Aging Marathoner Tries To Run Fast After 40

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“I’m getting old” is a popular complaint and frequently overheard during military fitness testing. It’s mostly a lame excuse based on societal misperceptions that has nothing to do with human physiology. Here’s what really happens.

Military Fitness


Prior to discovering barbell training I did little more than exercise exclusively to score well on the Army APFT and was usually good for a max score or close. After choosing to make barbells primary and now spending almost no time “training” for the APFT, I continue to hit maxes but can now do so against the scoring standards for personnel half my age.

For any of these Cooper-based tests, adding 1-2 sets of push ups and sit ups as a finisher after the real training is done is more than enough practice/conditioning for the test. On non-training days I’ll alternate between 100-200 meter intervals and running about three miles. Starting about a month before the test, this sets me up for an easy max.

Attending an NCOES school, I found it easy to hit the prescribed maximums and then lead others in the Army’s current Physical Readiness Training program ( For a person following a good strength training program, maxing out on “army pilates” takes about two weeks of conditioning at best. The most difficult part is memorizing the ridiculously-long lists of exercises.

MAJ Long explains why:


I have found with any program if you do not believe in it, the results will be marginal at best. Which would explain why some cadets had marginal improvements. I have said for a long time that the Army is a bunch of untrained runners, running a lot, in a box. The problem however stems deeper than just improper programming and useless training. Many times there just simply is no plan because the leader simply does not know what to do. And whats the easiest thing to program? “We are going for a run today”.

I am the company medic for an infantry company. Physical fitness is a huge part of our job. I see every injury sustained by troops before they go to the next level of care, if needed. I see roughly 2 people a day while non-deployed with 90% of those injuries being over use. While deployed I see roughly 2 people A MONTH! Due to the nature of the beast while deployed, soldiers essentially do what they want for their programming. Their routines involve weights. Not running. Unless there is a problem with them not being able to perform their job nothing is said. They do the dumb stuff out of fitness magazine. But they believe in it so fervently the results, if you can call them that, come regardless.

Until the military gets actual trainers dispersed at the Strategic leadership level that can teach leaders how to train troops, and those leaders provide troops with purpose, direction, and motivation regarding PT this redundant problem will remain.

A study published in October in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise provides evidence for the first time that even a little weight training might reduce the risk of heart attack or stroke. People appear to gain this benefit whether or not they also engage in frequent aerobic exercise.

The study drew from an invaluable cache of health data gathered at the Cooper Clinic in Dallas, where thousands of men and women have been undergoing annual checkups, which include filling out detailed questionnaires about their exercise habits and medical history. More than 12,500 records were anonymized for men and women, most of them middle-aged, who had visited the clinic at least twice between 1987 and 2006. The subjects were categorized according to their reported resistance exercise routines, ranging from those who never lifted to those who completed one, two, three or more weekly sessions (or whether they lifted for more or less than an hour each week). Another category was aerobic exercise and whether subjects met the standard recommendation of 150 minutes per week of brisk workouts. This exercise data was then crosschecked against heart attacks, strokes and deaths during the 11 years or so after each participant’s last clinic visit.

The findings were dramatic: The risk of experiencing these events was roughly 50 percent lower for those who lifted weights occasionally, compared with those who never did — even when they were not doing the recommended endurance exercise. People who lifted twice a week, for about an hour or so in total, had the greatest declines in risk. (Interestingly, the subjects who reported weight training four or more times per week did not show any significant health benefits compared with those who never lifted, although the researchers believe this finding is probably a statistical anomaly.)

“The good news,” says Duck-chul Lee, an associate professor of kinesiology at Iowa State University and co-author of the study, “is that we found substantial heart benefits associated with a very small amount of resistance exercise.” As an associational study, the results show only that people who occasionally lift weights happen to have healthier hearts — not that resistance training directly reduces heart-related health risks. The data, though, does reveal associations between weight lifting and a lower body mass index, Lee says, which might be connected to fewer heart problems. He and his colleagues do not know the specifics of what exercises people were doing — lat pull-downs? dead lifts? squats? — or how many repetitions they did or at what level of resistance. Lee says he is in the early stages of a major study to examine some of those factors. But he doesn’t suggest waiting for those results.

Conditioning: Soccer


The best prescription for fitness is to follow a strength and conditioning protocol that emphasizes a solid but simple strength base (preferably programmed with primary, compound barbell lifts) combined with appropriate conditioning. “Appropriate conditioning” depends on the task and needs to address those particulars. The problem is people either fail to learn the particulars or just ignore what they find.

Association Football (Soccer) are particularly guilty of this.

