Fat, out-of-shape people don’t do well in combat. Skinny, malnourished, half-dead people do somewhat better, but not by a wide margin, unless they are fighting fat, out-of-shape people.
Whether you are preparing for a total grid-down, or simply trying to survive the continuing decay of the Republic, studies and experiential evidence both conclusively demonstrate that the better your physical condition, the greater your chances of success. Good physical conditioning will help to protect you from injury, allow you to heal faster in the event you are injured, reduce the cognitive impact of the sleep deprivation common to stressful situations, and simply allow you to perform extremely exhausting physical tasks more efficiently and more effectively.
Quite simply, being fit makes you a better survivor.
Physical conditioning for survival is not bodybuilding in the classic, oiled skin and bikini briefs sense of the word, nor is it running a marathon. It is really closer to a combination of the two, combined with a healthy dose of getting punched in the face and choked out occasionally. During the revamp of training in the four pillars, the Ranger Regiment moved away from the traditional, daily, long-distance running and calisthenics-based PT programs of the past, to develop a modern, sports-conditioning, science-based program called the Ranger, Athlete-Warrior (RAW) program. Some of the philosophical statements at the foundation of this program offer a great deal of insight for the survivalist.
“The individual Ranger is the Regiment’s most lethal weapon.” Unlike the Ranger Regiment, we don’t have A-10s and mortars on call. We are, literally, our own most lethal weapon. The simple truth is, it doesn’t matter how many tricked-out custom guns you have, the fitter you are, the more lethal you are. Period.
“You don’t know how tough your next enemy will be. Assume he’ll be very tough.” Whatever you see your coming conflict as, don’t assume the foe will be a pushover. A cannibalistic San Franciscan may very well be a steriod-jacked ex-con with a stolen M240B. I can assure you, a federal SWAT cop or a foreign special operations soldier is going to be fit. Assume the enemy—whomever the enemy may prove to be—will be fitter than you are now, and keep trying to get stronger and tougher. There’ll be enough people and things trying to kill you, don’t let your own laziness do their work for them.
“You don’t know exactly what the physical requirements will be on your next mission. Assume it will be extremely demanding.” I am not—contrary to popular misconception—some sort of super athlete. I get tired of going out and lifting weights, running sprints, humping a ruck, and doing Crossfit-type WOD. I don’t believe only combat experienced, SOF veterans have a shot at survival. Too many of my friends have been killed by tenth century goat herders for me to believe that.
Here’s the deal though…If you’ve never even served in a combat arms unit, let alone if you’ve never been downrange, you legitimately have no idea, whatsoever, what the physical demands are in combat. There are lots of professional instructors, some of them with impeccable resumes, who will tell you that PT is important, but that you don’t have to be as fit as a 19 year old infantry private. They’re right, but they’re also feeding you a line of crap. If you think the standards I’m describing are tough, wait until you see what reality has in store for you when she smokes you in the kisser with a Louisville Slugger. The difference between me and most instructors?
I don’t give a crap if I never teach another class. I can go to work, making considerably more money than I do from teaching, and focus on my own community and tribe. I don’t have a mortgage payment to make on a range facility, and I didn’t take a second mortgage on my house to pay for my gun collection.
“Ranger missions require strength, endurance, and movement skill…excelling in only one or two leaves you vulnerable to poor performance and/or injuries.” As we get older, the demands of both combat and training leave us more susceptible to potential injury. I pulled a muscle in my back last week. Bad. To the point that I fell out of a chair and couldn’t get up without help. Not because I’m not fit, but because it happens. Being fit simply means I will heal faster so I can get back to lifting, running, and moving.
We don’t have to be 19-year-old infantry privates. We do need to meet—and exceed—the same standards of performance as we expect from anyone else in the same circumstances. There are no mulligans for age in combat, regardless of the battlefield.
“As an individual, a team, a squad, or a platoon, you’re only as strong as your weakest link. Don’t have a weak link.” More importantly, don’t BE the weak link. Do not let your tribe down. Does it get old, doing two-a-day workouts, five days a week, and going to the range on Saturdays, week in and week out? Absolutely. Unfortunately, it’s the only way I’ve found to eliminate all of my weak links.
“Keep your head in the game.” Because I know what I’m training for—the lives and safety of my kith and kin—I am willing to make the sacrifices of working out twice a day, five days a week. In fact, training trips to teach classes actually cut into that training time, meaning I have to work even harder to make up for the lapses. My family and tribe are worth it to me.
Combat-focused PT MUST include strength training, but the traditional “show” muscles of the beachfront poseur are nearly useless. The strength developed in combat-focused PT must be functional strength (this does not, in any way, relate to the popular trend amongst “health club” “personal trainers” to have clients stand on a balance board with one foot, while performing a 2.5lb dumbbell overhead press with the opposite arm, while their eyes are closed!). Functional fitness, in this legitimate context, simply means, the ability to move large, heavy things. It doesn’t matter if your biceps are 15 inches in diameter, or 21 inches in diameter, as long as you can move the requisite amount of weight. It’s a definite matter of function over form.
At the same time, while I am, always have been, and will continue to be, an advocate of absolute strength, I’ve rightly been called to task in the past, for not relating the need for relative strength as well. Being able to lift a Toyota Hi-Lux over your head and throw it through a wall in order to effect a breach into a compound is certainly useful…unless you’re so goddamned big that you can’t climb through the breach you created.
