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Combat PT: Fitness for Close Quarter Combat

Sabre Bob December 4, 2012 User blog:Sabre Bob

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Disclaimer: The following material is strictly for entertainment and educational purposes. Readers should be knowledgeable and compliant with all laws and regulations in their jurisdictions regarding the use of deadly force and weapons, yada, yada, yada. The author and any publisher of this material are not responsible for any misuse, harm, or damage resulting from the following material—in other words; it’s your own damn responsibility.

   Physical Conditioning

A. Strength

                1. REJECT prolonged (1-2+ hours) bodybuilding "gym rat" routines, with their “warm-up sets”, “cool down sets”, “supersets”, “split routines”, etc…, and doubly so if they involve specialized (and expensive) equipment (e.g. "cable cross-overs", "pec -decks", etc...).  Such routines were designed to fill out “fitness magazines”(to support advertising) and sell gym memberships (and provide some gym owners and trainers with a lucrative sideline in illegal ‘roid dealing because such extended multi-set & multi-exercise routines are near guaranteed to “burn out” any normal person not taking steroids).

                2. "Tone" programs of 12-20 reps and multiple sets of multiple exercises are actually a very inefficient way of gaining overall strength and actually are more prone to injury and workout "burnout" than lifting heavier weights for fewer repetitions, sets, and exercises.

                3. A modified powerlifting routine is the most time and economically efficient way of getting stronger--especially if you buy a used Olympic barbell set from some guy who got burned out or injured from a bodybuilding or toning program. Even new, such a set is cheaper than a 6+ month gym membership.

                4. For an excellent modified powerlifting training regimen, buy or just borrow from the library (Inter-library loan is a valuable resource for those on the cheap) a copy of Pavel Tsatsouline's Power to the People: Russian Strength Training Secrets for Lazy Americans (Dragon Door Publications). Ignore the "evil commie shtick" the method Pavel presents is solid and practical.  There are too many details in the book to repeat but here is the gist:

                                I. TWO (2) general body barbell exercises: deadlifts and the “side press” (AKA single arm shoulder press)--use single plates or dumbbells for the latter until you can handle the 7-foot barbell.

                                II. For each exercise you do ONLY two (2) sets of NO MORE than five (5) repetitions each set

                                III. You do NOT "train to failure"--You use heavy enough weights on your first set to complete in strict form all repetitions and could go for a sixth rep, but you STOP at five.

                                IV. Repetitions are done at a slow but not super-slow pace.  Rest 1.5 to 2 minutes between each set.

                                V. For the second set of the exercise, reduce the weight load by 10%. Do another 5 reps in strict form

                                VI. While Pavel has many points on how to get the most from the routine and reduce injuries, one key point is too tense the entire body during the exercise but especially grasp the barbell as HARD as you can and another is to HISSSS out your breath during the lifting phase (not blast it out) and HISSS it in during the lowering phase.

                                VII. Avoid over training and burnout.  Log your progress. You can do the routine every other day, but when it starts getting really difficult to crank out the fifth rep, take 3-4 days off and then re-start the routine at 2/3 the weight you left off at. Slow consistent progress, "going from success to success" is Pavel's principle.

                                VIII. Taking your time, you should complete this routine in no more than 25 minutes--much more time to train in CQC or other important facets of fitness (or just have a life outside the gym!)

                                IX. This routine is oriented for maximum strength gain with minimum bulk-muscle gain.  If you really want more muscle mass with your strength gains, Pavel includes a "Bear" program using multiple sets of the same two exercises

                                X. 1-2 minutes of warm-up exercise (like gentle jogging in place) is fine to prepare your body for weight-lifting, but "warm-up sets" are, per Pavel, worse than useless because they take away from the effort you need to handle the poundage that actually makes you stronger

                                XI. These two exercises should really take care of all your strength needs--they are "multi-joint" actions that involve the coordinated movement of nearly all your muscles. If you think you need more attention to certain body parts (such as biceps or abdominals), apply the same set & rep principles

                5. Once you actually get to an acceptable level of strength (for an adult male, deadlifting a 300+ lb barbell off the floor 5x2 times or one-arming a 90+ lb barbell or dumbbell overhead for 5x2 times are both VERY good) you can usually maintain that level of strength with two sessions a week, perhaps even only once per week. Even more time to train in CQC.

  B. Power:

                1. As stated before, "Power comes from a combination of speed, strength, and making your strikes HIT ("focus") and not push on impact". You're only going to learn and develop power by actually hitting things, which why the heavy bag or suitable substitute is necessary.  You want your strikes to terminate 4"-6" INSIDE the target. Ideally hitting a heavy bag in its middle should cause it to crumple in-place against your blow and not sway away

                                i. Once you get some modicum of focusing your strikes, you can add further resistance by either tying down the bottom of the bag to a heavy weight or having a partner brace himself behind it (don't hit your partner!)

                2. A cheap method of developing "snap" to your strikes (including elbow and knee strikes if you're really dedicated) is homemade focus targets consisting of 6" x 6" squares of vinyl sheet (shower curtain material) hung by a light thread and hook (preferably several of them at various heights in a 360 degree "arena"). The goal is to make the plastic snap on impact without tearing it off the hook or just push it away

                3. A partner with focus mitts is an excellent way to develop power against shifting targets. To develop your low line kicks, your partner can wear baseball catcher shin & knee guards AND an impact foam (1" thick) leg-sleeve (do NOT wear hard boots or shoes to kick with in this practice!)

