Muscle strength and endurance are both essential for operational performance. Muscular strength is also required for many Special Warfare missions. Muscular endurance is needed when work is required over longer periods of time (e.g., patrolling with a heavy load, climbing with equipment, swimming, or carrying a buddy).
The goal of a physical training (PT) program for the SEAL should be to develop complete muscular fitness (i.e., strength, endurance, and power). Muscle strength provides the foundation for muscle endurance and power. An adequate strength base not only improves performance, but also decreases the likelihood of injury. For this reason it is recommended that at least two strength workouts (low-repetition [10-12 reps], high resistance exercises per muscle group per week), as described in Chapter 6, be part of the SEAL's physical fitness program. Traditional calisthenic exercises performed two to three times a week will develop and maintain muscle endurance. A plyometric program (See Chapter 9) when necessary, can also he used to develop muscle power.
Mission-related training schedules, lack of exercise equipment, and inadequate nutrition can keep operators from maintaining required fitness levels in the field. Calisthenics, however, are practical for field situations because they can be performed anywhere with minimal equipment. Moreover, calisthenics can also be modified to provide a strength workout.
A unit's PT schedule should be flexible enough to accommodate different training needs.
It may take one to four weeks for an operator or platoon returning from the field to completely regain levels of aerobic and muscular fitness comparable to those when exercising regularly in a basic unit PT program. Allowing time to gradually increase fitness will improve performance, prevent overtraining, and decrease the likelihood of overuse injury or reinjury. Those returning to PT following surgery and/or rehabilitation need to return to basic PT gradually. When performing calisthenics, more is not necessarily better, and in fact, can be harmful. Too many repetitions can cause an overuse injury or worsen an existing injury.
The goal of a PT program should be to develop aerobic capacity, muscular strength, endurance, power, and flexibility, NOTTO OUT PERFORM OTHERS.
Competitive exercise situations, such as "Burn Out" PT and pyramid sets, can be challenging, but if not handled correctly, can cause injury. SEALs should train like elite athletes and avoid situations that could contribute to injury.
Calisthenic sessions occasionally include holding an exercise in the halfway position for 2-10 seconds. This technique is often applied to pull-ups, dips, or push-ups in an attempt to make the exercise more difficult or alleviate boredom. For example, when performing a pull-up, the operator will maintain the position halfway between the starting position and the bar, while the chin is over the bar, and again halfway down the bar. This technique is NOT recommended.
Holding a mid-exercise contraction stresses the joints, tendons, and ligaments and can cause an injury or worsen an existing injury.
Slowing the cadence throughout the entire exercise (i.e., 10 seconds up to the bar, 10 seconds back to the starting position), is recommended for added strength gains, alleviation of boredom, or to increase the difficulty.
Many calisthenics, performed to strengthen the abdominal (Abs) muscles, are actually exercises for the hip flexors (muscles that move the hips and legs toward the chest). This causes over-development of the hip flexors and under-development of the abdominals. Although both hip flexor and abdominal strength is necessary for operational performance, overdeveloped hip flexors play a significant role in the development of lower hack problems. Overdeveloped hip flexors not only change the curvature of the spine, but also stress the front portion of the vertebral discs. Many experts contend that much of the low-back pain in the SEAL community is due to an overabundance of hip flexor calisthenics. Hip flexor strength is necessary, but it should be balanced with equally developed strength and flexibility in the hip extensors (muscles which move the legs away from the chest) and abdominals.
A balanced workout incorporates abdominals, hip flexors and hip extensors.
Therefore, it is important to identify which exercises arc appropriate for each muscle group (i.e., abs, hip flexors, hip extensors) and include all three in a PT program. A calisthenic program should also incorporate a flexibility program in order to prevent the exercised muscles from becoming too tight (see Chapter 7: Flexibility).
Exercises that anchor or elevate the legs and feet off of the deck (e.g.. Hello Darlings, Flutter Kicks, Leg Levers, Inboard Outboards) arc actually working the hip flexors. When performing these types of exercises, the torso and upper abdominals act to stabilize the pelvis during the movement. For this reason it is suggested that hip flexor exercises be performed first. Exercising the abdominals first causes them to become fatigued and therefore unable to stabilize the pelvis. The following recommendations will strengthen the abdominals:
♦ Identify exercises which are true abdominal exercises versus those which work the hip flexors.
