Here's what you need to know...

  1. A combat-ready body is the best weapon you can have.
  2. Your best option is a no-nonsense program that you can follow regardless of equipment limitations or scheduling challenges.
  3. Strength training is hugely important as you never know how big the dude you might have to drag out of harm's way is going to be, or how far you'll have to drag him.
  4. Nutrition matters. Electrolytes, EFA's, sleep aids, and protein are the deployed soldier's best friend.

Being on top of your training game while deployed isn't easy. Unpredictable schedules, inadequate food, lack of sleep, and a high operational tempo all make staying physically sharp a challenge.

But it's also absolutely necessary. Your body is your most important weapons system, and ultimately everything you do in combat will hinge on whether you've taken the steps required to prepare your body for combat.

It's also the only weapon you'll be allowed to keep when you leave the service, so it behooves you to take care of it. Just because you have to wear a flack jacket while you crap into a Zip-Loc bag or eat five-year-old MREs that have been sitting in 120-degree heat while getting shot at doesn't mean you can't maintain your physical and mental edge.

Although this article is intended for deployed military personnel, it can also be used by anyone who's occasionally (or always) strapped for time, doesn't have access to specialized equipment, or faces a lot of stress that affects his ability to stick to a regular training schedule. If any of the above applies to you, then you might need a "combat conditioning" program.

Maintaining your physical and mental edge during prolonged stress often comes down to making the best of bad choices. This will help you navigate those decisions.

What is Combat Conditioning?

Combat conditioning can mean different things to people depending on their background, but as an infantry guy, I'd use the following specifications:

  • Cover 400 meters in less than 2 minutes while wearing 70-90 pounds of gear, then repeat after a 1-minute rest.
  • While in full gear, carry a buddy (also in full gear) 100 meters, then repeat after a 1-minute rest.
  • Perform 10 chin-ups (without kipping) in full gear.
  • Box jump above your knee height for 5 reps in full gear.
  • Perform 3 reps of a clean and jerk with bodyweight on the bar.
  • Perform 3 reps of a single-leg squat with bodyweight on the bar.

The ability to perform these tasks suggests that you're able to manipulate your body and an external load in a variety of ways. As a T Nation reader, you likely can do this already – and if you're in the military, I definitely hope you can.

More to the point, if you're able to do these tasks in a training environment, hopefully when the chips are down and you're running on adrenaline, you'll be able to do whatever crazy stuff the moment requires.


The Plan

This training plan is designed to build your work capacity in each energy system by using a variety of compound lifts while increasing endurance through layered anaerobic activity, all while balanced against the challenge of training in an austere environment.

Although military PT is typically associated with running and other endurance work, I prefer to use strength training as it also improves general work capacity and endurance to a degree. However, the reverse isn't true – and you never know how big the dude you might have to drag out of harm's way is going to be, or how far you'll have to drag him. Not to mention, anecdotally, that when you're tired and hungry your absolute strength levels are going to be much more intact than your endurance is.

This program assumes that you have an unpredictable operational tempo and are not fed or rested properly. It has 10 individual workouts that can be recycled ad nauseam. Each workout can be completed in about 45 minutes, and they're intended to be done back-to-back without rest days. Take rest days when necessary, but the assumption is that you'll be forced to take days off anyway due to op tempo.

In any event, these training sessions shouldn't leave you feeling sore or drained. If you do find that you're getting worn down, decrease the overall volume by dropping sets or reps off the assistance work.


I assume you'll have access to the following:

  • One or more barbells
  • A selection of weight plates that may or may not equal your one rep max
  • A bench
  • A squat rack
  • A tire
  • Dumbbells
  • At least 100-meters of ground that's relatively free of obstructions and enemy fire

Field Weight Room


Between tray rations and MREs, nutrition is going to be a continuous battle. You'll have to figure out some sort of supplemental source of chow. If all you're eating is MREs, you'll be lucky to get in about 60 grams of protein and a handful of miscellaneous vitamins in an entire day.

If you're wearing your gear all day or otherwise engaged in even moderately strenuous work, this won't be enough nutrition to keep you from waking up sore the next morning. Furthermore, these engineered food sources are loaded with trans-fats and other stuff you really don't need to be putting into your body.

Obviously if you're hungry, you need to eat, but try to get some balance. Nuts and seeds are healthier and more nutrient dense than MREs are. Take a couple of Zip-Loc bags-full and some electrolyte tabs with you out on an op and you won't need to touch an MRE for at least a couple days.

I also like throwing protein powder into hot beverage bags as an easy and disposable shaker. Typically, the main meals and the brand-name snacks are your healthiest options when you do have to slice open a box of Case Bs.

[Editor's note: There are 24 different MRE menus or varieties. Case A contains menus 1 through 12 and Case B contains menus 13-24.]


