So you want to take part in one of those TV military fitness programmes, or actually join the army?

Maybe you like the idea of being a reality Tv star, or you want to meet Ant Middleton, but lots of people want to get onto programmes like SAS: Who Dares Wins and Special forces Ultimate Hell Week.

Interest in military fitness regimes has also been stoked up by books such as “Can’t Hurt Me” by David Goggins and our relentless diet of war films.

Having been involved in the training of a few wannabe participants, chatted to a contestant who got a good way through the process, and having analysed the challenges, I thought it would be helpful to offer some general training and preparation advice.

I have a motto, stolen from an ancient greek warrior. In a crisis, you do not rise to the challenge, you sink to the level of your training. Success in these types of programs , and indeed success in applying for a position in the army, and their elite corps, requires you to be properly trained for the challenges you can anticipate.

Lower down in this article you find details of how military fitness testing goes, and the standards they expect. However, here is your take home message. To successfully survive one of these regimes, I say you need a good back ground in being “outdoors”. Do you love going for hikes in the rain and getting soaked. Do you know how to manage wet clothing. Are you ok with sleeping outside, and essentially are you ok with operating on limited sleep and getting up at 2, 3am and going for a run. Do you love camping. Would you turn down some super sex for a 10k run?

If your preparation only involves going to the gym, at sociable times, the chances are you’ll be screwed.

Let me rephrase this. You need to be able to put up with crap they don’t even have names for. Are you used to insect bites, going for a pooh in a bush, stinking and running in boots. Have you had blisters on your blisters, and can you work through the discomfort of a wet pant band working their way into your crotch.

Do you like the cold? Well you better like those morning cold showers and going out in all sorts of weather. On the plus side, getting used to the cold has benefits. A few years ago, “Thermal loading” was all the rage!

There is another type of training you should consider. It’s mindset. Doing a lot of mindset work would probably help; learning how to break big tasks into little task: it may be 4 am in the morning, you may have run 8 miles, you may be at the end of your tether but, maybe you can get to that tree thats 50m away. Ok, now let’s try that house 40m away. Not letting the enormity of the task overwhelm you is important.

This involves dealing with fear The science fiction fans amoung you will recall this monologue from Dune

“I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.”

To be successful you probably need to distinguish the difference between fear and recognising danger. Fear is often described as False Evidence Appearing Real. Fear is an impractical emotion. Recognising danger and taking appropriate action is good. Being paralysed by fear, isn’t.

Lord Moran, ( Winston Churchill’s physician, and a trench doctor in WW1) said “Courage is a moral quality; it is not a chance gift of nature like an aptitude for games. It is a cold choice between two alternatives, the fixed resolve not to quit; an act of renunciation which must be made not once but many times by the power of the will. Courage is willpower.” (The Anatomy of Courage).

This is part of working out how you think . Are you already looking for your excuse, or are you thinking, “I’m going to give this 100%”. Having a victim mentality can quickly bring your performance to an end. Combating a perfectionist mindset is also part of the magic. You’ll be slower and feel like you cannot succeed. Ignore that and just continue.

It’s worth remembering that 90% fail (the real) SAS selection, and most of these simply give up. The instructors rarely have to fail people.

The last thing you need to prepare for is lack of sleep. This is truly awful. Here are the consequences of not sleeping (Ref):

Humans can bear several days of continuous sleeplessness, but it screws everything. It may lead to deteriorated functioning, impaired perception, reducing concentration, vision disturbances, slower reactions, as well as lower capabilities and efficiency of task performance and to an increased number of errors.

It screws with your thinking which means wrong decisions, and emotional disturbances such as deteriorated interpersonal responses and increased aggressiveness.

Being woken up at 2 am to do a run or burpees is really, really awful. It is however a reality that soldiers at times need to operate in a sleep deprived state. There are some interesting tips and hints here but, it seems that you’ll need to set yourself some middle of the night exercise sessions. “Exposing soldiers to fatigue in a training environment teaches them how it affects them and their performance. Learning the consequences in a protected environment will help them identify the issues caused by sleep deprivation, so that they can know how deal with them before reaching combat. Likewise, understanding why you’re tired can help you power through the day”(National Sleep Foundation)

If you are from a farming background, you probably have some experience of sleep disturbing work like lambing, milking and chasing poachers. I knew a financial broker who got up to trade at 3am. I think after a few years he went a bit mad: but that could have been the drugs and the booze.

David Goggins, the navy seal, suggested an interesting task. It’s called a 4x4x48. In other words you go for a 4 mile run every 4 hours for 48 hours. That will give you a very good idea of what sleep deprivation feels like, although, I’d start at something like 2 x 4 x 12, and build up!

