.MARSOC uses feedback to change workout prep program

dmcgill

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http://www.marinecorpstimes.com/article/20140721/NEWS/307210016/MARSOC-uses-applicants-feedback-redesign-workout-prep-program

MARSOC fitness tips: don’t skimp on the swimming and carry a 50-pound pack everywhere.

Officials at the Marines’ special operations command recently released an overhauled ten-week physical prep course, one designed to physically pulverize and incrementally condition Marines looking to attendMARSOC’s rigorous 19-day assessment and selection training.

Similar to the original ten-week course released in 2010, the new program amps up its three pillars: swimming, rucking at speed over distance, and upper body strength. The new program changes are thanks to a team of MARSOC operators and fitness experts — and to Marines who completed A&S and shared their feedback.

At the core of the program are six workout cards and four swim cards, each focusing on a different fitness proficiency. One day is PFT preparation while the next zeros in on core strength or ruck-based exercises. Following the program is no guarantee of getting a coveted spot in MARSOC, officials say, but it will give you a pretty good idea of what to expect.

Gunnery Sgt. Peter Boby, the staff noncommissioned officer in charge of MARSOC recruiting team East and Okinawa and one of the Marines who planned the overhaul, said balance and simplicity took precedent during the course’s redesign.

“We had a look at ‘how do we incorporate exercises that aren’t specifically skills-based,” he said. “We looked at stuff that was pretty basic and pretty simple that could be done on base using an ammo can, ruck and rifle.”

The decision to change the prep workout came following analysis of initial test scores from previous A&S participants. Direct feedback from graduates of A&S and the seven-month individual training course that follows, taken in interviews and surveys, also played a role in the course correction.

The top two trouble areas were a lack of proficiency in the swimming portion of training, and incorrect form on one of the most common exercises: pullups.

“Most young Marines are pretty damn strong, but when they’re training, they’re not in the gym with somebody watching them,” Boby said. “You’ve seen it in other workout programs, it calls for thousands of repetitions. And we’re not looking for that, we’re looking for quality.”

Though it’s tailored to the rigors of special ops work, Boby and his team hope they’ve created a workout that even fleet Marines who are not planning to try out for MARSOC can use and adapt. He said he hoped to see the regimen gain wide popularity in the Corps.

“These sessions are scalable to almost anyone’s ability,” Boby said. “Marines can do most of them in PT gear. But an advanced trainee can do them in boots and utilities, or even while wearing body armor.”

Combating attrition
MARSOC officials have long struggled with the challenge of preparing Marines to succeed at A&S. The original 10-week preparation course launched after Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Conway ordered MARSOC in 2010 to cut its washout rate to 20 percent; at the time, 46 percent of MARSOC applicants failed during the A&S phase.

The washout rate has fluctuated wildly in the years since MARSOC started in 2006 as training was adjusted and the applicant population evolved. In 2007, nearly 63 percent of Marines didn’t make it through A&S; in 2008, the washout rate was cut to 38 percent, then brought down to just over 35 percent the following year, before increasing again in 2010.

In 2012, MARSOC created the Assessment and Selection Preparatory and Orientation Course to stem the attrition rate, offering MARSOC hopefuls three weeks of daily workouts and conditioning before A&S began. ASPOC was renamed A&S Phase 1 in 2013, while the original 19-day course became A&S Phase 2.

MARSOC officials told Marine Corps Times that 40 percent of candidates had failed to make it through A&S in 2013, though they attributed the increased attrition rates to a younger population of recruits: mainly corporals and sergeants in their first term.

It’s not clear whether their program tweaks are working now: When Marine Corps Times asked this month for the most recent attrition data, MARSOC officials declined to provide it.

The next A&S course kicks off Aug. 15.

The workout
Each week in the A&S prep challenge follows a similar pattern: Mondays begin with a short 1.5-mile run, followed by completion of a movement card, and then another run of the same distance. Tuesdays are about rucking fast over short distance: one to two miles with a 45 to 55-pound pack with a time limit, another movement card, and another ruck of the same distance. Thursdays are dedicated to swimming in the new program, and Fridays are about sprinting: half in the pool, half on land. Each Saturday for all ten weeks, prospective candidates do a long-distance ruck hike that gets longer as the prep course progresses, from four miles on Week 1 to 12 miles on Week 10.

