Building the Supersoldier
For the most part, we men are all pretty similar.
We like food, boobs, sports, and violent action movies (preferably with car chases, explosions, and boobs). As children, most of us dreamed of becoming some type of real-life action movie star or elite warrior at one point, whether it was a S.W.A.T team member, Army Ranger, Navy Seal, or straight-up ninja.
With the onset of puberty, distractions (women) took over and the soldier fantasy faded, replaced by daydreams of miniskirts, belly button rings, and sordid, awkward encounters in the backseat of a Dodge Neon.
On occasion, hints of those forgotten boyhood fantasies resurface. A chance viewing of The Bourne Identity or one of the sequels is often all it takes to drum up old dreams of kicking bad-guy ass across five continents while bedding the occasional lady in distress. Unfortunately, the reality of our decidedly non-Jason Bourne existence usually sets in before the end credits roll.
But just because you didn't become a Navy Seal or Special Forces assassin doesn't mean you still can't achieve many of the qualities that made these soldiers so appealing to your younger self. Fact is, achieving many of the capabilities of a real life "Supersoldier" (or even the capabilities of a UFC fighter) could be just a few workouts away.
What is a Supersoldier?
We've all seen movies in which Supersoldiers are depicted as genetically enhanced human beings that have been programmed to be elite assassins.
They're physically superior to normal human beings, mentally tougher, and can think and act intelligently under extreme pressure with a calm, calculating demeanor. In other words, they're card-carrying members of the Samuel L. Jackson "Not to Be Fucked With Club."
Although Supersoldiers are fictitious, a few mere mortals have the physical and mental potential to reach that level of "engineering perfection." (Care to lay odds that those genetically elite already read T NATION?)
I'm guessing that most of you, given your druthers, would rather look, feel, and move like a Supersoldier over actually joining the special forces and signing up for a tough life. This is why I've put together a list of six important physical qualities that must be trained to get you on your way to looking and moving like a genetically advanced super human.
I'm not referring to how long you can perform in bed, although a Supersoldier probably lasts three hours and ejaculates napalm. The Supersoldier needs a very high level of stamina to perform at an optimal operational level. They're constantly on the move and must have an unending supply of energy. I've tried many different methods to accomplish this goal with real life aspiring Supersoldiers, but my absolute favorite is also probably considered the most boring.
The simple act of walking every day greatly increases stamina and decreases fat mass while sparing hard earned muscle and strength. But before you embark on a relaxing evening constitutional, there are a few things to remember.
- The pace isn't a leisurely stroll but a very fast walk. One reason I've seen many military personnel get kicked out of some of the physically tougher courses is simply due to their inability to march at a fast pace. Anyone can walk for an hour, but not many can keep up with the pace.
- The duration should begin at about 30 minutes or so and progress to upwards of an hour.
- The frequency should be as often as possible. Since it's a very low impact activity, recovery is rarely a factor. Six days per week is perfect but whatever you can fit into your schedule is a start.
- The next factor to consider is adding weight. This could be as a weighted vest or a weighted backpack. (For the average individual, I wouldn't recommend going much past 40 lbs.)
At first it won't be fun waking up every morning and going for a walk but the physical (and mental) benefits will be well worth the sacrifice.
#2 Strength & Power
Supersoldiers need to posses bull-like strength while having an MMA fighter's explosiveness. Unfortunately, one of the biggest fitness misconceptions in the military community is that strength just isn't that important. Instead, every training session is warped into some sort of gut-busting circuit that leaves even the most hardheaded soldier keeled over and puking up his rations.
The reality is that the stronger you are, the less energy is required to move things, including yourself. A soldier that can perform walking lunges with 135 lbs. on his back will be much more effective operationally than a guy who does lunges with the pink dumbbells for 1000 reps. The first guy will be able to quickly take cover, sprint, and repeat while lugging his 120-pound rucksack; the second guy will struggle with the excessive load, thereby slowing him down while simultaneously increasing his exposure to sniper fire.
Our Supersoldier also needs to be explosive for a number of reasons, such as when placed in a hand-to-hand combat situation or sprinting for cover. The ability to react and attack a target quickly can literally be a life or death situation. One of the keys to Georges St. Pierre's incredible success is his ability to take out targets with blinding speed.
