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Train for real world with intensity, endurance

Nov. 3, 2012 - 03:27PM   |   Last Updated: Nov. 3, 2012 - 03:27PM  |  
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Real life doesn't happen in a specific structured manner especially not in combat operations. So why would you want to train that way?

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Real life doesn't happen in a specific structured manner especially not in combat operations. So why would you want to train that way?

If your workouts are mostly of high intensity and short duration, around 20 minutes or less, that's how your body will adapt. You can normally count on hitting a wall when you're in a situation that extends past 30 to 45 minutes. My friend Rob Shaul from Military Athlete in Jackson, Wyo., refers to this as a "training scar." The reverse, working predominantly in a long-duration environment and not being able to sprint or burst when required, is also true.

A well-balanced training program integrates strength, a key to injury prevention, with stamina for longtime requirements, as well as the capacity to "ramp up" to a high level for short periods.

When I'm working any particular area or discipline, I consider two to three weeks as the required time to achieve adaptations and gains.


If you split as much as possible among total, upper and lower body, you can lift every day. I have a few favorites that combine the greater majority of strength work. You can find videos on YouTube of just about any exercise you're not familiar with. Some of my favorite lifts:

Dead lift.

Power clean.

Hang squat clean.

Hang squat clean with a shoulder push press.

Bench press.


Standing military press (aka shoulder press).

Box squat (with a bar across the back of your shoulders but off your neck using a box or bench to which your quads are at least parallel when you're in the down position).

Walking lunges with dumbbells or kettlebells.

Stepups using an 18- to 24-inch box.


I'm a proponent of Shaul's eight rounds of three reps per set and his progression, which allows you to build up weight smoothly without becoming overly tired. Alternate between sessions of three upper- and lower-body lifts each day, such as box squats, hang squat cleans with a shoulder press and walking lunges on a lower-body day.

Session 1: Do three reps per set, adding weight until Set 8 is hard but doable. Do the same with the appropriate weights for the other two exercises (you can do more on a box squat than a lunge, for example).

Session 2: Build up weight in Sets 1-3 like you did in Session 1, getting your body warmed up, then subtract 10 pounds from your Session 1 max weight, and lift that much for Sets 4-8. So if your max box squat in Session 1 was 300 pounds, you'll do 290 on this day for the final five sets.

Session 3: Add 5 pounds to the Session 2 max weight, and lift that in Sets 4-8.

Session 4: A repeat of Session 1, but your goal is to top your Session 1 max, even if it's just by 2 to 5 pounds.


Sessions of 70 to 90 minutes built around five- to six-station circuits with some type of cardio work can be fun to design. Continue to cycle through at a steady pace with no rest. An example is 10 reps each of:

Box jumps.

Ball slams (lifting a 15- to 20-pound medicine ball over your head and throwing it hard to the floor).


Body weight squats.


Follow those with six minutes on the treadmill or elliptical machine, and then start over.

Ramp up

These are high-intensity sessions of shorter duration, usually 20 to 30 minutes. Go for time on each exercise, such as 30 seconds or 1 minute, rather than number of reps. Choose light weights, since you're trying to maintain a high level of effort over time, doing as many full-range-of-motion reps as you can. Design a three- to five-exercise circuit, such as:

1 minute of squats.

1 minute of shoulder presses.

1 minute of stepups.

30 seconds of pullups.

30 seconds of dips.

Rest for two to three minutes after completing all the exercises once but don't count the rest toward you total time. In a 20-minute session, you'll do five rounds of the above circuit.

Bob Thomas is director of the Navy Wellness Center in Pensacola, Fla. Email him at

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