So, thats the background . What follows are the physical tests along with some official guidance from the military like this US Navy Seal training guide. Download and read it. Its free and useful

With these points in mind, you need to prepare for the actual standards. Either you have the knowledge to develop an effective training regime to master these, or you need a PT /or a coach

  • 4km loaded march with 40kg within 50mins followed by 2km with 25kg in 15 mins (Infantry/RAC). The times allowed for 16 AAB/Paras are shortened to 35mins and 12.30mins respectively.
  • Fire and movement tactical bounds, followed by crawl and sprint ( 20 x 7.5 m bounds , or mini sprints. Then crawl 15m, sprint 15 m in 55 seconds
  • Casualty drag (110kg bag) dragged 20m in 55 seconds
  • Water can carry (simulates stretcher carry with 2 x 22kg cans) over 240 meters in 2 mins.
  • Vehicle casevac (70kg lift with 3 second hold)
  • Repeated lift & carry (20kg bags over distance) 20 x 30m in 14 minutes

I say you should not only be familiar with these challenges. You should do them, often, as part of your training. I think you should see these as the absolute minimum standards. Whilst I’m not sure, I’d prepare to do these tests with boots on.

The Royal Marines’ Pre-Joining Fitness Test allegedly involves completing two 2.4km runs on a treadmill that is set to a 2% incline. The first run must be completed in less than 12 minutes 30 seconds. You will then have a one-minute break before completing the second run in under 10 minutes and 30 seconds. This time is the absolute minimum requirement, and the expectation is that you will record the best time possible. You can use this chart to assess where you are

There are 4 body weight challenges. You should aim to ace them all. Why would you humiliate yourself on TV if you can only do 10 push ups if you know that 60 is the standard.

  • The VO2 Max bleep test (also known as the ‘bleep test’.) Minimum pass score is level 10.5. Shoot for the max!
  • Press ups are carried out immediately after the bleep test. A maximum score is achieved for 60 press-ups are conducted to an audible bleep (listen to the video below). Arms should be locked into side, shoulder width apart. The partner puts his fist on the floor facing away and counts one repetition for every time the chest touches his fist. If you put your knees onto the floor you will be told to stop.
  • Sit-ups come straight after the press-ups. 85 are needed for maximum points. Sit ups are conducted to an audible bleep. A partner holds the feet, elbows must touch top of knees and then the shoulders and elbows must touch the floor on the way down for a repetition to count. Knees must remain together or else reps will be deducted.
  • Pullups follow situps. A minimum of 3 are required to stay on the course but any less than 5 will be looked at critically and 16 will gain the maximum score. The over-grasp grip is used, the candidate is required to pull and hold the position until told to extend the arms; pull-ups are performed to the “bend” and “stretch” commands. The candidates chin must pass over the top of the bar to count and on the way down our body must be straight hanging down from the bar. Your legs must not cross. If the chin does not satisfactorily pass above the bar, or candidates cannot keep up with the commands, the candidate will be told to “drop off”.

The pool assessments include jumping off a high diving board (3m) in normal swimming kit and swimming a maximum of 4 lengths (approx 100m) of breast stroke followed by retrieving a brick from the bottom of the pool which is 3m deep. Train these skills. That brick retrival can be tricky. Learn to swim outdoors, in the cold, in clothes. For God sake have a life guard nearby. I think there are some outdoor swimming places like this one in the Royal docks in East London.

Other testing includes
  • The “Tarzan Assault Course” conducted up to 30 foot off the ground. Deal with your vertigo issues, or don’t apply!
  • The bottom field assault course which involves team games and other arduous physical activities.
  • An endurance course lasting 90 minutes and covering 2.5 miles undertaken on Woodbury Common
  • An over-night exercise which is intended to promote team building.

To train these, you’d better be a regular at your local Tough Mudder or Spartan Race. You need a t-shirt that says “I do love an obstacle race”. As I have said else where, if you don’t like getting wet, feeling cold, being woken up in the middle of the night, you really don’t want to apply for one of these programs, or the actual army for that matter. Familiarity with rope climbing and ab-sailing can probably be obtained at your local climbing centre. In the East End we have the Mile End Climbing wall

If you want to apply to be on SAS Who Dares Wins click here

If you are insane enough to want to do this, feel free to ask me for some in real life (if you are in the East End of London) or Online PT sessions.

Describe your breathing

There is a lot to be learned about how you, and the people around you breath. As a trainer and 1st aider, I try and observe carefully how people breath.

