Training Military and First Responders

During my entire career in strength and conditioning, I have enjoyed working with the men and women in the military and our first responders. Number one, these are our heroes; real life heroes. These people protect us, guard us, and rescue us when things go really badly. It’s important that these men and women are prepared for their work. If I help prepare one of these men or women, I contribute in a very small way to them saving people and doing good. That makes it pretty dang special. This article has some advice on helping those of you who coach are military and first responders as well as the coaches out there who help prepare these folks.

I treat first responders and military personnel the same way I treat my other athletes. When an athlete comes to me, I look at their strengths and weaknesses, muscular imbalances, and the sport that they play. Soccer players use a different energy system than football players. Cross Country athletes are different from soccer players.

First responders and military personnel have to possess incredible cardiovascular systems. Police officers have to chase down the bad guys. Firemen have to battle fires for hours sometimes with up to 75-pounds of equipment. Military personnel are constantly asked to run miles at a time.

However, they also have to be strong. Policemen constantly wrestle suspects. Firemen carry people out of fires, and remember their equipment already weights up to seventy-five pounds. Military personnel drag their injured brothers and sisters out of harm’s way.

Programming Considerations

Here are a few other things to consider when programming training:

• All of them should carry odd objects (limp bodies, struggling bodies, tanks, hoses, etc.)
• Some quality time has to be spent in the anaerobic glycolytic system because most incidents take between 30 to 60 seconds.
• Mobility has to be of importance because these men and women are asked to bend and move in all directions. If they are unable to move properly, it could cost a life.

Alex Viada taught all of us that it’s feasible to get people strong and fit at the same time. When I was doing the research for my latest eBook, Do What You Want, I looked into the science of concurrent training. How does one pair powerlifting, strongman, and endurance work? These three together are actually not that hard. Let’s take a look!


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Rules for Pairing Endurance and Strength Training

  1. There are a couple of rules when pairing endurance work with strength training. Sprint training should be looked at as similar to leg training. There are acute joint angles, and an extreme amount of eccentric force taking place, which means that both cause a lot of muscle damage. That means performing sprints the day after a heavy squat workout is not a good idea. However, a low intensity run is quite different because there is very little muscle damage and the oxidative system supplies the energy. That leaves the creatine phosphate system ready to fire for some heavy lifts. Depending on the length of the aerobic activity, there might not be a lot of glycogen left to create energy for multiple reps and sets, but aerobic activity won’t bother high intensity work. If you’re going to perform a long run, give it a day or so before the next big leg workout.
  2. Another thing is to chose aerobic movements that are opposite of strength movements. This will ensure that the strength movements being performed will continue to adapt in an explosive way as opposed to slowing down. Below is a sample of a potential plan that you might use. I program rowing a lot since it’s nothing like the strength movements that I prescribed. Pairing a bike with benching, or swimming with squats also creates less total damage, and thus encourages quicker recovery.
  3. Strongman movements are great for conditioning, core work, and in place of accessory work normally performed with more stable devices. For example, we use log press quite often in place of shoulder presses. The log press still strengthens the shoulders and arms. Because it’s awkward to rack, and stabilize, the body to strengthens all over to gain stability. This is a perfect stimulus to prepare men and women to lift awkward objects overhead like hoses, heavy equipment, or even people.

Sample Workout Plan

Let’s take a look at a sample plan:

