Operational Fitness

October 4, 2013
‘Patriot Dawn: The Resistance Rises’
October 7, 2013
Recently, I did a post called ‘Realistic Rucking‘. I am spurred to write again about operational fitness, or realistic SHTF fitness. 
My intent is to cut through the one-upmanship, the unrealistic goals and give you some tips about real operational fitness. Please have a read of the ‘Realistic Rucking‘ post and take note of its practical pointers. What I am trying to achieve today is to give you perspective and situate your fitness regimen on a realistic foundation. 
There is a useful discussion in the comments section of the ‘Realistic Rucking‘ post where SP and I expand on a couple of points. I then used that as part of this post on ‘The Ingredients for Your Victory – Tactics & Gear’. For those of you who are looking for a real standard to train for with your rucking fitness, I will reproduce here what reader SP posted about the British Army’s Operational Fitness Tests (OFTs). These current standards came in after my time in the British Army. However, I will remind you of two things:
1) The part of the discussion where SP and I discuss in comments the OFT, and the reasoning behind it, and the fact that infantry are carrying too much weight on operations, which is negatively impacting their tactical mobility and therefore their effect on the enemy and their survivability. 
2) You must adapt these standards to your own capabilities and goals. These standards are designed to condition soldiers to carry upwards of 100 lbs. on their bodies while on patrol. 
The OFT:
SP: By the time I started training for my second tour 3 years later there had been a big shift by the Army in training with weight. The new OFT (Operational Fitness Test) were in force. During the 9 months pre-deployment training my Battalion only did 3 or 4 CFT’s (Combat Fitness tests – the old standard: 8 miles, 55 lbs. plus weapon and helmet) and I think only 2 PFT’s. Instead we simply concentrated on very long marches at a more realistic patrol pace carrying the exact kit we would be using in theatre, minus the ECM so bergens (rucks) simply had breeze blocks thrown in! Whilst still hard, it was more realistic and as such, more beneficial.

This is what ArmyNet published regarding OFT’s. Thought Max might find this interesting:

The test is done in Combats (ACU’s) wearing the Helmet (and for 2-6 CBA/Osprey (Body Armor) if available (included in the weight)). 2-6 require you to carry the weapon in the Patrol position.

OFT 1 – 3 miles total. 1.5 squadded in 18 mins, 1.5 best effort under 15 mins. Weight 15kg (33lbs.) Total. (Wpn not required).

OFT 2 – 2 miles total. 0.5 squadded in 7.5 mins, 1.5 best effort under 15 mins. Weight 20 kg (44 lbs.) (CEFO & Wpn). CEFO = Combat Equipment Fighting Order

OFT 3 – 3 miles. 3 miles squadded no less than 38.5 mins, no more than 39 mins. Weight 25Kg (55 lbs.) (AO & Wpn).

OFT 4 – 5 miles. 4 miles squadded in 68 mins, 1 mile squadded 12.5 – 13 mins. Weight 30kg (66 lbs.) (20kg for non-warry) CEMO & Wpn. CEMO = Combat Equipment Marching Order

OFT 5 – 10 miles. 5 hrs squadded. Weight 35kg (77 lbs.) (25 kg non-warry) CEMO & Wpn.

OFT 6 – 24.8 miles. 
Day 1, 12.4 squadded under 3Hrs 30 mins. Weight 30kg (66 lbs.) (CEMO & Wpn).
Day 2, 12.4 squadded under 3 hrs. Weight 20 kg (44 lbs.) (CEMO & Wpn).

