Ed note: This is a guest post by my good friend CR, it was his response to a letter.
You’re 46ish, yes? How are you holding up physically?
Yes, I think I’m 46. I’m kind of hesitant to state an age any more, because I feel like I should start acting that age at some point, and that seems limiting. I like answering with whatever age I feel that I am for that day. Sometimes like I’m 37, and sometimes like I guess I’ll feel at 72.
That said, I’m seeing guys absolutely crush it in their late 50’s and 60’s. Ron J (Ron-bo), Teton ranger skied last year at the World XC races. Renny J is still going really long and really hard in the Tetons, and just went back to guiding for Exum and to ski patrolling at Jackson Hole, after leaving both those professions for a career in the NPS, which he retired from.
My knees hurt sometimes and my back gets tight. I had a shoulder problem earlier this year, but found that if I just keep pushing myself up to the point of pain, making myself do pushups, big arm swings with weights, and pullups, that the shoulder totally loosened up and is becoming strong again.
I’m really liking Barleans Fish Oil, high dose Key Lime flavor. MR turned me on to it. I also think Glucosamine really helps me.
What are you doing for conditioning?
When I got the dog I went away from CF. Now I basically just go out and try to cover ground. Either XC skiing, mtn running, hiking, or working outside. Overseas, I’m rowing, skipping rope, box jumps, lots of body weight stuff (pullups, pushups, squats) but trying to make it more fun and challenging too. Jumping onto boxes with one foot and having to balance one footed while standing up. Jumping onto boxes backwards. Jumping longer distances and landing on a box. KB swings where the bell has to do a rotation and be caught with the other hand on every throw.
I guess I’m just tired of doing straight, boring strength work. It’s so much more helpful to have some kind of game to play or activity that takes some coordination and skill. I was way into standing on a balance board and doing goblet squats, or tossing a med ball, etc.
I’d also do a self made obstacle course, free running thing within the compound. Climbing walls, jumping gaps, running the tops of barriers, etc. 30 or 40 min of that was good. Other times I’d just run laps outside, usually a fast paced lap, followed by a recovery lap.
Started playing ping pong again on this last trip and it was super helpful for hand eye coordination and mushin stuff while under pressure. Also really good to think through tactics while playing and allow the other guy space to make mistakes.
Do you follow a program or are you doing a “salad bar”?
I’m not following a program. I think programming (especially if set by other people), can be great, because it forces you to work on your weakness.
If you are following a program, what is it?
Guys at work are doing GymJones, Mtn Athlete, Tactical Athlete, CF, etc.
It’s interesting though, I’ll go into the mtns with MR and he’ll have been training CF consistently and I’ll have zero issues moving with him, so I think my lifestyle is working for me.
As you have aged, how has that effected your capacities?
I don’t run as fast as I used to, and I’m not as strong as I used to be (as if I ever was), but my head is much stronger. I don’t get nearly as excited as I used to. I’ve seen so much more now and it’s much easier to use a past experience to make a good decision for what I’m currently facing. Whether that’s winning a race. Performing near my max heart rate. Backing out of a bad situation. Violently moving into a situation.
Interesting to me how LAPD SWAT always has a number of guys in their late 40’s to late 50’s. Those are the guys that everyone looks to when things get hairy. Those are the guys that typically stay icy calm when it gets exciting and steady the rest of the crew.
If your capacities have changed, how have you adapted your training to address those changes?
I have to play smarter now. Less emotion more brain, or as one friend described himself “I’m less berserker now, more sniper.”
When I’m training physically, I listen to my body more. Yes, it’s still important to push, but also to rest and SUPER IMPORTANT not to injure yourself while training. I can push through the pain, but if I get injured then I’m done working/training for a bit. NH, super athlete and probably 10 years younger, is only working out two days in a row before taking a rest day and is still seeing great growth and no injury.
As you have matured and gained more experience, do you feel that things have slowed down for you compared to a younger CR or when compared to younger operators?
I have less nervous energy now. I can focus for longer periods of time and see bigger projects through to completion. That energy feels a bit slower, and not as excited or agitated, but it lets me get a lot more done. I’m really focused on systems now and trying to do things the same way. Always checking my weapons right before I get in the vehicle and making absolutely positive there’s a round in the chamber, sights are on, lights are working, secondary is immediately available and not under a shirt, etc.