A normal breathing pattern consists of between 12-16 (some argue 12-20) breaths a minute aka your respiratory rate. From a first aid and general fitness perspective breathing patterns out of this range should be investigated.

Respiratory rate has been described as the neglected vital sign, for instance a respiratory rate higher than 27 breaths/minute is one of the most important predictors of cardiac arrest in hospital wards

Changes in respiratory rate seem to be much greater than changes in heart rate or systolic blood pressure meaning that respiratory rate is likely to be a better means of discriminating between stable patients and patients at risk.

21% of ward patients with a respiratory rate of 25–29 breaths/minute assessed by a critical care outreach service, died in hospital. However, its not just the rate of breathing that indicates your current state. How you breath can be critical.

So, can you describe how you are breathing?

Here are some useful descriptive words that will help you categorise and explain to others what you see.

breathless: breathing very fast and hard, for example after exercising

choke  the action or sound of choking

deep breathing a lot of air into or out of your body

deeply if you breathe or sigh deeply, you breathe a lot of air into or out of your body

fighting/struggling for breath : almost unable to breathe

heavily if you breathe heavily, you breathe slowly and loudly

indrawn  An indrawn breath is one that is suddenly breathed in

laboured If someone’s breathing is laboured, they breathe with difficulty, for example because they are ill or extremely tired from physical activity

Out of breath breathing fast and with difficulty, for example because you have been running

puffed breathing very quickly because you have been running, jumping etc

shallow taking in only a little air

sharp a sharp breath is taken suddenly, often because you are surprised

short of breath finding it difficult to breathe

winded unable to breathe because you have been running or have been hit in the stomach.

Obviously you need to put these observations in context. If someone has just sprinted 400m, they will be breathing heavily and be out of breath. But you can see why. If someone has been sitting down for the last hour and they have a breathing rate of 27, you really ought to be getting some help. Apart from breath counting, it’ as well to notice how people are holding themselves, or their posture.

People with breathing issues often adopt a tripod position which is a “Physical stance often assumed by people experiencing respiratory distress or who are simply out of breath. In this position, a person sits or stands leaning forward and supports the upper body with hands on knees or other surface”(source)

Bicep stretch

its actually quite a tricky muscle to stretch. Interestingly it inserts into the shoulder and then skips over to the forearm. Speaking with my therapist hat on, I’d say 85 % of shoulder problems have a “poor relationship” with the bicep. Getting some sort of stretch in, is therefore, good.

Stretch No 1

The “just straighten your arm” stretch. Do what it says on the tin. It’s better than nothing

Stretch 2 is more fun. Sit down with your arms behind you and start sliding your bum forward. You’ll either feel the stretch in the elbow, the shoulder or in the belly of the muscle. Over the weeks, focus on getting your hips further forward to increase the stretch. Build to 2-3 minutes

Number 3 is a disgusting stretch, so make sure you have built some stretch capacity by pushing Stretch 2 along for a few weeks. This hanging stretch is stolen from gymnastics and is called the German Hang. Find a low bar, hang off it. Pull your knees through your arms then keep on turning. Lower your legs to the floor and hang in your shoulders. Do start this with a low bar, as you may need to drop straight off even as you get into something resembling the position. Its very intense!

It also helps you understand the meaning of the word “intense”

1 mile running task

If you can run 1 mile in sub 8 minutes: run 1 mile (1.6k) to equal or beat your last 1 mile time. Rest that amount of time, then  run 1 mile (1.6k) . Attempt to keep the same pace ( or faster). ( this amounts to 2 miles (3.2k) in total.

If it takes you  longer than 8 minutes to run a mile,  run  1K   as fast as you can; rest the amount of time it took you to do the 1st  1k. Then run 1 k again. ( 2k in total, not miles)

If your 1 mile (1.6k) time is between 8 and 9 minutes you can choose  which task  you feel will benefit you more. But we are looking at pace and speed if possible.

(new runners feel free to pick 400, 600, 800m as your distance)

Stretching for Plantar Fasciitis.

Whilst I talk about the various therapies and stretches for Plantar Fasciitis here, its worth tuning into the “length of stretch” debate.

If you look at Porter D, Barrill E, Oneacre K, May BD. The effects of duration and frequency of Achilles tendon stretching on dorsiflexion and outcome in painful heel syndrome: a randomized, blinded, control study. Foot Ankle Int 2002;23(7):619-624.

You’ll find two protocols coming neck and neck:

3 minute of stretching 3 x a day, or five sets, 20 seconds each, two times daily.

Either way, the take home message that a quick reluctant 10 second stretch when you can be bothered, isn’t enough. The study also determined that both sustained and intermittent Achilles tendon stretching exercises increase Achilles tendon flexibility. This increase in flexibility correlated with a decrease in pain!

