Barbell Training in the Military

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A military Physical Fitness Test is not designed to measure combat effectiveness, nor is it designed to measure combat readiness. Physical Fitness Tests are wellness assessments designed to ensure a minimal level of fitness necessary to avoid medical problems, not for improved performance.

Here is how to do it better and actually improve performance.

Starting Strength and Barbell Training in the Military
Lt. Col. Christian “Mac” Ward


Maintenance vs. Progress

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Once a given capability is reached there will be a need for training just to maintain that level. Maintenance is training in that some will be required just to hang on.

A skilled practitioner is a competitor. Being a “competitor” doesn’t necessarily require winning formal competition. It could mean “competing” to continue to hit a certain measurable marker of skill, an indicator that you’ve still “got it.”

A Marine that trains rifle marksmanship until he always shoots in the 240+ range on Table One and then maintains that for the rest of his career (or, better still, the rest of his life) needs some on-going marksmanship training just to hold on. This isn’t a particularly high skill level but it’s achievable by anyone knowledgeable of what good shooting entails and willing to do a little work to get there. Merely maintaining such a level puts you in great standing among Marines and better-than-fair standing among good riflemen.

Maintaining what you’ve got is a form of progress, moreso for more physically demanding skills and capabilities. A person that earns a higher skill classification and then remains competitive within that peer group has maintained. More on this from Ross Enamait:

I like that this applies not just to conditioning and strength training, but to maintaining skill at sports, too. During the off season and whatnot.

– Hany H.

The Importance of Culture and Community in Training

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from Brent Carter, a NSCA Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist and Starting Strength Coach

I have come to realize the importance of community and a strength culture in my work space. Sure, it’s cool to be the lone wolf… But it is far more rewarding to cultivate a culture among your colleagues and friends.

The FOCUS strength culture really began several years ago as I was studying to pass my Starting Strength Coach certification. I volunteered my Friday afternoons to train students at our career school for personal trainers (Focus Personal Training Institute) in the methods and model of Starting Strength. We called this our “Barbell Club,” an “extracurricular program” that was actually more self-serving than anything else. (I needed to practice to pass the practical component for the Starting Strength exam.) What came out of this was something I never could have predicted.

Students started lifting with one another outside of Barbell Club as well. Other FOCUS trainers joined in. And as students graduated and became alumni, they still came back to lift! As the club grew, I was no longer the strongest person there. This in particular, I think, was the key for my continued progress. It is easy to rest on your laurels if you are the strongest person around, but this is a surefire recipe for stagnation.

As I continued to surround myself with strong people and other Starting Strength coaches, my “heavy” loads became the norm and even paltry at times. This changed my perspective for what ‘strong’ really is, and this keeps my sights set on that next PR.

They say success breeds success; I would like to add that strength breeds strength. If you want to get stronger, find yourself a community of strength and integrate yourself into it. And if there isn’t one in your immediate surroundings, be a trail blazer and create one yourself! At the very least, you will have some strong people to help you move that couch to your new place when the time comes.

Olympic Shooting and the value of sport

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Recent interest in #rio2016 Olympics resurected a post about whether shooting is a real sport:

Interestingly, Duelling has been a competitive shooting event.

One of the lesser known Olympic events, pistol dueling was a popular sport in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It was certainly not the deadly past time of generations earlier, where young gentlemen killed each other over matters of honor. Rather pistol dueling had transformed in a safe sport. Conventional pistols were used, however they fired cartridges with wax bullets which lacked gunpowder, the wax bullet being propelled by the force of the primer only. Contestant wore a mask to protect the face, and the pistols had special shields to protect the user’s hands.

Pistol dueling was introduced in the 1906 Olympics, but was discontinued after the 1912 Stockholm Olympics. A poll conducted before the 2000 Sydney Olympics showed that 32 percent of respondents would like to see dueling pistols reinstated as a sport.

So force on force was used as a competition shooting event in the Olympics over a century ago. Here’s yet another example of competition shooters doing something long before tactical types found it cool.

