Ask Stew: Older But Still Trying

Navy SEALs jump from the ramp of a C-17 Globemaster III April 15, 2010, over Fort Pickett Maneuver Training Center, Va. The jump was part of a joint training exercise with 517th Airlift Squadron members from Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska. (U. S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Brian Ferguson)

After a lifetime of aches, pain, injuries, and hard training, as you start to enter your mid-thirties to early forties, begin to take their toll. Smart training can help you alleviate much of the pain and soreness of previous injuries while also learning to recover is critical to you being able to handle long hours training or on the job doing highly physical activities. Here is a question from an older military athlete seeking to get back into a special ops training pipeline again.

Stew, I’m 33 years old, just left the active duty. I was med rolled due to rhabdomyolysis in a spec ops pipeline. I’d like to re-enter the pipeline on the reserve side if possible, but at my age I can’t train like I used to in my 20’s. If you were training for a “selection” lifestyle at my age, how would you approach training to avoid injury and maximize progress in our key proficiencies (calisthenics, rucking, running, swimming)? I watched your Tactical Fitness Report regarding older athletes and periodization, but have never developed a fitness program for myself that utilizes this method in any meaningful way. Any help or insight you can provide is greatly appreciated. Very respectfully, Steve

Steve - I will say as I got into my 30's my body was pretty messed up - mainly an accumulation of high school sports injuries (football), college injuries (rugby), special ops preparation, then selection (BUD/S), and the Teams. I had to rebuild myself.  With your previous injury and ailment, you have to be smart.  Periodization is the way I recommend to rebuild a solid foundation to endure the training.  Also see more information on Rhabdomyolysis as there are many elements that can cause that as it is not just limited to under-prepared enduring over-training.  Bodyweight (bigger guys), dehydration, depleted electrolytes, nutrition, improper post workout recovery methods, etc. See related post on Periodization that has helped me as well as younger athletes for over 20 years now. 

As with any selection program, you have to get specific to the events, challenges, and tests you will endure on a daily basis. This will mean acing fitness tests to get you into the training and mastering movements, load bearing, endurance activities (run, swim, ruck) to get through the training. Getting specific means more preparing the body for the rigors of the selection program than it does actually doing long difficult events like hell week, brutal 6 hour log PTs, 20 mile rucks, or 6 mile ocean swims for instance. It is good to obviously do some of this type of training, but you will build your abilities and confidence with much shorter events. Simulating these events in the gym or with sandbags is a way to do it.  See Sand Baby Murph for instance. Building a "forever pace" to endure long run, ruck, swims distances with workouts like the Spec Ops Triathlon is another option. 

When you discuss Tactical Fitness, you have to consider ALL the elements of fitness and especially focus on your weaknesses and previous injuries that you have to strengthen.  That means strength, power, cardio endurance (run, swim, ruck techniques), muscle stamina, core, gripmobility, speed, and agility, and flexibility. You need a program and periodization allows you to get good at all of these elements of fitness throughout your training blocks spread throughout the year. 

You have to think of periodization like your fitness budget. Focus on your needs and goals of your weaknesses without losing the strengths you brought to the table in the first place. There will be plenty of time to get back to the phases that include your strengths, but building your weaknesses to a level where they meet the standards of any selection program should be your preparation focus. This may include strength training or technique training in the pool. It may include muscle stamina that typically builds nicely on top of a foundation of strength and power. 

The reason why periodization works in this phase of training, as well as in post selection,  is it allows you to separate your focuses as you will find it very difficult to build your longer distance running speed while you are trying to increase your mass with a lifting program - so in my version of a Tactical Fitness Periodization we break up the year or six months in 4 x 6-13 week cycles.  Typically, we do a full year of 4 x 13 = 52 weeks but we have been also working on a 6 month cycle with great success for shorter timelines over the past 5 years. 

Here is a below macrocycle:

6-13 week Cycle 1:  Focus on Muscle stamina / endurance (run, swim progression) - no rucking yet if you are new to running mixed with shorter speed / agility  (some weights as 50 / 50 split routines with calisthenics. 

6-13 week Cycle 2: Focus on a more running / rucking progression with swimming and addition of higher repetition calisthenics 

6-13 week Cycle 3: Focus on decreasing running / rucking progression / increase swimming (if needed) mix of increasing weights / decreasing high repetition calisthenics - mix in speed / agility training. 

6-13 week Cycle 4:  Focus on strength, power, load bearing *rucking, but more swimming with fins to still work on leg endurance if swimming is a big part of your selection training. Otherwise, you can pick a different non-impact activity to focus on joint health when not rucking / lifting heavy.  Warmup with calisthenics but minimal max repetition sets this phase. 

As you can see you can the 4 cycles will walk you through all the elements of Tactical Fitness in a 6-12 month’s period.  I personally prefer the 13 week cycles as I have been doing them for 20 years with only minimal changes.  Some changes have been to lift less real heavy weight and replace with TRX options and non-impact cardio during the lift cycle once I turned 45.  I found I was putting on too much bulk during this cycle and it took too long to burn it off during the following high cardio / calisthenics cycles.

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