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Muscle Maneuvers

Borrow training tactics from today’s military to improve speed, strength and athleticism.

Looking better in a set of rolled-up sleeves than anyone in recorded history, the 1980s cartoon version of G.I. Joe’s “Flint” was, well, cartoonish in his proportions. Ironically, his X-framed physique was hardly representative of soldiers of that era, who relied mainly on long runs and calisthenics to prepare for battle. Fast-forward to the 21st century. Flint would feel more at home — and look less out of place — in today’s military, where “PT” has become more intense and diversified. You can start constructing an action-figure physique, too, by stepping it up in a few key areas.


1. Go Primative

Soldiers leave Army Combatives School at Fort Benning, Georgia, looking like broad-shouldered cage-ready fighters, but they don’t achieve that look via expensive machinery. Instead, a few short-burst circuits involving ropes, 400-pound flipping tires, 100-pound buckshot-filled medicine balls and crudely fashioned sleds are the norm. Circuits usually involve six to eight such exercises, each done for a minute at a time, with no rest between moves. Select basic exercises that use multiple muscle groups and weight loads that allow you to work consistently for 30 to 60 seconds.

2. Get Quick

Members of the military aviation community train for how to evade the enemy if their aircraft goes down behind enemy lines. In an uncertain and hostile environment, balance and coordination for navigating terrain, along with shoulder and grip strength for carrying heavy gear, are essential. “One thing I would do ahead of deployment was high-intensity jump-rope training,” says Dave Hunt, former Navy pilot and founder of Crossrope. “It was much more challenging than typical cardio, but my physical preparedness drastically improved.” Weighted ropes, like those made by Crossrope, provide a more challenging full-body workout. 

3. Climb Stuff 

Every theater of conflict is different, and for the last decade-plus, the mountainous terrain of Afghanistan has been home to plenty of American boots. In order to thrive at these elevations, soldiers have to get their legs accustomed to the up-and-down demands of negotiating this territory. If you live near hills, mix in the occasional purposeful hike, striving each time to improve your time to the summit. A 30- to 60-minute climb three to four days per week would closely mimic the preparations of today’s soldiers. 

4. Fight Someone

Before guys like Brian Stann and Tim Kennedy were dominating opponents in the octagon, they were honing their fighting skills in the military. Dedicated programs such as Army Combatives School and the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program feature fight-camp-style training that readies troops — physically and mentally — for the high-stakes world of close-quarters combat. Local boxing and kickboxing gyms are a great place to start, but to up the stakes, seek out a gym that provides occasional sparring bouts to test your mettle and incentivize your training.

5. Train, No Matter What

Don’t have access to a quality gym? Neither do most troops on deployment, but that hasn’t stopped them from improving their strength and conditioning while abroad. Randy Hetrick, a Navy SEAL who wanted to have a way to take his gym with him, developed the now-ubiquitous TRX suspension system. Other improvised methods include farmer’s walks with heavy ammo cans, bench presses with tent poles and cement-filled coffee cans, and towel pull-ups off tank turrets. No gym membership? No problem.