“You picked on the wrong guy!”
It’s a line from the movies we’re all too familiar with when the shopkeeper minding his own business turns out to be Special Forces or Chuck Norris.
Yes — it seems everybody in the movies is Special Forces these days, but the truth is only a select few can make the grade. If you were wondering what it takes to be amongst the elite few, keep reading and we’ll give you an idea.
The ultimate athlete
It is estimated that it costs around $250,000 to transform an elite soldier into a Special Forces operative. To qualify for training, the chosen few need about 8 years of experience in the general forces (so a few easy years in the Royal Marines should do the trick).
Special Forces recruits must then endure a prolonged overhaul of their mind, body and spirit. A few of them will make it to the other side and become warrior athletes that stand at the very top of the athletic pyramid — higher even than Olympic athletes.
In other words, they have to be the finest examples of physical conditioning on the planet as the stakes are about life and death. The aim is to create somebody with the combined strength and conditioning of a MMA fighter, rugby player and a professional athlete.
Balancing strength and endurance
Muscle strength and development (or bulking up) is part of the training routine, but moderation is the key. Unlike bodybuilding where the aim is to strictly increase mass, strength workouts should also compliment endurance workouts, as too much bulking up will result in decreased flexibility and harm optimal performance.
To achieve training goals different types of strength training must be considered including core work, strongman exercises such as tyre flips, and a varied programme of free weights including dumbbells, barbells and kettle bells. Free weights are excellent as they mimic real life movements and improve muscular balance, control and stabilization as well as working multiple muscles.
Along with strength workouts, increasing muscle mass requires the correct amount of protein. The protein needs of strength and endurance athletes are quite similar at 0.6-0.9 grams per pound of bodyweight.
Therefore if you weigh 200 pounds, multiply the 200 with 0.9 and you’ll have an estimate of your required protein levels. If you struggle to meet these requirements with balanced meals, then this is where you can invest in some whey protein powder.
But all Special Forces operatives require no more than 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight. Too much protein eaten at the expense of carbohydrates may inhibit muscle growth and decrease energy levels, so moderation is optimization.
Along with the psychological training such as sleep deprivation, starvation and isolation, the endurance training is where it gets tough. The best friend of strength training is protein, but endurance is all about energy and carbohydrates, so stock up on potatoes, pasta and vegetables.
For an idea of what kind of performance levels are expected, set yourself the following targets:
— Complete a 3km run in 11.5 minutes
— 5km run in 20 minutes
— 10km run in 42 minutes
— 20km run in 88 minutes
— Run a marathon in 3 hours 15 minutes
— Level 14 of a shuttle run (beep test)
— Swim 2km in 40 minutes
— Walk 40km with a 20kg backpack in under 7 hours
Fuelling the machine — carbohydrates are king
You’ll begin to get an idea of just how challenging it is by now, and balancing energy intake and expenditure can be difficult when activity levels are so high. As a general guide these guys are bigger and stronger than other military battalions such as marines, so expend around 4,500 calories per day. If calorie intake doesn’t match this figure, then body mass will decrease, which will eventually be detrimental to performance.
Positive energy balance is more important than protein intake for high endurance training, so carbohydrate should be the primary fuel source. Not only does it provide raw energy, it also converts protein into glucose, which is required by the brain and muscles for fuel. Prolonged running, swimming and load-carrying requires huge energy reserves, so approximately 2.5-4 grams of carbohydrates per pound of body weight is required.
Replenishment and rest
It’s not all about push, push and then push some more. Rest is key and the replenishment of fuel, glycogen stores and fluids is also highly important.
Aim to consume at least 50 grams of carbohydrates and 10-12 grams of protein immediately after a training session and drink! Fluid replacement drinks and sports bars are great for recovery and do not underestimate the power of water.
Water is an essential factor of good health of the physical body — it will cool the body, regulate important functions and keep you hydrated. The easiest way to restore fluid balance is by drinking fluids that contain sodium.
Summary — the perfectly balanced machine
Massive muscles and strength isn’t good enough without high endurance levels so Arnold Schwarzenegger wouldn’t have made the grade and Chuck Norris is far too old. So Hollywood’s version of what it takes to be Special Forces is purely make believe.
With an elite team of dieticians, drill sergeants and conditioning experts, Special Forces personnel are perfectly balanced weapons. They combine frightening levels of power, endurance and speed to stand at the summit of what is possible.
For those who don’t get paid to train and don’t have an army of assistants available, whey protein powder and a gym membership is a good start.