Find us a man with a more impressive résumé than Tim Kennedy. We dare you. No, not a more impressive military résumé; a more impressive résumé, period. Here’s the abbreviated version of Kennedy’s:
A 2003 enlistee in the U.S. Army as a Special Forces candidate. Awarded a Green Beret in 2005 and, shortly thereafter, an honor graduate from Ranger School. Deployed in Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom multiple times, in addition to many other locations worldwide. A high-level sniper in both combat and formal military competitions. Awarded the Army’s heroic Bronze Star Medal with V Device (for valor). Currently serving in the Army National Guard, based in Austin, Texas, as a Special Forces weapons sergeant first class.
A professional mixed-martial arts fighter on and off since 2001 with a combined record of 18 wins and five losses in the UFC and Strikeforce. A successful television career, appearing in such reality-based shows and documentaries as Hunting Hitler on the History channel and Spike TV’s Deadliest Warrior, spawned from his fame as a professional athlete, his standing as a decorated military soldier and an outspoken, articulate personality that plays well on camera. A business owner, with a stake in the military-based clothing company Ranger Up, among other ventures.
Age: 36. Height: 5 feet 11 inches. Weight: 225 pounds, give or take, and a leaner and meaner 200 for his photo shoot with M&P.
Can you find a more alpha résumé than that? Good luck. You’ll also be hard-pressed to find anyone who trains harder or is better physically prepared to take on anything — a UFC title-holder, a war zone, you name it than Tim Kennedy.
Is it fair to say Tim Kennedy trains like a professional athlete? No, not really. His training is much more involved, and rigorous, than that of the typical elite ballplayer or fighter. Kennedy’s training is ongoing throughout the day, every day. Most athletes would consider training twice daily the most grueling phase of their programs. Kennedy calls two-a-days “a minimum.”
His training program is fluid. Meaning, all the different components of his daily grind blend into one another: gym workouts and MMA sessions; Special Forces combat and weaponry training; self-defense and military tactics courses he teaches to law enforcement and civilians through his business Sheepdog Response (sheepdogresponse.com); a television gig that may find him running through the mountains of Argentina with 20 pounds of camera equipment on his back.
“There’s a symbiotic relationship with everything I do,” Kennedy says. “Whether it’s television, the companies I own, military commitments or fighting, all of them complement each other. The things I do for TV and the places I go are all places I go for the military and are sometimes through connections for the military that benefit my unit. So I just work my ass off all the time. Some weeks I work, like, 90 hours. This isn’t a 9-to-5 job. This isn’t go to PT in the morning, hang out, go get chow, put on my uniform and hang out with my boss. This is wake up at dawn, work all the way until the sun goes down and then we can start our real training. It’s 24/7, and it’s what I chose to do until the day I die.”
This is not to say that Kennedy’s training lacks structure. He adheres to a periodized strength-and-conditioning program in which Mondays and Wednesdays are powerlifting focused; Tuesdays and Fridays emphasize mobility, speed, endurance and metabolic conditioning; and Thursdays are active recovery day along the lines of swimming or hot yoga.
That’s the structured part, at least, which leaves open the weekends and many hours Monday through Friday for other “wild card” activities and training modalities: basically, anything and everything Kennedy can get his hands on. He may incorporate parachute sprints or rock climbing during the week. And he typically reserves weekends for off-land workouts such as paddleboarding and long-distance swims, if not something slightly more primitive. “Maybe I’ll go do a walking hunt where my gun, ammo and all my food is in my backpack,” Kennedy says. “I walk in 3 or 4 miles, try to find an animal, shoot the animal, and then walk out carrying 50 pounds of meat along with my gun and other stuff. So it can end up being a negative-5,000-calorie-type day.”
To call his training diverse is an understatement. He’s ever resourceful when it comes to finding a new way to train or fitting in a workout in the absence of modern gym equipment. When he was deployed in Afghanistan in the mid-2000s, he would use anything he could find to lift or throw to stay in shape, whether it was a heavy rock or an engine from a broken-down Humvee. These days, he’s just as creative when deployed in North Africa (his current Special Forces assignment) or even on set shooting a documentary. Production studios usually don’t want to cough up money to provide cast members a proper workout facility, and that’s fine with Kennedy. When need be, he travels with TRX bands and empty kettlebell bags he can fill with sand. Or he’ll bring a length of rope on location in the jungle and drag it or sprint with it or drape it over a tree branch for pull-ups.
Such workout variety is part necessity, part staving off boredom. More than that, Kennedy sees it as the best means of developing full military combat preparedness.
