Memorial Day 2019

Take a deep, luxurious breath. How’s it feel? It probably feels like the millions of breaths before it. It’s hard to even notice that it’s a free breath because it’s so common. You’re an American breathing freely while pursuing your life’s happiness. Historically speaking, there are thousands of men and women who sacrificed in order to maintain the freeness of these breaths, this freedom, that we take for granted.

We created a holiday, Memorial Day, that is supposed to honor the service members who committed the ultimate sacrifice – losing their life in the service of their country. Yet it has turned into a weekend of debauchery and gluttony.

Regardless of your political view on war, the recent wars, or the military itself, this is a day to acknowledge both the sacrifice and the reason for it. Most of the time when a young adult swears to defend the Constitution of the United States of America via military service, they are doing so because they believe they are serving the country. Our “country” includes all of the people in it, regardless of race, gender, or any other discriminatory identifier. And the service member knowingly makes a decision that reduces their freedom in hopes that it benefits both the country and everyone that exists in it.

USSF Soldiers conduct a patient movement during medical training.

While it’s true a service member has chosen their path of their own volition, it doesn’t mean the sacrifices are not multiple and varied. For years, I’ve written essays about this. Service members are told how to look, what to where, where to live, and what to do every day. They are often sent on training trips away from their family. And the silly bastards who choose to fight or support the combat arms are subjected to a litany of annoying discomfort, pain, and environmental duress. Deployments take service members overseas into war zones and third world countries. And if this wasn’t enough – being away from family and sacrificing freedom – people die. Friends die. Brothers and sisters die. And for the survivors, their reward is living with the physical and emotional effects of it all, including chemicals in the air, burn pits, horrible food, TBIs, and being worn down from wearing 50 to 100 pounds of additional gear on a regular basis. Children miss their parents, relationships end, hearts break, and suicide rates remain high.

I know all of this because I’ve fucking done it. I’ve trained for war at the expense of attending weddings, destroying relationships, and degrading my body. I’ve served in war and have almost been hit by RPGs, mortars, and machine gun fire. And now, after heart break and rebirth, I barely escaped death one more time after I stepped on an IED. The blast took its toll; I’m a double below the knee amputee. My testicles were blown off and I don’t know if the frozen samples taken from my body will allow me to father children. I’m just one person, just a regular dude who loves combat. But I’m not the only one.

We still regularly lose good men, good friends like Will Lindsay. I know there’s a lot of us, including his family, that would give anything to have him alive, even if he were a double amputee.

SFC Will Lindsay and EOD SGT Joseph Collette were killed in combat operations on 22 March 2019.

Americans celebrate Memorial Day by partying, drinking, and feasting throughout a long weekend. But I humbly ask you to do two things. First, please take a moment to memorialize the fallen brothers and sisters. Consider their families and what happens in the aftermath of their deaths. And also remember those who live on with significant deficits. Second, after you’re done barbequing, the best way you can thank the fallen is by living as honorable a life as you can. Memorialize them by working hard for success and showing compassion to your fellow Americans and humans of the world. It’s the best celebration of freedom I can think of.

The life of a service member is not all shit and death. The point is that the people who do it believe they are doing it for you. For everyone. And themselves. And that they would die for you to maintain the right to criticize them is proof enough that it’s an amazing sacrifice. And they do die. And you don’t know their names. And that’s okay, because most of us don’t want a pat on the back. Instead, remember the fallen and live as honorably as you can on this Memorial Day and beyond. Lest we forget.

Checking In

This is a piece I wrote for the curious users on StartingStrength.com. You can view it HERE.


Taken in Afghanistan, 2018

A handful of years ago content on 70’s Big was hard to come by. You fine folk have been asking where I’ve gone ever since, and now I finally choose to let you know in the face of extraordinary circumstances. I am a United States Army Special Forces soldier, also known as a Green Beret. Ever since I put on the hat, I poured myself into this job in order to prepare for and participate in war. I wanted to kill people that deserve to be killed, save people that deserved to be saved (medically), and free people that deserve to be freed. And I did all of those things on my first deployment along with all kinds of combat and near-death experiences. I don’t think I’m cool; it’s more that I’m lucky to have been in a handful of fire fights and done things in order to live through them.  I assure you, there are much finer men than me who have been in much more combat and done much better things than I have.