First, you have to videotape a game with a camera that doesn’t follow the ball. Then play it back while you focus on one player, recording every movement they make while estimating the pace and distance they run. Then rewind and do it all over again for the next player. Labor and time intensive is an understatement for these projects.

The first time-motion study over a full season was done on Everton FC (Liverpool, England) in the mid-1970s and the estimated distance covered was just under 8,800 meters per game.

Movement speeds were walking, jogging, cruising (‘running with manifest purpose and effort’), sprinting, and backing. About 2/3 of the distance was covered at the low intensities of walking and jogging and around 800 meters sprinting in numerous short 10-40 meter bursts. A player was in control of the ball for an average of 200 meters for a whopping total of 90 seconds (that means you spend 88.5 minutes trying to get or keep someone from getting the ball).

Recording every change of speed and direction showed that there was some change in activity every 5-6 seconds. Subsequent work and maturation of the game has pushed this total distance up to around 10,000 meters for a men’s professional European game with the South American game being contested at a little less total running distance.

Midfielders run the most, central strikers and defenders the least. Don’t brag too much about the running volume–10,000 meters (six miles) in 90 minutes is four miles per hour, something a good power walker can do.

The physiological intensity of the game can be estimated one of those heart monitors you see joggers and cyclists wearing. The average heart rate for the full 90 minutes ranges between 150-170 beats per minute with very high values while sprinting and more moderate values when less involved in the game.

One interesting observation that doesn’t take an “A” license to figure out: the most physically intense part of the game is while in control of the ball.

Your pulse rate goes up and lactic acid production (that heavy feeling in your legs you perceive after sprinting) increases. This is a primary reason why coaches sets up lots of small sided games that force players to be ‘on the ball’ far more often than during 11 v 11.

Generally, the women’s game is a little less running and at a slower pace (about 75 percent of the women’s game is at a walk/jog), but when conditions demand it, the women can cover just as much distance as the men.

And, realize that women have a smaller capacity, so when they cover the same distance as men playing the same game on the same field for the same time as men, they are working harder.

Now that we know some details about the game, the focus of training begins to become clearer. The other pieces in the training puzzle are game tactics.

Except, as is commonly the problem, people fail to do something useful with the info. Soccer players continue the same failed path as the military, with an overemphasis on long, slow cardio and little else.

Consider that formal game analysis revealed that midfielders – the players that run the most – manage about six miles in 90 minutes, which is a walking pace. Any modestly-fit person won’t find this a problem. A better emphasis would be to continue practicing skills, scrimmaging with your team while getting generally strong and adding in some intervals either at the end of practice or spaced throughout the week.

More important than this, soccer is statistically among the most dangerous sports based on the number of injuries per hundred participant hours. This makes strength training a needed injury preventative. FIFA released their FIFA 11+ Injury Prevention protocol and had some successful results with it:

Click to access english.pdf

The problem is, the light calisthenics used in this warmup only had a positive effect because soccer players as a population are weak enough for this to provide any benefit. Much as the U.S. Army’s physical therapy-based fitness program in FM 7-22, such “prehab” exercises only help a target population lacking a general but thorough strength base.

Here’s an example of a better approach.

Strength Training Makes You a Better Soccer Player

Soccer is Dangerous

Soccer players are hurt quite often. The injury rate is 62 per 1000 hours. Powerlifting, interestingly, has an injury rate of 0.008 per 1000 hours. Knee injuries are common, especially for women. One review found the rate for female soccer players in college sports to be 0.31 ACL injuries per 1000 athlete exposures. To give you some perspective, the rate of ACL injury for college football players ranges from 0.124 to 0.173 injuries per 1000 athlete exposures. Soccer players are about twice as likely to injure their anterior cruciate ligaments as football players.

Stronger is Safer

More training of the muscle equals more protection. Think about the structure of the knee. It is a loose, mobile joint protected by ligaments, but also protected by the quadriceps and hamstrings. The quadriceps pulls the tibia by means of the patellar tendon, in which is the kneecap. When the knee is flexed, such as at the bottom of a properly done squat, the patella applies pressure to the joint capsule, acting as a built-in knee wrap. The hamstring muscles pull the tibia to the rear, counteracting the pull of the quadriceps and helping to keep the knee stable. In addition, there is a stretch reflex when a muscle is quickly stretched. The muscle contracts to protect the joint. If I grab your arm and jerk it, you will quickly contract to resist my pull. More muscle, more resistance. Now imagine the situation on the soccer field when you make a quick plant of the foot and turn, or when you collide with another player: there will be very sharp tugs on your leg musculature. Wouldn’t you want to be strong in order to resist damage to your knee?