“While I love training, I hate training in a vacuum,” he says. “I think the gym is a vacuum. I consider a gym rat to be a guy who exclusively does movements at the gym that don’t translate into any form of athleticism outside the gym. And I hate that guy. I want to be the antithesis of that guy. Everything I do in the gym is because I have to be in the gym, because it’s going to be the place that facilitates the movement or the strength building we’re doing. But the ultimate goal is for me to be bigger, stronger, faster and harder to kill.
“My entire life revolves around the concept that I want to be the hardest person someone ever tries to kill. If you’re going to come and be like, ‘Oh, I’m going to go kill Tim Kennedy,’ yeah, you might be able to. But it’s going to be the nastiest, most evil, disgusting, violent affair that you could ever imagine occurring.”
Keeping ’em Honest
Tim Kennedy probably doesn’t expect every member of the U.S. military to be as strong, fit and highly conditioned as him. But he doesn’t tolerate a lazy, out-of-shape soldier, either. When asked whether he thinks military men and women should train like athletes, Kennedy is blunt in his response.
“Absolutely,” he says. “If I see a soldier who’s fat wearing a uniform, I pretty much go from being the super nice, fun-loving guy you can drink a beer with to a jerk, lickety-split. I think there’s a certain amount of responsibility that goes along with wearing this uniform. I don’t care what your job is. I don’t care if you’re in the JAG office doing wills for guys deploying or power of attorneys for their wives. You wear a uniform; do not be a fat piece of s—.”
If that sounds harsh, perhaps it’s because the world can be a harsh place when you’re serving overseas in enemy territory, and you best be prepared physically and mentally to deal with it. But Kennedy would receive the same blowback from other members of the Special Forces community if he were to ever slip up, particularly since he’s a public figure representing Green Berets, Army Rangers and snipers.
“Fortunately, I���ve never let those guys down because this is what I’ve dedicated my life to,” Kennedy says. “And they’ll say to me, ‘Thank you for representing us, for being outspoken and for being a great example.’ But sure as s—, if I messed up, said something stupid, did something stupid or was ever over 10 percent body fat, I would get abused by the community. This [Special Forces] world is one of brutal honesty.”
As if you had any doubt about that by this point in the story.
And to young people out there thinking you’d like to be the next military hero — the next Tim Kennedy — he’s got some valuable advice for you:
“Keep your mouth shut and your eyes and ears open,” Kennedy says. “When I got to the Special Forces, I was a top-10 fighter on the planet, I had been a competitive shooter my entire life, and I had done a lot of hunting growing up in rural California. You can’t get a guy who’s more prepared for the Special Forces than I was. But when I got there, I was the slowest guy, the weakest guy and the worst shot. My first two years, I was just trying to catch up to the rest of my team. You’ve got to take the good with the bad. The best times I’ve had in the military are when I’ve been deployed in Afghanistan, getting blown up, getting shot at, having gun fights that lasted days. While that’s all amazing and heroic, it sucks. And then you get home and you get that first kiss from your wife when you get off the plane, and you get that smell from her perfume. It’s that contrast. It’s what you live for.”
3 “HARD TO KILL” COMMANDMENTS
Want to be a hard-charging, unabashed badass, too? Then you need to be prepared to dig deep on a daily basis.
1. Diversify Your Training
ake sure you’re not training in a vacuum. Get out of the gym, get on a rope, get on an obstacle course. I train at four different gyms in a week just for strength and conditioning. That’s by design. I’m not getting comfortable with any one environment or with a certain kind of equipment. Everything always ends up being consistently inconsistent. For example, I went to a CrossFit gym recently and I competed with all their top athletes and beat them all. No, I’m not saying I’m going to beat Rich Froning in a CrossFit competition, but I’m going to be able to walk into a very high-level gym and do whatever they’re doing at their highest level.”
2. Eat Real Food
“Going to the grocery store and grabbing the closest thing on the shelf is the easiest, most convenient thing to do. But by no means is it the best thing. By eat real food, I mean do the research and figure out the source of your food. Do you even know where your food came from, what hormones are in it, what antibiotics are in it, what steroids were pumped into the animal? If you look into my refrigerator or freezer, almost every single thing in there is either fresh from the ground or fresh caught. People are so disconnected from their food that they don’t even understand what food is anymore.”
3. Understand What Recovery Is for You
“Sitting on the couch playing video games is not recovery. Going for a run is recovery. Last night I had two really bad workouts earlier in the day and I have a 13-year-old daughter. So she and I went for a 3-mile run at around a nine- to 10-minute-mile pace — super slow, relaxed, we could have a conversation at that pace. But it got the blood going back into my legs, and this morning, I woke up and had an amazing training session. So figure out, for you, what recovery really looks like. That includes sleep. If you have to take power naps, or real naps, do it. Figure out if you’re the six-hour, eight-hour or 10-hour sleep guy or gal. Every person needs something different.”
—Sgt. 1st Class Tim Kennedy, U.S. Army