Training for GORUCK Heavy
Chicago Heavy 039
May 23 – 24 2014
Daniel “Mustache” Zenczak
My take on training for GORUCK events in the past seems to be a little ‘heavy’ handed. It is either maximum effort or it is maximum laziness. The training schedule is a mixture of working intensely for weeks at a time, then it is nothing for weeks at a time until the motivation monster bites again. This of course destroys personal confidence and erodes all the hard work that was done previously. I was trying to not let this happen with my Heavy training schedule. Let us take a quick jump into my background so you get a feel where all these training ideas are coming from.
Take me, your friendly neighborhood GRT (GORUCK Tough for all you not in the know), a 40 year old male. Usually floating between 175 – 185 pounds. Five foot eleven inches tall. I have been a runner since middle school and been doing various forms of martial arts off and on since I have been 17. The strength training craze had never set in well with me or the Crossfit thing. Even going into my first challenge I really did not focus so much on body weight exercises as much as just rucking under some weight.
Welcome December 2013 when the pass to go to the Heavy in Chicago was purchased. Right then and there a new dedication emerged. This Heavy was going to be a turning point. Instead of just enduring an event, or barely surviving (Challenge 411 was a horrible experience), I was going to knock this event out of the park. That meant some different ways of thinking of the GORUCK events. With keyboard under my finger tips and monitor in front of my eyes, a plan started to form.
Part of the Heavy was the APFT. Now according to all might Facebook and it ever ending supply of rumor, speculation and hearsay they will not drop you if you can not make the APFT. But then why give it to us? The worry started early. Reflection on past events I concluded that there are three different physical facets of a GORUCK event (this does not include the mental aspects or skill based challenges that the Cadre bring to the game) that will need to be trained. Running, rucking and raw strength. Each one of these three golden children of GORUCK had their own training plan.
For the heavy an assumption was made about running. The goal was to be able to conclude a marathon before the Heavy under a 10 minute mile pace. Though being a life time runner, I have never ran more than 15 miles at one time. So this was a little challenge. So I scoured the Inter-webs for a marathon program for an intermediate runner. Finding one was not too difficult and modifying it so my long runs were on Sundays.
The rucking fell along a category kinda the same as the running. If a marathon plus type distance could be achieved with a 60 plus pound ruck, then the Heavy should be “ a thing” and the 12 mile ruck with a time hack should be a breeze. So grab a simple marathon plan for beginners. Add a ruck weight of 40 pounds the first week. The second week increase speed/distance. The third week increase weight in the ruck by ~5 pounds. Repeat the ‘increase weight’ one week, ‘increase speed/distance’ the next week throughout the training schedule. During the week my shorter training rucks I would make sure that I would have more weight than on Saturdays when I would have my long rucks. Also during the week there would be something to carry, a 30# slosh pipe, a homemade sandbag of 50# or a found log/rock. Amid the rucks on Saturday approximately every mile there was a stop to do typical stupid activities, bear crawls, push ups, crab walks, etc.
I left my description of my strength training for last. This was because strength training has always been a little of a tough thing for me. From past events I knew that I was not the strongest guy out there. It seemed that for my height and weight my strength levels were not up to snuff. Some serious consideration really needed to be put into this. Also for any GORUCK event not only do you have to be strong, but you have to be able to do that strength/weight exercise repeatably. Something like a weird ‘strength endurance’ hybrid. At this moment I am sure all you Crossfit people will say “Hey come to the Darkside. We can do this for you.” So we will ignore Crossfit temptations for all training evolutions for right now. Just because.
For the last several years I have been using the book The Navy Seal Workout by Mark De Lisle as a base for my works outs. All body weight. Five different kinds of pull ups, several different push-ups and over a dozen core exercises. But the thing that stuck with me over the years is the pyramid style workout. Doing your sets 1-2-3-4-5-4-3-2-1. This always felt liked it worked for me. Mark De Lisle also throws in one little twist. Only 15 seconds rest between reps. At least that is what I took away from the book when I got it as a gift from my mother-in-law years ago. With that set routine as my base I moved to the gym.
Following the pyramid workout I then outlined several exercises I needed to focus on, bench press, dumbbell overhead press ( at first I started with a seated military press but changed to the overhead press), a triceps exercise where the weight was over my head and lowered behind my head, curls, squats, deadlifts and dumbbell lunges. Pull-ups, push-ups, air squats and sit-ups were all done at home as often as possible, but that is a different story. Going to the gym three days a week Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Finding the right weight for these exercises was a little difficult. Sure I could bench press 175 pounds five times. But could I do it six times after only a 15 second rest. So I started low weight. Week one would be for reps, then week two increase weight, then week three increase reps ad nausaem.
