I’ve been lucky enough to train a local law enforcement special operations unit. I regularly help them prepare for the tasks of their everyday job through different strength, conditioning, and functional movements. In turn, I get an inside look into what these guys do for training and on missions. The most exciting thing I’ve been invited to do is called OPFOR (opposing force) training, in which I basically get to be a pretend bad guy for them to train against. We go to a remote location that has what is called a "shoot house."  A shoot house is a building with plywood walls and flooring with various rooms in it. There are no ceilings and instead, there is a cat walk for instructors to be able to look down on what is happening.

Shooting is a bit of a side hobby for me outside of powerlifting, but it is surprising how much it can transfer over to powerlifting.  A lot of the same skill sets needed for success for one can be found in the other. However, OPFOR is a totally different breed than regular shooting. It is not for the timid. You get shot with simmunition, which are regular cartridges filled with a plastic, wax-filled tip. It goes about twice the speed of a paintball and is the same caliber as whatever gun is being used to fire it. They hurt like a bitch. Here is an account of some of my experiences and how it has transferred to powerlifting.

Pitch Black and Loud as F#ck

One technique that is used for stress inoculation is to train in the pitch black of night with the loudest music you have ever heard. On some nights with good cloud cover, you can’t even see your hand in front of your face. As a bad guy, you have specific instructions on where to engage from and where to move to. This means you usually end up sitting in a room waiting for the team to find you and engage you. You can also hear the fire fights going on in other areas of the house where your buddies are being shot and “killed.” To say this is a stressful situation is an understatement. My first time doing it, I wasn’t told it would be in the pitch black with the loudest music ever. I was in a ready position when they gave the call to start and all of a sudden the lights went out and music went on. My heart rate was sky high and I was having extreme trouble controlling my breathing. Knowing you’re about to get in an inevitable fight and that it is definitely going to hurt isn’t the most calming feeling.

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However, as I continue to be a part of this, I have noticed that I have become used to it. Instead of being stressed by the situation, I approach it with an acceptance that I will learn something from it that will help me out the next time I encounter a similar stressor. I am amazed at how poorly some people handle stress. Whether it be small stress like a bad day at work or a bad workout, or big stress like the loss of a job or loved one, your body’s response is the same. Understanding this stress, inoculating yourself to it, and accepting it will help you deal with it that much better. If you can deal with being hunted while having all your senses strained, then you should be able to handle a less than ideal meet setup, a missed attempt, or an injury.

Get in There and Die like A Man!

Most people don’t hear those words on a regular basis, but it is a saying I have heard several times in my work with this team. It is unacceptable to let fear change your actions. Even if you know you are in grave danger, you have a job to do and you owe it to those around you to do that job. From the opposing force’s point of view, your job is to die. It sucks knowing that no matter what, you are going to be shot up and eventually have to lay down dead. Despite that, you still have the job of providing those people you are helping with a good look and a realistic situation that they may encounter one day. This means we can’t be scared to engage them in a fire fight even if there are more than one of them shooting back or if they’re in the same room as you. Our job is to fight and die like men, not cowards. There are times in life where you know the outcome isn’t going to be that great but you still have a responsibility to take care of. If you’re at a meet and you realize you’re not going to come close to hitting the numbers you want to, you still have a job to do. You didn’t show up to quit. Maybe you aren’t going to win, but you still have to put up the best numbers possible for your team, your sponsor, and, at the very least, yourself.

Fighting Ghosts

The worst thing for OPFOR is when the team is wearing NVG’s (Night Vision Goggles). If you ever want to know what it feels like to be hunted, this right here is it. You can’t see them but they most certainly can see you. There are times where they will walk in the same room as you without you even knowing it. There are few times during which I have felt as massively under prepared as I felt when I got shot from then feet away without even knowing the guy was there. If it wasn’t bad enough to fight them in the dark before, this is way scarier. Still, our job is the same: fight and die despite any fear we may have. There are going to be times where you aren’t the biggest badass in the room, you aren’t the best lifter at the meet, and you aren’t the best qualified candidate for the job. This shouldn’t stop you from giving your best. You still have to be willing to give it your all even when you know the probable or even the certain outcome. You can’t let others dictate your actions. You have to do what you came to do.

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A Wolf Eager to Kill

The greatest change I’ve had from doing the OPFOR training is my mindset. Sure, I know that I’m going to lose, but I am more than ready to shoot the hell out of a few guys in the process. I look forward to when they come around the corner, open my door, and step into my room. It’s at that point that I get to do what I came to do: fight. Live or die, the fight is the greatest adrenaline rush you can have. It is that period in time where everything else goes away, time slows down and you become one with the situation. It’s during that time that you become more aware of yourself, more aware of your surroundings, and less aware of any weakness you may possess. You aren’t even aware of the rounds striking you, you’re too focused on shooting at the guy shooting back at you. It’s a good feeling to look down the barrel of gun and be more excited about the rounds you are sending at him than be fearful of the rounds he is sending your way. Everyone knows the wolf and sheep analogy, but how many people actually get to put it into practice? In the sport of powerlifting, you cannot be fearful, hesitant, or passive about the weight. That weight is a sheep. You are a wolf, and you must be eager for the kill.

It’s no coincidence that most people turn down the opportunity to do this type of training. The fear you will encounter will reveal a lot about yourself. But it will also give you a chance to grow and change for the better. I am thankful for the opportunities that this relationship has afforded me. If nothing else, the stresses of powerlifting and life don’t seem quite as daunting. I accept that my life may not always turn out the way I planned, but I still have a responsibility to live it a certain way. I probably won’t be the best at everything, but I can still do my best at everything. In all areas, be a wolf eager for the kill.