elitefts™ Sunday Edition

Bottom Line Up Front (BLUF): Carb back-loading and basic barbell training are a great and convenient combination for staying jacked and lean while on the road. Whether on full or partial per diem, you can also save a good bit of money if you do it right in Continental United States (CONUS). The High/Low system is still a great method of organizing your training for multiple modalities. Organized large group PT still sucks. Total domination is a worthwhile goal.

If you read the first few articles in this series, you know I have a tendency to ramble. I have moved up since then, and I am now a stellar staff officer (my wife tells me so everyday), and I've learned that brevity is the key to air power. So, included is a BLUF for those with short attention spans.

This will be a two-part article where I will first cover a general overview of my thoughts on training, nutrition, and conditioning while Temporary Duty (TDY) or Temporary Additional Duty (TAD). In the second installment, I will cover a sample training and diet protocol I used with success on an extended trip. I heard from many guys that they want things spelled out exactly. Therefore, I set out to give something more concrete this time in order to show the "why" behind exactly what I do. Refer to my original articles for my background—why I’m not an expert, and why there won’t be any references at the end of this article. I’m just sharing what has worked for me and my fellow meathead friends in hopes that it will benefit those (either military or civilian) who are often on the road. None of this is rocket science, but I've found that after almost 20 years of training, I still overlook some important things because of their simplicity. Hopefully, there are one or two “duh, why didn’t I think of that?” nuggets in here for you because there’s been a lot of those for me lately.

To catch everyone up, since my last articles I have earned an MS at a civilian grad school (best deal in the Air Force), PCS’d (Permanent Change of Station), did a year as an Exec, procreated, got promoted to O-4, deployed again, and then moved to my current position upon my return. It’s been busy. This is not included because I think anyone actually cares, though. It’s to give perspective as to how my current thoughts are shaded. My current position is cool, but it requires a lot of CONUS and OCONUS (Outside Continental U.S.) travel. If you’re wondering why I decided to put out another article after about three years of not writing, it’s because things have finally started to “click” for me again in terms of training and diet, and I wanted to share some of these ideas to help others who are struggling. I would have done an article after my last deployment, but due to injury, illness, locations, and excuses, I figured The Education of a Tactical Meathead: How to Get Small and Weak While Deployed wouldn't go over too well at elitefts™.  At least my abz are hawt now, which is what the MBA Meathead always told me was the secret to strength. Plus, I’m currently in the middle of a series of extended CONUS and OCONUS TDYs, and writing this helps me procrastinate on doing trip reports.

Establish good habits while TDY

Before I get into the fun stuff like lifting, running, and eating, I want to touch on the importance of establishing and maintaining solid habits and discipline. Many guys use going TDY as an excuse to booze it up every night, eat like crap, and stop working out. In fact, that’s what half my guys are doing right now on this current trip. Then they get home and wonder why they’re broke, fat, and out of shape. The worst part of it is that these habits often carry over to their life at home station and lead to a downward spiral of mental and physical weakness, which is a terrible way to go through life. I’m not saying that you can’t have fun while TDY, I’m just saying to moderate that fun with a little bit of discipline.

My goal is to come back from each TDY with better habits and improved discipline. It may be challenging, but if you’re reading this site, then your goal is probably not to be mediocre in everything you do. By doing this, you’ll find that it becomes easier and easier to stay on track to meet your goals—no matter what situation you find yourself in. I don’t care if this habit is health or fitness-related (or if it’s something like flossing every day or saving money). Just do something worthwhile and stick to it!

Training: The barbell is king

I hope you’re sufficiently impressed by my ability to state the obvious, but don’t overlook this point. If you’re training isn’t going the way you’d like, then really take a good look at what you’re doing and make sure it matches your goals. See, perhaps you have gotten away from the simple things that time has told you always work and have instead been chasing the latest, greatest, and most complicated training devices or styles that you don't need or aren't ready for. That’s exactly what I did over the last year or so, and I paid the price in stagnating lifts, body composition, and levels of conditioning.

