Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Training for SFAS using the CrossFit Methodology

Matthew Biolsi - October 18, 2016

Let me first state that I labeled this blog “Training for SFAS…” but this idea can be used for any assessment type program regardless of military branch.  It doesn't matter what branch of service you choose, Army, Navy, Air Force, of Marines, each branch offers its own opportunity to join the Special Operations Command.  The Army has the US Army Special Operations Command (USASOC), the Navy has Naval Special Warfare Command (NSW), Air Force has Air Force Special Operation Command (AFSOC), and the Marines have the Marine Special Operations Command (MARSOC).  Inside each of these commands their are various units that make up their commands.  Most, if not all, have their own “selection and assessment" branch and one thing they all have in common is they are all challenging!  When it comes to preparing yourself both mentally and physically for these courses there are many ways to go about training for them.  One mistake I see many tend to make is people fail for follow a plan.  When it comes to looking at these programs you have to look at them from a professional sports idea.  Professional sports athletes follow a program to get them to reach their goals and it amazes me when service members feel they can just “wing it” or not follow a specific program to help them reach their goals.  Is their one program to follow? Absolutely not, but are their better programs to follow then just running and rucking programs? Yes! My hope with this article is to guide, what have become known as, “tactical athletes” to a better program than what they have been lead to believe thus far.  

Where to start
    When you first sign up for your assessment course you must first get a date.  Believe it or not the date of your assessment really affects your program.  The more time you have to get ready the better.  I start all my athletes on a general strength program.  My recommendation is a powerlifting type program to start with, along with a general physical preparation (GPP) program.  Strength is the hardest thing to build, and as a great coach I know always says “a pyramid is only as string as it’s base” so we have to build that first.  One mistake I typically see when athletes try to build strength is they randomly follow a body building program they found in some magazine.  Not to knock body building but what myself and one of my coaches constantly tell people, and what many athletes fail to realize, body building is a sport.  It has a specific goal for aesthetics and not necessarily strength.   When it comes to building strength you have to start with the basics.  Start with basic squats and pressing movements as well as building up the core.   During this time allow your body to recover from these movements.  When i work with y athletes i will do basic strength movements 3-4 times a week and we do light cardio efforts to allow their bodies to recover.  The cardio efforts are kept low volume at first.  A common mistake I see is overtraining early.  Athletes will go for long runs before their bodies are physically ready.  These are the people I see fall out due to injury.  Don’t rush the process.  Now when it comes to building strength, being smart about your training is imperative.  There are many types of strength, absolute strength, strength endurance, explosive strength, etc. You will not show up and have to do a 1 rep max back squat at assessment, so the number of your squat is not important.  This is not to say absolute strength is not important but if we are talking about SPP (special physical preparedness) then we have to look at muscular endurance.  High Volume of training at lower intensity is a great way to build this strength.  When it comes to all types of assessments, one thing is for certain, they will find your breaking point.  All trainees will reach muscle failure.  The key is to train your muscles to go as long as possible without getting injured.  Training with weights at moderate intensity and higher volume will help build muscular endurance, training plyometrics with both upper body and lower body, and doing very light weight movements with ankle weights to build up strength in the ligaments and tendons to protect them from injury.  This type of training will pay dividends when we switch to a more “sport specific” type training.  

Ramp up Training
     As you get your assessment date and you get to about 60 days out, it is now time to start specific training.  Sport specific training for assessment will require you to start ruck marching.  I suggest three days per week of moderate to long distance ruck marching with your standard packing list.  Mixing these up with ruck sprints will also help build up your ability to handle long distances as studies have proven that higher intensity sprints will help your long distance more than long distance will help your sprints.  As much as you should ruck march, another great method to achieve special physical preparation is to start dragging a sled. I alternate weeks of ruck marching a sled dragging so as to constantly change the stimulus on the body.  Now when i see most people drag a sled I see many errors.  For whatever reason people only sprint with sleds.  When the sprint i will often see the athlete completely round over at the back in an effort to run faster.  This is very typical for people who have weak backs.  If you have a weak back this will not load well for you as you try to ruck which requires a lot of back strength.  Another problem with sled dragging is people stick with single weight or distance.  I will routinely have my athletes march with a sled and drag it for long distances with a lighter weight and shorter distances with a  heavier weight.  By mixing the distances and weights the body never accommodates to training.  This will help build the mental toughness required for any school you plan on attending.  This is where the strength cycle that you were on will pay off.  Now is also the time to start working on your body weight and odd object strength and this is where CrossFit comes in very handy.  I will have my athletes do high intensity body weight workouts mixed with strongman style workouts.  Pull ups, sit ups, rope climbs, tire flips, stone carries, axle bar lifting, and truck pulling should all be a apart of your training arsenal.  At any selection you will be given odd objects to carry and move from point “A” to a point “B” and i can almost assure you these will not be even weighted barbells.  Learning the basics of strongman carries will go a long way to learn efficient ways to carry odd objects.  In a typical week, during this cycle, I have my athletes go through 5 days of training and do two or three workouts a day depending on the athletes fitness level.  Not all athletes are capable of training 3-5 times a day and its the coaches job to decide how to train you best.  Don’t feel you need to train as many times a day as another athlete.  If you recover slower than others than you need to lower the volume of your workouts to stay consistent, rather than working out 2 days and then taking the rest of the week off because you are injured.  A typical workout day would consist of a morning of Ruck marching or sled dragging, and a second session later on ion the day of one or two strongman CrossFit workouts, and finally a third session before bed or a recovery protocol.  This recovery protocol is probably the most misunderstood and forgotten about the most.  

Recovery Session
       One of the most forgotten areas of training for any sport is recovery.  When it comes to recovery there are many aspects.  These aspects include, nutrition, mobility, yoga, ice and heat, breathing and sleep.  First and foremost let's talk about nutrition.  You will never recover from strenuous workouts fully if you do not fix your diet.  Often times I will see athletes go from the training room/gym to the bar.  I am just as guilty as the next guy when it comes to this but if you are training to become a "tactical athlete", you must learn first to recover from the training properly and it starts with nutrition.  When it comes to diet there are tons of articles on this subject and it is deserving of its own article to truly delve so we will just stress that diet must be fixed first.  After diet, daily mobility or yoga sessions are critical for recovering after a workout.  Another good recovery technique are congrats baths where one will go from cold water to hot water and back to cold or vice Versa vice, depending on what your goals might be.  There are tons of different recovery methods that we can get into and it would be best to write a whole article on this subject alone but I think you get the point, daily recovery is imperative to getting the most out of your training.  


When it comes to training for elite units, you have to learn how to train like and elite athlete.  Taking your training seriously is the best way to accomplish your goals and understand passing assessment is only step 1.  Constantly re-evaluate your plan and change it up to address your weaknesses.  Have a plan to succeed and remember  "if you don't have a plan; you plan to fail." Happy Training!!!