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Living Better: Make Your Body Work For You

By Oscar M

The phrase “survival of the fittest” has often been associated with various facets of society, but most often when depicting the nature of humans – to not only survive but thrive – when placed in seemingly insurmountable or physically challenging situations.

We see these tendencies of natural selection at a primitive level every day; some individuals grow accustomed to a certain level of comfort or luxury in their lives and live a lifestyle that supports that level of comfort. Other individuals do what they can to constantly displace any notion of comfort and strive to obtain higher levels of physical proficiency and a mastery of their physical and mental performance.

GORUCK Challenge

But this isn’t meant to be a watered-down monologue on natural selection or Darwinism – what this is meant to be is a basic framework you can apply in order to reach a greater mastery of your body’s overall performance. This article will focus primarily on physical performance. Life is a constant cycle of events and stimulants that your body is required to process; your physical, mental and emotional stasis is dependent on your ability to properly prepare your body for these events and stimulants. When your body is at a level that allows you to not only survive but thrive, in this cycle of events and stimulants, you can be assured to live better.

Identify Your Motivation

The most important step in choosing to master your body’s performance is identifying your motivation. Why do you choose to get up early every morning to run two miles followed by some light calisthenics? Why are you so keen on getting to the Crossfit box after work to knock out the prescribed WOD?

Maybe you already have a baseline level of fitness that you want to maintain (something we’ll cover shortly). You want to be confident that if X or Y occurs, you will be physically capable of performing Z. This is not uncommon in the military or other professions that require defined measurements of performance on a regular basis. While there are baseline levels of fitness that service members are required to maintain or meet per regulations, many choose to exceed or supplement these standards with additional fitness regimens that provide them with additional physical capabilities. For example, while being able to score high results for both the Air Force and Army PT tests, I choose to train in a manner that ensures I’m also capable of carrying heavy weight long distances for ruck marches that simulate the physical requirements of long dismounted patrols.

Maybe there’s a specific event that you’re participating in which requires an elevated level of fitness that you wouldn’t normally maintain. This is often the case for endurance-based athletes or other professional competitors. These athletes often build up their physical capability on a strict training regimen that cannot be deviated from, lest they are unprepared for the event come race day. An example of this would be your triathletes, Ironman competitors, or potential trainees for special operations pipelines.

Critical to your training motivation is your mental attitude and mindset. It is said, “the final weapon is the brain – all else is supplemental”. This could not be more true in the context of your willingness to train consistently to a measured standard or when faced with a seemingly insurmountable challenge. It must not be overlooked that frequently, it is our willingness to train and prepare that is more foundational in achieving heightened performance levels than the training itself. Nothing great was ever achieved overnight; hence the significance of a strong will to train and the proper mindset that accompanies it. If you fail to prepare, you prepare to fail. With the proper mindset and mental attitude coupled with consistent preparation, you cannot fail.

Establish a Baseline

After identifying your motivation for pursuing enhanced or improved physical performance, you need to establish a baseline of performance that your body is capable of. Personally, I like using a variety of military physical fitness tests to establish a fitness foundation. My primary go-to fitness tests are: the Army fitness test (as it’s usually administered prior to any Army training school), the Air Force fitness test (I’m in the Air Force and the standards must be exceeded) and the Air Force special operations PAST (Physical Aptitude and Stamina Test, used by the rescue and special tactics communities. This is one of the more balanced yet highly demanding fitness tests in the US military arsenal). However, using fitness tests to establish a baseline is only one option. If you’re training for a marathon – run the marathon distance. If you’re training for a triathlon – do a dry run. The purpose is to identify what your body is currently capable of, so that you can replace that capability with improved performance through focused training.

There are countless options in the fitness community available to use when establishing a baseline and you only need to choose one that not only fits your motivation (i.e. is in keeping with your end-goal) but also is easy to perform and evaluate. Look to other resources available as well to gauge your baseline performance, to include any peers with previous experience in similar goals, your local gym or by checking online for the countless workouts or fitness plans.

