What I’ve Learned from Training Tier One Spec Ops
Over ten years ago, Marty Gallagher called me on the phone and asked me to come down to Virginia Beach with Dr. Rob Wagner to speak about programming to Tier One Special Ops. Marty had been going down with a group of guys for a few years to train the soldiers for a week, working on proper form on the lifts, programming at home and on deployment, strongman, kettlebells, all of it. I was fortunate to became part of that group and have trained a bunch of those guys in person and still do online. Being friends with them for so long, I have learned so many things. Not always about lifting per se, but mostly about attitude and mental toughness.
I was very naive when I first got around them. I mean, I knew that they had Hell Week, and jumped out of planes and wrecked pirates on the high seas who were holding hostages. But since I have been around them, I have realized just how much crazy, dangerous stuff the really do. I am glad that I was semi unaware about the hazards that they encounter on deployment and in training at first, because I would have been more in awe of them. Instead, I started out with them just thinking that they were bad ass soldiers, not soldier Gods that walked among us mere mortals.
I decided to write down a few things that I have learned from these guys. In fact, just being around them has changed my life and made me a better person. I firmly believe that if you apply just one of these lessons learned, your life will become better also. Note: These observations are from what I have witnessed and been a part of, and it is not meant to be a blanket statement on how all Special Forces train or behave.
- Nothing is too hard. Ever seen Outlaw Josey Wales with Clint Eastwood? When Clint is all cool and calm, handling whatever comes his way? Every single one of those guys is like that, no challenge too great, no squat too heavy. We did a strongman contest one time, a relay race and we split the guys into teams. The competition was fierce! One guy, during the farmers carry, fell down three or four times but wouldn’t quit and would not take any help whatsoever. Seriously, if I would have tried to help him, he would have been super pissed off at me. There is zero quit in them. In fact, with the guys I train, I have to tell them to back off. I’ll write a program like this:” I want you to do 80% of your bench for 5 sets of 3 reps and stop there, no more.” I don't write it like that, they will say to themselves, “That was too easy, I have to do more.” But I know they are coachable, and used to taking direction, so they will not waver if it is explicitly written not to. But that’s what is beautiful about them; you have to temper them, you have to back them off. I would much rather have them wanting to do too much than someone that I have to motivate. It’s great, I have to tell them that I am giving them permission to take a day off. Let’s say that they did 20 jumps from a plane in 2 days. This happens all the time. Their shoulders are torn up, their bodies are torn up. But still, they get to the gym. After all these years of training them, I know that they will try to push heavy weight if it is on the program. I know this and write lighter poundages on purpose. If not, they will grind themselves into the ground to complete the program. No matter what, they always get the mission done.
- They think that they can do anything, and they can. I went to one of the guy’s house’s last year, we duck hunted and drank Pabst beer. I complimented him on his dining room table, asked him where he bought it. “I made it”, he said. “You made it?” “Yeah”, he says, nonchalantly. Turns out, he chopped the trees down, took his chainsaw and straddled the fallen tree and cut it up, and then went through the whole process of turning what was a tree in his backyard a few days before into his dining room table. I asked, where did you learn that? “YouTube,” he answered. Another one of them built a small work shed/house, shingled roof, windows, and even ran the electricity to the place. “ You ever done this before?” I asked. “ Nah,” he answered. “Where did you learn it?” “YouTube,” he answered. They are so confident that nothing is beyond their reach. “Screw it, let’s go”, is their attitude. One of them told me that he didn’t like heights. “Then how do you jump out of planes?,” I asked. “ Someone has to do it,” he answered.
- Strong and jacked is important to them. I had one of my clients the other day ask me if the Tier One guys did a lot of cardio and endurance work. I had to answer him truthfully. The guys that I know train exactly this way: They fight train, do strongman training periodically, and lift heavy weights for strength and do assistance training for muscle growth. Sometimes they do sprints and agility drills. I have not known one who does distance training. “ You can never be too big”, one texted me. I asked one of them what was the furthest they have run in combat. “ About 100 yards,” he answered.
- Loyalty is paramount. Since I wasn’t in awe of them because I had no idea what bad asses they really were, they knew that I wasn’t some fan boy. So, we would sit around and drink whiskey and just talk like, well, like dudes talk. We’d talk about guns, dogs, training. Same kind of stuff that I talk about with my good friends. They are just regular guys, sort of.
You see, what these guys are is everything that makes up a great American to me: A great man, but magnified, multiplied, at the highest level. They are never lazy. In fact, none of them really ever sit down to relax, they are always moving onto the next thing, kicking the soccer ball with his kids, getting the boat ready to hunt, cooking breakfast for everyone. They make me want to never sit down, to always get my butt off of the couch, no matter how tired I feel. Training is a huge part of their lives, no question. One of them told me that going on deployment is great because they get to lift weights and then go on missions and kick ass. Life is simple for them then.
I have been fortunate to learn from and to know these guys, and I know that I am. They have given me faith that there are still great Americans out there, Patriots who believe in hard work in the weight room, a never quit attitude and loyalty to friends without question.
About The Author - Jim Steel
Jim Steel has been immersed in athletics and the Iron Game for most of his life. He has been a college football player and coach, powerlifter, Muay Thai fighter and is currently a competitive bodybuilder. In 1999, Steel was named Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coordinator at the University of Pennsylvania, and moved up to Head Strength and Conditioning Coordinator in 2004. He is the owner of the blog Basbarbell and is a motivational speaker, frequent podcast guest and the author of two books, Basbarbell Book of Programs and Steel Reflections. Steel is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Jim Steel is co-host of the RAW with Marty Gallagher Podcast along with Marty Gallagher and J.P. Brice and is a monthly content contributor at IRON COMPANY.