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Joel Lambert doesn’t train for aesthetics. “I spent 10 years in naval special operations, inserting into foreign countries and breaching their security,” says Lambert. “I focused on survival, evasion, counter-tracking – a very specific art that deals with setting booby traps – while that country’s special operations force, fugitive recovery team or tracking team was hunting me with all of its assets.”
All of these skills make him the perfect candidate for Discovery Channel’s newest survival show, ManHunt. He has 48 hours to get to the predetermined extraction point and only has his acquired skills and physical conditioning to call on. With no squat rack in sight, fitness doesn’t get any more functional than this.
Lambert credits his talents to hard work and preparation. “My definition of fitness is: there is always going to be a weak link in whatever chain it is and my body cannot be the weak link,” he says. “The body is a means to an end,” Lambert continues. “The people in the gym, where their fitness is suited for the gym and begins at the gym door and ends at the gym door, that’s not me at all. It’s just a tool and people seem to get a little too caught up in the gym for its own sake.”
As a former SEAL and Basic Underwater Demolitions (BUDs) instructor – the selection process for sailors who want to become SEALs – and CrossFit coach, Lambert’s fitness ideals are strongly rooted in functional fitness. “Its all body-weight based, for the most part. Short, explosive sessions. If there are weights, it’s heavy rucksacks, sandbags and weapons – very functional.”
“In 2003 I got turned on to CrossFit,” he continues. “At its core it’s the perfect training programme for people like me and shows like this because it’s training for the unknown and the unknowable, it’s always different stuff, and it’s about moving my body explosively and powerfully. It’s become how I train now, along with a lot of Olympic lifting.”
The stakes may be different for someone whose income depends on being able to move their body, but Lambert has a prescription for all athletes: “The more power you build in your body, the more control you have over your environment.”
Three moves to add to your workout, according to Joel Lambert:
1. Heavy squats/DeadLifts
Activate the posterior chain and stimulate a neuroendocrine response to fire up your nervous system and balance your muscle function – focus on exploding from the hips on the lift.
Do 40-metre short sprints as fast as you can every minute, on the minute, until you can’t breathe. Then rest, catch your breath and repeat.
According to Lambert, they’re pretty much the ultimate cardio workout. Do them between sets of other exercises, as many as you can in a certain time or a set number. For an elite challenge, research the Navy SEAL version called the Eight-Count Body Builder.
The secrets of special forces conditioning, as explained by a serviceman:
1. Always Set a Goal
To get and keep fit, retired SEAL Lieutenant Commander Rorke Denver says, “Having something to train for is the secret. I don’t like working out just to work out.” He suggests that marking your calendar for, say, a road race, a competitive bike-run or even a mud race a few months down the road rapidly hones an athlete’s attention to detail. “That makes training purposeful,” he says. “The fact of the matter is, [working out] is pretty easy if the only thing you’re trying to do is look good in a pair of jeans – and there are worse reasons to be fit.” But if that’s the only reason, he says, there will be times where you won’t push as hard in the gym.
2. Now Reach Further
When you do set that specific goal, “pick something that makes you stretch a little bit,” says Denver. He’s noticed that even the most dedicated athlete has a tendency to become complacent. His suggestion: break out of your too-comfortable routine. “If you’ve been running your whole life, for instance, and you put a five kilometre race down as your goal, you haven’t really pushed yourself that hard yet. But how about training for a run-swim?”
3. Never Know Your Limits
Face it: you’re not as young as you used to be – but don’t let your age be a workout-killer. “I know I need more rest than I needed when I was 19,” says Denver. “I know I can’t out-workout my diet at this point; I can’t out-train a bunch of pizza and ice cream. So I need to adjust my workouts so that they don’t feel exactly the same as that 25-year-old person who was running through Basic SEAL Training. It would hurt a lot more, but it doesn’t mean I wouldn’t try. You just have to keep pushing until your system absolutely, positively won’t support you. Too many people give up too soon.”
4. Find Better Competition
This one should be a no-brainer. Everyone knows you push yourself harder when you’re competing with another person, particularly one who will gratify – or stomp on – your ego. It’s why you always want to “play up” in every sport. Yet, as Denver notices, “Lots of people forget, I guess, and you see them alone in the gym or on the track just basically competing against themselves and not improving. I generally involve myself in (physical) things that are on some level experienced with others.” In Denver’s case that would be his brother, a firefighter whom he calls “a real animal”.