We get a lot of questions in relating to passing the Selection courses for our Special Operations Forces. Most of them center around the physical aspects of the training and probably 90 percent involve either carrying a rucksack or land navigation, while also carrying a rucksack. That’s why we have put together so many columns on how to properly prepare for each.
We put out a daily physical training workout that should help our readers who are aspiring Special Operations candidates get properly prepared to attend the course. Today’s PT column had, as the end of it a 5-mile rucksack march. Since this month has been deemed “National Preparedness Month” by President Trump, let’s get you prepared to stop what affects many a Special Operations candidate during Selection…those god awful shin splints.
I know what you’re thinking. “That’s not what the President meant for National Preparedness!” And before you call the guys to cart me away for having CTE, let me say this…This is exactly what #45 meant.
If you aspire to be a member of the Regiment, then you better be prepared long before you arrive. You can’t just flip the switch when you arrive for Selection. That’s a quick ticket to getting sent home early. And when it comes to rucksack marching one of the most common problems, is candidates getting shin splints, which if unchecked leads to blisters and a myriad of problems after that.
So, what is a shin splint exactly? While I’m no doctor, (or SF Medic), shin splints are when you get pain just below the knee down the front of your shin and it feels like your calves are trying to bust thru the shin bone. For anyone who has ever got them, they can be very painful, especially the morning after a long road march. Which is why preach always stretching, before and after a long ruck and proper hydration which if you aren’t doing it, tends to make the cramping all over your body worse.
A simple stretch that can be done if your calves and shins tighten up during a march is to stretch your calves out by kneeling on the ground with your feet, legs, and heels together and lean as far back as possible. I saw a couple of guys do this at Selection, and having never seen it before, questioned them as it looked crazy. They swore by it and later, on my own, I tried it….and it worked. Learn something new every day.
But how do we prevent getting them in the first place? Ah….that is the $64,000 question. Well, the chances are it isn’t a shin or a calf issue but one with your hips. Having watched thousands of kids go through Selection one of the first things you begin to notice as the course goes on are the guys who begin walking with the pronounced limp, the “Selection Shuffle” as we’d call it. By the second week of the course, many of the candidates had it, as if they were all auditioning for the Walter Brennan role on the Real McCoys. Don’t remember that one? Google it, and watch old Walter shuffle along. And then tell me that Selection candidates don’t look like that.
Invariably, the candidates shuffling along would begin complaining about shin splints. And you’d see them trying to stretch those calves out every night and each morning before we’d go off on another lovely trip in the pine forests and swamps of lovely Camp Mackall.
Later, after I left the schoolhouse, and back in the Regiment, I was imbibing in a few libations with some friends one night in Fayetteville and a good friend of mine was a PA (Physician’s Asst) over at JSOC. We spoke about the Selection course and the issues the candidates had with shin splints after rucking for a while. And ole George, deadpanned asked, “Were they walking like a duck?” Yes indeed, which is when he explained that it wasn’t a calf issue but a hip flexor issue with either tightness or weakness…or a combination of both.
And the cure for that is to stretch those hips out, use a foam roller or a lacrosse ball. I recently went thru physical therapy for some arthritic knees due to military service and the same thing applied. My therapist said, due to the gait I was using to compensate for knee pain, my hips were tight. We used the foam rollers and a lacrosse ball and the results were unbelievable.
For the second half of the equation, weakness in the hips, this is why we push the squats and sled push in our physical training programs. I used to hate Leg Day at the gym, (okay maybe I still do) but now it is the time we know we can’t ignore. And if you’re going to be in Special Operations, your legs are your vehicle that will get you around. They have to be strong and support your upper body by carrying all that weight. I follow and read everything that the guys at @SquatUniversity on Twitter have to say.
A final problem with shin splints is the act of rucking itself. Many…too many candidates ruck and pound their heels into the ground. That puts tremendous strain on your joints and will cause shin splints among other things. When you land on your heels, my PA told me that it is essentially 3-4 times your body weight landing on your feet.
When lifting your foot off the ground, it should be relaxed and when landing, you shouldn’t be landing on your heel but in the middle around the ball of your foot. Easier said than done right? But practice…practice and then practice some more. Your shins will thank you in the long run.
So our small contribution to National Preparedness Month is to save your shins, it will help with your rucking and make it a much easier experience. Have you checked the white board….”15 minutes, rucksack with 45 pounds minimum, not including food or water. On the street in uniform. Let’s roll.”
Photo courtesy: US Army