Commando training and the fallacy of the WOD

People like sexy. Marketing departments spend thousands, millions in some cases, making products ooze sex appeal. Hell, you could argue that the entire sports car market is geared towards giving middle aged men some kind of perceived increase in penis size.

For the most part training isn’t sexy. Basic strength training for sets of three to five reps using big lifts isn’t anything that looks sexy. Just the clank of plates against one another, the sounds of exertion, a cloud of chalk, and the smell of sweat. Likewise running for two hours isn’t sexy either. Go out and smash your feet into the ground about thirty thousand times and see just how unsexy that is.

But that’s where the fitness industry, like the tobacco companies, has your best interests at heart. They can come up with ways to make training appealing. Don’t like cardiovascular work? No problem, they’ll design a bike that has a rack for you to prop your magazine on. Or maybe they’ll design a treadmill that comes with it’s own TV built into it. Anything to make it appealing. And they’ll try to make strength training sexy too by making fancy looking machines with pulleys and all kinds of fancy things that look straight out of a science fiction movie.

And in the world of sexy training there’s nothing sexier than “special forces” training. I have to put it in quotes because mostly the people offering this advice clearly have no real idea about the kind of training needed. Having actually been through Commando selection, and spoken with SEALs and some SAS about training I always come back to the same conclusion – no matter how sexy people try to make their so called “spec ops” routine, it usually falls short.

A good case in point is the typical WOD. A standard Crossfit type workout, that you might find at any of the local Crossfit gyms in Moorabbin, Sandringham, Chadstone or Oakleigh, has a strength base and then somewhere between ten and twenty minutes of anaerobic circuit type work. Compare this with what people I know in SEALs and SAS tell me when they say that Crossfit is a horrible base for special operators because of the low volume of work. As I wrote about in this piece I wrote about the kind of volume that a SEAL actually uses in training once you speak to someone truly on the inside you get a feeling for what will work and what won’t.

And this is why WODs don’t work. Look, low rep strength training is a great start. As Mark Divine of SEALFit says, it’ll give you the horsepower, but not the gas tank. This from a guy who favours forty-five minute calisthenic warm ups wearing a weight vest. That alone should tell you something about how highly valued work capacity is. Compare that with the WOD/ HIT mentality where we seek short and sharp workouts then ask yourself how many times you think Mike Mentzer or Greg Glassman ever got dropped in a hot LZ? So who knows better what kind of fitness is more useful, and how to get it?

Let’s look at just one of the Commando barrier tests – the 30km march. Conducted in under five hours wearing pack, webbing, and a rifle. How useful is a ten minute workout for a test that will take five hours? You may start strong, but I can guarantee that if you’ve only got twenty minutes of fitness you are going to really suffer.

But this is where the fitness industry continues its lies. They’ll tell you that whatever new thing they’ve got dreamed up is better than high volume work. Because there’s nothing sexy about telling someone that if they really want to be in special forces shape they should expect to give up their entire weekends to training. I know when I was getting ready for Commando selection I ran daily, swam twice per week, lifted weights two or three times, did body weight circuits another two or three times and would spend at least four hours hiking with a pack on. But telling people the truth isn’t sexy. Think how few takers the serpent in the Garden would have had if he’d said to Adam that the price of taking a bite was being cast out of Eden forever? But he beguiled and enticed Adam – he made it sexy – and it sold. So it is with WODs and even low rep strength plans like Easy Strength. They just don’t work if your goal is a special level of fitness.

Don’t be fooled by sexy fitness marketing. If you want results it must be hammered into place with both high volume and high intensity. That’s where the crazy gains are. Not in starving yourself, thirty minute workouts, and a few “easy” sets. Lift heavy, go long, work hard.