Stretching your quads

It’s impossible to get fit without someone reminding you to “stretch your quads”. The quads, or quadriceps ( quad for four) run up the top of the front of your leg. Three of them go from the knee cap to below your hip. One goes across the knee and then across the hip. Here is a useful graphic from wikipedia

Stretching these muscles is important as they are the ones most likely to become short if you sit too much. We all sit too much.

Here is the standing quad stretch that I think everyone must have seen at some stage

But this is just the start of your quad journey. Get on a bed (or anything comfy) and kneel down

Put your hands behind you and lean back. Some may find this hard. Don’t worry, just keep on getting used to it. Just incase you get stuck, it maybe as well to have someone around to pull you back up again if you cannot get back up again.

Once you build your confidence, get a cushion pile and slowly take a cushion away each time you try

Eventually you’ll simply lie down. you’ll notice my hips are fairly high, so to be a quad stretching master, eventually you need to pull your hips down.

Unfortunately, you probably need to build this up to 3 minutes. If your ankles are very tight you may need a small roll (a towel) under them, as the initial stretch can be quite intense! Enjoy. Slowly build up your time and tolerance. In the early stages, it’s just about getting used to it.

The couch can make you fit.

No matter how badly or poorly you have run, jogged, or staggered  20 meters plus,  there will always be a fitness motivator screaming “good job, you lapped the guy on the couch”

Its sort of true, but  at the same time they lapped everyone doing a static exercise: they lapped the  person doing pull ups, deadlifts, the olympic lifts, bicep curls and hundreds of other stationary exercises: they lapped the guy doing burpees and tuck jumps, they  lapped everyone on a concept 2 rower or an assault bike.

During fits of depression, or good old fashioned laziness, it super easy to crawl onto a couch and crash out. This means that deciding to get up, change, walk out the door and start jogging can be a super barrier.

I remember lying on the couch staring at the floor being unable to roll off and do one push up.

To build new habits and behaviours, they really need to be modelled on existing habits and behaviours. It’s very difficult to abandon bad behaviours, so its best to use them if you can.

If it’s a racing certainty that you will throw yourself onto the couch in the next few hours, connecting the couch with exercise could be the most effective exercise improvement you can make. This is crucial if you find yourself locked down.

As a quick example I’ll  use  the curl up abdominal exercise. Its fairly easy to change from a couch slump

slumping on the couch

into something fairly near a therapeutic curl up!

do the therapeutic curl up on the couch

Over the next few months, I’ll be showing you how you can get fit on your couch. moving from a slump into an effective exercise.

Obviously this is a great stand alone (lie alone) exercise.  You don’t have to get on the couch to do it!

To keep up to date with fitness, physical therapy and mindfulness tips join my mailing list here:

Plantar Fasciitis: cures and curses

A big welcome to your Plantar Fascia. An unknown part of your foot, that, so it seems, you don’t have to worry about.

It will do whatever the hell it does for years, then one morning, in some unlucky people,  it creates almost crippling heel pain.

First thing in the morning, upon getting out of bed,  you’ll be in so much pain that even hopping across your bedroom floor is something you’ll dread. Even contemplating  allowing your heel to touch the floor makes many want to throw up in their own mouths.

It’s not all bad. Just give it 5 or 10 minutes of hobbling around and you can begin to limp with a bit of dignity.  Welcome to the party you now have plantar fasciitis. It often self cures, in anything from 6 weeks to TWO YEARS.

There are  two positive sides to the condition:

1) You’ll meet lots of people online searching for a cure. So it’s like an agony based Tinder.

2) you’ll meet lots of dodgy therapists trying to part you from your money for quack cures. If you spot them, it’s fun to watch. If you cannot see a quack coming, its a bit expensive.

So some back ground, according to the BMJ plantar Fasciitis copy has the reputation of being “a trivial  condition”. Clinically “benign and self limiting”. So, if you are limping around your bedroom, screaming with pain,  wondering how you can get to the loo, don’t worry, its “benign and self limiting”.

Pull yourself together. Its not cancer

So who gets it?

  • Middle aged and older people. In some research I undertook, the age spread was thus
  • Athletes and active people

In my research, these were the activities being undertaken prior to Plantar fasciitis developing

  • Those with a reduced range of ankle dorsiflexion. I’ll publish my results soon, so do join the mailing list

According to the BMJ, the treatment options are

  1. Bio-mechanical treatments (orthotics, footwear modifications, taping)
  2. Stretching techniques including night splints
  3. “extracorporeal shock wave therapy
  4. cortisone
  5. surgery

From my research, pictured in the above graph, I found a wide variety of cures being attempted.