Back to a little aside to body-weight exercises, push-ups, sit-ups, air-squats. Every morning when I crawl out of bed ( and i mean in my underwear, gunk in eyes, drool on face ) I try to push out to failure a set of each. Most mornings this would be an embarrassing number. But I looked at it as more of a mental toughness thing. Forcing myself at my most vulnerable of the day to do something I would clearly not like. Also I have a reminder on my Google calendar set up. I rotate the exercises out every three days. Monday is push-ups, Tuesday is sit-ups and Wednesday is air-squats. Then repeat making Thursday push-ups, you get the idea. Then I would try to get in a set of the exercise to failure once every hour. When I trained for my first GORUCK Challenge I was working by myself all day for a couple of months. So I would knock out a set every half hour. Again it became more of a mental thing after awhile.
Training the mental toughness was really an aside but I felt like I needed to train it. But cold Lake Michigan water began to wear on my little mind. So the morning cold showers were implemented. Then of course the rucks. Forcing myself to ruck whenever, wherever or whatever the place, time or environment. Nothing like getting up at 04:00 on a Saturday morning in February in Wisconsin. Bundling up against -15 degree weather and several feet of snow for a 10 mile ruck. Then stopping no matter where it was on the trail every mile and doing push-ups, bear crawls or crab walks.
What Actually Happened
There was a lot of time spent figuring out what day of the week I would do what exercise. How much weight to increase and when. How far to ruck and how fast. But as I started to execute this program it became apparent that time was a factor. This training schedule sucked up all my time. At best I could only do all my planned exercises times for a week or two before real life stepped in.
We moved from Louisiana at the end of January to Wisconsin. My wife was pregnant with our second child. My one year old daughter. That is it if you are a parent you get the time sink that is, still love her though. Looking for a new job in Wisconsin. Starting a new job in Wisconsin. The birth of said child from pregnant wife. Then a frickin’ life sucking fever and bronchial infection three weeks before the Heavy that did not leave going into the Heavy. All these and more were stressors and made scheduling several hours a day for training very difficult.
The reality is that I weight trained three days a week, ran a little on those days. Long runs never ever really happened. Tried to throw in as much body weight stuff during the day as possible. I even did the stairs at my new job with a weighted ruck during lunch a couple of days. Then did a long ruck on Saturdays. The long ruck never was that very long. Some might say because of phone calls like this.
Pregnant Wife: What do you want for breakfast?
Me: I don’t want breakfast. I am doing the intermittent fasting thing.
Pregnant Wife: OK
Me: Love you
Pregnant Wife: Love you too
5 minutes later phone rings
Pregnant Wife: How long are you going to be out?
Me: Well I have been on the trail for an hour. I would like to put in at least another three. Why?
Pregnant Wife: Well I was thinking you, me and our daughter could go out to eat.
Me: Can you guys wait until I get back?
Pregnant Wife: I am pretty hungry. I guess I will make something.
Me: I could come back.
Pregnant Wife: No no finish your work out.
3 minutes later a text message
Pregnant Wife: miss u!
Me: miss u too
2 minutes later phone rings
Pregnant Wife: You know we are supposed to be at your Sister’s by one?
Me: Yes I know. I have plenty of time it’s only eight.
Pregnant Wife: Well if we are to go shopping and get something to eat before we go to
her place we will be tight on time.
Me: sigh, OK I will start heading back.
Pregnant Wife: No don’t it’s all right.
Me: No it’s fine, I will see you in a little bit. Love you.
End conversation and turning around on trail.
That was a common scenario on my Saturday rucks. Thus making my longest ruck going into the Heavy only an 11 mile ruck. Though my wife was not the only one to blame. Excuses are always easy to find. During the Heavy Top impressed on us that the 12 mile ruck was not a race. We just needed to finish before 3 hours and 30 minutes. The class basically split into two groups. The fast group and the slower group. I was part of the slower group because I figured I didn’t want to burn myself out. I found a battle buddy and told jokes and stories along the way. We finished the ruck and Cadre Luke told us 2 hours 42 minutes. I was impressed. We were told after the Heavy that the route got screwed up and we all shortened the distance by at least a half mile. But hey whatever, it was done and we moved on.
It seems that my strength training work out was never enough. My arms were still weak whenever something needed to be lifted during the event. The push-ups of the APFT was passed but my sit-ups didn’t. Thankfully Top did not put that much importance on the results of the APFT. Though some monster in the class was able to knock out 120 push-ups in two minutes. Even Top was impressed. Buddy carries were impossible and they were early on in the event. Since the Heavy I have reevaluated my strength needs and started working on the 5 X 5 strength workout. Then adding in WOD type exercises on top of the running and rucking.
Take what you want from this training schedule. But it seemed that I never had enough time to train as much as I wanted. I am sure there are a thousand ways I could have planned it better and a thousand things that were not covered here. But the most important thing is this. No matter what, do something everyday. No matter how little, how sore or tired you are. It is progress and little progress is better than no progress. Every Heavy is different. Every Event is different. But the only thing that is the same is you. And you are going to be in pain and exhausted no matter how much you train. Just DFQ. Ever.