Periodically, the course also calls for participants to complete a physical fitness test: all MARSOC critical skills operators are required to make a first-class PFT score of 225 or more.

There’s a lot more variety in the new ten-week program than in the original prep course too. While the previous course asked would-be CSOs to cycle through a “short card” of 21 exercises multiple times per week, the new course progresses through six different movement cards with little repetition. Boby said grouping the workouts by focus and keeping them different every day helped Marines to think about what they were doing and encouraged better technique.

“We didn’t want to put together a program that said do lots of this, do it every day, and do more of it next week,” he said.

With a host of new exercises in the program, from tire flips to partner drags and ruck and sandbag-based calisthenics, it’s easy to see similarities to popular existing workout programs that take fitness beyond gym machines, from Crossfit to the Marines’ own High Intensity Tactical Training Program. Boby acknowledged that the program had been influenced by the experience of its creators; he himself carries a number of Crossfit certifications, and the rest of the small team of NCOs and Staff NCOs who designed the course brought their own backgrounds to bear, including Olympic lifting experience.

Boby emphasized that the 10-week course is not a carbon copy of any one program.

“[Other workout regimes] don’t specifically target the three pillars of our program,” he said. “Being very good at crossfit would be helpful, but it wouldn’t be tailored for these three specific components.”

The program was also workshopped by MARSOC’s resident experts at its Performance Enhancement and Resiliency Program. It contains more rest and recovery days than the original and careful guidance on nutrition, hydration, foot care and total health.

Boby said the extra rest days were a result of feedback from previous A&S participants, and designed to make sure Marines stayed on course with the program.

“We found that a six-day-a-week program was a bit too much, in that guys would instinctively drop a workout when they didn’t have the time or just didn’t feel like doing that particular workout,” he said.

It is possible to overdo it in preparation for training, Boby said, from failing to observe the designated recovery days to overloading their rucks with too much weight.

“We don’t want guys to show up broken and barely holding it together,” he said.

Half SEAL, half Ranger
Stew Smith, a former Navy SEAL who now specializes in fitness training for the military and special operations, said the A&S prep course falls somewhere between training regimens for the other branches of special ops.

“One thing I like about the MARSOC world is there’s a blend between SEAL and [Army] special forces,” he said. “SEAL training has a lot less rucking than Army SF training. MARSOC’s right there in the middle, and has a lot of both.”

Overall, he said, the course reflects the realities of elite military training, where troops frequently interspersed endurance work with periods of high-intensity activities.

“The one thing that’s for sure is there’s no 30 to 45-minute gym workout that’s going to prepare you for a day of special ops training,” he said. “Those ruck days, that’s a four-hour workout. You’ve got a full day of work, and then you add in a couple-hour workout, that’s good preparation.”

Retired Navy Cmdr. Bob Thomas, director of the Navy Wellness Center in Pensacola, Fla., said the training reinforces the physical ideal of the compact, agile operator, rather than someone overly burdened with muscle or lacking physical versatility.

“The days of the big body-building Adonis are gone,” Thomas said. “What [MARSOC instructors] are looking for is exactly what is the theory of this document, which is basically, ‘we want a guy who can go all day, get to the fight, and go all day to get out.’”

Thomas said the new program is reminiscent of the Army Special Forces program “Ranger Athlete Warrior,” which is geared toward creating “tactical athletes” with mental and physical wherewithal.

Even the required preparation calisthenics and the post-workout warmdown exercises would help make Marines stronger, said Taylor Poulin, a Marine veteran and Crossfit coach and competitor. After reviewing the workout, Poulin said he planned to add some of the exercise sequences into his own regimen.

Smith did point out one potential weakness of the course: even though the swimming portion had been expanded from once to twice a week, he suggested that non-proficient swimmers might need to increase their time in the water even further. He said the least comfortable swimmers should get in the pool three or four times a week, and practice regularly with fins as well.