Day 1 Week 7
High Bar Squat with Belt 80% 3×3, 85% 2×2, 88% 1×2
Deadlits Velocity Based 75% straight weight 8×2 with 60-90sec rest or 60% straight weight & 20% Bands/Chains
Belt Squat KB Deadlits 3 x 45sec
Yoke Carries 5 x 25m   (handled the same as 5×5 method)
For Time: For Time:
3 Rounds: 3 Rounds:
1000m Row 1000m Row
20 (10 each leg) Weighted Box Step Ups (angle of knee to hip should be no more than parallel for box height) 25/15 each hand 20 (10 each leg) Weighted Box Step Ups (angle of knee to hip should be no more than parallel for box height) 25/15 each hand
100m Single Arm KB Carry (each arm) 70/55 100m Single Arm KB Carry (each arm) 70/55
Day 2
Jerk From Racks 3RM (Paused 3 Sec in Catch)
Bench to Chest 75% x 5, 80% x 3, 85% x 1  (percentages based on raw max)
Max Effort Sling Shot Bench Max 3
Bench Press to Chest 83% for 3, 88% x 2, 90% for AMRAP
Close grip Axle Bar Decline Presses with 100lb of chains 5RM, then -15% for 3×5 (last set is 5+)
1a. Weighted Dips or Nose breakers 4×8
1b. Incline DB Curls 4×10
Core Muscular Imbalance 1
DB Fat Grip OH Walks 3 x 20yd forwards and backwards
Day 3
Power  Cleans 3RM (8RPE)
Back Squat Box Squats  (add weight to the last two sets if the speed is there) 50% Bar Weight + 20% Bands or Chains for 6×3 (60-90 sec between sets)goal .8m/s
1a. Rear Leg Elevated Split Squats  Heavy 4 x 5ea leg
1b. Leg Press or KB Goblet Squats 4 x 20
Recovery Row 15-20 minute recovery row
Stay in Zone 2 or 75% of Max HR
Day 4
Dynamic Bench Press  alternate Grip ea. set 50% Bar Weight + 20% Bands or Chains for 6×3 (60-90 sec between sets)goal .8m/s
Log Press 3RM, then -15% for 2 x 3 (last set 3+)
Weighted Dips  or  Nosebreakers 4×8
DB Tri-Delts 3 x (9 front-9side-9rear)
DB Pullovers 4 x 12
Day 5
Back Squat with Belt
Set 1 (80% x 2) rest 2 minutes and then (65% x 6)
Set 2    (add 5 Kilos to the first set only if possible) (80% x 2) rest 2 minutes and then (65% x 6)
Set 3    (add 5 Kilos to the first set only if possible) (80% x 2) rest 2 minutes and then (65% x 6)
Max Effort Deadlift 8″ Blocks  3RM, then -10% for 3
Suitcase Deadlifts from 4″ Deficit  stay at 7-8 RPE 3x5ea side
Reverse Hypers 3×45 seconds
Farmers Walk 4 x 30 yd
Day 6
Bench Presses
Set 1 (85% x 2) rest 2 minutes and then (70% x 6)
Set 2    (add 5 Kilos to heavy set only if possible) (85% x 2) rest 2 minutes and then (70% x 6)
Set 3    (add 5 Kilos to heavy set only if possible) (85% x 2) rest 2 minutes and then (70% x 6+)
DB Incline Chest Press 4×10
1a. BB Bentover Rows Paused 2 sec on sternum 4×5
1b. Pull-Ups 4 x submaximal
One Arm Kettlebell Rows 3×10 ea arm
Long Slow Run 6 mile run
Stay in Zone 2 or 75% of Max HR
with a 5 minute warm up & cool down

I suggest that you perform two-a-days on cardio and conditioning days. For example, on day six, I would take about six hours between the strength work and the six-mile run. Notice the odd objects on multiple days like: one arm farmer’s walk, DB fat grip OH walks, and suitcase deadlifts. There is always accessory work in my programming so as to promote muscular balance. Plus, let’s be honest, all of us want to be jacked.

Most of the time designing a program isn’t that hard if the coach listens, looks deep into the goal, and applies a little science. If you get the chance to work with military personnel and/or first responders, you owe it to them to do a little research and design a safe and effective plan. We can all do better than programming the 30-minute crushing and exhaustive workouts that beat people up. Have an objective for each workout, each exercise, and each repetition. If you can’t explain the ‘why’, then don’t do it.

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