Thursday, 17 October 2013

Benchmarking - Special Ops style

Some of the most useful free resources that I've found over the past few years have been a series of military fitness training manuals and guidelines.  The ones that I've found and used are Canadian, but I'm sure that there are also good examples from other countries' militaries. I don't think it could be argued against that military special forces personnel are among the very elite level athletes in the world.  In contrast to professional sports where a drop in physical performance might mean getting cut or traded, poor performance here could be the difference between life and death.  And while I might not necessarily agree in all cases with the ideology and politics behind the specific conflicts, I have a great deal of respect for the people who choose to put their lives at risk in this line of work.  I also think that at some point in every little boy's life (and no doubt some girls too), the dream arises of what it would be like to be a Navy Seal or Black Ops commando.  Carried forward into adulthood, I think there's a little part of everyone (certainly me at least) that likes to think of how they would stack up, on a purely physical level, against these elite role models.

The most valuable aspect of these resources, for me, has been the fitness check components, much more so than the actual training programs they prescribe.  I like to set my own training program and regimen, so I've never been very successful at just following programs dictated by others.  That's probably been a positive in terms of generally avoiding silly bodybuilding mag routines, but a negative in terms of not strictly following the programs set out by others who are much better or more experienced than I am.  What can I say, I just can't seem to do it.  That's not to say I don't use aspects of routines created by others (e.g. Starting Strength, Leangains RPT, Rookie Journal 8x3, etc.) - which I certainly have and still do - but I always seem to find a way to personalize them, adding and subtracting things as I see fit.  I find that I need to do this to take ownership of my actually motivate myself to continue with it.  The idea of taking a program or course of action verbatim from a trainer has always struck me as completely untenable, for better or worse.

But I am a huge fan of continuous and structured self-evaluation, and these manuals provide an easy way to do so.  Not to say they're the be-all end-all  of fitness - I don't even know who developed the specific fitness standards therein or any of the actual physiological underpinnings of the specific measures - but, regardless, they're a convenient way of quickly assessing one's overall state of athleticism and physical readiness.  I've kept a pretty meticulous training log, recording every rep of every workout, since I was about 17 years old. But sometimes I find that it's hard to measure broad-scale fitness over a longer time horizon.  Sure, it's not that difficult to track progress on poundages for key lifts...or capacity in bodyweight exercises like chin-ups, dips, muscle-ups and handstand push-ups.  Even times for key running distances aren't that hard to track.  But sometimes it's hard to see how all of those pieces fit together into a more comprehensive self-assessment of fitness, writ large.  For instance, maybe you're getting stronger in absolute terms but added bodyweight is hurting your aerobic capacity or bodyweight/gymnastic performance... or vice versa. These military testing protocols provide a convenient wage to gauge general fitness across a wide range of activities and components. 

The other advantage that they offer is the fact that most of the criteria are quite easy to test, with very little in the way of equipment, trainers/judges or specialized facilities.  This appeals to the whole essence of Hobofit.  In most cases, the testing components are things like push-ups, sit-ups, chin-ups, and swimming and running over a few specified distances. 

For instance, the pre-selection testing for the Joint Task Force 2 is a combination of 5 components: a 1.5 mile run, push-ups, sit-ups, pullups and a 1-rep max in the bench press.  Of all of these, the only one that presents some difficulty in testing accurately is the 1RM Bench.  If you have the facilties and a good spotter, great!  For everyone else, it's still pretty easy to get an approximation of your 1RM by extrapolating another perhaps +5-10% from a 3-rep max or 5-rep max.  For the JTF2 test, performance in each of these components is rated on a points scale (11-30), with an aggregate score of 75 points needed.  Therefore (for non-assaulters...the slightly easier of two sub-groups), you'd need an average of 15 points in each category, which equates to a 1.5 mile run in under 10 minutes, and at least 48 continuous push-ups, 9 pullups, 48 sit-ups in a minute, and a 1RM bench of just under 200lbs.  Now, I've heard on good authority that 75 points is really the bare bare minimum and that most of the real guys are getting much higher than this.  However, for an aging armchair athlete, this seems to be a decent baseline.  What I like about it too is that it allows for some variation related to an individual's strengths and weaknesses, provided you meet the minimums in everything.  For instance,  I tend to get a lot of points in the Pullups, pushups and bench components, whereas I really need to bust my ass to meet even the 15 point levels for the 1.5 mile and the sit-ups.  Someone smaller than me might excel at the run but struggle with the bench press.

Another one I like to gauge myself against now and again is the SARTech pre-selection test, partly because it adds .  The Canadian Forces School of Search And Rescue (CFSSAR) SAR Tech pre-selection evaluation consists of:

To be completed in 16 minutes or less:
  • 1.5 mile / 2400m run in 10:15 or less;
  • 31 consecutive Push-ups;
  • 33 consecutive Sit-ups;
  • 8 consecutive Chin-ups;
  • 450 m shuttle run; and
To be completed following the above items:
  • 675 m swim in 20 minutes or less
The swim component takes a bit of organization but it's easy enough to just swim 27 lengths of any standard 25 metre pool for time.  The shuttle run is a bit hard to do on your own, so I usually skip that component.

I try to do both of these tests at least a few times every year, just to see where I'm at.  It's something I hope to do well into old age, as a way to ensure that I'm not suffering too much from age-related physical decline.  If it becomes the case that I start to struggle with one or more of the components, I'll take that as a sign of where to focus added training and attention.  Until then, it's a fun and cheap way to feel a little bit more GI Joe than Office Space.

No comments:

Post a Comment