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Optimising Human Performance

Optimising Tactical Physical Training for Peak Performance

EPISODE 5:  Optimising Tactical Physical Training for Peak Performance

In this episode, Martin & Jonpaul are joined by Professor Rob Orr, director of the Tactical Research Unit at Bond University. They discuss optimising training for physically demanding tasks as well as sedentary working, the relationship between physical fitness and cognitive performance, and the value of an individualised approach to training. 

Guest, Cast & Crew

Professor Rob Orr served in the Australian Army for over 20 years as an infantry soldier, physical training instructor, uniformed physiotherapist and human performance officer. In his role at the Tactical Research Unit at Bond University, Rob provides research, consultancy and educational services for law enforcement, military and firefighters across five continents.  With more than 300 published research papers and technical reports on tactical populations, Rob’s focus is on providing pragmatic research evidence to the tactical community.

Hosted by Martin Jones & Jonpaul Nevin https://www.ophp.co.uk 

Edited by Bess Manley

Produced by WavellRoom https://wavellroom.com/audio/ 


If you’re enjoying this content, please like and subscribe so we can keep improving. And remember to visit WavellRoom.com for their latest articles, podcasts and newsletters. 


00:42 Rob’s Background

05:11 Defining the Tactical Athlete

07:44 Optimising Load Carriage Performance

09:54 Training Strategies for Tactical Personnel

13:00 Challenges in Tactical Training Programs

18:28 Physical and Cognitive Demands of Tactical Roles

24:00 Principles of Effective Training

25:34 Specificity and Home Field Advantage

26:50 Aging and Fitness Decline

29:26 Challenges of Modern Recruits

35:33 Biological Differences in Fitness

39:44 Body Armor and Equipment Design

44:33 Final Thoughts and Advice

Up Next

Next week, we welcome eminent scientist Professor Daniel Guicciardi. Dan is a distinguished expert on stress, resilience and mental toughness. In our discussion, we scrutinise resilience – the personal factors that aid it, how it applies to teams and the practical strategies that can help people improve it.


Hello and welcome to the Optimizing Human Performance podcast. I’m Martin Jones, a Human Performance Specialist, Researcher and Educator. And I’m JonPaul Nevin, a former Royal Armoury Physical Training Corps Instructor turned academic. Each week we talk to world leading experts about how to unlock the full potential of those who operate in high stress, high stakes environments.

We discuss the latest science, innovative strategies, practical wisdom and inspirational stories in the rapidly evolving world of human performance optimisation. The Optimising Human Performance podcast is produced in partnership with the Wavell Room and the Tactical Athlete Performance Centre at Buckinghamshire New University.

In this week’s episode, we welcome Professor Rob Orr to the show. Rob served in the Australian Army for over 23 years as an infantry soldier, physical training instructor, uniformed physiotherapist and human performance officer. As Director of the Tactical Research Unit at Bond University, Rob provides research, consultancy and educational services for law enforcement, military and firefighters across five continents.

In our conversation with Rob, we focus on optimizing training for physically demanding tasks and sedentary working.

We look at the relationship between physical fitness and cognitive performance and uncover the value of an individualized approach to training. Rob, welcome to the optimizing human performance podcast. How are you today?

[00:01:24] Rob: Great, thank you. Thank you for having me. 

[00:01:26] JP: No, I mean, it’s a pleasure. been a follower of your work for many years, over a decade now, it’d be really good for our listeners just to get sort of an intro to yourself and your back story. What’s taking you to where you are now? 

[00:01:37] Rob: as irony would have it, I moved over from South Africa to Australia with my parents when I was about 15 years old. Because my parents didn’t want me to be conscripted into the South African Army. and then two years later I joined the Australian Army. so I dropped out of high school and I joined the Australian Army at the age of 17.

I went into infantry. As most young, people do. So, I spent, several years in infantry, carrying a pack up and down every mountain and molehill . but then I decided, you know, I like those guys running around in those short shorts and the, tight singlets.

So I wanted to become a physical training instructor. So I went off to do my PTI training qualified then spent 10 years as a PTI.