Most T NATION readers should have a good idea how to develop power and strength. For power, I'm a big fan of power snatches and power cleans if the lifts are properly executed. Since this is rarely the case, box jumps and other similar explosive movements also do a great job. For upper body explosiveness, med ball tosses and plyo push-ups work well.
As for strength, I'm not going to reinvent the wheel here. Press, squat, and pull heavy weights, and read anything by Dave Tate or Jim Wendler. Also, don't make the mistake of obsessing over what exercises are functional and which ones aren't. The basic, less exciting exercises are usually those that have the greatest carryover to performance.
#3 Work Capacity
Supersoldiers need a very high level of work capacity, whether it's for hand-to-hand combat situations, high-speed foot chases, or other "hairy" encounters they may come across. As mentioned earlier, due to the popularity of some training "systems" that shall remain nameless, aspiring Supersoldiers often end up performing ridiculous, random circuits that leave them with their head in the garbage can. I've experimented with this type of training for years but am now convinced that there are much more effective methods.
The first (and often neglected) step to improving work capacity is to focus on getting strong. The stronger you are, the less energy required to perform a given task.
The next step is the inclusion of circuit/anaerobic type training, preferably in the form of sled pushes and pulls, barbell complexes bodyweight circuits, sandbag complexes, sledgehammer strikes, or a combination of these type of training methods. Be careful not to overdo this type of work – in other words, don't make the mistake of turning everything into some type of high intensity circuit. Keep the strength training for strength development and the circuits/anaerobic drills for building work capacity.
I've found best results when strength is the primary focus while ending the session with a short to moderate duration finisher (i.e. work capacity circuit), making sure to work in different planes of movement.
Hill sprints are also a favorite! They're great for melting fat, increasing the size and strength of the quads, glutes, and calves, and playing a massive roll in increasing overall work capacity/anaerobic endurance. They're also a fantastic way to build mental toughness, something every Supersoldier absolutely must have.
But the absolute best method to develop optimal work capacity is to simply perform your specific activities or tasks. In other words, if you want to be more of a hand-to-hand combat specialist, endless sets of ring dips and burpees will only do so much. Spending time sparring, hitting the heavy bag, kicking pads, and grappling will have much more of a carryover. If you're going overseas, chances are you'll be lugging around heavy rucksacks, so spend some time lugging around rucksacks in training if you want to be more "operational."
#4 Flexibility, Mobility and Injury Prevention
A Supersoldier needs to be able to move without mobility restrictions while being injury resistant. Unfortunately, injury prevention is often hugely neglected, especially by those with the "No Pain, No Gain" mentality. The reality is that flexibility is an absolute necessity, so start by reading anything by Cressey, Robertson, Hartman, McGill, or Gentilcore, and doing the following.
- Begin each training session with a thorough warm-up that emphasizes increasing ankle, hip, t-spine, and shoulder mobility as well as including a few activation/strengthening drills for the psoas, glute maximus & medius, lower trap, and external rotators of the shoulder.
- When you have a bit of time to spare on the weekends or before bed, stretch any areas that are excessively tight.
- Try including some mobility drills between sets.
Here's a sample warm up that I have some real life Supersoldiers perform.
- Myofascial Release. Lower body and t-spine with a PVC pipe, upper body against the wall with a softball.
- Hip Flexor Dynamic Stretch 1 x 4-10 repetitions
- Glute/Piriformis Dynamic Stretch 1 x 4-10 repetitions
- Single Leg Glute Bridge 1 x 10/side
- Shoulder Dislocations (using Band) 1 x 10
- Wall Slides 1 x 12
- Spiderman Walking w/ Overhead Reach 1 x 5/side
- X-Band Walking 1-2 x 8/side
Note: If you have some specific tightness in areas not addressed above, then spend some time on them since like training programs, warm ups should be individualized.
#5 Agility, Balance, and Coordination
The other day I saw a soldier perform a power snatch standing on a Bosu ball. Sadly, this isn't the first time I've seen "functional" abominations like these being performed.
Agility, balance, and coordination definitely are very important but I'm not convinced that they need to be directly trained. If your agility, balance, or coordination sucks, then take up a sport; preferably martial arts if your goal is to become a Supersoldier. It will be of more assistance than all the drills and fancy equipment ever will.
