I bought SS about 5 years ago, and like many others have been heavily influenced by it. Thanks!
Over the past several years I've struggled to integrate BB training into my overall training program. As a tactical athlete my goals are closer to "the sport of fitness" than those of a powerlifter. However, like many (many) others I see the limitations of CF-style training. The question is how to integrate strength and stamina training to produce functional work capacity in a smart way, that uses the principles outlined in, for example, Practical Programming?
What I've fallen into is cycling between 3-4 months of almost pure strength focus, followed by 4-6 months of CF type work during which time I see my strength steadily decline. When I get disgusted enough I return to a progressive BB focus. My work capacity steadily declines and I then return...you get the idea.
I see the value in progressive approaches to both strength and stamina. Any thoughts on what might be the most efficient way to combine them? It's pretty easy to maintain a base level of stamina while focusing on strength (I just need to be more disciplined about it). But I'm less clear on how I might keep strength gains from dropping off while engaged in a progressive stamina program. What does it take to maintain (or at least arrest the decline) while focusing on sprinting, jumping, sandbags, climbing, etc?
The problem with "tactical fitness" and other types of conditioning based programs like P90X and CrossFit is the basic lack of understanding of the difference in the nature of the adaptations to strength training and conditioning. Strength training improves conditioning by increasing work capacity, but endurance training does not improve strength. To put this is more concrete terms, at some point doing "Fran" no longer improves your "Fran" time, as you have noticed.
The amount of work you can do in a given amount of time is quite thoroughly dependent on your ability to produce force. A big strong out-of-shape guy can carry more bricks in a 4-hour period than his little skinny runner buddy. Sorry, but we all know this is true. My military contacts tell me that, without exception, the strongest guy in the outfit is the most useful in a jam, even if he's a little fat and has a 12-minute mile. So let's start off by recognizing the fact that work capacity is much more dependent on strength than conditioning.
Strength training produces an increased force production adaptation, the nature of which is "architectural" -- it requires, and thus causes, the construction of new tissue within the muscles, without which increased force production is ultimately not possible. When your squat goes up, the weight on the bar has increased, and your having added weight to the bar sets in motion a series of events that cause the muscles to grow. This process takes a while, but can go on for many years. This is why lifters who take a 5-year layoff are still stronger than runners who have never lifted, and still stronger then they would have been had they never trained. The process of growing new tissue causes permanent changes in the muscles and the neuromuscular system, and even the more transient effects of strength training, like some of the weight gain, are very easily recovered in a short period of time because of the permanent architectural changes that have taken place over the longer time frame of the process of going from novice to intermediate/advanced.
On the other hand, the adaptations involved in conditioning are actually short-term alterations, because they depend on changes in systems already in place -- alterations in enzyme production, membrane function, O2 and substrate transport and utilization, and stuff produced by the cells that does not involve laying down a new mass of contractile protein. These adaptations happen quickly, and go away just as quickly, as you must have also noticed, because they involve far less metabolic effort by the cells. This is why after your strength training layoff your return to CF-type activity -- your "work capacity" -- is much more rapid than the long process by which your strength was built, why your strength decline happens slowly and reverses immediately, but takes longer to return to where you stopped, and why even after the layoff, you're not as weak as you were before you started training.
But your months spent in the intensely catabolic environment created by high-intensity glycolytic work coupled with high volume and low intensity (as a % of 1RM) also decimates your strength training progress by producing high levels of systemic inflammation. Chronic inflammation is the cause of overtraining, and the mechanism involves overproduction of cortisol in an attempt to reverse the inflammatory processes that you keep ramping up every time you do 100 anythings for time. This catabolic effect on your strength is why you're not squatting/pressing/deadlifting really big weights, and why the whole process seems like two-steps-forward-two-steps-back, with no real long-term progress in either strength or conditioning. You cannot adapt to chronic inflammation, and it can kill you by affecting organs other than your muscles, in addition to keeping your squat below 315. A lot of people have noticed this, you included, so this question comes up at every seminar in the Q&A.
My recommendation is that you rethink the process. If you like doing random high-intensity work with shitty technique on the clock, continue to enjoy yourself. But the process of becoming "conditioned", i.e. being able to work at at high HR/Respiration Rate, actually takes about 3 weeks, so you're never more than 3 weeks away from being conditioned. So you can plan accordingly, and there is absolutely no reason to devote 4 months to what amounts to the catabolic destruction of your strength progress. If you are really and truly employed in a profession that demands a broad spectrum of physical adaptation, I'd recommend that you step back from the dogma and analyze your experience in that job: what physical parameter has contributed the most benefit to your ability in the field? If it is your ability to run 5 miles, you'd be in a rarefied profession. If it is your ability to move quickly and move heavy shit RIGHT NOW, I'd say that strength and power (its derivative) is the adaptation of most benefit to you, with conditioning being nice to have but not as crucial as the strength necessary to move you and the heavy shit.
So in the latter case, I'd have you on a strength program 3 days/week and pushing the prowler once/week. You stay in shape, you stay strong, and you're not sore and inflamed all the time. Systemic inflammation is the process that tears down your strength training progress during your CF 'season". The prowler produces no soreness, it preserves your strength progress, and it is a frighteningly effective tool for conditioning. If a need for heightened conditioning comes up on the schedule, change your program a couple of weeks out, but the prowler work will keep you in good enough shape to handle any real-world situation you may encounter in the field that does not involve high-rep snatches done incorrectly for 3 minutes.
I have many times put 10-20 pounds on a military athlete, increased their strength significantly AND reduced or kept their two mike run time. As Rip stated, you cannot get away from the fact that everything benefits from the ability to produce more force. Even running a two mile PT test. SS is it and when the time is right the prowler is your friend. Play with the prowler work to include short fast intervals sprinkled with rope climbs, bear crawls, a heavy bag and things like farmers carry and sledge strikes. It doesn't get any more simple or effective.
If you don't have a prowler I would recommend the rower, it doesn't make you sore and doesn't seem to interfere with strength training depending on how you use it. Just go for 20 minutes a couple of times a week at a moderate to easy pace, over time this is more effective than trashing yourself doing stuff like 500m repeats which is going to burn you out and interfere with strength.
Wow... I'm going to share this with my brother-in-law who recently signed up for cross fit. Hopefully he'll understand that doing 8 sets of 80% of his bodyweight in deadlifts time every minute or so is not the best way to get anywhere.
Thank you, sir...wise words. I've actually never done Fran, and about the only thing I can think of I've ever done 100 of is pushups and jump rope, but I get the idea. (I made a tactical mistake when I used the phrase "CF type work".) I like sandbag and kettlebell work, and heavy rucking especially on a long steep grade. I'll take your advice, spend some time pushing a prowler, and enlist a few fellow lab rats to see how it goes.
When I first had the girls soccer team in my wtroom to workout the first question I asked them was if they could beat our boys soccer team if we went out and played right now (both teams are pretty good and make the playoffs).
The girls repsonse "no"
I said "why, I bet your soccer skills are the same and I bet your conditioning on the field is about the same", they agreed to this...
Their repsonse "they are bigger and stronger than us".....
Even my soccer girls who had spent very little time in the wtroom unitl I got here knew faster stronger athletes were better than weaker slower athletes.....
The other aspect to think about is durability. You are much more durable at 6' 240 pounds when things go bad and objects begin moving very quickly. Depending on what you do in the military a training program more similar to a linebacker makes much more sense. Bigger and stronger is more durable.