HunterShooter Program Development


I am going to put together a hunter marksmanship program for a Venturing Crew of teenagers I work with. I would appreciate your thoughts on developing a program with a view to having them hunt big game in the Spring.

I’d break the program into three phases:

  • Position shooting
  • Timed shooting
  • Field shooting

Position shooting would be working on fundamental marksmanship from shooting positions. Unless you are working with physically disabled people, use no benchrests.

I’d do this as 3-5 shot slow fire exercises shot and scored on appropriately-sized bullseye targets. Appropriate size would be an aiming mark scaled to vital zone size with at least two interior scoring rings. For example, the B-6 pistol target is an eight-inch mark (suitable for smaller big game animals) with a 9, 10 and X-ring inside. The SR-3 rifle target is an 18-inch mark (suitable for large big game) also with a 9, 10 and X-ring inside. If you’re limit to, say, a fixed range of 100 yards, use scaled targets (a four-inch bullseye for an eight-inch vital at 200 yards)

Let the shooters work various positions, sling, and other equipment options. Rather than dictate a given group be shot from specified positions, let shooters decide what intermediate position (sitting, kneeling, squatting, etc.) better suits them. Recruit shooters with a High Power, Smallbore or similar background to help with coaching.

Timed shooting is single shots starting from some ready position and fired on the clock. Don’t establish or enforce a time limit, rather, have shooters determine the best way to secure hits quickly. I’d do this on appropriately-sized steel scored hit or miss. Strictly enforce an accuracy standard. Going faster is encouraged but missed shots are never acceptable. Doing this after scored position shooting ensures fundamentals are learned first. If possible, recruit 3 Gun or similar action shooters to help coaching.

Field shooting is shooting on silhouettes with performance and time pressure in some sort of scenario. In other words, a HunterShooter event or similar.

Obviously, this template took me all of five minutes to spell out, so there’s more detail worth considering. Just spitting out some ideas.

Bad Habits or Lousy Instruction?

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I had a nice young man in a class recently that was very skilled. He was an active USPSA competitor and very quick and accurate. Every time his relay would finish their drills, he would quickly unload and holster his pistol (magazine out, slide quickly to the rear and catch the ejected round in his hand). Even though I told each relay to top off their weapons and then holster prior to scoring and pasting targets… He did this every time, and was never ready to shoot when his relay was called to the line the next time.

Later in the day as his relay finished and everyone else was reloading and holstering, he was still clearing and unloading his pistol. I finally walked over and asked him, “Why in the Hell do you keep unloading your sidearm when you are finished with a shooting task?”

– Ken Hackathorn

OMG, bad habits caused in competition! At least that’s the popular implication. It’s also very wrong.

Why wait until “later in the day” before “finally walking over” to confront a problem that had been already been previously identified? Especially if it was noticed this was happening “every time, and was never ready to shoot when his relay was called to the line”?

This is not a failure of competition shooting causing “bad” habits. It is a failure of an instructor failing to help a paying student.

This student paid money to take that class to learn things he didn’t know before. He already had established proper training procedures as that is the only way he could become “very skilled… and very quick and accurate.” Even if he didn’t overcome this one particular habit on the first try, it is a simple matter of building in a new habit while practicing/training in the future. Given that he was already motivated to develop good habits with regular, on-going practice and motivated enough to take a class to learn something, this particular student is most likely to successfully implement such a fix.

Competition and the Novice

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The value of competition is that it encourages training, that is, the organization and measurement of incremental skill development. You don’t have to compete for this to occur, but this rarely does outside of competition.

Most people that don’t participate in formal competition claiming to only be interested in personal development almost never develop beyond a novice level. Police, military, CCW, hunters, and tactical school students rarely develop beyond a novice-level introduction. There are rare exceptions of course. Those exceptions end up training in a similar manner as competitors because that is how every skilled human ultimately develops higher level skill.

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