Fuel Your System

The need to fuel your system and provide it with the necessary energy and rest to achieve certain physical performance levels sounds rhetorical, but is still something that is worth mentioning.

Avoiding extensive lessons in nutrition, dieting and physiological performance, you need to ensure that you are giving your body the energy it needs to perform the physical tasks you execute. Simple, right? Evidently not; to this day, this is something I constantly fail to do.

Source Hydration BladdersFor example, when it comes to extended endurance events like long-distance running or ruck marches, I consistently underestimate the amount of water my body requires to remain properly hydrated.

Without fail.

I may be sipping on water constantly or even increasing my electrolyte count with some Gatorade mix, but I can be guaranteed to not drink enough of it.

During a military heavy division (marathon distance ruck with 35lbs, fatigues and boots) event with a good friend in Colorado, he and I both – at separate times during the race – failed to properly consume enough water and energy, resulting in an unpleasant stint in what we refer to as the “pain cave” (a miserable location of self-pity, frustration and diminished physical performance). Such visits to the pain cave depend on more than one variable and a short mindset relapse, poor training or preparation, or lowered morale all play a role in these events; however, proper hydration and energy intake is one of your baseline necessities. The event is going to drain your body both physically and mentally regardless – but remaining well hydrated and nourished dictates the degree of drainage you experience. Know what your system needs and fuel it appropriately.

Measure Your Progress

After identifying your fitness objective(s), establishing your performance baseline and training with the proper amount of rest, energy intake and fuel, you need to measure your progress. In order to ensure you reach your performance objectives, you need some mechanism by which to measure your progress.

There are a number of methods available by which you can measure your fitness progression en route to your objective, including but not limited to: fitness trackers, re-administering fitness tests for a new baseline or signing up for endurance events themselves. Let’s say you’re preparing to run a marathon or compete in a triathlon; rather than falling back on your fundamental exercise regimens and routines, why not measure your progress with a fun yet still effective alternative? Instead of taking another dull twelve-mile out-and-back through the back roads of your town, why not sign up for a Tough Mudder or teamwork-based event instead? You cover the same twelve miles and you have much more fun doing it. Need a good full-body event that tests your endurance, strength and mental ability to think under stress? Why not do a GORUCK Challenge (of which I’m a major fan; class 198) and force your body to wear a ruck, perform countless exercise repetitions while wearing it, and be forced to work as a team with complete strangers all the while?

GORUCK Challenge 198

The purpose of measuring your progress is to establish your new baseline of performance. In doing so, you will have a better idea of how your training must be adjusted in order to meet your initial performance objectives.

Wash, Rinse, Repeat.

If you’ve made it this far in your training, you’re on the path to success. Nothing was ever gained by sitting idly by and watching the world pass. Most often in life, the good things are those that require hard work, dedication and commitment. It’s a good thing that humans are habitual in nature and enjoy routines – this is something that will undoubtedly come in handy when trying to find the inner motivation to get up for yet another early morning of training in the dead of winter, because as we all know, “If it ain’t raining, it ain’t training”.

The ultimate key to success is how strong your motivation to perform at higher levels really is. Coupled with the proper mindset and will to train, your motivation will be the difference between success and failure. For those in the military, this tends to be a very real and necessary motivation – especially when your life and your buddy’s life depend on it. For others, your fitness could be a hobby, a profession or a lifestyle that you require yourself to maintain. The purpose in pursuing these fitness objectives is to ultimately thrive in this world, by enabling your body to perform various feats that allow you to live as a better person. Thanks for listening.

The content of this article is the result of personal observations associated with military fitness requirements, various previous training objectives and personal fitness endeavors. It is by no means all-inclusive and one size does not fit all. There is no cookie-cutter approach to fitness!