I put these standards here for your use, because they are real, scientifically designed, and not made up to make anyone sound good. However, I don’t actually recommend that you do much of this sort of training. If you want to train to ruck, you are better off carrying around 35-45 lbs. and going for hikes at a good steady pace. Maybe throw in a heavy carry every now and then, as you progress. 
The real point of this post is to discuss the following:
Clearly, the fitter you are, the better. The best type of fitness to strive for is a mix of cardiovascular fitness with strength training thrown in – by which I mean the ability to move your own body-weight with agility, and to carry a ruck. Sadly, the ideal infantryman does not come from Hollywood imagery. The typical ‘blocky’ muscular look that is sought after by most males seeking to ‘get big’ is counter productive to infantry work. Infantrymen are short and wiry!
The more muscle you throw on, the slower you will run. There is a balance there, between the strength to carry a ruck and do physical tasks, and running. But none of it is really served by the kind of useless body building PT that makes you look good. I like to do a bit of weight training, and that goes in and out in cycles. As my sister says when she sees me: “big gay arms.” Whatever….
Also, the more weight you put on, muscle or fat, the more stress you put on yourself and your joints. If I weight 20 lbs. more than I did when I was 20, then I am carrying half a ruck around with me. Yes, that is balanced by greater strength and endurance with age, but I definitely cannot move as fast. 
Most of the problem you face is not the failure to meet unrealistic ruck speed/weight/distance goals, but it is at a more basic level – that of getting to a basic level of fitness and losing the fatness. However don’t lose all that fatness: a little paunch or some love handles are reserves for when the SHTF – but all within reason!
But here’s the thing that you are not being told. I will tell you, because you need to know, and I have been on multiple deployments and spent years ‘over there’. When you are on real deployments, you don’t have much of a chance to actually do any fitness. Two main things will happen:
1) You will be on some sort of FOB and you will have a chance to do a little PT.
2) You will be in more austere circumstances and the only PT you will do is that involving going on patrol/ops.
The other thing is this: a lot of SOF types will actually get pretty unfit after they have gone through selection training. Imagine being holed up in a house or vehicles doing some sort of undercover or QRF operation. What if you have to ruck out and then spend 20 days holed up in an OP? The thing there is that you rely on a latent fitness. You will ruck in, then lay around for a couple of weeks or so on crappy rations, then you will be expected to ruck out. Perhaps under contact, if you have to bug out. There is no training program there – it all depends on your latent fitness and mental attitude. 
I know guys who have failed the run part of an APFT after a deployment, because they did no running, but they were still able to patrol with full gear on. In part this does show the lack of utility of running, other than as a way to train your cardiovascular fitness, and the primacy of being able to ruck, which trains the ability to carry weight and your cardio. 
So now, pre-SHTF, you need to do as much fitness as you can, within reason, and develop a mental attitude that will prevent you quitting. When you do that training, make it realistic for you, your age and injuries etc. A vital thing its to not over-train and end up injured when SHTF happens, because then you are in serious poo poo.
I have a job and a busy life like you. I am far less fit than I have been, or could be. However, I go to the gym every morning. I do cardio, I also do a  little bit of vanity useless fitness, but there is a hard edge in there as well. At the weekends, I go up to the training site and I cut down trees, carry logs, dig target pits with a pick and shovel, and similar; walk the ground etc. That is all great conditioning for SHTF. However, I know that when I put my gear on I can still fire and move. Some of that is just years of doing it – muscle memory if you like – and the rest is determination, mental. I can be fitter, but I am not, and I carry some old injuries that I have to watch. 
When I ruck, I will either go for a hike, either with a ruck or one of my kids in a carrier, or I will go for a ruck-run. I prefer ruck running to straight running, because I feel like I am achieving more, and I enjoy it, and because I am stronger and heavier than I used to be I am relatively better at it than with straight up running. I load up 35 – 40 lbs. and otherwise wear running gear. Then I run for maybe three miles, including hills (shuffle up those). That is good training for all round tactical operations, because it trains moving fast with a load, such as for a reinforcement operation or for a bug-out. However even though nowadays I am a relative fat-ass, and no way able to run like I used to when I was on my schools ‘First Eight’ running team, I still have years of such rucking behind me to give me the muscle memory and mental confidence/fortitude to be able to do it. Don’t go out and try it, if you are not used to it, without building  up to it. You will simply injure yourself. 
If I feel I am starting to head towards overuse injuries, I will switch out and add more elliptical machine type and other such useless fitness. Unfortunately, the only exercises that I feel actually work are running (incl. ruck-rucking), rowing and swimming. Whatever the heart rate monitor says on the elliptical, it just seems to be useless fitness. 
What I never see talked about is heart rate monitoring. There are two sides to this – it is great way to make sure you are in the right zone and not over or under training. However, whenever I do anything that I consider to be real fitness, in any way  a challenging run or ruck or whatever, then I am way over the zones allowed. If you wore a heart rate monitor on any of the selection standard type tests, you would probably give up when you saw what it was reading and for what an extended period of time. So, its double edged – it will allow you to scientifically judge your training, but it may prevent you pushing yourself. That may be a good thing – I’m still a neanderthal in terms of “110% effort at all times!”
This touches on the primary point: you may well not be as fit as you could be. You may be suffering from slow starvation in SHTF. All fitness really comes down to mental determination. Yes, the fitter you can be now, the more of that you will carry over to SHTF. The  important thing is to get fit enough to allow you to conduct tasks that will become standard, such as wearing your gear while patrolling your boundaries, digging foxholes or vegetable gardens, and all the similar. 
Your struggle now is not to meet some unrealistic rucking goals, but to get into decent shape without injuring yourself in the process. 
For those of you who are already fit, and wish to challenge yourself with the rucking training, then so be it. Just don’t injure yourself, and don’t push it too hard. 
If you are a normal guy who works, and has the opportunity to go into the gym for maybe an hour before work in the morning, then think about the following pointers as a basic fitness regimen:
30 minutes: cardio. Running, rowing, swimming or similar. Mix up gym cardio machines if you need to. I don’t like to use running machines, I prefer to run outside. If you do use the machines put it on 2% gradient to take account of the machine.  
Another type of cardio you can add is sprint or circuit training, adding in exercises. Sprint back and forth doing exercises at the end of each sprint (push ups, sit ups etc.); this will be really good for fire and movement. 
Then use the rest of the time for strength training. Body weight exercises are best, but not best for vanity muscle. I like to divide it up into pushing and pulling exercises on different days. That means pull ups vs. push ups/dips. But, there are a million different ways. If you get bored with the body weight exercises, then add in the weight  machine or free weight equivalent, add in kettle bells. etc. 
An actual professional fitness bod can give you specific routines.
At the weekends, go out and hike, with family or by yourself, whatever. The family has to bug out with you right? So they better be able to do it too. Or, get a pick and shovel and dig something. At my last place I dug in a 14′ by 4′ circular trampoline hole, so the kids could not fall off the trampoline (yes, we didn’t want a net). It was like a mortar pit. That took some digging, with pick and shovel. Now I have target pits to dig and trees to clear. 
Make sure you take a rest day, and don’t push it too hard, into the injury zone!
Live Hard, Die Free.