While there were exciting times, there were others full of terrible loss. There are much finer men than me who have been in much more combat and done much better things than I have. I don’t think I’m cool; it’s more that I’m lucky to have been in a handful of fire fights and done things in order to live through them.

While there were exciting times on the first deployment, there were others full of terrible loss. We lost a US Army Infantry soldier and I lost a long-term relationship. Because of those hardships, I spent 2018 preparing for a second combat deployment and, just as importantly, bettering myself as a healthy individual.

About one month into the next deployment we were on a combat operation in a very mountainous area. My element conducted a short hault and I discussed how we would clear a set of compounds that were tactically in a disadvantageous area. The area I stood had been cleared by EOD personnel and had foot traffic around the area. I shifted my weight under my ruck, took a step, and was blown up. As my best friends and teammates treated me, I gave them medical instructions to help their care. My teammates were heroes that day. Despite the initiation of a “troops in contact”, I didn’t die in the dirt in a far away land. Instead, they put me on a helicopter and countless other fine individuals did and continue to do their jobs of caring for me.

I am a double below the knee (BTK) amputee. The fact that my right leg is a BTK is amazing and a testament to the fantastic surgeons at Walter Reed. My testicles were also blown off, so I require testosterone replacement therapy for the rest of my life and whether or not I can have children is an unknown. I work hard every day to improve and will continue doing so. There’s no definitive date because there are too many variables, but I’ll leave the hospital some time later this year.

Lastly, the next question I’m asked is whether or not you can do anything for me. Your support is invaluable and all I could ever ask for. There are currently more of us wounded and killed, my friends included. If you should feel inclined to donate money, the Special Forces Foundation is an amazing organization. All of the money goes to us “wounded warriors” and the Gold Star families (the wives and families of personnel killed in action). I know the gentleman who runs it personally, and he’s both honorable and kind.

As for me, I’m good. My big medical issues are progressing as planned. Physical training and rehab are a part of my daily future, but I also rest and taking care of myself via meditation and journaling. I’ll take some time to let this situation percolate, but I’ll be back. There’ll be more writing, podcasts, and other ways to facilitate teaching, learning, and sharing. I’m especially interested in stories of extreme human experience and the lessons learned from them. Strength and conditioning will always be here, but my scope of practice has grown. It’ll be just like old times, but I’ll dive into any topic that is interesting and helpful.

When I was MEDEVAC’d, I went to the Role II and received 68 units of blood. Which is a lot. Above all else, I’m grateful to be alive. I’m honored you still think of me and even more honored when you want to donate. You can do so through the Special Forces Foundation (SFF). There’s also a fundraiser being conducted on my behalf called Climbing for Casualties. My friend Matt Randle will conduct an asinine climb in Nepal and donations go to the SFF. Look for @climbingforcasualties on Instagram. Again, thank you for your interest and I look forward to getting my legs jacked, pressing over body weight, entertaining you, and learning along the way. Stronger every day.


Justin, Rip, and AC pose by the Bill Starr Memorial in WFAC around 2009.

Memorial Day 2018

We’re at the end of a long weekend where most people party, drink, and generally enjoy having Monday off. In the past, I routinely made the point that the way to memorialize service members who have died is to live as honorable a life as possible. But this year I’d like to add to that, because I’m not quite sure having parties is how everyone would celebrate the death of their own family members.

Regardless of your political view on war, the recent wars, or the military itself, this is a day to acknowledge both a sacrifice and the reason for it. Most of the time, when a young person swears to defend the Constitution of the United States of America via military service, they are doing so because they believe they are serving their country. Our “country” includes the people in it. A service member knowingly makes a decision that reduces their freedom in hopes that it benefits the country and the people who exist in it.