GORUCK Challenge Photos © GORUCK

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  • redraven88

    Really great article! I’ve begun a fitness routine of sorts, little smart changes and taking the “long way” around on purpose in an effort to get fit. The steps and structure in all of the fitcom articles including this one have been very helpful for me and my girlfriend adopt a healthier lifestyle. Thanks for your dedication and insight: you are making a difference in people’s lives.

  • Common Sense

    because as we all know, “If it ain’t raining, it ain’t training”.
    This is a comic about the correct response to that scentence.

  • JCrist

    Sweet article.  For endurance fuel, folks may want to check out Tailwind Nutrition.  Triple Aught Design guy out me onto that and it worked great during the Survival Trial over 24 hours and 35+ miles in New Mexico heat (and cold..).  It took turning 40 for me to get my head out of my ass and get back into shape, hopefully this article will inspire others to do the same.  Thanks!

  • USAgent42

    Are there any words of wisdom, or advice you can give about being motivated to run? I just hate it. iI have a runner’s build, but I’d just rather lift weights.
    I have no problem with rucking and other endurance-based activities, but I really really dont like running. And as a soldier I need to be a good runner (I suppose).
    Any advice or tricks would be great.

    • USAgent42 Getting motivated can sometimes be difficult. It’s often easier for me to go for a run, especially alone (not sure why) compared to others.
      – Get your running clothes out and ready. I’m much more likely to get out there if everything is laid before me.
      – Hassle a friend to run with you until they give in. Misery loves company.
      – Load up your iPod (or music player) with some motivating music or even some podcasts. Running while listening to a podcast or audiobook helps keep me distracted.
      – Run for a cause. When you with RunKeeper or Nike+ and Earndit, you earn credits that you can redeem for real world items.
      – Read about running. There’s something about running blogs that make me want to get out and run myself. I find inspiration in the stories of others.
      – On my worst days, I’ll get out for at least 30 minutes. That’s the length of most TV shows. Surely you can skip one TV show for a run.
      – Don’t focus on pace, just enjoy yourself. Throw in a few breaks and take in the scenery.
      Hope that helps! You may want to check out these two other posts on ITS:

    • USAgent42

      I appreciate the advice. Gonna try some of these out and give some feedback on what I found that worked. I’m also going to see if there’s a charity or something out there that I can run for. That way it’ll motivate me.
      See, I guess the real reason I don’t like running is that it doesn’t really apply in the Army anymore. Sprinting to cover, I understand. Rucking forever, got it. But I dont think I’ll ever run five miles while totally geared up.
      So, yeah, I’m hoping some ‘other’ motivating factor will help me get into running.
      I was also looking into a GORUCK Challenge– how much running is involved in that?

    • USAgent42 During my, we did around 17 miles. Some classes have done more and some have done less. Keep in mind that it was about 13 hours from start to finish so it’s not like you’re running the entire time. There’s a lot of other things thrown in to break up the running.
      Back to being motivated to run, it’s tough. Some days when I’m really not feeling it, I’ll just go for a walk. Those walks end up being 8 miles long and I feel good even though I didn’t ever even break into a jog. Just getting outside and enjoying everything I see is what I aim for. The second it stops being fun, well, I find the motivation lacking.
      I understand what you mean about running like you did in the Army. Maybe you just need a break. Throw in some cycling or rent a kayak or something. I bet that soon you’ll find the motivation somehow, it’s just different for everyone.

    • bennett1980

      MikePetrucci USAgent42  
      Yeah, I can’t run or carry heavy packs any more, have knee and leg problems from the military and thru hiking the Appalachian Trail. Now, my biggest thing is getting my hiking pack down as light as possible. Lighter is better, even if you are not injured, as you can move faster and are less tired at the end of the day.
      Running is great cardio, but it is horrible on your knees and joints. I use an elliptical for cardio now, seems to help.

  • Nice write up. 
    Hmmm… got to check tailwind nutrition for my next Goruck Challenge. I definitely needed some fuel on my last challenge.  Class #441 here.

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