Are you Strong Enough? An interview with Mark Rippetoe
By Nick Barringer
Mark Rippetoe is highly sought after strength coach and author. His books Starting Strength, Strong Enough?, and Practical Programming are great resources for anyone looking to become stronger. I recently had the great pleasure of speaking to Coach Rippetoe and he was kind enough to share his thoughts on military fitness with the RU community.
“But in a combat situation, a person’s deadlift is much more indicative of his value than his 5-mile time”–Mark Rippetoe
What are your thoughts on the current state of military fitness?
My opinion is that military fitness operates under a 100-year-old paradigm that places endurance training above strength. I think the realities of modern mechanization have made endurance testing for military people obsolete, and it ignores the physical reality of the Soldier in 2014. Soldiers in 2014, as opposed to 1914, come from a completely different background. In 1914, people worked on a farm – they bailed hay, they picked heavy things up, they were stronger. You can get people in endurance condition pretty quickly. Endurance for people who are not endurance specialists comes on pretty quickly. Strength, on the other hand, takes years to develop. If it is not trained, it never develops. Having talked to lots of people who have occupied a combat role, it is my studied opinion, and theirs, that strength contributes more to combat readiness in 2014 than endurance does. But our testing paradigm is cast in stone, “We shall test endurance.” Therefore if physical testing is endurance, we have to train for endurance, or we fail the test. That does not constitute testing for combat readiness in terms in of the specific physical adaptations encountered in the field. My opinion is that boot camp should incorporate a novice linear strength progression for every recruit from their first week in training. We need to get them stronger, because they are not strong enough. For 3-4 months there should be a strength training program that causes these people to come up to a higher standard of physical strength. When we need them to be endurance trained, we can do that in couple of weeks. But in a combat situation, a person’s deadlift is much more indicative of his value than his 5-mile time. Therefore that is what we should train. The question should be, “How strong are these people? Can they pick-up their buddy in kit and move him?” I’ve talked to hundreds of Soldiers about this, and strength is the physical parameter that determines battlefield success in physical battlefield situations in 2014.
“I know most post gyms look like health spas with leg extension machines. Why?”-Mark Rippetoe
How would you change the approach to military fitness? What is the model that gets the military to where it needs to be?
Strength training should be incorporated from induction forward. It should start in basic training. Barbell equipment is very cheap. It is much less money than is typically spent on a weight room which consists of a lot of machines. If you have training facilities dedicated to strength training, all you need is a bunch of barbells, a bunch of platforms, a bunch of power racks, and a bunch of plates. This equipment is still the cheapest equipment available in the fitness industry, and cost should not be a game-changing factor. Strength training methodology should be incorporated very early in the Soldiers training
What about space issues?
There should be enough space. Space can be acquired, and the equipment is relatively inexpensive. If you take Soldiers at initial entry and put them in a strength-based program, strength becomes part of their culture. Then you don’t have to talk post-basic Soldiers into training for strength, because they’ve already been taught that’s what they do. In terms of a deployment or field setting, you can take the equipment with you. Power racks can be unbolted and shipped easily, and plates and bars don’t take up a lot of space. This is not a logistics problem – it only is if you make it one. But we ought to be past that. If we are willing to admit the fact that barbell training is the most efficient way to get strong, we just need to figure out a way to make it happen. I know most post gyms look like health spas with leg extension machines. Why? That’s stupid, we know that it’s stupid, so why is it being done? Because there is no military-wide institutionalized strength training paradigm. Everybody tells me that running is not terribly applicable to a combat situation, but as a result of the military’s endurance focus things are not being done to make training as effective as it could be.
“But if you have a person that would be too fat under the present metrics, but who can still do 12 chin-ups and run a 75 second 400, let them stay!”-Mark Rippetoe
If you could design a PT test for the military what would it consist of and why?
I think everybody in the military ought to be able to deadlift twice their bodyweight. And that does not represent a powerlifting specialization. For a 165-pound Soldier, a 330-pound deadlift is not a remarkable feat of strength. But it at least ensures that there is a minimum standard. Next, we would have an overhead press test that would be 75% bodyweight. I would not test the squat because there would be too many problems with judging it for compliance with the standard. You have to train the squat, you just don’t test it. I would also test chin-ups and 400-meter sprint. I think a Soldier should be able to do 12 chin-ups and run 400 meters in 75 seconds or less. The additional benefit of having the press, chin-up, and 400 meter run tests is that they do away with the need to do body composition testing, which takes up a lot of time and can be a problem for muscular Soldiers. If Soldiers are too fat they are not going to be able to meet those standards. But if you have a person that would be too fat under the present metrics, but who can still do 12 chin-ups and run a 75-second 400, let him stay! People like this are not hurting anything, because they are physically capable of doing the job. I think you would still need assessments that are mission-specific, but these would be the most basic testing standards, and I think they cover all your bases much better than the current assessments. They are easy to administer and fairly straightforward in terms of both training and application to combat readiness. Of course you give people extra points for crushing the basic standard, but these numbers should be the minimum.
Mark Rippetoe PT Test
- Double bodyweight deadlift.
- Standing Overhead Press with 75% of bodyweight on the bar.
- Chin-ups-12 minimum
- 400 meters in 75 seconds or less.
You can read more about barbell strength training on Coach Rippetoe’s website www.startingstrength.com .
Ok folks, there you have it. Now I want to hear from you. Do you agree with Coach Rippetoe that strength needs to be the focus of military fitness? Do you disagree and think endurance should indeed be the focus? What do you think about Coach Rippetoe’s PT test? Can you meet the standards? Who stole Mike Katz’s lucky t-shirt before the 1975 Mr. Universe Competition? What would be your ideal PT test? For police, firefighters, and first responders is strength the most job relevant physical characteristic?