  1. Excellent points. Another thing to keep in mind is that doing ANY exercise with combat in mind is putting yourself well ahead of 90% of the average Americans.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Good common sense fitness advice. I need my stock tank dug back out, you available?

  3. Tim B. says:

    Max, been reading the posts on operational fitness with great interest. i consider myself to be in good shape, I’m in the gym 3 days a week, work hard on the cardio, and play competitive recreational ice hockey. Today I took a hike here in the Georgia foothills wearing my battle belt and suspenders rig, outfitted with 180 rounds of .308 in their mags and a couple of full canteens. Would loved to have brought my rifle but where I was hiking that wasn’t possible.

    Anyway, the trail was reasonable in distance with no elevations higher than 1800 ft., but the route consisted mostly of steep switchbacks. I found myself getting winded after about 100 yards of these switchbacks, and had to stop for 60-90 second intervals several times before I reached the summit! Now the trail was rough in places, but even so I was surprised by how quickly I tired with just a 25lb. load. Had I had my FAL I would have had another 9 lbs of weight. Point is, no matter how good one considers their conditioning to be, you will be surprised how quickly you tire under a combat load. It opened my eyes, and I plan on hiking in full kit from now on whenever possible.

    If you are keeping SHTF in mind you are cheating yourself if you believe you’re gonna hit the ground running with a combat load and you don’t hump it from time to time now! It’s also a good way to shake down your gear and find what works for you and what doesn’t.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Max is on target!

    Went out this weekend and cut down, segmented, and split a large dead ash tree. Beetles have killed off all ash in Morgan Co WV. What a workout for 51 year old ex-Tanker. Time for more PT.


  5. F says:

    On this topic.. I know am am older now and maybe still a little weight because I nurse some old injuries that keep me form running 5 times a week.. but even so I am kinda proud of my tactical workout regimen that is making me feel both stronger in a practical/useful way and deeping my cardio.

    I exercise 6 times a week. 3 cardios a week (run OR swim) are a no-brainer but my gym exercises are as specific as possible for tactical activity (and not for show muscles)

    So I alternate between 2 kinds of strenght workouts:

    1)”Firemans” (this is mostly designed to strengthen core and legs for mobility, especially with a load while in terrain)

    – 3x sets of squats (free barbell, no machine of any kind)
    – 2-3 sets of pull-ups, (can be assisted if your shape dictates it, it’s good to improve your climbing walls and generalized grip)
    – 2-3x sets of dips (good for pushing yourself away from the ground when carrying a load, can be assisted if need be)
    – 2x sets of sit-ups
    – 2-3x sets of seated rows (machine) or bent over standing rows.
    – 2-3x sets of hi weight leg press (machine)
    – 2x sets of back extensions (also called “roman chair” by some), these are important, will wear you out and are so helpful to your lower back and your mobility IMO.

    2)”Weapons Handling”.. this is mostly shoulders and grip with a little chest thrown in for balance:

    – 2x Standing over-head military press (with a pair of dumbbells)
    – 2x seated military press at a slight angle (pair of dumbbells, each 5 lb heavier than standing set since you now have the support of the backrest of the bench)
    – 3x flat bench press (Again I prefer a pair of dumbbells over barbells for the need to work on control and grip)
    – 2x sets of lateral raises (if need be drop 5 lbs from the weight with second set)
    – 2x sets of frontal raises
    – 2x sets of shoulder shrugs (works your grip and your ability to pick up a heavy load) OR rotating the 45lb weight over your head (not sure the proper name of this exercise, keep body, neck, head still has you rotate the weight above your head once clock wise once counter clock wise).

    I do 2 firemans and 1 weapons handling, or 2 weapons-handling and 1 firemans a week w/o fail.

    While this program has not given me the flat stomach I would like.. I think it’s a good balance between getting stronger more agilefor this application and also minimizing the risk of injury in those of us who either have previous overuse issues or advanced in age .
    I believe Any healthy male can do this program.