#6 Look the Part
It's great to move and feel like a Supersoldier, but the reality of it is that most of us want to look like one – lean, well muscled but not bulky, and with an unwavering, almost intimidating air of confidence. The loaded walking, finishers, and hill sprints will uncover that missing six-pack while the weight training will build the impenetrable body armor. The only thing left to work on is your nutrition, supplementation, lifestyle, and mindset.
Putting It Altogether
Here's a 4-week training program that includes all six physical elements that will help turn the average Joe into an extraordinary physical specimen. This particular program would be the initial phase of training for an individual looking to be as fit as a Supersoldier. Later phases would include a lower frequency of strength training with more emphasis placed on working the energy systems.
|A.M.||Loaded Walking: 30 minutes with a 20lb pack||OFF|
|P.M.||Strength (Upper)||Strength (Lower)||OFF||Strength (Upper)||OFF||Strength (Lower)||OFF|
|Finisher||Hill Training||OFF||Finisher||OFF||Hill Training||OFF|
|A1||Hands Elevated Plyo Push Ups||3||3-5||30-60s|
|B1||Incline Close Grip Bench Press||2*, 1**||5*, AMRAP**||180s|
|C1||Inverted Rows (use weighted vest if nec.)||4||12||60s|
|C2||Weighted Push Ups||3||15||60s|
|D1||TRX Face Pulls or Cable Rope Face Pulls||2||15||60s|
|E1||Chin Ups (Bodyweight only)||1||AMRAP||N/A|
|F1||Finisher: Sledgehammer Tire Strikes||10||20 (alternate direction each rep)||60s|
*Take 5-8 sets to work up to 2 heavy sets of 5 in the incline close grip bench press. Make sure to keep 1-2 reps "in the tank."
**Drop the load by 15%-20% and perform As Many Repetitions As Possible (making sure to leave a little bit in the tank).
|C1||Single Leg Squats to Box||2||12||60s|
*Take a few sets to work up to a weight that you can perform comfortably (i.e. with full acceleration) for all 3 sets of 3 reps.
**Since hills vary greatly in size, incline and length, I don't typically prescribe set distances. Find a decent sized hill, set a timer for 20 minutes and try to get in as many sprints as possible while using the walk back for recovery. Make sure to take plenty of rest for the first few sessions.
If you don't have access to a hill, regular sprints still work great. Just be sure to warm up thoroughly and don't go full tilt.
Each week, you should progress by trying to get a few more sprints in the 20 minute time period.
|A1||Weighted Pull Ups||5||5||90s|
|A2||Incline One Arm Neutral Grip DB Bench Press||4||8/side||90s|
|B1||Dumbbell Bench Press||3||10||60s|
|B2||Chest Supported Rows, Neutral Grip||3||12||60s|
|C1||TRX Face Pulls or Cable Rope Face Pulls||2||15||60s|
|D1||Finisher: Barbell Complex*||3-5||8||60-90s|
*Any barbell complex can work (e.g. Romanian Deadlift→Front Squat→Push Press→Back Squat→Good Morning). The barbell complexes can also be substituted with a heavy sandbag for added difficulty.
|A1||Box Jumps from Seated Position||3-5||3||60s|
|D1||Single Arm Farmer's Walk||5||30s/side||90s|
*Take 5-8 sets or so to work up to 1 heavy set of 5 for the box squat. Make sure to keep 1- 2 reps "in the tank."
**Same as Tuesday's session
- You'll notice that there aren't many quad dominant exercises. That's because hill sprints are one big ass, unilateral quad dominant exercise.
- I'm a big fan of using a relatively high dose of magnesium when performing this type of training. Transdermal magnesium or ZMA are inexpensive and do wonders for recovery.
- Before and during training (except for the walking), I highly recommend a fast absorbing protein and carb supplement such as Surge Recovery.
Although I can't guarantee that you have what it takes to become an actual Supersoldier, if you follow the above advice you'll at least be on your way to being fit for the part.
Now to finish off the package, use your off days to work on learning foreign languages and customs, weapons training, explosives, tactics, advanced warfare, reconnaissance, and hand-to-hand combat, just to name a few. Looking dashing in a tuxedo and being able to charm the dresses off women in a half-dozen different languages is never a bad thing either.
Good luck solider!
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Stephane Robert is a strength, conditioning and unarmed combat specialist working for the Royal Military College of Canada. He's also the owner of Combat Training Systems; an online strength and conditioning company that works primarily with military, police force and fighters. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or through his website www.CombatTrainingSystems.com.