As a member of the Special Operations Force, I've carried boulders under water, walked a mile with a barbell pressed over my head, and thrown more sand bags than Katrina relief volunteers. I've also gotten in the best shape of my life by using the methods I'm about to describe. After reading this article, you can too. Minus the military commitment, of course.
Take a moment to step back and honestly assess where you are with your training. Have you walked away from your recent sessions satisfied and confident that you had done what was needed, or have you just been going through the motions?
Have you even been to the gym in the last week? Be honest.
The human brain is an incredible machine for generating rationalizations. People will always come up with a decent "because" and allow themselves to feel comfortable when they do something they're not proud of. (That's why you felt okay waking up next to Rosie O'Donnell's body double the morning after your birthday.)
So the reason you skipped your front squats and "just went for a run" has nothing to do with the fact that your gym doesn't have a decent squat rack, or that the rush-hour traffic was too heavy. You were probably just being a pussy.
The fact is, most people use excuses to not train hard. But really, I don't blame them; the typical gym rat's training program is less than inspiring.
That is all about to change. But to shift your training to get rid of the junk, we first need to change your attitude and get rid of the excuses.
The "Third World" Mindset
In my six years with the Navy's elite Special Warfare Combatant-craft Crewman unit – SWCC – I spent a lot of time overseas in Third World countries. Eventually, I was in charge of training my fellow crewmen. The unique experience of being immersed in the world of unconventional warfare led to an equally unconventional training philosophy.
A primary tenet of this philosophy is that the objective, be it a successfully completed operation or the ability to crush the standards on a physical screening test, comes first. The goal is to be attained by any means necessary; the exact means are irrelevant as long as they produce results.
If you read T-Nation regularly, I think it's safe to say you have a concept somewhere in your mind – no matter how loosely defined – of how you want your body to look, feel, and perform. How much closer to this goal would you be if every one of your past workouts had been of appropriate intensity? If, in other words, you hadn't wussed out?
The countless bullshit reasons behind second-rate training sessions aren't worth listing. Instead, I want to focus on just one: equipment. As in, "I don't have the right equipment for this workout."
In my world, the equipment is always there. You just have to teach yourself to recognize it. If you see something you can lift, push, pull, or throw, you can build a workout around it.
Some of the "gyms" I've used were considered well-equipped if they had an Olympic bar and a few plates sitting in a pile somewhere. Sometimes it would be a few dumbbells. It might be some dubious, homemade equipment, or it might be nothing but some heavy rocks, an old tire, and a few sandbags full of gravel.
I won't say it was easy to learn how to train in these conditions. I grew up using traditional American gyms. And with SWCC I not only had to create a program for myself with almost nothing to work with, I had to figure out how to train an entire group of guys with a variety of needs.
So I learned to focus on the goal, rather than the gear, and got creative with what was immediately available. As you'll see in the following examples, you really don't need much equipment for a great workout.
The Third World Workouts
While on deployments, our physical goals were simple: We needed to maintain a high strength-to-weight ratio, combined with the ability to Just. Keep. Going.
As soon as we arrived at a new location, we'd survey the available equipment and design a workout utilizing it. For example, a filthy industrial location looked like a good spot to hang rings, so we spent some time developing coordination and upper-body strength.
In just wouldn't feel right in a non-filthy location.
If all we had were sandbags and rocks, we'd design a program with weighted sprints and body-weight exercises, throwing in some underwater rock running for good measure.
I carried a couple of little green notebooks with me everywhere I went, and remembered to scribble down most of the workouts we created. (Some, though, were documented on a wall with a piece of chalk, and those stayed behind.) The two I've included here were among my favorites.
The first one gives you a taste of the way we used whatever equipment we had on hand. The second is a full program you can do in your local gym.
The Original Third World Workout
Mobility warm-up (dynamic leg swings, high-knee running,
Sandbag sprints, 6 rounds (2 overhead, 2 underhand, 2 rotational)
Stone sprints, 5 rounds
Underwater rock running, 1 round
Originally, the entire workout was performed barefoot on either the beach or a strip of grass nearby. You should do the same. Rest intervals are determined by how long your buddy takes to do his sprint. If you don't have a training partner, use a 1:1 work-to-rest ratio.
Overhead: Grab a heavy sand bag and step into a split stance. Hold the bag overhead and then throw it as far as possible, using your legs to generate force. Sprint to the bag and repeat until you've covered 100 yards. Alternate sides on each throw (left leg forward, then right leg forward, etc.).