  C. Stamina:

                1. NOT the same as aerobic fitness--it's actually anaerobic "burst" effort, but you can increase both the duration of the bursts as well as shorten the recovery period between bursts.  THAT'S "stamina"

                2. Sustained "barrage" attacks of 15 seconds duration on the heavy bag are an excellent means of developing "use stamina" for CQC.  Over time, you lengthen the duration of the attacks, up to 30 seconds and you also shorten the recovery time between barrages. You can also do this with other forms of strike training.

                3. "Use stamina" tends to be highly specific--hence the "tone weight training" programs make you very good lifting a weight in a specific exercise for 14-20 reps but have very little "transfer" to other activities.

4. "Burpees" (squat-thrusts with jumps and airborne push-ups) are an excellent callisthenic for over-all stamina as well as developing explosive power in the legs and arms. They also get you used to rapidly changing body positions and if done long enough (at lower intensity) can even be aerobic. A good workout can be done by starting out with a set of 10 burpees, followed by a walking rest of 30 seconds, a second set of 9 burpees, 30 seconds rest, and so-on in decreasing repetition order.  Increase the total number of sets and repetitions as stamina increases.

  D. Speed:

                1. One of the great (and long-lived) myths of "tone weight training" is it helps movement speed--it flat out does not

                2. To a certain degree, low rep, high weight-load training does help movement speed

                3. What REALLY improves moving fast is MOVING FAST.  One does NOT prepare for the 100 yard dash by running five miles daily.  Rather one runs 100 yard dashes as fast as one can, paying attention to proper technique to make each stride as efficient as possible

                4. "Smoothness comes out of repetition and speed comes out of smoothness" Once you no longer have to concentrate on making a strike correctly THEN you can work on making it faster.  You must expect to make at least 3000-4000 CORRECT FORM repetitions of a particular technique to get your brain to accept it as the normal way of doing it. Once that is done you can gradually push to make execution time shorter and shorter.

                5. "Speed" is more than just how many and how strong are your "fast-twitch white muscle fibers" or how fast your nerves fire. A big part of speed is perceptual; you spot the move the other guy is setting up and you "beat him to the punch" with a more direct, non-telegraphed, and more efficient technique. This requires partner practice where you are introduced to spotting all sorts of moves, from the classic "cocked-back fist" to all sorts of sucker punches and cheap shots.

                6. "ACTION BEATS REACTION". Taking the initiative and keeping the initiative is perhaps even more important than "claiming the center-line". One advantage of CQC is you train to attack the opponent's closest targets, to weaken his guard (if not outright destroy it) with the intent of then attacking his primary targets.  If at the start of things he's already in range and the primary targets are open, great, but you take what he gives you.

  E. Aerobic Fitness:

                1. Cardiovascular exercise is important to one's health; however, combat encounters are not long-term low intensity efforts, which aerobic activities are.

                2. Too much aerobic activity per week can actually interfere (hormonally) with gaining muscle strength. Do no more than 5 miles total running (or other activity equivalent) per week if you are trying to make active strength gains.

                3. The modern way of long-distance running can be dangerous to your health. Repeated heel-impact for long distance causes a high incidence of short and long term disabling injuries among dedicated runners, something which expensive running shoes and resilient tracks does little to alleviate.

                                I. Many indigenous peoples, such as the Tarahumara of Mexico, are known for ultra long distance running BAREFOOT with no injuries like those known in the developed world. An interested runner should fully research the technique, but essentially you avoid slamming your foot heel-first down on the ground by raising your knees slightly, (utterly avoid a stiff-legged lope) and bringing your foot down near flat-footed taking the initial impact on the ball of your foot. From the ball of the foot you quickly go down onto the flat of your foot.  Keep your torso and head upright and don’t lean forward.  If you can't go barefoot, try moccasins or similar footwear.

                                II. Replace running with other aerobic and lower-impact activities.  Even brisk walking can be made more intense in effort by wearing a knapsack or rucksack with heavier loads (water bottles are good) as fitness increases.  In addition to being less injury prone than running, load-bearing walking (aka "hiking") it prepares you for survival by being able to "bug out" with a essential gear on your back.

                III. Sometimes, running is your best option of combat survival, but it's NOT going to be an easy jog or a steady trot. Learn proper sprinting techniques and practice them every few weeks.

  F. Flexibility:

                1. Too little range of motion is bad.  Too much range of motion is worse.  Since CQC has no high kicks you don't need splits or other extreme stretches--just enough that you don't risk pulling muscles or ligaments with CQC techniques or physical conditioning.

                2. Avoid "X-Rated" stretches such as "Hurdler's stretch" and several Hatha Yoga asanas, like "The Plough", "Cobra", and full Lotus. Even the meditative sitting-kneeling position can reduce circulation in the legs and cause permanent nerve damage.

                3. Avoid old-style "ballistic stretches". RELAX into a stretch and hold it for 12-15 seconds is simple and it works. No hurry.

  G. Toughness:

                1. Gradual escalation of force in partner training (with appropriate protective gear) is the primary means of learning to take violent impact and still function ("...Some got the speed/and the right combinations/but if you can’t take the punches/it don’t mean a thing”[1])  The utmost caution should be taken regarding any blows towards the head and neck region in training.

                2. Strong muscles can take impact better than weak and flabby ones.

                3. There are strong mental and emotional factors in toughness--see Mental Conditioning

                4. “Break Fall” practice from Judo is an excellent way of gradually acclimatizing one’s self to over all body impact.  While the break fall techniques are problematic when done off the practice mat and on hard surfaces the practice is an excellent toughness conditioning method.


[1] “Boom Boom Manicini” by Warren Zevon

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