I sat up front in a helo the other night and watched the pilots working the cockpit. Copilot had this really interesting way of pointing his hand at each gauge that he was evaluating. It was almost as if his hand would help him hold his attention on that gauge until he was sure that he had looked and evaluated what the gauge was telling him, then he would move his hand, and point at the next gauge and evaluate that information. Slow and methodical, but not missing anything, and not just quickly looking for a gauge in the red.
I feel that going on patrol, whether in a cop car or in Baghdad, is similar and that going through your gear and making sure everything is just how you want it, before the fight starts, is HUGELY helpful. Paying attention to those little details and knowing that everything is right in your world really helps when it turns to shit. Knowing that your radio is on the right freq. Having ZERO doubt that your weapon is loaded. Knowing that you have med gear with you. Knowing that you’ve trained and that you have a plan. I really think most of these battles are won far in advance, and it’s the hard training that gives you the self confidence.
Do you believe hard MetCon workouts have a positive stress-inoculant effect?
Yes. I argue with SRJ about this. He thinks there is no correlation. But if you train your mind to think through problems and to make good tactical decisions (even having to remember what set you’re on, what the fastest way is to finish the workout) that’s a habit your mind will follow when pushed. I think it’s especially helpful when doing MetCon type workouts to think about being in a gunfight or fighting for your life, so that you’re used to it when it arrives.
If so, what types are the most effective?
I think anything works, just do it fast enough that you’re pushed. I also think it’s pretty cool to work some stuff in where you have to go fast and are breathing hard, then slow down to do something accurately. 10 box jumps, and one shot with your air pistol. You miss, you owe another 10 jumps, type of stuff.
As we addressed yesterday, reps are critical, how soon before stuff starts to erode out of our CNS?
It feels to me like it starts to go after a week or two. But just as importantly, or maybe more, how long before your self confidence starts to flag? There is a huge part to this about feeling like you deserve to win. Like you’ve been working harder than anyone else and that you totally trust your skills, your strength, your calmness under pressure. Not to say that will automatically let you win, but it will make your decision making easier and will free up your brain to focus on other things, not just drawing a weapon, or getting a light on someone, or reloading, or talking on a radio.
SRJ draws his pistol ten times every time he puts his uniform on. He’s been doing that for years, and he has the fastest consistent pistol draw that I’ve yet seen. Most of the guys that I think are really on their game, dry fire every day or two. Ten minutes a day of working through basic weapon manipulation stuff makes a gigantic difference. That daily handling of your tools makes you extremely comfortable. Watch Act of Valor and slow the scenes down to see the weapon handling. It’s obvious that they carry rifles ALL THE TIME.
How often does one have to train to maintain that sharp edge? Once every two weeks?
What do you call training? Drawing your pistol ten times before you go out on the street would seem to count. Doing a CF workout when you are thinking about chasing a dude down would seem to count. Running scenarios with a partner while on patrol would count. White boarding a room entry, or using a sand table to talk through perimeters would count. Harder training gives you self confidence about solving problems. You ultimately want your training to be harder than what you’ll encounter in real life. Look through the incidents that your organization is dealing with and draw from those.
The better groups are working almost every day and they get very very proficient at what they’re doing. If you’re not working like that, then you need to be training. Do something every few days, even if it’s only for 30 min. Have one guy give a 30 min presentation on self aid in the field. How do you stop bleeding from a bullet wound, on yourself. Practice an officer shot on entry, and work through the scenario of what you’re going to do. It only takes 30 min but it’s time so well spent. This is part of what a leader does, to be the inspiration for the team. Guys will whine and moan, but they will be FAR better for the work.
Do you play video games? If so, what and why?
I don’t play video games. LOTS of the boys do, but they tell me that the games are not designed to reward good tactics, and they don’t really practice good tactics when playing. I think they might help you recognize a threat earlier, or have you think about throwing smoke, or a grenade, but that’s it. There is also no pain associated with making mistakes and I think that’s a missed learning opportunity.
Do you have any good book suggestions?
One Bullet Away, N Fick. Excellent.
The Mission, The Men, and Me Pete Blaber
Leadership and Training for the Fight — Howe (excellent training book, highly recommended).
Ten Minute Toughness (Sports psychology we’ve been using for work).
Some okay stuff in Act of Valor. Movie was hard to follow, but good weapons handling and movement. Heard that Zero Dark Thirty is good, but haven’t seen it. Jiro Dreams of Sushi will explain everything that you need to know about being good in whatever field you choose.
Check out Michael Yon, and Freecabinporn.com
Give me feedback when you can.