Defense Media Network

CrossFit Training for Combat Fitness

We’ve all seen the black-and-white, 8mm films of infantrymen performing various forms of calisthenics in formation. We’ve all heard tales about mandatory physical fitness tests and their requisite long-distance runs. And at one time or another, we’ve all considered push-up prowess to be one of the most telling factors of a soldier’s combat readiness. There’s only one problem – almost none of these things translate into what is required of our military in the field. Perhaps that is why CrossFit, a highly challenging fitness system built on functional, real-world movements and total exercise performance, has become so popular among our fighting men and women.

“CrossFit is gaining ground in the military because it allows you to do the things in training that you do in the field,” says Andy Petranek, a former combat engineer in the Marines and owner of CrossFit L.A. ( “In the field, you pick stuff up, you put stuff down, you carry stuff long distances. That is a great deal of what we do in CrossFit.”


What Is CrossFit?

CrossFit isn’t just about beefing up beach muscles. Instead, it focuses on ten separate domains of fitness:

  1. cardiovascular/cardiorespiratory endurance
  2. stamina
  3. strength
  4. flexibility
  5. power
  6. speed
  7. agility
  8. balance
  9. coordination
  10. accuracy

While some point to its lack of specificity as a glaring programming weakness, Petranek concedes that CrossFitters pride themselves on being fitness generalists – athletes that can run, jump, lift, push and pull competitively with anyone you stack them up against.

Petranek, a veteran of Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm who left the Corps as a captain, now spends his days whipping hundreds of civilians into shape at his gym in Santa Monica, Calif.

CrossFit requires participants to perform a variety of taxing, multi-joint exercises such as pull-ups, deadlifts, sprints or kettlebell swings in succession, either for time or a total number of rounds, or both.

It’s a far cry from your usual franchise gym fare, where dumbbell curls and leg extensions – isolation exercises designed to target smaller quantities of muscle at one time – rule. You won’t find any such detail work in CrossFit gyms, nor will you see workouts drag on for 90 minutes.


The CrossFit Seduction

CrossFit workouts test participants’ physical and mental mettle, requiring them to do more work in less time each day. This, Petranek says, is a great part of the allure for the alpha types that enlist in today’s military.

CrossFit pull-ups during the CrossFit Leatherneck 2011 Fitness Throwdown

U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Mark D. Reconsal, a heavy equipment operator assigned to Marine Wing Support Squadron 373, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, completes a chest-to-bar pull-up on Day One of CrossFit Leatherneck 2011 Fitness Throwdown at Camp Leatherneck, Helmand province, Afghanistan, Feb. 5, 2011. Fifty-nine coalition personnel took part in the event, which featured four sets of events over two days. U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Jeremy Ross

“It’s about the competitive aspect and the challenge,” he says. “Can I do this? I don’t know how many things I took on as a Marine or after where I just wanted to see how far I can push myself. In the military, all those guys want to win. If it was a group run, it always turned into a race in the last 800 meters. There was no such thing as a fun run.”

Another perk for CrossFitters is that the entire workout schedule is randomized. Those who attend CrossFit gyms or follow workouts at the home site ( rarely perform the same workout twice within a 3-4 month period. Never knowing what they will encounter in the gym, Petranek says, is also something that combat troops can relate to.

“CrossFit randomizes tasks,” he says. “You never know what you’re going to encounter. You always have to be on your toes in the military. You have to be able to perform everyday. In CrossFit, we ask you to make every day like it’s a performance every day.”

The focus on performance means that a workout could take you 12 minutes, or it could take you 30. It all depends on your own personal level of fitness and how far you are willing to push to get the job done. Doing CrossFit on a regular basis may not get you a Mr. Olympia-size set of pecs, but it will certainly put you at a tactical advantage over a lesser-trained enemy, Petranek says.


CrossFit Boot Camp

New to CrossFit? Petranek recommends this fast-and-furious starter course to get a taste of the work ahead:

  • 5 pull-ups
  • 10 push-ups
  • 10 sit-ups
  • 15 squats

Perform these exercises in succession, without rest. In 12 minutes, perform as many rounds as possible of the entire routine. If you can’t complete five pull-ups with good form, do jumping pull-ups, where you “jump” into each rep, thereby shortening the total length of pull required.

  • EXCELLENT: 12 rounds
  • GOOD: 10-11 rounds
  • FAIR: 7-8 rounds
  • POOR: 7 or less

For more CrossFit workouts, visit