So, for the stretches check out

Heel To Heal: New Stretch Relieves Pain From Plantar Fasciitis

“sit with one leg crossed over the other, and stretch the arch of the foot by taking one hand and pulling the toes back toward the shin for a count of 10. The exercise must be repeated 10 times, and performed at least three times a day, including before taking the first step in the morning and before standing after a prolonged period of sitting”. Thanks to Benedict DiGiovanni and Nawoczenski,

IMG_3693

Most foot issues (not only plantar fasciitis, but the nasty achilles tendonitis)  benefit from a better range of ankle flexion and  pliable calf muscles. This daily stretch is also a must.IMG_3689

You’ll notice Im using a yoga block. It’s not ideal but gets you a start ( you could just use a step or a book, or a brick). If you have wealth beyond avarice, or £40, check out the
Navaris Wooden Slant Board – Calf Stretch Adjustable Incline Board Portable Anti-Slip for Pain Relief from Plantar Fasciitis Tendinitis and More

Most modern stretch commentators suggests you need to do this daily for 2 minutes.

Ice helps reduces pain, so freeze a bottle of water and roll  your foot on the iced bottle. One of my clients uses a cold bottle of beer!

Massage balls. If you can stand the discomfort, start rolling the base of your foot on one of those massage balls! Start gently.

Get a night splint, and wear it at night IF YOU CAN. This drove me mad so I clawed it off within a minute

IMG_3692

Lots of people can sleep with it , so as its about £11-£20 well worth experimenting with.
Night Splint Dorsal Soft Light for treatment of Plantar Fasciitis – (Black inner, 9 – up), Large

however, Crawford F, Thomson C. Interventions for treating plantar heel pain. Cochrane Database Syst Rev 2003; (3) found limited evidence to support the use of night splints to treat plantar fasciitis sufferers who had experienced pain for greater than 6 months. They found that patients treated with custom made splints improved but those with premade or ‘off the shelf’ splints did not.

INSOLES: In my humble opinion,  buying and wearing flatter shoes often causes Plantar fasciitis . This is often combined with the whole “go barefoot” rebellion.  It’s based on the “well, its more natural, innit” concept and totally, totally fails to take into account the fact that you have worn heeled, and supported shoes for the last 20-30 years!

Buy these Superfeet insoles.

IMG_3688

Superfeet  are worth every penny!!   These really helped me. Ive put a link that will make me £££££’s in commission if you use it. Superfeet Green Insoles, E (UK 8-9.5/ Mens 9.5-11/ Womens 10.5-12).

I hope this helps, but really, try everything, ice, massage balls, stretching and my favourite, Superfeet.

If you have had this condition, why not take my survey that explores the issue of flexibility and Plantar Fasciitis .

This survey aims to evaluate your  ankle flexibility by an easy wall test. so start off by testing your ankle flexibility. Get the measurement in cm

then

click here to take it

If you need help or training, do drop me an email Andrew@andrewstemler.com

Build your chest.

Maybe the strongmen of old didn’t have access to weights. I say that as, many of the old fashioned “get fit at home” manuals and pamphlets,  put push ups and push up variations at the core of their regimes. Maybe  they assumed that their home based clients  didn’t have  a “bench”.

Not a totally insane assumption.

So, push ups or “dips” as Charles Atlas called them,  belong in any home regime. I think they are often overlooked.

Charles Atlas does his “dip”between two chairs in order to get a bigger range of motion. according to his pamphlet its great for “Chest, Shoulders and Back. Excellent for preventing Lung and Chest troubles. Do the dipping exercise   at least 100 times every day. Aim to do it 200 times daily if you are keen on getting a very big and powerful chest development. Do this by dipping 25 or more times, rest and relax a few moments and do them again. Rest and do them again.” Charles Atlas  said he did 200 daily.

However, it isn’t as simple as  just doing any type of push up. Notice from this video that you are aiming for a planche push up. Your shoulders go forward and your hands end up as near the hips as possible

Of course, this is achievable if you already have push ups. If you don’t work your progressions like mad

The Starzynski Squat

In the time before the lockdown, I used to coach Olympic weightlifting at Crossfit London on a Saturday morning.

I mean, I was in the same room, at the same time as other people

Seems weird now.

Now that everyone has moved online, it’s easy to forget that that building explosiveness into fitness regimes, without weights can be tricky.  The Olympic lifting drills  are especially difficult to think up as , ideally, you want to the end up in a squat.

There are only so many jumping squats you can do!

This is a fun , useful drill. Enjoy