50 miles of running in a week, 20 miles of swimming in a week, hundreds of repetitions of calisthenics in a week, 600 lbs. deadlifts, 400lbs. bench presses, 400 lbs squats, and 20-mile rucks with 60-80lbs backpacks, may sound like “too much” to do for anyone. But, for the competitive marathon runner, the collegiate swimmer, a Spec Ops student, a powerlifter, or an Army Ranger or Marine respectively, it is part of a normal training cycle. When people ask if I think they are training too much, once again the answer is “IT DEPENDS.” It depends on several factors as discussed in the It Depends article. But the thing to remember is that a beginner’s workout is an advanced level athlete’s warmup, so the question of “too much” is also primarily relative to your abilities at the time.
What Is Too Much? In the world of Special Ops preparation training, there is a delicate balance between pushing yourself and hurting yourself. Staying on the good side of that balance requires consideration into how well you are recovering from previous workouts, eating to fuel your body, and taking care of aches and pains as they first start to show themselves. I would say 90% of the time, my job is not to make gut check workouts, but to pull back on student’s creations to make workouts harder. Too many times athlete’s seeking jobs in the Special Ops community perform challenging workouts to build mental toughness. But there is a fine line between mental toughness and stupid. There should be gut check workouts as there is a value to them, but within reason for YOUR current abilities. There is a cost to going over the line and it can kill you – Rhabdomyolysis – and if you are lucky and do not kill yourself, training stopping injuries.
Here are some common ways people do too much:
Running Too Much: is no secret that many of the hardest Spec Ops programs are tough because of the high mileage of running (and / or rucking) that is involved to graduate. The means having a solid foundation of running under your belt prior to attending selections programs like SFAS, Ranger, BUD/S, PJ/CCT, RECON, MarSOC and others. Building up to 30-40 miles per week is a logical solution for many; however, adding in events like marathons and ultra-marathons can lead to serious injuries like stress fractures or chronic tendonitis which can slow you down for months to heal. You want to avoid those kinds of training killers. If you are on the bigger side (200+lbs) you may want to lean toward the lower end of the mileage spectrum (<30 miles) during your training and rely on faster shorter runs equivalent to your typical tests (4-6 mile timed runs) versus longer slower distance. On the other hand, if you are already great at running, why waste your fuel of the day doing 10+ miles? Focus on other weaknesses that come with runners and work on your upper body PT and lifting workouts.
Sprinting Too Much: There are tactical fitness tests that require sprinting short distances as 40m, 300m, 400m, and 600yd shuttle runs. These are done fast and hard with recovery time in between sets as well as between days. Like lifting same muscle groups, sprint every other day at full speed at the most. Be warmed up well and stretch after training well as tight hamstrings are typically the first to get pulled during training and testing events.
PTing Too Much: Many people, for some reason, think that you can perform high repetition calisthenics workouts every day. You might be able to get away with this for a month (maybe 6 weeks), but you will start to see over-use injuries like joint pain, tendonitis, plateaus or losses in performance, and muscle imbalances. If you are progressing in your calisthenics workouts and you are able to do 100-150 pullups, 300 pushups, dips, and abs with relative ease, that is great, BUT give yourself a day before doing that muscle group again. That means do not lift rows, pulldowns, and bench press, military press that work those same groups the following day OR do not repeat the same exercises until 48 hours later. If you must lift and PT the same day, either mix the lifts with calisthenics or do calisthenics in the morning and weights in the evening for second workout of the day. That is better that day after day after day of the same muscle groups being worked and not recovering properly.
Lifting Too Much: Like PT, when lifting you need time to recover that muscle group before doing it again. Also consider the amount of weight you are doing when lifting. There is a time to do one rep max effort lifts (1RM) to build strength (strength cycles). However, during a running cycle when your goal is to get faster at timed runs to enter training or preparing for longer runs of selection, it is not the time for 1RM lifting of such exercises like dead lifts and squats. Instead, your running “leg days” can be bodyweight or dumbbells in hands doing farmer walks up bleachers/stairs/hills, squats, lunges in between interval runs for a good way to increase muscle stamina in the legs and your work your heart and lungs for maintaining running pace to be competitive in PT tests. If you do not get TO the training, you will never get the chance to get THROUGH the training. Passing fitness tests is your entrance exam.
Swimming Too Much: You can swim too much as well. Typically, people great at swimming will prefer to get their cardio activity in the pool; however, the running progression needs to be steady for swimmers. Typically overuse injuries occur quickly for the swimming athlete who does not run. Training for sprint triathlons is a good way to train and progress in running miles each week. The cross-training of swim, bike, run can be therapeutic to the zero-gravity athlete. On the other hand, if you are not good at swimming, treading, and other pool skills, you may be spending too much muscling through these events when some technique training maybe all you need. Get some coaching. Watch YouTube videos on swimming skills and techniques and practice for better form versus hours in the pool each day.
Take a Day Off – Rest / Work on Mobility Your body will have a natural way of telling you when you have done too much. Whether it is working out in the gym too long, running too much, rucking too much, or PTing every day, you will see blisters, tendonitis, shins splints, stress fractures, muscle strains and tears as well as general decrease in performance. Do not be scared to take a day off and rest, eat and sleep well, or get to the gym and pool and do a mobility day and work on pool skills like knot tying, treading, bobbing, floating.