The key questions are: What type of strength do we need, how strong do we need to be, and what is the most efficient method of developing those standards of strength? Bodyweight strength is simply the ability to stabilize the individual joints, in combination with one another, to perform critical athletic movements. Too often in the past (and the present amongst some circles), we’ve focused exclusively on this type of strength. While useful, it’s not enough when you have to carry heavy loads to prosecute the fight, or carry a wounded buddy back to a safehouse, or carry battlefield recovered gear off an objective…It’s not enough if you need to grab an armored-up Kalashnikov-wielding Spetznaz commando and bounce him through your front door into the rest of his team coming through the door to give your wife time to get the kids out the back door. It’s not enough if you need to toss a tweaked out rioter through a car windshield to give your buddy time to get the pickup truck started, in order to effect a getaway from a flash-mob.
You’re also going to need raw strength, the ability to move a heavy weight, through space. You’re also going to need speed-strength/power, the ability to move a heavy weight, through space, at a high velocity. Those require resistance training beyond bodyweight calisthenics. It’s not secret that I’m a fan of heavy weight lifting exercises, such as squats, bench presses, overhead presses, dead lifts, and power cleans.
Combat strength needs to be a measured balance of strength-weight ratio. That ratio comes into focus when we consider the concept of power. Simply put, speed-strength/power (and I may be diverging from the scientific physiological terminology here, but please, bear with me) can be described as the ability to use your strength in a fast manner. This can range from the strength of your squats allowing you to sprint up a flight up stairs more quickly than the spindly-legged cross-country runner, to the ability to grab a couch and throw it at a guy down the hall. It may be as simple a matter as being able to run a 300 meter shuttle run, in full kit, in a prescribed amount of time that mimics the physiological demands of small-unit combat.
In that vein, combat-focused PT also needs to develop two different types of endurance. For our purposes, endurance is simply defined as the ability to sustain physical exertion over a sustained period of time. In most instance you will face, activity is intense and can only be sustained for a relatively short time. With some recovery, however brief, the activity can then be repeated. This is anaerobic endurance and is typified in many combat tasks that involve repetitive, quick, powerful movements, such as individual movement techniques under direct fire (3-5 second rushes) for example, or a quick combative encounter when you run into an unforeseen bad guy and need to create space to get your weapon into the fight.
At other times however, especially for the partisan without the benefit of air assets and with limited ground vehicle mobility, the task may be far less intense, but require longer duration, continuous movement, such as a foot march with rucksacks to conduct a multi-day security patrol around your area. This type of activity requires aerobic endurance. Most activities in the UW environment however, like life, are not simply one or the other, but a combination of both, to varying degrees. Fortunately, modern sports science has demonstrated conclusively that training anaerobically will improve aerobic capacity, although the opposite is not true. For this reason, the age-old military solution of daily, long-distance runs is happily obsolete when missions require full-spectrum endurance (says the guy who HATES long- or even medium-distance running…).
Neglecting the aerobic demands of longer runs, such as those needed to get around an enemy position to maneuver on him, or the endurance needed to walk 10-20 miles, cross-country, in the mountains, with a loaded rucksack would be just as ill-advised as ignoring the sprint demands. While the Ranger Regiment utilizes foot march conditioning (these “gut checks” were called “ruck runs” in my youth, because most of the time, you had to basically RUN, to complete them on time), more as a method to build physical and mental endurance in young Rangers, the partisan MUST also utilize it just as much as a practical training method. While the gut check benefits of the forced march are certainly just as valid for the partisan as they are for young Rangers, traditionally, irregular warfare has been conducted by foot-mobile forces, to aid in avoiding road-bound security forces. In the event of providing security for your community in the blooming unpleasantness, whether you live in an urban enclave, a suburban residential neighborhood, or the hinter-boonies of the Redoubt, you WILL have to project force into otherwise unreachable access routes by foot-mobile patrolling. Get used to it, and get conditioned for it now. The basis of a combat-focused physical conditioning program for partisans should, in my less than humble opinion, be built around forced marches, with fully-laden rucksacks. The Ranger Regiment maintained a standard of 10 miles weekly, with 20 miles quarterly, although in the mid-1990s, at least in my platoon, we conducted a 12-mile foot march every other Friday, with 80-pound rucksacks, and a 25-mile foot march twice a year. These were done with a 10-minute/mile pace standard. In the SF community however, the long-time standard has been a 15-minute/mile pace. I believe for most partisans, this latter standard is much more realistic and achievable, although I do believe the standards should be maintained or even increased for distance.
Performing a ruck run daily of course, would serve little purpose other than physical degradation of the body, especially for those of us no longer in our twenties, the rest of your cardio-respiratory and endurance work should probably be conducted via the use of sprint training drills to build anaerobic endurance, and mid-distance runs of 3-5 miles (Personally, I never enjoyed running, and still don’t. I’d be inclined to focus on the 3 mile distance over the 5, but that’s my personal weakness…).
Too many people in the Liberty movement claim doing chores around the “farm” as their PT. While historically, guerrilla fighters have come from rural agricultural societies (with notable exceptions, I realize), and their lifetime of hard work has largely been historically sufficient to condition them to the challenges of UW operations, the modern American, even one who “homesteads” and does manual labor daily, is not performing anywhere near the level of physical labor of a third-world farmworker. Don’t fool yourself. Develop a PT program.
Combat-focused PT facilitates the ability to meet the physical requirements of tactical missions. Generally speaking, these will almost always require a mix of movement skills, strength, and endurance. Unlike traditional exercise programming, these need to be utilized in coordination with one another to effect the complete synergistic benefit of a PT program. This is called Tactical PT.
Tactical PT may include a traditional Obstacle Course (if you have the room and ability to construct such a beast), combatives, casualty evacuation pulls and carries, and ruck runs. Even better, is a combination of these, such as the RPAT run-modified, I’ll describe in the next article on PT standards.