I am applying for a Marine OCS slot in July. I need to take my final PFT sometime in June and I want to max it. Pullups and crunches aren’t a problem, I’ll max them. I need to improve on my run. Right now I’m hitting 19:30 on the three mile and I want to get 18:00 or less. My training is pretty crossfit/sealfit heavy. What program would you recommend for me? Thanks for the help.

– J.

We’ve built a sport-specific USMC PFT plan, J., which includes a scaled progression for the run. Here’s the link:

The plan is 6-weeks long and I’m thinking you have 12-14 weeks before you report for OCS.

I’d recommend doing the plan 357 Strength Plan now (6 weeks), with added running, then completing the USMC PFT plan directly before you report to OCS.

– Rob


One of my workout buddies recently brought to my attention a mobility assessment in which you perform an overhead squat with very light weight. I found myself bringing my arms forward almost immediately as I started to go into the squat. Additionally, I would fall forward slightly as I went down and I was unable to squat as deeply as a front or back squat. This really shocked me as I consider myself a pretty fit guy. I’ve been doing the operator sessions consistently for about the last 6 months. I feel like my ankle/hip mobility may be an area of my personal fitness which I’ve overlooked. Do you have any recommendations for improving this outside of the regular workouts? Also I was wondering how important you consider mobility to be relative to overall fitness.

– D.

I suck at that "assessment" too, D., as do all of my lab rats, except Jordan. The fucker…..

The overhead squat with pvc or a broomstick is a simple test of "functional movement" championed by an athletic trainer named Gray Cook, who developed something called the "Functional Movement Screen", or FMS. Cook’s full FMS includes several other exercises/drills, but the overhead squat is the most popular and used. I know the Green Beret THOR coaches use it.

When it comes to functional mobility, there are too broad camps:

CAMP 1 believes lack of mobility is caused by muscle/joint tightness, and muscle strength imbalances. This camp is championed by many PT’s, massage therapists, Ortho docs, etc. In my experience, these folks believe just about any malady is caused by tight hamstrings – in fact, we tease each other in the gym about this…. got a headache? Hamstrings are tight. Got skin cancer? Should have been doing hamstring stretches ….etc. We use several of these mobility exercises in my programming, including the Instep Stretch, Dislocate, etc.

CAMP 2 believes the lack of functional mobility is caused by "patterning" issues. This is Gray Cook’s approach. In general, the idea is that because of all the sitting we do, our bodies have forgotten how to fire muscles and joints properly which has limited our functional mobility. These folks point to toddlers, who all have perfect squat form and then compare them to guys like me (almost 45) who fall forward, like you, on some squats. Cook’s theory, in general, points to issues with firing muscles in the core/mid section – we’ve forgotten how to do this, which causes other muscles to take over, and messes up our functional movement. He’s developed several exercises to relearn proper patterning. We use several of them in my programming – including the Toe Touch Complex, and Squat to Stand, etc.

Proper Functional Movement = Durability?
Now it seems Cook’s camp is winning. Cook has conducted several studies which show a correlation between a minimum score on his FMS, and durability. One included giving his FMS to several hundred USMC OCS candidates before OCS. Those who scored above 14 on the FMS had a 50% less injury rate during OCS then those who scored below 14.

Where I’m At …. I currently side Cook and CAMP 2 when it comes to patterning being the culprit for not having proper functional movement. In your case, Cook would argue the reason you’re pitching forward while squatting is because as your butt drops down, you body thinks your going to fall backward, and compensates by pitching your torso forward. He would argue what’s happening is some muscles in your mid-section aren’t firing properly as you drop, and they need to "relearn" the proper programming.

A surprising fix to this is to elevate your heels with a pair of 10# plates, or a 1×4 or a 2×4 board. You’ll see immediate improvement in your squat form and how vertical your torso is. Why? By elevating your heels, you reassure your body you’re not going to fall backward.

All of Cook’s patterning exercises involved tricking the body to activate the core, then dropping into a squat or raising a leg, etc. His exercise that’s worked best for us when it comes to squatting is the Squat to Stand exercise, which we used to do a lot, but I’ve moved away from. Here’s why ….

Functional Movement and Durability?
On the surface this seems to make sense. If while doing a front squat or back squat, as you drop down, if you’re torso falls forward, you put a lot of stress on your lower back – which is a huge location of injury. Proper functional movement – in this case a good squat form – helps keep your torso vertical, protects your low back, and decreases the chance of injury. In my gym, for squat challenged folks, we’ll elevate their heels with plates/boards while they’re squatting.

I went to one of Cook’s seminars and came back to Jackson all convinced of his theory, and we used it hard for 2-3 years (bunches of squat to stands). But I found some issues with it.

First, my athletes who scored the best on the FMS, also happened to be the best natural athletes.

I define athleticism as movement of the body in space. The FMS tests this ability – so it should be no surprise the best athletes scored the best on the FMS.

However, I didn’t find that a high FMS score led to practical durability. My best athletes, with the highest FMS scores all had great movement, perfect squats, etc. But …. all were also "delicate." – often out with minor injuries. But guys like me, and lab rats Cody and James, who are about as flexible as 2x4s, and suck at the FMS, keep grinding along. We’re super durable.

Second, I had inconsistent success with Cook’s patterning exercises. The Squat to Stand, for example, worked great, sometimes for a couple of my athletes, but it never did anything for my squat form. It seems no matter what, my first few reps always are terrible, then I get warmed up and my form gets better.

Where I’m at Now
It’s important to understand that there is no correlation, on the surface, between having a perfect, PVC overhead squat, and fitness. Believe me, most yoga instructors can do this perfectly, but I’ve found yoga instructors, in general, to be weak and delicate. So your inability to do this doesn’t mean your unfit.

What matters most is durability. Does proper functional movement mean your’e more durable? Cook has studies that say yes. My anecdotal experience disputes this, so I’ve moved away from his camp.

I believe the biggest measure of durability isn’t mobility, but strength. This is why in my programming, strength comes first – to a point. You can go overboard with strength.

There is a correlation between mobility and strength. Jordan, my assistant coach, which is perfect squat, has super strong legs. The first thing to fail on a front or back squat is your core, not your legs, and the vertical your torso, the less stress on the mid-section. This means if I had better squat form, I could make my legs stronger (lift more weight). But here I’m also concerned with functional strength – hence our strength standards.

Back to you: I wouldn’t worry too much about your shitty overhead squat. This doesn’t mean improving your movement won’t benefit you. Try the Squat to Stand exercise and see if it helps.

– Rob


Rob –
This is gonna be ass backwards but I’m officially retired from the Army Reserve today and I want to get in shape. I did get retired for being overweight and couldn’t pass the run although I was bringing down my time. I’m 260 lbs and 5’8′ but I did get checked out by an Army doctor and other than being fat I’m pretty healthy. I did 25 years 20 of those in the Infantry. I work as a High School teacher and have about 8 more years to go before I retire.
I want to be in shape for those years to deal with breaking up fights and anything else.

Just saw your website and some of the youtube vids and I’m disappointed we didn’t have these programs when I was younger(I’m 48). I want to get below 200 and still have strength for my job. Which one of your programs do you think would be good for me.

– R.

We just designed an On-Ramp program for unfit and new guys, R. Start here:

– Rob
I was browsing through the military athlete web site ,referred by a friend, I’m currently in the u.s. army, infantry. I’m embarassed that im not in the fighting shape i should be but I want to change that, not only for my job but to get in good training habits for life. what program would you recommend for someone that is not only new to this type of training but also not in the greatest shape?

– J.

We just designed an on-ramp program for guys like you, J. Start here:

– Rob

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