In fact, studies have shown that greater strength helps prevent injuries. Why don’t they just lift weights? It’s actually rather infuriating to read these journal articles and find that no one recommends a simple strength program. If being stronger keeps you from getting injured, why not just get stronger? We know that Olympic weightlifters, who squat deep every day, have very strong knees, very few knee injuries, and healthier and thicker connective tissue in the joint. Coaches might fear that their athletes will get slower, there might be lack of time to institute a proper strength training routine, or more likely there might be a lack of understanding of the general adaptation syndrome and how to use it to get stronger.

Sixth World Congress on Science and Football Proceedings: Effects of hypertrophy and a maximal strength training programme on speed, force and power of soccer players. g. BogdANiS, A. PAPASPyRou, A. SougliS, A. TheoS,A. SoTiRoPouloS ANd m. mARidAKi

Isokinetic strength of quadriceps-hamstring muscle in soccer players playing in different leagues. Zekiye Nisa Özberk, Özlem Öner-Coskun, Sabire Akın and Feza Korkusuz

Army Combat Fitness Test commentary


A couple of staff writers from a blog that have never taken the Army Combat Fitness Test saw fit to spew their opinions about it.

A disappointing and ignorant commentary.

Army Combat Fitness/Readiness Test complaints

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Here is all you need to understand about the Army’s new ACFT: Motivated and intelligent personnel that know how to train effectively will continue to get very good scores, just as before. Malingerers will complain and do poorly or fail, just as before.

Consider what the test is asking personnel to do. Here are the proposed standards as of July 31 2018: July 2018 proposed standards

The ACFT Field Testing Manual explains the standards.

Click to access Field%20testing%20manual.pdf

This article demonstrates the events:

Why Does the Army Want Me Weak?


Training for Combat While Preparing for the Army Physical Fitness Test
by Ryan Long

Click to access army_weak_long.pdf

As a former combat commander I am more concerned with the minimum allowable weight than I am with the maximum weight. Is a 111 pound soldier really an effective member of an infantry squad? Can that soldier carry the average soldier when wounded on the battlefield? If the maximum allowed weights are admittedly low in order to catch most of the fat Soldiers we should consider raising the minimum weights high enough to catch the weak Soldiers, but then that implies we’d know how to make them bigger and stronger once we’ve identified that they are weak.

My strong-but-fat Soldiers were great contributors in combat, and often they were the best performers both mounted and dismounted. They were more durable and more versatile. Our problems were with the skinny-fats and the sparrows; they couldn’t keep up on dismounted patrols under load, couldn’t kick in a door, couldn’t evacuate anybody over 140 lbs, and couldn’t intimidate an insurgent.

I do not dispute the need for a baseline of low-intensity fitness to conduct combat operations. Dismounted patrols in the streets of Baghdad and mountains of Afghanistan, lengthy guard shifts in which soldiers stand for hours in a minimum 60 pounds of gear (33 lbs medium-sized enhanced body armor with attachments, 7.5 lbs rifle with magazine, 7.5 lbs basic ammunition load, 4 lbs water minimum, 3 lbs helmet, 5 lbs boots and uniform, not to mention intra-squad radios and first aid equipment). Undoubtedly these operations require such low-intensity fitness. However, the overlooked quantity here is strength. Again, sixty pounds is the minimum load; this minimal load does not account for radio operators, machine guns, medical equipment, and breaching tools – equipment needed on every single mission. What then prepares a Soldier to carry loads in excess of 80 pounds?

If low-intensity performance is relative to maximal capacity, doesn’t it stand to reason that sub-maximal efforts become easier as maximal performance increases? A soldier who can do 50 pushups with a 1RM bench press of 200 pounds will obviously be able to do more pushups with a 250 pound bench press. And by extension a soldier with a 500 pound deadlift will be able to stand on guard duty under body armor longer than a soldier with a 315 pound deadlift. Remember, PT is supposed to be focused on combat, not the APFT. If the APFT is essentially the only training we conduct out of combat gear, does it still retain any value for measuring the actual required physical abilities?

Strength persists longer than cardio-respiratory performance and takes longer to develop. As a result strength should lie at the base of physical training while cardio-respiratory training should serve as the peak.

– Maj. Ryan Long
Ryan Long is a major in the US Army and an instructor in the Department of Physical Education at the United States Military Academy, West Point, NY. He graduated from USMA in 2000 with a Bachelors of Science in Environmental Science and graduated from the University of Virginia in 2008 with a Masters of Education in Kinesiology. He is a competitive weightlifter with a 210kg total in the 77kg class and a competitive powerlifter with a 1300lb raw total in the 181lb weight class.

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