If you take a look online at the workouts promoted by various experts, you’ll find that the most common fitness goals are either to shed pounds or to build muscle. Either way, the point is to look “good”.
However, some other workout regimens are for specific sports meant to improve athletic performance.
Then there are the military workouts, designed to help battlefield warriors and law enforcement officers survive and fulfill their missions.
This is perhaps the most serious of them all when it comes to fitness goals. As a soldier or a police officer, you’re tasked to keep yourself and your teammates safe, get rid of the bad guys, and save innocent civilians along the way.
There’s no room for error, and so there’s really no point to merely exercising just to look good on the beach. Instead, the standard military workout routine is all about making you stronger, faster, more agile, and less prone to fatigue and injury.
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Of course, the various branches of the military have their own institutional traditions and principles when it comes to their training methods. But the differences are minor compared to the similarities, and so the Marine workout plan resembles the US Army workout regimen quite a bit.
Do you think you can survive a military workout program? If you have the balls to think so, then perhaps you need to be introduced to “Operator Ugly”.
This is the legendary workout test that will let you know if you have what it takes to even think about comparing your fitness with soldiers and SWAT team members.
What’s Operator Ugly?
Operator Ugly is a test to determine your level of military athleticism and physical preparedness for combat. It was developed by Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist Rob Shaul.
This guy is the founder of Military Athlete based in Wyoming, and this company concentrates on developing fitness programs for both military and law enforcement athletes.
One of the tests Shaul came up with is the vaunted Operational Ugly, and it’s a real thing of beauty in terms of measuring both your athletic prowess and mental fortitude.
This test requires 90 minutes of arduous effort, with a punishing series of exercises that test capabilities that are crucial for members of elite Special Forces units.
This test is also used to weed out applicants for local SWAT units as well as special federal law enforcement groups like the Hostage Rescue Team of the FBI and U.S. Border Patrol Tactical Unit, or BORTAC.
There’s really no way to cheat on this Operator Ugly test. The general rule is that you just have to be bigger and stronger if you want to do well.
Still, the scores are based on bodyweight, so average-sized warriors can compete against their own weight class while the heavyweights compete against one another.
There are weights for men as well as for women, so all genders can take this test.
In addition, the program mostly measures the capabilities of your legs (speed), core (strength), and lungs (endurance).
It’s extremely comprehensive in the factors that it measures.
It factors in your strength, sprinting ability, capacity for work, endurance, and even your mental fitness.
It’s decidedly a very serious test for people who are very serious about functional battlefield fitness.
So how do you think will you fare against real warriors?
Put your pride where your mouth is, and man up to see. So what if you’re not military or law enforcement?
So what if you don’t trudge along desert terrain looking for terrorists, or you don’t deal with bank robbers in a hostage negotiation?
Find out for yourself just how well you measure up with elite operators anyway!
Preparing for the Test
You ought to warm-up, just as you would for any other type of workout program. For this, you’re encouraged to do the following routine:
- 10 goblet squats with a 12-kg kettlebell
- 8 pushups
- 10 sit-ups
Do 4 rounds of this set, and then you’re ready to go.
Stage 1: Bench Press
Before you do this, test developer Ron Shaul recommends that if you’re a man you should warm up first with a set of 10 reps at 135 pounds of weight.
Then you should follow that up with another set of 5 reps at 165 pounds. For women, the weight is 45 pounds for the first set and then 65 pounds for the second.
If you’re a man, this portion tests how many bench press reps you can do at 185 pounds. For women, the weight is 95 pounds.
It is true than in the NFL Combine, the bench press test uses 225-pound weights for reps. But here the emphasis is on relative strength rather than on brute strength.
Military athletes are tested at 185 pounds for a more accurate appraisal of their true athletic prowess. It’s also much safer for you.
For a bench press to count, the barbell must touch your chest for each rep. You have to finish with your elbows locked out.
Your feet must keep to the floor, while your bottom never loses contact with the bench. That means you can’t arch too much. You can rest, but that’s only done when you have the barbell at full extension.
