Grunt PT: Fitness Insurgency

Line unit guys we worked with at Fort Bliss, in 2013.

By Rob Shaul

Years ago I traveled to an line unit at Fort Carson, Colorado to instruct a programming course for a platoon.

I was brought in not by the Battalion Commander, Company Commander or even Platoon Commander, but by the Platoon Sergeant.

This was an Armor unit, with deployment orders to Iraq…. without their Armor. They would be conducting an infantry role, and the Platoon Sergeant was concerned about his guys’ fitness.

He was an older soldier – mid 30’s, family man (2 kids) with an easy, quiet demeanor. The course was busy, but I got to speak with him some and ask about his background, job and career.

He nonchalantly mentioned that he’d had multiple Iraq deployments already, and had survived 6 IEDs. “The last one took part of a lung,” he smiled, wryly.

I realized then a couple things:

First, this guy had spent some serious personal capital to convince his command to bring me in. The Platoon Commander did attend, but was green and wide-eyed, and didn’t have his feet under him yet. This quiet Platoon Sergeant was the driver of my visit.

Second, war doesn’t discriminate casualties. Line unit guys, like this unit, faced the same bullets and danger as the most elite Tier 1 or 2 SOF Unit.

But the Army, and military in general, certainly discriminates in terms of resources. On the fitness side, many US SOF units now have their own strength and conditioning coaches, dietitians (DEVGRUs dietician didn’t like my nutritional recommendations), physical therapists, gyms, MMA coaches, firearms instructors, ranges, shoot houses, unlimited ammo, etc.

These days, with the withdrawals from Iraq and Afghanistan, and the mission changes, SOF units are indeed at the tip of the spear, and line units, mostly held back.

But back then at Carson, we were in the midst of the Iraqi surge, when IEDs and insurgent bullets were killing and maiming line unit guys daily.

In my experience, SOF guys simply have more freedom in garrison for fitness programming, more equipment, etc. Many follow our programming now, despite having on-staff strength coaches at the ready. They have their own gyms, and don’t have the lack of equipment issues when it comes to deploying a functional fitness, don’t have to do Army PRT, and can train pretty much whenever they want during the day.

It’s a totally different game for line unit guys. I’ve recently written about my lessons learned implementing a functional fitness program at a non-SOF tactical unit HERE.

Last Fall I began talking to an entire line unit Brigade about implementing a functional fitness program, was honest and up front about my suggested approach, and initially it seemed the Command was open and wanted also to have long-term impact. I was super excited.

But, in the end it didn’t work out, and from my perspective, reasons included several unit mistakes I highlighted in my “Lessons Learned,” piece – investing in equipment before people, not being willing to think outside the box in terms of unit-wide coaching, multiple PT times, setting aside Army PRT, centralized programming, etc.

Which brings me back to that Platoon Sergeant I’d met years ago at Fort Carson. That quiet professional was an “insurgent” in his own way, by bringing me in to coach functional fitness to his guys despite tepid command support.

I’m weary now of command-driven “functional fitness” efforts as I’ve seen the same loop play out again and again. I want to do more to support soldiers and Marines at any level who want to conduct top-end tactical athlete fitness programming at line units.

So we’ve begun work on what I call “Grunt PT” – which will be equipment-required, mission-direct MTI programming designed for line unit infantrymen in the Army, Marines, and any other similar military unit here or with our allies.

Years ago we provided subscribers with “Squad PT” programming which was similar in idea, but not in scope. Squad PT deployed simple equipment – sand bags, dumbbells, step up benches, plyo boxes, and old programming.

Grunt PT will deploy this austere equipment, plus free-weights (racks, barbells, dumbbells), classic strength programming, and and a super efficient version of our current top-line military programming.

We’re going to build the programming around the size of a company – 100-140 guys, and a set equipment package accordingly.

And it will be cheap – I’m hoping just $1/soldier/month. Cheap enough where an individual Squad Leader, Platoon Sergeant, or Company Commander could actually pay for it out of his own pocket – if he cared that much about his guys’ fitness and durability. And/or, so cheap he could do it without a command brief/permission.

It will only be available for active duty personnel.

Hence, Grunt PT could be a “fitness insurgency,” – bottom-up, instead of top-down. Do now, and ask permission later. Let the results speak for themselves.

It sounds simple, but on the programming and coaching side, Grunt PT will be sophisticated – simply because equipment will always be an issue, the relative youth and inexperience of many line unit soldiers, and just the numbers of athletes training at one time.

I’m grinding through the initial cycle now and hope to get a “beta” version out soon and recruit “insurgents” in the military to test it for me.

I’m not naive to the realities of military life, – especially in garrison – where there is not enough to do and little things become big things. I understand and appreciate the bureaucratic inertia of the big Army and Marine Corps.

I have no idea if Grunt PT will work. It could be a total disaster.

But, I’m determined to find a way, and have enough experience now to know the top-down approach hasn’t led to the long-standing impact I hope someday is MTI’s legacy for tactical fitness. Time to try another approach.