While it’s true a service member has chosen their path of their own volition, it doesn’t mean the sacrifices are not multiple and varied. They are told how to look, what to wear, and what to do. They are often sent on training trips away from their family, and the silly bastards in the combat arms are subjected to a litany of annoying discomfort, pain, and environmental duress. Other trips take them overseas, and at times those trips are in third world countries and war zones. And if it wasn’t enough being away from family, freedom, and the United States of America, people die. And if they don’t die, they are exposed to things physically and emotionally that will affect them throughout their lives: chemicals in the air, burn pits, horrible food, TBIs, sleeping on cots, and generally getting worn down from all of it while carrying 50 to 100 pounds of gear on a regular basis.

Children miss their parents, relationships end, and hearts break for one reason or another. And suicide rates remain high.

It’s not all shit and death, but it’s not waving flags and barbecue. Love or hate the military, my point is the people who do it believe they are doing it for you. For everyone. And themselves. And they would die for you to maintain the right to criticize it. And they do. And you don’t know their names. And that’s okay, because nobody wants a pat on the back.

So, if you use Memorial Day for drinks and parties, just take a moment to acknowledge the masochistic decision to serve the country we all enjoy. And then please get back to living honorably.

Memorial Day 2017

I typically use the same post every Memorial Day to remind American readers of their freedoms. Every year, families and friends gather to grill meat and wave flags, but getting a day off from work and drinking a beer doesn’t really do justice to those that have lost their lives in service of the United States of America.

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A flag from the WTC rubble in 2001.

I won’t spin tales of heroes, sacrifice, and death. I won’t ask you to thank anyone or give a donation. All I ask is that you live honorably. Most service members believe this country is worth enduring a lot of shitty situations. There’s an idea that despite our flaws, America is an amazing place to live full of righteous people who work hard, have personal responsibility, and always try to improve.

Do not let them down; live honorably. Convince the families of the fallen that their loss was worth it. Convince the service members who still toil that their effort is worth it. Take responsibility of your life and actions, respect others, and never, ever stop trying to succeed. Teach others how to do the same.

The only true memorial is to live this way, to live honorably. Everything else is an obligatory charade. This is not a day if celebration, but of remembrance. Lest we forget.

A Case for Athleticism

It’s fantastic how quickly the online strength and conditioning community grows. 70’s Big started in 2009, and I’ve been coaching since 2005, but the number of athletes has never been larger. Powerlifters, weightlifters, CrossFitters, and general trainees range from the kid that never exercised growing up to the professional athlete. All of us have something in common: improving performance. Despite our intentions, most of us leave out critical components of athleticism.

CrossFit bills itself as the everything program. Almost ten years ago we talked about it in terms of a General Physical Preparedness (GPP) program. GPP programs have their roots in Russian sport science with respect to periodization. In Supertraining, Mell Siff describes that GPP “is intended to provide balanced physical conditioning in endurance, strength, speed, flexibility, and other basic factors of fitness” (pg 315). GPP was either followed by or performed congruently with Specialized Physical Preparation (SPP). This type of phase was commonly used in younger athletes who had not specified in a particular sport, but it could also be used as an introduction phase after a long off-season. Siff even points out how a hypertrophy (or muscle building) phase can be included with GPP. Historically GPP was used as a phase instead of a training paradigm.

We see trends of using phases in a variety of sport or competitive based events. Smart CrossFit competitors know they can’t train hard all year, and usually when their competitive season is over they’ll reestablish a training base or work on deficiencies in their fitness. Then their training will filter back into preparing for competitive events. This is almost ironic given how we used to consider CrossFit as a GPP program, but a large portion of its annual calendar forces most competitors to shift to a SPP approach in order to adequately prepare for “the open”.

What about those who don’t have an annual training cycle? Or don’t care about CrossFit or specific national events in a sport? It’s almost a negative stigma to not specialize in a type of competition, because not specializing likely means not performing to the utmost ability. For example, a guy recently wrote me asking why I did or didn’t compete in various sports and what my opinion is. And I think he honestly wanted to be blessed off on not specializing in order to dabble in several sports throughout the year.