Note your total number of bench press reps, and then move on to the next stage.
Read my other article about tricep exercises where bench press is described as one of the effective workouts.
Stage 2: Front Squat
If you’re a guy, your warm-up process will be similar to what you did for the first stage. You should do 10 reps at 135 pounds, then another 5 reps at 165 pounds. For the ladies, it’s 65 pounds first and then 85 pounds.
When it’s for real, men need to do 185 pounds while women deal with 115 pounds.
A rep requires that you lower the barbell until it is parallel to or below your thighs. But if you’re tall, skinny, or lean, you really shouldn’t go below parallel.
If you have a medicine ball on hand, place it below you and you have to touch the ball with your ass for the bottom position.
At the top of the range of motion, you stand with your hips locked out at full extension.
While you can zip through the first few reps, you can take a breather in the standing position while you have the barbell on your chest in the rack position.
The preferred way to hold the barbell is with your hands and arms in the clean position. However, this isn’t mandatory, so you can cross your hands and arms in the front squat “bodybuilding” position.
Again, note how many reps you’re able to do. This test doesn’t just measure the strength of your legs, but also measures the strength balanced between your upper and your lower body.
You may be interested to note that if you are properly balanced, the number of bench presses you make will be almost the same number as the number of front squats you’re able to make.
Stage 3: 60-Second Deadlift Reps
For guys, the warm-up is with 10 reps at 135 pounds, with another 5 reps at 185 pounds. For women, it’s at 65 pounds then 95 pounds.
When it’s for real, men have to deadlift 225 pounds while the weight for women is 135 pounds.
You start with the barbell resting on the floor, and then you lift it with your hips fully extended. If you’re lean, tall, or skinny, you can just raise the barbell off the floor by 4 inches or so.
These are true dead stop deadlifts, so bouncing isn’t allowed at the bottom of each rep. The barbell has to completely stop on the floor before you make your next lift.
You can rest simply by setting the barbell back on the floor while you stand up without the barbell. You’re in charge of your own safety, so you really should consider resting if you feel your lower back starting to feel off.
You should also try to do the proper lifting technique, though even ugly deadlifts will qualify as a rep. It’s just that on the next day, you’re going to have to pay the price with an extremely sore lower back.
For this stage, count the number of deadlifts you can make in 60 seconds. The deadlift measures your overall strength of your whole body.
The 60-scond time limit can give an accurate measurement of this strength without the use of too much time when just going for the maximum number of deadlift reps you can make.
There really isn’t any sort of prescribed rest period between the bench presses, front squats, and the deadlifts. You just need to be aware that you should complete the first 6 stages in less than an hour.
You can take rest periods between these exercises by taking turns with a partner. If you don’t have a partner, then you can pretend that you do and take a breather for the same time as you did your exercises.
It also helps if you use the very same barbell for each lifting exercise. This means you’ll have to take the time to unload the plates and reset the racks for your front squats, and then you have to take off the barbell for the deadlifts. All these activities will take time which you can use to rest.
Now after doing your deadlifts, you should pause to catch your breath, as the sprints are next. At this point it may be a good idea to get a drink too if you’re feeling a bit parched.
Stage 4: 60-Second Sprints, 4 Rounds x 25 Meters
This involves 2 cones placed 25 meters apart. Start from one cone to the other and back, and every time you touch a cone you get one rep. Once you get back, that’s 2 reps.
You count the number of reps for a round of 60 seconds, while partial trips don’t count. You get 4 rounds of sprints, with a full minute of rest between rounds.
This will measure both your anaerobic endurance (basically how well you endure even when you’re grasping for breath) as well as your ability to recover from bursts of strenuous effort.
For military athletes and elite soldiers, sprinting is certainly a crucial fitness element.
Add up your total reps for all the 4 rounds, and that’s your score for this stage. Rest for about 3 to 5 minutes and then you can go on to the next stage.
