Train Like America’s Fittest Army Soldier

Train like the Army's fittest soldier
Work out like the Army's fittest soldier. Spartan Race

Captain Robert Killian’s recent win at the Best Ranger Competition isn’t his most surprising fitness victory. In 2015 he won the Spartan World Championship (only his second Spartan event) as a relative unknown in the sport of obstacle racing. But Best Ranger may be his most hard-fought title. This weekend-long, two-man team competition for active military is a grueling, 60-hour test of endurance, strength, technical skills, and mental fortitude that makes the Spartan’s 13-mile Beast look more like a kitten.

For such an extreme athlete, Killian’s approach to working out is pretty straightforward and even applicable for guys with fitness goals that don’t include 11 straight hours of land navigation on zero sleep. Below are the training tips that keep Killian in “ready for anything” shape, plus one of his 10-minute, military-inspired workouts you can do from home or at work when a trip to the gym just isn’t happening.

Focus on Function, Not Vanity

Killian works out to maintain endurance and build functional strength that will help him move more efficiently in the field — getting big isn’t the goal. Five days a week he alternates between ruck running (hiking or jogging up to 16 miles with a 40- to 60-pound backpack) and old-school circuit training. Grip strength is a priority, so most circuits include a 50-meter farmer’s carry using 45-pound dumbbells (grab the weights, hold them at your sides with your shoulders down and back, and walk). Other key movements include bodyweight exercises like pull-ups and push-ups.

Aim for Quality Over Quantity

Ask Killian what gives him his edge, and he’ll point to consistency and a focus on good training versus blasting your body in a workout. “A lot of people will run eight miles and then take a day off when they probably could have benefitted more from running four miles two days in a row,” says Killian. Like cramming for an exam, doubling up on half-assed workouts won’t lead to long-term results.

Dig In to Your Muscles

Killian works with a physical therapist every Friday, but he utilizes self-myofascial release techniques throughout the week to maintain flexibility and a full range of motion. Positioning a lacrosse ball against a wall, he’ll use his bodyweight to dig in and loosen muscles that have a tendency to seize up, specifically the hip flexors.

Prioritize Recovery

Swimming and cycling are two of Killian’s preferred active-recovery options. Both are intense enough to get the blood pumping, but their relatively low level of impact helps offset the pounding that comes with ruck running and weightlifting. And at least one of Killian’s weekend days is dedicated to pure rest. He may be walking around and engaging in everyday activities, but there’s no programmed exercise on his schedule.

Try Peer Pressure

A strong partnership is paramount in the Best Ranger Competition, and the power of teamwork bleeds into Killian’s regular fitness routine too. “I think it’s important to have a training partner, someone you can count on. A lot of people will go to the gym if they know someone is relying on them,” Killian says. “Not only that, you’re going to push each other a little harder than maybe you would if you were just by yourself.” Bottom line: A partner will hold you accountable, and the friendly competition will keep you from slacking.

Listen to Your Body

For all his discipline and intensity, Killian puts little stock in strict regimens or fitness “prescriptions.” He’s worked with coaches in the past, but ultimately rejects the idea of one-size-fits-all formulas, preferring to use a more intuitive approach. He has no problem cancelling a workout or adjusting his training schedule based on what he thinks his body needs. “A lot of my recovery days aren’t even planned,” he explains. “I really base a lot of my training on how I feel.”

Killian’s 10-Minute Bodyweight Workout

This three-move circuit hits everything — your core, back, glutes, arms, chest and legs — and requires no equipment. Add it to the end of a workout when you want to finish with a burner, or use it as a stand-alone routine when you’re stuck in a hotel or trapped at work.

What to do: For 10 minutes, complete as many rounds as possible of the following three movements. Rest as little as possible.

  • 10 push-ups
  • 10 sit-ups
  • 5 air squats

Want to increase the intensity? Killian recommends wearing a weighted vest or squatting with a sandbag.