The Best Weight to Train with Is Your Own Body

TOJs hunt for the best exercise ideas. Among the best are the techniques used by special forces in the military, which has known for a long time that the optimum weight to lift in your training is your own body. Unlike a gym, it's accessible 24/7, no matter where you are. Unlike a free weights, kettle bells, or elaborate weight machines, it's free. Most important, putting your body through these workouts develop strength, balance, power, endurance and flexibility -- the very physical characteristics a TOJ seeks.

Pick up a copy of Mark de Lisle's Special Ops Fitness Training or Andrew Flach and Peter Peck's The Official United States Navy Seal Workout. The exercises may seem basic and mundane. Many you'll recognize as calisthenics from high school gym class that involve lifting, pushing, pulling, squatting, and jumping. Although I enjoy lifting weights once a week, these exercises are superior, and harder, in several ways.

First, they develop functional strength that you need in everyday life or athletic/fitness endeavors. They are total body workouts involving multiple muscle groups, not the isolated hypertrophied muscles you get with standard repetitive weight lifting, e.g., Sylvester Stallone's biceps in Rambo. Bulging muscles are actually useless except for photographs (and big muscles weigh you down when you run and turn to parking lots for fat cells if you don't keep them toned).

Second, they develop coordination from head to toe. Some exercises require the body to be held up like a suspension bridge, others to balance in an awkward position as the muscles burn. Full body exercises fire nerves and pump lymph through your body via muscle contraction, both natural health tonics.

Third, they take you through a wide range of motion, sometimes as a stretch, sometimes as a lift. The exercises include dynamic stretches that are more effective than static yoga poses. TOJs need to make an extra effort to promote flexibility while maintaining their strength.

Fourth, they place an emphasis on the core muscles in the abdomen, lower back, and butt. TOJs don't give a damn about six pack abs like you see on the cover of Men's Health, but they know that because this area of our anatomy is the epicenter from which all strength and balance emanates. Back pain is a frequent skeletal/neurological complaint and is controlled or eliminated by a strong core.

One type of exercise the military regimens encouraged me to include in my weekly routine is jumping, like you see kids and athletes do every day. There are lots of ways to jump, from jumping jacks to star jumpers to frog jumps. There is a whole exercise science called plyometrics (for a quick intro to to that is based on jumping. It is strenuous, and you need to gradually relearn to do it if you haven't for years.

The benefits of jumping are obvious after a couple of weeks. Beyond the anaerobic cardiovascular challenge (at first you won't jump for long), you develop explosive strength. The muscles must fire hard to get you airborne and the g-forces as you come down help your foot and ankle strength, as well as stimulate stronger bones and good balance. And it's exhilarating -- we're hardwired to jump when we feel joy.

Go slowly with your jumps. Build up over weeks and months. To get started, stand with your feet shoulder width apart and just bounce lightly for a couple minutes with your feet on the ground, raising from your heels up onto your toes. Then as you get stronger, put an inch of space between your feet and the ground. That will acclimate you and lay the foundation for higher jumps. Don't hurry, don't try to jump too high, too soon. Start slow and low, and go higher.

If you're a TOJ, don't expect to do the same number of reps or perfectly match every exercise you see young, exceptional soldiers perform. They are as elite as any NBA or NFL player, and, by most measures, more fit. Go slow. Where they recommend 30 reps, do 10. Do only what you are comfortable with.

Mark de Lisle gives some good advice he says is heeded by special ops during their training to avoid injury. It is doubly true for TOJs -- do the exercises smoothly and with control. If your form falters, stop. When you start to lose your form, it means you are at a level of fatigue where you are at risk for injury.

Navy Seals and Special Ops troops don't stay fit to win multi-million dollar sports contracts or endorsements on TV and in glossy magazines for underwear and deoderants. For them, fitness can be a matter of life and death. If these exercises are good enough for them, they are good enough for a TOJ.