Stage 5: Pull-ups
This is a mainstay exercise you can find in just about all military workouts. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that it’s also part of Operation Ugly.
You can do a few warm-up pull-ups if you like, though that may sap your strength.
In this stage, the pull-ups are all strictly dead hang with chin above the bar legitimately.
There’s no “chicken necking” allowed, which means you can’t hyperextend your neck to get your chin over the bar. Kipping pull-ups with your legs kicking for momentum aren’t allowed either.
This is a simple test of your upper body strength, using your own body weight. If you want to rest, you can just hang on the bar in the bottom position for a while.
Take note of your total number of real pull-ups, and then move on to the next stage. Catch your breath for a couple of minutes first so you’re a bit fresher for the distinctly awkward sandbag get-up.
Stage 6: 10-Minute Sandbag Get-Up
Unlike barbells, a full sandbag isn’t just heavy. It’s also darn awkward to lift. It’s just plain uncomfortable, but then if you want to be a real combat operator then you have to get along with such uncomfortable circumstances.
You start the exercise standing, with the sandbag over one shoulder. For men this sandbag weighs 80 pounds while for women it is 60 pounds.
Now with the sandbag, lay yourself down to the floor all the way, as if you’re in bed. Then get up with the bag any way you want, with the sandbag on any shoulder you want to put it on.
You finish the rep when you’re at a full standing position with your feet a shoulder-width apart while your hips and knees are at full extension.
You have 10 minutes to do as many reps as you can, and again the partials don’t count. Take note of the number of reps you make, and then move on.
Your score for this stage is half the number of sandbag getups. So if you do 50, your score is 25.
Stage 7: 3-Mile Run with 25-Pound Vest—under 30 Minutes
This is a “pass or fail” exercise. Either you can do the run under 30 minutes, or you can’t.
The rationale for this test is simple - in the field when the proverbial crap has hit the fan, you’re not going to go on a run while you’re fresh and unencumbered by gear.
For the most part, you’ll be tired, stressed, and carrying lots of stuff.
Keep in mind that you’re supposed to do the first 6 stages within 60 minutes, before you go on this run. For many newbies, running 3 miles alone is a challenge, and completing it in less than 30 minutes is a minor miracle.
Add the 25-pound vest plus the fact that you’ve just gone through 6 grueling stages and it really shows whether or not you can compare yourself with the cream of the crop among military and law enforcement elite operators.
Scoring Your First 6 Stages
To get your score, you need to add your totals for each stage:
- Number of bench presses
- Number of front squats
- Number of deadlifts in 60 seconds
- Total number of reps (or cones touched) for 4 rounds of 60-second sprints.
- Number of strict pull-ups
- Number of sandbag getup reps in 10 minutes, divided by 2.
How Well Did You Do?
To pass, you have to score at least 100 points combined for the first 6 stages. You also must have completed the 3-mile run with the 25-pound vest on in less than 30 minutes.
Both these standards must be met to pass, regardless if you’re a man or a woman. Fail to reach the combined score or take more than 30 minutes for the run, and you’ve failed Operation Ugly.
But how well did you do, compared to other athletes? This depends on your gender and weight:
- Male, 200 pounds or more
- 170 points or more.
- 160 to 169.
- 145 to 159.
- Male, 161 to 199 pounds
- More than 150 points.
- 140 to 150.
- 125 to 139.
- Male, 160 pounds or less
- More than 125 points.
- 115 to 125.
- 110 to 114.
- Female, 151 pounds or more
- 150 points is the standard score.
- Female, 126 to 150 pounds
- 130 points is the standard score.
- Female, 125 pounds or less
- 110 points is the standard score.
Are you among the elite? Did you at least pass?
The real benefit of military workouts like Operation Ugly isn’t just to satisfy your need to compete or even to satisfy your curiosity. It’s to let you know which aspects of your training still need work.
When it comes to physical fitness and athletic prowess, there’s no such thing as perfection. You always strive to better yourself.