Within the online strength and conditioning community – which includes the social media concerning CrossFit, powerlifting, weightlifting, etc. – there are general trainees. They want to be strong and fit, but don’t specialize their training because they don’t want to or don’t care to. There’s also the “applied fitness” trainee – a term we used in FIT to describe military, law enforcement, and people with active jobs. Applied fitness trainees often train for a reason and can’t specialize in order to preserve performance for work. In other words, they can’t afford to specialize.

Regardless of their reason for not specializing, it behooves these populations to maintain a broad proficiency. Nearly all exercises in “the big three”, CrossFit, powerlifting, or weightlifting, are linear in nature. A snatch, box jump, or squat require the trainee to face one direction without deviation. Even movements where the trainee’s feet move, like a box jump, Olympic lift, or burpee, do so in one direction. All of these movements are fantastic for building the capacity to be athletic, but doing them does not make someone athletic.

An argument could be made that a muscle up or snatch is an athletic movement – because they aren’t easy – but they are skills that require practice. I don’t want to get into a “Athleticism vs Skill” argument; it doesn’t have a clear delineation. Instead, I want to focus on how training for the big three competitions excludes important elements of athleticism such as reaction, lateral and angular movement, and change of direction.

John Welbourn said in 2013, “Athleticism only really becomes glaring apparent when you force an athlete to move in space as it relates to another competitor, task or obstacle” (Link).  I don’t know if I agree that this is the only time it’s apparent, but I do agree moving in space and reacting to a competitor, task, or obstacle is inherent in athleticism. Reaction is important and differs from an exercise because the conditions are in flux. During a squat or snatch, gravity is the only deterrent, but team sports with an opponent requires a player to react to an opponent or their actions. Moving in space and navigating obstacles is part of the definition of “mobility” we used in FIT. Movement in sport or reality is not simply linear and could be in any direction, often requiring an individual to change their direction. This might be like a juke, or it could be flowing into a room properly to shoot bad guys.

Ultimately, these are components of athleticism that aren’t included in training programs. If a trainee wants to remain or become athletic, these components need to be a part of the program because simply doing CrossFit, weightlifting, or powerlifting isn’t enough.

As with all training variables, new drills or exercises should be very basic. Add in ladder drills, particularly things like the Icky shuffle and two feet in each hole while moving laterally. Use cone drills, like the 5-10-5-meter shuffle, lateral shuffles, the L drill, or the M drill. Things like the M drill allow the trainee to open their hips and move at a 45-degree angle forwards and backwards, which is often neglected in favor of lateral work. A reactionary component could be accomplished with a square of cones, the athlete in the center, and another person calling the number of a cone. The athlete quickly moves to touch the cone and moves back to the center. This could be done for consecutive reps for time, which will satisfy the competitive nature of CrossFit training partners. Another classic reaction drill is the “mirror drill” from basketball or soccer where one athlete mirrors the movement of another. The athlete being mirrored tries to fake out or lose the other.

Drills like the ones above can be implemented as conditioning or before lifting after a general warm-up. Unathletic people can improve their athletic capacity, athletic people can maintain or improve theirs, and, most importantly, all parties involved will improve their soft tissue to prevent injury. For example, if the lifter or CrossFitter plays flag football in which they catch a pass and turn up field to sprint, and they haven’t done any short sprinting and movement drills, it wouldn’t be surprising to tear a hammy. In fact, this dumb ass author did such a thing in 2012. And in 2010 he rolled his ankle at the first CrossFit Football seminar after months of solely lifting. Getting hurt doing something simple definitely makes one feel unathletic.

Most trainees choose to specify their training into a particular sport or competition, but the truth is only a small percentage of dominant competitors need to do so to continue to win. Furthermore, for the applied fitness or sport athlete, they need to focus on building or maintaining athleticism for both the sake of performance and preventing injury. Spending a phase in the training year on performance and/or including drills on a regular basis to maintain or improve athleticism will truly make a trainee capable over broad modal domains. Simply add agility and reaction drills as conditioning or as part of a warm-up, and you can be more than just fit or strong; you can be athletic.