What is strength training? For starters, calisthenics are a form of strength training. Try your first push-up or pull-up, and you will realize how much strength you need to complete your first repetition. And, of course, load bearing and weight training requires it as well.
If you do not have weights or a gym facility, you may need to find other ways to build strength. You will be surprised at all the different ways you can accomplish this, especially if you are worried about missing too many leg or chest day workouts.
Here is an email from a young man with a few concerns about getting stronger:
Stew, I have always been an endurance athlete, so strength training is something I need to focus on before I join the Army. I am OK with calisthenics, but I could be better. I need to improve at the exercises tested in the new Army Combat Fitness Test and at rucking with heavy backpacks. I want to be a Ranger, so I know I need to work on my strength and overall durability. Here is the trick question: I have no access to weights, so what do you recommend? Thanks for your articles here on Military.com; they have been extremely helpful. -- Stefan
Stefan, you're doing a great job by realizing your weaknesses as you get ready to attend a tactical program that will require skill at all the elements of fitness: strength, power, speed, agility, endurance, muscle stamina, flexibility and mobility.
Being well-rounded will help you tremendously as you prepare for the schools that follow your Basic Combat Training, including Infantry, Airborne, and Ranger Assessment and Selection (RASP). The good news is that being a great runner will help you with many training events. You now need to build strength and durability to handle the loads of rucking and equipment carries.
And there's more good news: You do not need weights.
Sure, weights are helpful, but calisthenics with a weight vest or backpack can also help you get stronger. Add in a few homemade sandbags (or use ones purchased online if your budget allows) to make squats and lunges harder.
In fact, you can even simulate log PT with your own sandbag or a small log. The goal is to find a log or make a sandbag that weighs approximately 40 to 50 lbs. This is roughly the weight a single person will feel when carrying a 250- to 300-lb. log with six to seven other soldiers.
One of my favorite log PT simulator workouts requires soldiers to use a sandbag to do several exercises commonly performed during log PT: shoulder carry squats, chest carry lunges, chest carry sit-ups and overhead presses or push presses. You will see these classic log PT exercises again in your future, so these workouts carrying a sandbag or wearing a weight vest can help you build the strength you need for the actual movements you will be required to do.
Rucking requires a progression, but if you are good at running, you are ready to ruck. Start off with moderate weight of 10 to 15 lbs. Check out some of these run or ruck and leg PT workouts, which will help you with the leg and back strength needed for load-bearing activity.
After you add weight to push-ups, pull-ups and dips with a weight vest, you can add in squats and lunges and stair climbing with a weight vest, backpack or sandbag. These additions can turn a traditionally non-weighted workout into a strength training program.
If you are doing a workout like my Army Special Ops program that requires weight training, replace the following events with these calisthenics and weighted exercises:
Bench Press: Replace with push-ups (wearing a weight vest or backpack).
Military Press: Replace with sandbag overhead presses.
Squats: Wear a weight vest and/or carry a sandbag on your shoulder.
Lunges: Wear a weight vest and/or carry a sandbag as a chest carry exercise.
Deadlift: Pick up your weight vest, backpack or sandbag from the floor using a hip hinge movement. If that is too easy, try the one-legged Romanian DeadLift (RDL) with a weight vest or kettlebell in your hand.
Farmer walks: Carry a sandbag or weight vest by hand and climb stairs or a hill to increase carry activity difficulty.
If you can get a few dumbbells or kettlebells, you will find it easier to add some of the options to your strength training program. You do not need a gym, weights or much equipment, but with some creative replacement ideas, you can still build all the strength you need for your Army career.
-- Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Visit his Fitness eBook store if you're looking to start a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle. Send your fitness questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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