Underhand: Grab the bag and throw it underhand from between your knees, like a kettlebell swing. Maintain a neutral spine and generate force from the hips. Sprint to it and repeat for 100 yards.
Rotational: Throw the bag across the body, from right hip to left shoulder, then left hip to right shoulder. Utilize strong hip rotation and maintain tightly braced abs. Go for 100 yards, alternating sides on each throw.
Clean and press a large rock (or log, or box of tools, or whatever you have sitting around). Walk with the stone overhead for 50 yards, then drop it and sprint the final 50 yards.
Underwater rock runs
Our boats would be anchored about 100 yards off the beach, in around 18 feet of water. We generally used these as the markers, but the workout can be performed just as easily if you run parallel to a beach. You can also use the deep end of a pool. (Just check with the lifeguards first so you don't cause an incident.)
Each two-man team picks a large rock and races to the boat with it. The first man carries the rock while the second man swims above him on the surface. Then they switch. Once they reach the boat, a mooring line is dropped in the water and the rock must be carried up the line onto the deck of the boat. From here, knock out 50 pushups, throw the rock back into the water (check for swimmers first), and return it to the beach.
The "Confined to a Gym"
How did a loaded barbell end up in the woods? Don't ask, don't tell.
A3) Power clean
Rest: 60 seconds between each exercise
After warming up, do one snatch, rest 60 seconds, one muscle-up, rest, one power clean, and rest. Repeat until you've completed 10 to15 circuits of the three exercises.
A muscle-up is like a pullup that keeps going. Whereas a traditional pullup ends with the bar at your sternum, a muscle-up ends with the bar at your hips. It has substantial carryover to real-world activities like pulling yourself up onto a rooftop or over a high fence or wall without the aid of footholds.
First you'll need a bar that's high enough that your feet don't touch the ground. Grab the bar overhand, and from a dead hang pull yourself up to the bar as explosively as possible. Rather than smashing the bar into your sternum, you want to rotate your elbows over the bar as it approaches your chest. As soon as you can get your weight over the bar, straighten your arms and press yourself the rest of the way up, as if you were doing a dip. Finish with the bar at your hips.
You'll almost certainly need a certain amount of body English to pull this off, probably by swinging your legs to generate momentum. Developing the right timing and coordination will take a while, so don't get discouraged.
A1) Power clean/front squat/push press/lunge (both legs) combo
Rest: 90 seconds
A2) Wall slides
Rest: 0 seconds
Rest: 90 seconds
Do five circuits.
Load an Olympic bar with a weight you're pretty sure you can push press for eight reps. My guys eventually worked up to about 75 percent of our body weight, but you'll probably have to go lighter at first.
The goal here is to do the entire combination without taking your hands off the bar. Clean the weight, then immediately do a front squat, and then as you finish the squat use your momentum to press it overhead. Lower the weight to your shoulders, as you would for a back squat, and do a lunge with each leg.
Now press the weight back up over your head, lower it to the floor, and repeat four more times.
A good substitute for pulling yourself up and over an enemy's rooftop.
Thursday: Volume Training
A) Chins, dips, single-leg Romanian deadlifts
Reps: as many as possible
Duration: 15 minutes
Rest: 5 minutes
B) Pistol squats, bent-over rows, hanging leg raises
Reps: as many as possible
Duration: 15 minutes
After finishing the B exercises, you're done for the day. No need to repeat this one.
Here's the simplest workout in the program: Load a barbell with between 50 percent and 100 percent of your body weight, and carry it around. Vary the bar position from a back squat to a front squat to overhead. That's it.
We went as far as one mile, but you'll probably want to start off slow. Alternate with a buddy and do sections of a hundred yards or so. If this is inconvenient with a barbell, just throw your buddy up onto your shoulders and carry him, fireman-style. (Don't try to get him into the overhead press position, though. Nothing good can come of that.)
Monday: Add 5 pounds or 2.5 percent each week.
Tuesday: Add 5 pounds or 2.5 percent each week.
Thursday: Count total reps each session, and try to beat your total each week.
Friday: Add weight, distance, or both.
After three weeks, do the same workouts, but unload by cutting your volume in half. Use the extra time for mobility, flexibility, and foam-roller work.
It may not be pretty, and it certainly won't be comfortable, but the Third World Workouts can cure what ails ya.
By stripping away the excess, embracing the unconventional, and working your ass off with no excuses, you can get leaner, stronger, and better fit for duty, whatever that duty may be. And you sure don't have to worry about boredom.
You may find you never return to "first world" workouts again.