I thought it would be interesting to list the biggest influences on my training and nutrition at this time (just in case you want to research some of these ideas further), and I would have to say that Paul Carter probably has the biggest influence on my current training. I’ve been influenced by pretty much all the usual names on this site, but he has the biggest impact on what I’ve been doing lately. I had the privilege to train with the weekenders at elitefts™ for about four months in early 2011, and I obviously used the conjugate system there with success. With that said, I do not feel that it is the best way to train if you’re on the road all the time, and especially if you’re not an elite-level powerlifter and have to train multiple energy systems. This goes back to the concept of getting the most possible out of the least advanced methods before making things more complicated.  James Smith often talks about this as “using means that offer the least cost and the highest benefit.” I’m definitely not saying the conjugate (or concurrent) system does not work. I’m just saying that I don’t think it’s optimal if your travel requires a tremendous amount of flexibility in your training.  At this point, many of you are probably slapping your foreheads and saying, “Crap, not another article on sub-max training.” I started writing this in August of 2012, but I then saw article after article come out about why Westside sucks or why the other guys suck, and I have neither the time nor the inclination to wade into an internet flame war. Please read with an open mind and don’t pre-conceive any assumptions based on these last few sentences.

For a counter-point to my above assertion, Matt Wenning has put together an awesome manual on training for tactical populations that I don’t think has gotten the publicity that it should have in the tactical meathead world. He favors the conjugate method and is a much larger human being than myself, so I highly recommend purchasing his work to see how to make that style of training work for you (if that is an area of interest). I started this article before the manual came out, and after reading it, I was forced to re-think some of my assumptions and conclusions. I think the concurrent method works great when implemented correctly, especially in police/fire environments where the training location is a fairly stable situation. On the military side, however, I think it works great at home station and for those units (SOF-Special Operations Forces) that can bring their equipment with them when they forward deploy. With that being said, I still don’t think it is optimal when you’re constantly on the road. There are just too many cumulative stressors from life and training.

I’m still a big fan of the High/Low system of organizing your training.  I used 5/3/1 for over a year in the 2009/2010 timeframe. During this time, I got married, deployed, PCS’d across the country, traveled quite a bit outside of that, and celebrated the birth of our first child. Needless to say, 5/3/1 didn't double all of my previous PRs, as well as the size of my johnson, like it seems to have done for the rest of the training world. However, I made slow and steady progress and could legitimately say for a fact that I finished that hectic year stronger than I when started (which is harder than it sounds sometimes). It was simple and easy to follow, and it took much of the thinking out of it for me since it is based on sound principles that we like to all think we’re too advanced for but work. On my last deployment, and during much of the time leading up to it, I was trying to get too fancy following a more concurrent system. I was working with too much flash and not enough grit, and the wheels pretty much fell off. I think I trained in about 17 different gyms in 14 different locations spread across five different countries during deployment alone, and access to equipment and the ability to do special exercises was always an issue. Intra-theater AOR (Area of Responsibility) travel always sucks, especially when traveling solo or in groups of two, and it often was tough to find a place to eat and sleep, let alone train. I’m a stubborn individual, however, and kept pushing as much as I could. Unfortunately, I sort of lost sight of true strength in the major barbell lifts.

When I returned from deployment and moved to my current position, I knew that I’d be on the road a lot. I also knew that pretty much every gym has at least a barbell and plates to load. I've gone almost completely back to the basics, and I now utilize barbells with straight weight almost exclusively in my main lifts and accessory work (with the exception of abs and upper back). I’ve gone back to a sub-max system as well, but this time I have made it more of a Pull-Push-Legs split with heavier days on Fridays and Sundays and an almost bodybuilding back and biceps day on Wednesdays. Defranco’s WS4SB Washed-Up Meathead template is one of my favorite ways to train, and it basically has one heavy upper body day, one heavy lower body day, and one light upper body day. My current rotation is one heavy upper body day, one heavy lower body day, and one light upper body day. I’m not sure why this seemed mind-blowing to me, but it did when I finally thought of it and started using it. Even though I’ve been on the road a lot since returning from the AOR, my training hasn’t missed a beat, and I’m back to making steady progress for the first time in a while. Focusing on the barbell and the basics will pay off for a long, long time in your training, and it certainly is for mine right now. Plus, it simplifies your training so that you can stick to your program pretty much anywhere you go.

Another one of the “duh” moments for me was training in the early mornings. I was watching a video from the Ultimate Warrior on YouTube (he has some gold on there by the way), and he was ranting about finishing his workout at 4:00 a.m. or so—while the rest of the world was sleeping. For some reason, it finally clicked that I have no excuse for not doing that myself. I have an elitefts™ Power Rack in my garage, along with a bunch of other fun stuff, and I have always struggled balancing time with family and my training when I was home. For some reason, I always resisted early morning lifting, but now I get up at 4:30 a.m. on Wednesdays and Fridays to get my training in before being at work at 7:00 a.m. I did find, however, that my lower back hated me if I tried to do heavy lower body work in the early morning, so I do my big lower body lift on Sunday afternoons while my kids are napping. I think I read in a few places over the years that your spinal fluid needs a certain amount of time to kind of re-balance itself after you get up. (Obviously, I’m using the technical description for it.). Anyway, whatever the reason, deadlifting and squatting effectively at o’dark thirty is not for me. For those thinking about the importance of sleep and worrying about over-training, what is going to get you further towards your goals: three hours of uninterrupted quality training or three extra hours of a sleep a week? If there’s even a question in your mind right now, then it probably means you read too many internet forums and articles. On the road, I’ll usually squat and deadlift on Friday nights and bench on Sunday nights. This is mostly because no one else does, and I don’t have to fight the masses on international bench press day (Monday) or international biceps curl in the power rack day (every day).

Conditioning: Tempos are your friend

I’ll preface this section by saying that I still hate traditional middle distance running, as it makes me awful, slow, weak, and small (which is another way not to go through life). As I’ve hit my early 30's, I’ve found that it takes an even bigger toll on my strength and explosiveness (not to mention my knees) than it used to. If you like to run, then no worries, keep on running. For me (emphasis on me), alternate forms of conditioning such as tempos or aerobic power intervals are much more efficient methods of getting in shape for what I need to be ready for, while also maintaining strength and explosive ability.

The biggest influences on how I structure my conditioning right now are Joel Jamieson and James Smith. Mark McLaughlin also has a gold mine of information archived in the Q&A on this site. One of my “duh” moments lately has been utilizing tempo runs more extensively. I've been reading about them for years, but for some reason it never hit me how simple and effective they can be. One reason I like tempos so much while on the road is that pretty much every base has some sort of open field or parking lot area that is available 24/7, so there’s no excuse for not getting your conditioning in. Most of the time you will not know the actual distance you are running, and that’s okay. Just eyeball it to get a general idea for your total distance goals, and then warm up and run one timed sprint at 90 to 95%. Run the rest at 75% of that effort (multiply your time by four and then divide by three) with the proper rest intervals and you are golden. That way, there is no excuse about not having the right cardio equipment in the gym, or not having access to a measured running track. I also got the idea from Joel Jamieson to do continuous tempos at a 15-second run at 75%, followed by 60 seconds of recovery for time (15 to 30 minutes).  If you were an athlete growing up, then you should be able to run at 75% almost by instinct. Use a heart rate monitor if you have access to one, but otherwise go by feel and don’t worry too much about it.

The conditioning portion of the Air Force PT test is a 1.5-mile run. If you read my earlier articles, then you know that I have the highest respect for James Smith.  Conveniently enough, by using the search function of the Q&A (a novel concept), I was able to find and apply a few posts by him that discuss using tempos to train for a 1.5-mile test. I use a mixture of 100- to 200-yard tempo runs for a total distance of 3,000 to 3,500 yards, and I reduce rest intervals as conditioning improves. I treated my conditioning like my lifting—start light and progress slowly but surely in order to work up to that distance. Two tempo sessions and one aerobic capacity session per week seems to be about perfect for me when I’m not specifically targeting conditioning goals. As I get closer to my test, I will include more intensive methods, but for my current goals this works great.

If you’re not conditioning for your respective PT test, then gear your conditioning towards training for your worst possible day (whatever that may mean for you). There are many different AFSCs (Air Force Specialty Codes) and MOSs (Military Occupational Specialty) in the military, and the nightmarish everything-hits-the-fan scenarios are different for everyone. Think about yours, and then think about which energy systems your scenario will tax the hardest. My worst day would involve a series of explosive bursts (alactic capacity) followed by a long movement under load through mountainous terrain (aerobic capacity). Your worst day will be different for you.

The dominant system for my relatively short 1.5-mile test seems to be aerobic power. So, those three abilities are what I concentrate my training on, even while on the road. Buy Jamieson’s book or DVD for some great and useable recommendations on how to train the different systems. With a family nowadays, I’d much rather be home than traveling. With that said, take advantage of being in different areas of the country than usual—hike the mountains and local trails, and use it as a way to freshen up your conditioning routine.

Nutrition: The convenience of carb back-loading and how to pocket your per diem

Yes, I’ve jumped on the CBL band wagon as well...but not because it’s trendy—because it works well for me and is really easy to follow while I'm on the road or at home, and it requires only a little discipline. Obviously, since I’m back-loading, Kiefer is the biggest influence on my current diet. The book is pricey, but it is worth it in my opinion as he really lays it out and makes it simple to understand and apply. To me, it was worth the price to suck it up and buy it from the source versus trying to track down bits and pieces from the various articles he’s written on the interwebs. I’ve used Kiefer’s protocols for over a year now and continue to lean out and increase strength from where I was when I got back from the AOR.

I have also experimented with other methods of eating while I've been extremely busy or on the road, and I haven’t had near the results I’ve gotten from CBL. I tried the Modified Warrior Diet that Michael Keck used to write about, and it seemed great for maintaining my current level of body composition, but I didn’t experience the body recomposition that I’m getting from CBL. In turn, I tried Martin Berkhan’s Lean Gains stuff for a while, but for whatever reason I felt and looked terrible. I’ve done the typical meathead eat-18-times-a-day method for over a decade, and while it works fine, it is also extremely inconvenient, especially if you’re on the road. Carb cycling via Harris and Starnes works great for me, but I can get similar results from a fraction of the time commitment with CBL. Carb Back-Loading is very convenient for me both at home and on the road, and it gives me great results, so it is my method of choice.

I’m going to lay out an exact TDY plan I’ve used for CBL later in this series, so I’ll save most of the discussion about how it works and why it is convenient. The 30-second explanation is that skipping breakfast, throwing some coconut or MCT oil in your morning coffee, staying low carb during the day, and eating like a normal person at night is extremely easy to do and works very well from a physique and performance standpoint. I’d also point you in the direction of Kiefer’s podcasts, especially the later ones.  There is a lot of gold and tweaks in those that will save time and experimentation when dialing things in.

Another "duh" moment came to me when I was watching one of the Ultimate Warrior’s videos...when I remembered the power of tuna fish. I was struggling to figure out how to get my protein needs in during the day, as we usually don’t break from the job site from the time we get there early in the morning to the time we’re done working in the late afternoon (dark to dark if you will). The other guys I travel with, even the super fit ones, aren’t really meatheads per se and can get by on a minimal amount of sustenance or just eat crap while we’re out there.

Trying to maintain a bodyweight above 200 pounds and having a fast metabolism requires at least some level of protein, fat, and calories during the day for me to do CBL correctly. I think eating up to five cans of tuna a day at one point while I was at the Academy made me block all thoughts of tuna for a while. But seeing a clip where the Warrior talked about what he ate while being in the best shape of his life, despite being on the road 300 days a year, brought it back for me. The upside is that it is extremely portable, does not require refrigeration, and it’s cheap. The downsides are the mercury concerns...and it’s smelly. Since I only eat it while on the road, I’m not too concerned about the mercury, and since I work outside most of the day, the smell is not a real concern either. In turn, since I’m an officer and obviously a member of the bourgeoisie, I buy the six-ounce no drain pouches, but the old school cans are fine and even cheaper. I’m also a big fan of the six-ounce packages of pre-cooked chicken strips that you can get for about $2.00. Those are also great when you can’t cook for yourself, and I throw mine in a little cooler with a frozen bottle of water and never have a problem with freshness. If you have a little bigger fridge in your room, you can also buy a rotisserie chicken from the Commissary and pull it apart (which should last at least a couple of lunches). For fats, I usually alternate between a handful of almonds and coconut oil eaten with a spoon straight out of the jar. Since I CBL and skip breakfast, the cost of food before dinner usually comes out to less than $5.00, and I’m getting about 90 grams of protein and healthy fats.

If you’re on the road and in field conditions, then the $3.50 a day you are getting isn't going to get you too far, so just eat what they give you and make the best of it. If you’re on full or partial per diem, then you should be able to eat well and save some money in the process. I like to have a hot meal at night, and there are a lot of establishments that will serve you a large amount of food for about $10.00 (America…f’ yeah!). I’m over-simplifying it a bit, but if you keep it simple and low-carb during the day, you can afford to have a decent piece of meat and veggies (if it is a low-carb night) or a nice carb-up meal (if you’ve trained) for a reasonable price while pocketing some money. Even if you’re on partial per diem (one or more meals are provided), you can usually still afford a decent meal on your own. Skipping the pop and alcohol and sticking to water will also add up over an extended trip and will let you afford more of what matters (food).


Thanks for reading! Part II should follow next month and hopefully make things clear(er). Please leave any questions in the comments below.