There are a lot of supplements you can spend your money on, and if you're in some tiny outpost and haven't seen a real vegetable in a couple of months, you'll be tempted to throw your money at everything you see online. Here's the main stuff you need:

  • Whey Protein or a protein blend.
  • ZMA® to help keep your immune system strong and improve sleep quality.
  • Fiber to clear the last three trays of "Beef Burgundy UGR" out of your system.
  • Multi-vitamins, preferably from whole food sources with plenty of B vitamins.
  • Electrolytes like Camelbak Elixir tabs and Powerade Drops because they won't make my Camelbak funky after a couple of weeks in triple-digit heat.
  • Editor's note: CamelBak Products, LLC, makes back-worn water reservoirs for both the military and civilian purposes.
  • Fish oil, if you have the means, because you're definitely not getting a lot of EFAs.
  • Antioxidants, because your diet probably has zero.

I'd advise against any pre-workout stimulants. Between Rip-Its and Redman, most are putting way too many stimulants into their body as it is. If the only way you can drag yourself to the gym is by pumping yourself full of caffeine, you should really go take a nap.

Bench Press

The Program

Day 1

  Exercise Sets Reps Rest
A1 Weighted Chin-Up 5 15,10,8,5,1  
A2 Weighted Dip 5 15,10,8,5,1 2 min.
B1 Dumbbell/Barbell Overhead Press 3 12  
B2 Dumbbell/Barbell Row 3 12 90 sec.
C1 Weighted Incline Sit-Up or Ab Rollout 3 8 90 sec.
C2 Tire Flip 8 5  
C3 100-Meter Shuttle 8 1 45 sec.

Day 2

  Exercise Sets Reps Rest
A1 Single-Leg Squat 5 3  
A2 Single-Leg Dumbbell Deadlift 5 5 2 min.
B1 Farmer's Walk 5 40 m.  
B2 Sledge Hammer Swing 5 20 45 sec.
C Burpee 5 15 45 sec.
D 400-Meter Run 6 1 1 min.

Day 3

  Exercise Sets Reps Rest
A1 Bench 3 3,2,1  
A2 Bent-Over Row 3 10 2 min.
B1 Elbows Out Triceps Extension 5 10  
B2 Incline Dumbbell Curl 5 12 90 sec.
C1 Cable Ab Twist 5 10 30 sec.
C2 20-Meter Sprint, walk back to start 10 1  
D 200-Meter Run 10 1 30 sec.

Day 4

  Exercise Sets Reps Rest
A1 Power Clean or Snatch-Grip Deadlift 8 3  
A2 Buddy Squat 8 10  
A3 400-Meter Run 8 1  
A4 Chin-Up 8 15  
A5 Push-Up 8 30 3 min.

Day 5

  Exercise Sets Reps Rest
A1 Front Squat 5 3  
A2 Overhead Press 5 3 2 min.
B1 Kettlebell Swing 5 8  
B2 Box Jump 5 5  
B3 Buddy Carry (no gear) 5 50 m. 1 min.
C Fartlek/Interval Run 1 20 min.  


Day 6

  Exercise Sets Reps Rest
A1 Deadlift 5 1  
A2 Weighted Chin-Up 5 5  
A3 Weighted Dip 5 5  
A4 25-Meter Sprint 5 1  
A5 Buddy Squat 5 10  
A6 Burpee 5 15  
A7 200-Meter Run 5 1 3 min.

Day 7

  Exercise Sets Reps Rest
A1 Dumbbell Bench 4 6  
A2 Dumbbell Row 4 6 90 sec.
B1 Dumbbell Overhead Press 3 10  
B2 Dumbbell Curl 3 10  
B3 Dumbbell Shrug 3 20 30 sec.
C Fartlek/Interval Run 1 25 min.  

Day 8

Note: Everything done wearing flak jacket.

  Exercise Sets Reps Rest
A1 Kettlebell Swing 5 10  
A2 Ammo Can Press 5 30  
A3 Chin-Up 5 10  
A4 Dip 5 10  
A5 Tire Flip 5 5  
A6 400-Meter Run 5 1 3 min.

Day 9

  Exercise Sets Reps Rest
A1 Lunge 5 5  
A2 Overhead Press 5 5 90 sec.
B Compound 4 6 2 min.
Deadlift, Row, Hang Clean, Push Press, Back Squat. 6 reps per movement.
C Box Jump 6 4 1 min.
D 100-Meter Run   20 30 sec.

Day 10

  Exercise Sets Reps Rest
A Speed Deadlift 8 3 45 sec.
B Squat 3 12 2 min.
C1 Single-Leg Box Jump 6 4  
C2 Tire Flip 6 4  
C3 Farmer's Walk 6 40 m.  
C4 Chin-Up 6 10  
C5 Push-Up 6 20 2 min.
D 800-Meter Run 4 1 90 sec.

What's Your Excuse?

The men and women charged with defending our freedom face challenges most trainees will never have to face. However, we all can experience times of great stress, lack of sleep, tons of travel, poor nutrition, and inadequate workout facilities. Keep this program on hand for times when life starts threatening to knock you off your training game.