♦ Decrease the number of hip flexor exercises performed to two sessions per week with fewer repetitions per session.
♦ Increase the number of true abdominal exercises (e.g., Crunches, Elbow to Knee/Cross Overs, Hip Rollers, Side flex). Abdominal exercises can be performed daily or as limited by muscle soreness.
♦ Add hip extensor exercises (e.g., Prone Back Extension, The Superman, Donkey Kicks).
♦ Incorporate a total body flexibility program into Special Warfare training and include stretches for the hip flexors, abdominals, and hamstrings.
♦ Focus on proper technique as presented below.
Proper technique is important when performing all calisthenics.
If the muscles are not strong enough to perform an exercise properly, other muscles will come into play. The result: the wrong muscles get developed and can lead to injury. For example, exercises that are too difficult for the lower abdominals will rely on the hip flexors. Hip flexors which are relatively stronger than the abdominals, result in the stomach protruding. This may lead to injury and low-back pain. Proper technique is essential.
The following suggestions should decrease mechanical stress on the low back during hip flexor exercises:
♦ Keeping one foot on the deck minimizes the stress placed on the lower back and spine. Many exercises that require both legs to be off the deck simultaneously can be modified so that one foot is constantly on the deck supporting the low back (Figure 8-1 and Figure 8-2).
♦ Placing a fist under the lower part of the buttocks helps to keep the spine in a neutral position.
♦ Lifting the head and slightly rolling the shoulders helps maintain the position of the spine.
♦ Performing hip flexor exercises prior to abdominal exercises.
Figure 8-1. Modified Flutterkick: Keeping One Foot on the Deck Protects the Lower Back
Figure 8-2. Modified "Knee Bender": Keeping One Foot on the Deck Protects the Lower Back
Another change that should be incorporated in an abdominal workout is the addition of a 2 inch thick towel or an "Ab Mat" beneath the lower spine. The anatomical range of motion for the abdominals is from 30' extension to approximately 75-90" flexion (Figure 8-3). When performing abdominal exercises on a flat surface (i.e., the deck) you are limiting your exercise to only half the normal abdominal range of motion. In other words, when abdominal exercises are performed on a floor, deck, or mat, only half the work necessary to develop abdominal strength is being done. Abdominal strength is best developed by exercises performed within the full anatomical range of motion, with some curve in the lumbar spine (i.e., towel or Ab Mat) as opposed to a flat back. By placing a towel or the Ab mat beneath your lower spine you can achieve the right form for these exercises (sec Figure 8-4).
Figure 8-3. Range of Motion for Flexion and Extension of the Upper Body Based on Anatomy
Flexion (75' to 9or)
Figure 8-4. Placing a Towel Beneath the Lower Spine can Help Achieve the Right Form for Abdominal Exercises
Because of limited flexibility, it is better to start abdominal exercises at approximately 15" of extension and eventually work toward 30° extension. A towel is particularly useful because you can adjust it to provide inclines of 15° and 30°.
In recent years, the sit-up technique has undergone many modifications. Because sit-ups compose a large portion of the SEAL training program, some specific comments regarding their proper use arc crucial.
When performing sit-ups, the preferred technique is to bend the legs at the hips (at 45c) with the feet flat on the deck shoulder width apart.. Legs should be slightly abducted (turned outward). If hands are placed behind the head, care should be taken not to force the neck into flexion. The fingertips of the hands should just barely touch the back of the head. Elbows should remain back at all times. Concentration on using the abdominals (not the head) to pull through the movement is essential. Keeping the eyes focused on the ceiling helps prevent neck strain and isolate the abdominals. Lifting the torso until the shoulder blades come off the floor engages the majority of the abdominal musculature. Lifting the torso further off the dock will safely engage the internal obliques and the hip flexors, if that is the goal (see Figure 8-5).
Figure 8-5. Proper Technique for Sit-ups: Legs Slightly Turned Outward and Elbows Behind Neck at All Times
When first performing the sit-up from an extension position, you may not be able to perform as many repetitions. This should not be surprising since essentially, you have been performing only half a sit-up in the past.
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