We don’t assume that you have access to a pull up bar! But today we stayed in the flat because we have a pull up bar there (with rings on). We wanted to do a version of Cindy. The Crossfit workout of 5 pull ups, 10 push ups, 15 squats. AMRAP in 15 minutes (it should b 20 minutes, but Im 59, so I cut myself some slack now and then.)
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.
Where ever I go I find people abandoned by the fitness industry!
My evidence for this is the failure of so many people to be able to do a pull up.
I’ve written about this phenomenon in the past. Often in slightly rude, slightly risque, terms.
But let me, again, emphasise how to get your first pull up.
Obviously, any arm strength helps. If you’ve been bicep curling, doing push-ups, tricep extensions, some other weird bodybuilding isolation exercise you got off the internet, you must be better of than someone who hasn’t used their arms since birth, but as my article “Pull ups and girls” proved, generic exercises do not give you pull-ups.
Like many fitness fades, the interest faded from main stream use, due in part to silly claims. A regime that promises to get you fit and trim in 90 seconds a day is bound to sell you the book or course, but fail to deliver much , if any, fitness.
This is a shame, as given the right objectives, the static hold has a really useful role to play. According to James Hewitt who wrote Isometrics for you: Get fit and trim in 90 seconds a day in 1966 “without special apparatus and without moving a muscle you can grow stronger and build, or reshape your body to nearer your hearts’ desire. The static contraction has been part of physical culture systems for a very long time. Hatha yoga contains postures held without movement”.
Put simply, isometrics are a system of physical exercises in which muscles are caused to act against each other or against a fixed object. It’s a form of exercise involving the static contraction of a muscle without any visible movement in the angle of the joint.
The popular regimes focused on basic body building type exercises and suggested a 6 second static contraction with a maximum, or comfortable maximum contraction. This bicep curl picture gives you a good idea.
Whilst this had some value, the use of the extended static hold in functional fitness is probably in developing the capacity to simply hold postures which contribute to actual exercises. The reality is that if you want to kick up to a rock solid free standing handstand, or do 20 plus pull ups, you better be able to hold a static ( albeit “leaning” ) handstand against the wall, and hang for 60, 90, 120, 180 seconds. Extra grip strength is always useful!
Btw you could find yourself struggling at 10 seconds when you start. Just do what you can and build up
So think about your regime and hunt out obvious postures to practice: the side planks, lunging pushes against a wall and deadlift holds spring to mind. Adding the L sit, a horse stance ( the old martial arts favourite) and a “hip up” hold can , when combined, make a really useful home exercise regime.
When working through my home training courses, the chances are you will need a pull up bar. Many landlords won’t let you screw them into a wall, so get one that slides in and out of a door way. I’ve liked the JML one because, like me, its been around for ages,
It is seen by many as a useful test for measuring the strength and endurance of the arm and shoulder girdle, and useful for those occupations where you need to manipulate your body weight: fire fighters, climbing into lovers’ bedrooms, showing off in front of kids, and getting out of holes when the zombie apocalypse strikes. In Dec (2012) The media (papers and blogs) were all a-thither with the scientific proof that women cannot do pull ups. Even the Marines (“hoo-rah”) expect men to do 3, but women don’t have to do even one.
If you boil down the current research on women and pull ups, you will find two physiological reasons why most women cannot pull up.
It is generally accepted that women have a higher % of body fat (Heyward and Stolarczyk 1996) and according to an average of the research, women have upper body strength ½ of that of a man. (ranges from 35-79%: Laubach 1976).
Unfortunately this can easily be spun into the standard gym nonsense that women don’t have to do pull ups. Woo hoo, here comes your next Yoga class….after all strength is for smelly noisy boys.
We must accept that (Western) women have been sold a pernicious type of cultural weakness that blurs fitness with the spa. It palms off competence in Zumba as a substitute for the fitness that most women in the developing world need purely to survive the day. Elsewhere in the world women have to be tough, they have to plant food, haul goods, build stuff. A heroin-chic stick insect clinging to a partner’s arm isn’t available as a job option.
In fact, to be slightly political, the only reason Western women can prance around an aerobic studio and claim to be fit, is because their ancestors were pirates, drug dealers and slavers who not only stole wealth, but saved it. The poorest of us lives in comparative luxury based on this accumulated wealth, and it doesn’t matter if you have no physical competence But what did this science experiment have to do, to validate the proposition that women don’t have to pull up? “Three days a week for three months, the women focused on exercises that would strengthen the biceps and the latissimus dorsi — the large back muscle that is activated during the exercise. They lifted weights and used an incline to practice a modified pull-up, raising themselves up to a bar, over and over, in hopes of strengthening the muscles they would use to perform the real thing. They also focused on aerobic training to lower body fat” And the result of this exciting “lat” challenging, bicep-strengthening routine was: “By the end of the training program, the women had increased their upper-body strength by 36 per cent and lowered their body fat by 2 per cent” Wowee! “But on test day, the researchers were stunned when only 4 of the 17 women succeeded in performing a single pull-up.” “We honestly thought we could get everyone to do one,” said Paul Vanderburgh, a professor of exercise physiology”
A few interesting points. 1) This “hot news” (New York times dated 2012) was based on a report published in 2003 (“Training college-age women to perform the pull-up exercise.”) Shows how behind the times the fitness media is.
2) It has been presented by much of the blogging world as justification for women having no pull ups, with the implication that they ought not to bother.
3) It shows that no one reads the small print. The researchers did not set out to produce a pull up specific routine “We designed our training program with certain delimitations ..a whole body workout and not just a workout to improve pull ups”
4) It shows the impatience of “fitness regimes”. Why should the ability to achieve a certain goal in an arbitrary 12 weeks hold any sway? What’s wrong with spending 6 (+) months learning a skill?
5) The ineffectiveness of looking at movement in the simple terms of the strength of individual muscles. All worthwhile “exercise” movements are analogues of human movement: they need to be learned, and they all, all combine numerous components of fitness: co-ordination, accuracy , agility, flexibility, strength, strength endurance, and to be frank some mental toughness and determination.
6) If you will permit me to sling a cat in among the pigeons, my final point is this : are pull ups a proper marker of fitness, or is “fit” a guesstimate of VO2 max.
Once you have a few pull ups, its ‘easy’ to keep adding to them. The real hard one is getting that 1st pull up. I’ve struggled for 3 months to post a genuine article about getting your first pull up. This is my first public draft.
I hope it helps.
If you have no pull ups, here are some essential things you must do: