Learning By Competing

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Bill Starr was one of the great strength athletes and coaches, having competed and won at Weightlifting up through Olympic levels, Powerlifting, and then taking what he learned and coaching others to do the same. Knowledgeable practitioners in the strength and conditioning field recognize him as one of the innovators. His efforts are a primary reason why sport teams recognize the benefit of Strength and Conditioning coaches.

Starr was an ideal trainer and coach, having first formally competed and achieved success to validate his knowledge before teaching others. He learned what he knew by competing.

And as I learned from fellow competitors in the ensuing years, that’s what they did as well. It was an intuitive process out of necessity. There were no coaches to tell us this, and no one was actively writing about it in the magazines. That’s how we learned just about everything about lifting heavy weights: trial and error, then sitting back and considering just what had been done, both pro and con.

This seldom happens currently. When a strength athlete hits a wall in his routine, he doesn’t study the problem and come up with a viable solution. Rather, he seeks advice from the bounty of experts out there, via books, videos, clinics and DVDs. That’s certainly much faster and easier, but at the same time it’s less effective. Having to beat your head against a wall until you solve the riddle about your program is much more beneficial than having someone else come up with the answer.

Be like Starr. If you want to learn your discipline better and faster, compete!



Stress Recovery Adaptation

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Dr. Mike Israetel discusses training principles and the stress-recovery-adaptation cycle regarding technique (skill), strength, and fitness.


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A nice quote from Greg Everett. This applies equally to problems in fitness training and tactical training.

“Being prepared for any random task is not the same thing as preparing randomly for any task.”

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.

Military and Special Operations Fitness

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This is one of the best overviews of effective military fitness training I’ve read.



Give me a 180-200lb guy that can squat, deadlift, press, clean, and snatch close to the “accepted” standards for athletic performance.** Add in cardio to his regimen – sprints, preferably. Every once in a while, with safety in mind, force him to work longer than 40 minutes. It should be taxing. Every single gym session works him toward a common goal- mobility, flexibility, strength, power, explosiveness, and injury prevention. If any workout doesn’t directly benefit (without excluding) those tenets, then don’t do it. Strength is priority numeral uno. Cardiovascular/cardiorespiratory conditioning is second, tied with mobility and injury prevention. Everything else- aesthetics, fad training ideas, things you read in muscle and fitness about your abs- throw them away. Let’s not get cute until we are in the top 10% of our weight class.

** From this chart, minimums are at least Cat. III in every lift for your weight and gender, preferably Cat. IV

It is worth noting that most military and police fitness tests were based on research done by Dr. Ken Cooper. Cooper (the man that coined the word “aerobics”) is a cardiologist that was a competitive runner and one of the first researchers to find a correlation between cardiovascular fitness and mortality. His tests were based on his clinical and competitive interests (biases?) and formed around running for time or distance, usually around 12-20 minute and/or 1.5-3 mile tests. Because this ignored any sort of upper body testing, two calisthenic exercises of some sort were added. Cooper suggested push ups and sit ups.

None of this had any relevance or merit to athletic or combat performance. Cooper’s tests were designed around the correlation of cardiovascular fitness and mortality rates. Passing a PT test indicates enough “fitness” to avoid premature death from a cardiopulmonary disease. It is an indicator of physical wellness only.

While cardiovascular fitness does correlate to physical wellness and reduced mortality, aerobic exercise is not necessary to improve it. Further research indicates that physical strength may be a better measure anyway. It’s certainly better for field performance.

And if you train to be able to run away, to simply exist as opposed to being strong enough to finish the fight- well, then run away is all you got. And that’s not the business we are in.

Combatives vs. Competition

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Mixed Martial Arts competition is what helped push the Marines and Army to create their current combatives programs. This competition is why things like the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program and Modern Army Combatives Program exist, just like shooting competition formed our understanding of how to best use firearms effectively. In fact, Field Manual 3–25.150 (Combatives) has an appendix on how to conduct combatives tournaments, specifically addressing their use as effective training. Matt Larsen, the NCOIC of the Army’s Combatives school and credited with writing 3-25.150, was a competitive boxer and black belt martial artist.


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