The truth is that most of us are vastly underprepared physically to defend ourselves and our families.
If you get into a fight, or you get put into a situation where you need to protect yourself or your family, there’s not going to be a rest period to catch your breath.
If you need to escape the city you live in, and the roads get blocked off, you’re probably not going to be traveling over even ground. You’ll probably need to carry weight.
Why then, do most of us limit ourselves to training in air conditioned gyms, and resting 2-3 minutes in between sets?
Look, I get that there’s a lot of people competing in powerlifting meets these days. Powerlifting is one of my favorite sports and I competed for a long time.
But powerlifting alone will not prepare you for the known and unknowable obstacles that could put your life or your family’s life in jeopardy.
To be properly physically prepared, you need to be training, not only strength, but also general physical preparedness (GPP), and skills.
In this episode, I lead a discussion on each of these, but here are things you can do to maximize these three areas:
For a start, focusing on the big three: the squat, deadlift, and bench press is a good call. These lifts will help you to master basic form, and you should seek to perfect your form on all three of them.
Nevertheless, beyond beginner training, only focusing on the big three will leave many holes in your strength. There are movements that can help you to incorporate more core strength and functional fitness into your regimen.
Here are some of them:
Lower Body – Olympic Front Squat
This one is a hard one for most people because of the shoulder mobility required to do it, but it also mimics the patterns that most athletes need to work in order to be efficient at what they do. It trains thoracic extension, which will increase your strength and protect your spine. Of course, the back squat is also awesome at this, but if you are in a tactical or athletic situation, most of the time you will be lifting from the front. As such I recommend learning the olympic front squat and including it in your routine as a strength builder. Here’s a cool instructional video from our own Warrior Soul Agoge exercise library:
Single arm overhead kettle bell squat:
Lower Body – Deadlift
Of course, you should also learn the deadlift and all of its variants as well. This will help you to strengthen your posterior chain, protect your back, and it’ll turn you into a beast. Here’s a tutorial video on the conventional deadlift and the snatch grip deadlift. The snatch grip is a great variant because it also helps you to train thoracic extension and grip strength.
Snatch Grip Deadlift
Lifting irregular objects is a fantastic way for tactical athletes to prepare for the unknown. Things like tire flipping can help to build strength and conditioning like no other. Additionally, as there is no eccentric portion to a tire flip, it does not tear into muscles like other lifts. So you can do it multiple times per week:
Upper Body – Overhead Press
The overhead press is one movement that I see getting completely screwed up. Again, this requires a good degree of shoulder and upper back mobility to perform correctly. Watch these videos closely and pay attention to that external rotation of the shoulder.
Fixing a messed up overhead press:
Upper Body – Dips
Dips are extremely important for training good body position during any pressing movement and thoracic extension. You can add weight to these, but I would wait until your mobility is good enough to train enough depth.
This video from Strength Camp gives a great tutorial on body positioning and what it should be during a dip:
Upper Body – Pullups and Chins
There’s always been a big debate on whether you should train kipping pull-ups or dead hangs. Of course you should be training dead hangs first and foremost to build maximal strength and your PFT score if you’re in the Marine Corps, but kipping pull-ups also help with generating power from the hang and can help to train you for tactical situations. So my suggestion is to train both:
Dead Hang Pull Ups
Kipping Pull Ups
A lot of people confuse strength and power. Maximal strength is the amount of force you can apply against a load, while power is the max amount of force you can exert in the least amount of time. While maximal strength can help you with power, power is also a skill that should be developed on its own. Lifting “fast” is one method of developing power in your routine.
High pulls are great because they do not require the high level skill set that the olympic lifts do, and there is far less risk of injury. Olympic lifts take a good amount of time to master and if mobility is not optimized, there’s a big risk of joint injury if loads grow too fast. High pulls help to train the fast hip movement that’s required to develop functional power without the mobility demand.
Kettle Bell Swing
Another great way to develop power without the skills required for olympic lifting is via the kettle bell. Swings are a fantastic beginner exercise that help to train the hinge, which is an essential base movement to most total body movements required in any tactical or strength situation.
Kettle Bell Snatch
The snatch adds a small degree of skill, but again offers a quick and easy way to train total body power while minimizing chances for injury as long as you are doing the movement properly:
Kettle Bell Cleans
Kettle bell cleans provide much of the same benefit:
Sand Bag Cleans
Sand bag cleans add an element of reality. Chances are, if you’re cleaning something in a tactical situation, it won’t be completely balanced. Sandbags are a great way to train for tactical fitness:
The ultimate in power, backward tosses allow you to practice real power by throwing an object through time and space. My favorite way to do this is with a tire. Here’s a workout where we incorporated these with some of the other movements in this article:
There’s a host of other methods to train power. So many that we could fill a book. But these should give you a good baseline to start from.
General Physical Preparedness
General physical preparedness is about combining strength with endurance. Think about it, applying your strength in a dire situation is not going to happen in a controlled environment. Your heart is going to be elevated, you’re going to be breathing hard, and your muscles are going to be screaming.
You need to be training for this sutation so that you can deal with these things when the time happens.
Here are some quick workouts you can do to prepare.
Set a timer for 10 minutes and try to do 100 burpees in that time. This is the easiest workout you can do because you can do it any time, anywhere.
Frequency: 3 times per week
Description: High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) entails short bouts of intense exercise followed by brief periods of rest. This type of training mimics much of what you will be doing in a tactical situation by raising your heart rate and then lowering it in intervals.
Tabata Circuits: Tabata circuits involve doing any strength exercise for as many repetitions as possible for 20 seconds, followed by 10 seconds of rest, for a total of four minutes. This protocol works well with total body exercises like squats, deadlifts, kettle bell swings, burpees, and thrusters. You can either work with weights for resistance or you can do them with your own bodyweight.
The biggest benefit with Tabatas is that you can do them anywhere and the workout lasts a total of only four minutes. Don’t let the short work period fool you. Tabata workouts are some of the hardest workouts you will ever endure. So if you’re using weights, be sure to make sure that they aren’t heavy.
Complexes: Complexes are groups of resistance exercises performed at high intensity for set periods of time or repetitions. You can do complexes with barbells, dumbbells, kettle bells, or sandbags.
The Dumbbell Bear is a complex that includes five dumbbell deadlifts, five dumbbell hang cleans, five dumbbell presses, and five dumbbell squats done every minute on the minute for 20 minutes. This will wear you out!
Here’s something that a lot of people do not understand: running 3 miles in sneakers and shorts DOES NOT prepare you for humps or patrolling with a full combat load. If you’re training for tactical strength, you need to be training strength endurance.
That means carrying heavy loads for distance over various kinds of terrain, and while wearing the gear that you will be wearing in the field.
This means including a loaded ruck march into the routine, and potentially working with loaded carries for distance.
Though these are very important, you should keep the frequency of these types of training exercises down to once a week or so. Training long distance rucks too often can cause overuse injuries, lack of mobility, joint problems, and lots of hormonal imbalance due to systemic stress on the body.
Doing a 5-8 mile loaded ruck march once a week.
Carrying a 40-50 lb dumbbell or kettle bell around for 3-4 miles.
You should also be training Jiu Jitsu, grappling, wrestling, boxing, muay thai, along with training with your firearm regularly.
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