You can see the new guide here :

http://www.marsoc.com/downloads/
 

Stanimal

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I was first introduced to MARSOC's Performance and Resiliency, or PERRES program at the Marine Special Operations School. The PERRES folks are instrumental in developing work outs, and training operators in everything from strength and agility to diet and nutrition. They also help in the rehabilitation of injured personnel. Before PERRES, I prided myself on the severity of my workouts, but little attention was payed to proper warm ups or cool downs. In fact, it was almost a badge of honor to be able to go out and whip it on with little to no prep and still perform at a high level. When I was younger, I used to joke that our warm ups consisted of an "Atten...Hut!" and a "Right...Face!". Trust me, I am not the only one who did this regularly. Getting "rode hard and put away wet" was just part of the culture. This kind of training made for very tough individuals, but also ended some operators' careers prematurely. I know more than a couple of older guys who are pretty screwed up physically, and are always battling injuries. Some are getting surgeries now to deal with the years of overuse. I wish I would have had PERRES, or something akin to it 10-15 years ago. The Marine Corps at large would do well to adopt some of the PERRES training philosophies for Marines at every level.
 

brokenjar03

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I hope this doesn't need clarified, but just in case... PERRES isn't MARSOC's way of lowering standards or making A&S or ITC easier. The implementation of warm-up sessions, cool-down periods, and extra off-days is a way for MARSOC to bring candidates into A&S at a higher level of health (and confidence). All those training for A&S (myself included) note, the preparatory work will still be grueling, but take extra care of your body outside of the workouts to ensure your career doesn't end prematurely, as Stanimal has seen happen, as a candidate or operator.
 

Stanimal

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I hope this doesn't need clarified, but just in case... PERRES isn't MARSOC's way of lowering standards or making A&S or ITC easier. The implementation of warm-up sessions, cool-down periods, and extra off-days is a way for MARSOC to bring candidates into A&S at a higher level of health (and confidence). All those training for A&S (myself included) note, the preparatory work will still be grueling, but take extra care of your body outside of the workouts to ensure your career doesn't end prematurely, as Stanimal has seen happen, as a candidate or operator.
Well said...
 

brokenjar03

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Thank you, @Stanimal. What do you think has kept you in the fight longer than your peers, have you implemented a personal form of PERRES throughout your career? Could you recommend any recovery tactics?
 

Stanimal

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Thank you, @Stanimal. What do you think has kept you in the fight longer than your peers, have you implemented a personal form of PERRES throughout your career? Could you recommend any recovery tactics?
I honestly have to attribute it to luck. I've seen pipe hitters go down from freaky injuries that no one saw coming. I mean sure I've injured myself before. I augered in on a night jump once and tore something in my shoulder. Still completed the course though. It was the final jump, so I made sure I didn't tell the instructors until the following day. Gotta do what you gotta do to make it off the DZ under your own power. Over the years, I've suffered here and there from the standard stuff...pulled groin, torqued neck or back, sprained ankle, etc. I had plantar fasciitis pretty bad on a deployment, but I slowly worked my way through it. It really hurt in the morning when I would wake up and put that initial weight on it. During PT, or once I got moving around, the pain subsided.

I'd say that when I was younger, I avoided medical like the plague. I didn't want to be labeled a "sick bay commando". Nowadays, if I think something is wrong, I go and get it checked out. It's the smart thing to do. It doesn't mean you are weak. It's just part of taking care of yourself. Anyways, you can do everything right, with perfect form and still get hurt. Sometimes, there's just no way around it. Some guys will use bad form and too much weight, and they WILL injure themselves eventually. If not today, then tomorrow or the next day. They are a ticking time bomb. Do the best you can to utilize proper techniques, work out within your capabilities, eat right, get plenty of rest and educate yourself on what really works and what doesn't. And for God's sake, go to medical if you are broken.
 

nateadkins11

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Thank you, @Stanimal. What do you think has kept you in the fight longer than your peers, have you implemented a personal form of PERRES throughout your career? Could you recommend any recovery tactics?
It has been mentioned all over this forum but I can't help but throw my 2 cents in on this one in case you haven't come accross it yet; MobilityWod.com has astronomical amounts of information regarding preventative maintenance and injury recovery.
 

brokenjar03

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@nateadkins11, got it, I'll check mobilitywod out this week. Thank you for your two cents.

@Stanimal, thanks for sharing your down moments. It's good to keep in mind that even for a candidate implementing PERES they may still experience injury and sometimes they'll just have to fight through to "get the job done." After all, if you're injured in a real scenario, the same would be expected.
 
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