Clearly I don't read as much as I should hence there not being a perfect category on my site for this review; none the less I wanted to share one of my self improvement experiences. If I remember correctly Paul read my SWAT Basic article (likely got a good laugh) and was generous enough to offer to get his latest book out my way to help get in better shape. Paul Roarke, aka Master Gunz, is a former U.S. Marine Master Gunnery Sergeant and currently works as physical / leadership trainer which after reading Corps Strength brings a lot of insight on how he came up with the system and is great to see he continues to practice what he preaches. (Expanded Bio) Being 50 and still being able to smoke youngsters at PT says a lot to me about the results of his fitness concepts and proves long term sustainability.
From page one, the book is generally easy to read being straight forward with no fluff nonsense. To further captivate, Paul describes many life experiences and lessons that not only relate well to parts of the fitness concept, yet also some can be down right hilarious. At no point did I feel what I was reading was overly complicated or full of some hippie spiritual crap. Driven early on, this book is for those who serve, where their jobs require a certain level of fitness to do correctly. Whether you are a high speed operator, or a fireman, you need to be in working shape otherwise lives are at stake. With this concept comes the term "working fitness". Although being fit is great for sports and many other things in general, the main idea is to enable service folks to be able to effectively do all tasks that may come their way. There is not so much concern on winning fitness contests or looking hot, it all business.
The actual workouts come off to me as an interesting mix of Military PT and Crossfit. Most exercises are body weight based so you don't need to get any crazy gear or be a gym prisoner. There is of course nothing wrong with rocking out at a gym, but for busy folks it is nice to not be required. Gear wise I did splurge for a doorway pull-up bar and a kettle bell which are of minimal cost. The beef of the system is called SAT (Stand Alone Training), having its name derived from being technically all you need for a fairly high level of fitness, gotta have cool military abbreviations right? The SAT consists of:
-Warm Up: Mostly stretching to get the body ready for what is to come, prevent injury
-Pre-Fatigue: Get the body rev'd up, in real life you have to make it to the scene before you start doing the hard stuff
-Mission: The actual tasks of the job represented by many exercises strung together
-Cool Down: Mostly stretching again, however very important to keep flexibility and to prevent injury
Starting with this foundation, there actually is a lot of flexibility on the Pre-Fatigue and Mission phases. A solid batch of exercises and mission plans are given, however can be further customized by being broken down into area groups such as upper body, lower body, abs, and neck. Once the system is understood, the given exercises, or even your own, can be swapped in and out to create new "missions" to keep things fresh or to work on body areas needing improvement. Forgive me on being somewhat vague as I don't want to spoil the core of the system. To complete the sustainability of fitness, Support and Active Rest phases are included into weekly workout schedules creating a balance of getting in some form of exercise while still allowing time for the body to rest. Although not as in-depth, Paul does take the time to go over diet and healthy eating recommendations. Most folks already know how to eat healthy, just it takes having someone else tell them for a little motivation. Tips on what to eat, when to eat, and what to avoid are all offered to help reach a working fitness body. I was pleasantly surprised to see fancy ass supplements were not recommended. The concentration is still on being able to do your job and not necessarily weight loss. Do the workouts and eat like an adult and your body will adjust accordingly.
Now when it comes to actually putting this book to work I'll say it is not for the weak. Those totally out of shape with desk jobs probably should look somewhere else. I'm by no means a fitness hero, but I'm no sloth either. I started off with the level 1 30min workout and was extremely close to blowing chunks, noting the full SAT workout is 1 hour. This was solid swift kick in the pants reminder of what it takes to be an effective service person. When you envy the dead at the end of a workout it can be a bit of a deterrent to do it again later, thus can require some serious will power to stay in it. I'm not the quitting type so after some more workout days I was at least able to get to the point where it was still a hard ass workout, but I didn't feel terrible at the end. The Cool Down phase was finally feeling more like the name rather than being perceived as extra punishment after the mission phase. I had a minor setback where I did too many sit-ups, did them incorrectly, or both which somehow messed up my inner ear. I was pretty worried for about 3 days, but fortunately did heal up fine. I note this to remind you it is better to slowly ramp up than to wreck yourself and have a bunch of downtime. Since I still struggled, I became concerned how I was going to ramp up to Level 2 or 3. My advice is just ramp up where you can or do the big show over longer time. Examples of my progress ramping would be doing 15 minutes of running where I started out with 10, adding a few extra exercise reps here and there, or doing extra reps much later in the day after finishing the standard workout goal. Even if it takes you 3 hours to do a 1 hour SAT, that is some serious progress and a step in the right direction. There is some room for variation, but it always comes back to sticking with it. Life happens: love is always seductive, work will keep you busy, friends will distract you, when you start to slip just be sure and get back in there and don't give up. Once you reach the recommended 1 hour of exercise every other day, you are in some no messing around shape. Those with less demands can do a little less, while the hardcore muthas can push themselves by doing the actions of the mission phase quicker (less breaks) or more reps in the hour. Keeping things under 1 hour is part of the Corps Strength strategy of minimizing injury risk and time effectiveness. Sure you can go over an hour, but your returns would be highly diminished and working folks don't have a bunch of time to blow.
For the book itself, the layout is simple and basic going full black and white on the inside. The fonts are pretty big to make reading easy and although most the pictures aren't huge, I was always able to tell what was going on. The main sample missions chart is a little confusing at first, but was explained in text on the connecting page. Telling the breakdown in order clarified a lot, otherwise there is a bit of room for interpretation. After completing the whole book and getting ready to actually give it a go, I found myself wanting to make guide sheets. The warm-up and cool-down guide spans over several pages and it is a bit inconvenient to have to flip pages and secure the book open when starting out learning them. Due to some abbreviations the book can also have you flipping back and forth from the mission chart and appendix. Fortunately it isn't piles of data so in 30min or so you can make your own helper sheet by hand or computer, but it would save some effort to have such a thing already in the book. I also get pretty stupid while working out hard so on my helper sheet I'd list all mission steps fully to keep any confusion to a minimum. Once you get the hang of things all the note stuff is much less important, however I felt it was worth mentioning for starting effort.
I still have to keep up the fight, but so far I find Corps Strength very motivating and a great fitness program. It will push you more than typical military PT and take a lot less time while having the flexibility to apply more towards you occupation than Crossfit tends to do. The whole program takes a KISS approach keeping everything as simple as possible without sacrificing results. I wouldn't say it is for everyone, but not everyone is tough enough stuff to be a service person either. That said, the system is still scalable to allow entry of those with a true desire to be working fit while allowing the fitness level to be sustained well into their later years. As a big plus the book is extremely affordable and Paul welcomes email inquiries. If you have a question on the book he will email you back himself, now that is service. If it wasn't obvious yet, I highly recommend Corps Strength as an effective and practical fitness system breaking the mold of ever so common workout fads. For those curious or already owners, I have even included my warm-up and cool-down cheat sheet.