Uh, so physical training instructor, a variety of postings, training establishments, operational, establishments, tri service establishments, all that good fun stuff. but then Army actually turned around and said to me, look, do you want to be a uniform physiotherapist? And I went, oh, this sounds like a great idea because at that stage they had physical training instructors, which were all non coms and then they had physiotherapists, which were all Specialist service officers. And they’re finding this big disconnect between injuries and recovery and particularly within the first six months or so of injuries, people being re injured again and again and again. And they found out there’s a disconnect from when physiotherapy hands over to physical training instructors come back too soon and they get broken and how can we coalesce that better?

 So they asked me if I wanted to do the physiotherapy course and I said, yeah, sure. Why not? And I went and got my master’s in physiotherapy then I served as a clinical physiotherapist for several years in uniform and I still taught at the PT school So i’d go down and run the rehabilitation module and actually prepare the PTIs to assist in that transition During that time I got asked to run a couple of human performance optimization projects So the first one started for the Recruit Training Centre, it then went to the Royal Military College, and then I finished off my full time service, in SOCOM.

same sort of role. But whilst I was doing all that, I decided I wanted to start my PhD as well. So I started my PhD in Combat Load Carriage. And then as I finished my PhD, I got poached by a university and I thought this is great, I don’t have to move every year. so I decided to step aside from full time service, transfer to the reserves and I’ve now been at Bond University, since 2011.

In about 2015, I set up the Tactical Research Unit. with a long time mentor of mine, with our primary aim of doing research, consultancy, and education to optimize, the health and well being of all tactical personnel, because once we started working with these different populations, we realized that many of them are fighting the same battles, being under resourced, not being fit enough.

too many injuries. And once we started to realize these similarities, we thought, well, how can we align these and coalesce these better to knowledge share? And basically that’s where, we took off from and that’s where we are now.

[00:04:11] JP: So just sort of going back, a thought that popped in my head, to go from being a PTI to being a physiotherapist is a bit like turning into the dark side. 

[00:04:18] Rob: Oh yeah.

[00:04:19] JP: did you find that transition 

were you able to bridge what sometimes can be quite a big gap in terms of understanding?

[00:04:25] Rob: yes and no. I think one of the lucky things for me at the time, there were only seven, uniformed physiotherapists in the Australian army. The rest were civilian. So the civilian physiotherapist looked at the military physiotherapist sideways Anyway, so I wasn’t that much of a change for them. And the, the PTIs were great. They accepted it, you know, ’cause they knew that. when I was looking at all the rehabilitation, all these processes going forward, I was looking at it through the lens of A PTI. I knew what skills they did have. So the best thing about it was I could be the bridge between both. I can turn around to the physios and say, actually, the PTIs have been trained this way. they do have this background, whereas I know for a fact that your background in this area is weak. But conversely, I would say, well, the PTIs don’t really cover this, whereas the physiotherapists do.

[00:05:08] Martin: That’s great. Can we go back for a second, Rob? You mentioned your tactical research unit and training tactical athletes. What’s a tactical athlete first and foremost?

[00:05:19] Rob: The tactical athlete, the one that doesn’t exist. Um, the reason we, I mean, I know, look, ironically enough, the person who actually coined the term tactical athlete, Mark Stephenson, coined it when he was at the NSEA. And his primary aim behind using that term was to actually get people aware of the little support that, Tactical personnel get given the jobs and the nature of their tasks and what we’re asking him to do.

It’s beyond elite athlete you look at the decisions they’ve got to make life or death And they’re putting themselves in harm’s way in austere environments where enemy doesn’t play by the same set of rules So he wanted People to be aware of all the support that you give to athletes. Why don’t you give them to tactical personnel? And then of course it’s been taken down sideways thinking that they’re all these special type of athletes. Look, we know from reality and having served that there’s a lot of people who are tactical that are not athletes. They couldn’t run out of sight in a dark night. so, you know, a lot of military people, law enforcement, fire and rescue, don’t train because they want to train, they train because they have to train. if you’ve got somebody who’s really good manning systems and tracking threats, they don’t need to be able to run all over the place.

So, that tactical athlete is a bit of a misnomer, but what it does mean is we should. Afford the same level of care that we would to an athlete to these tactical personnel. We should optimize their recovery We should make sure they eat. Well, make sure they sleep Well, make sure they’re rehabilitated and conditioned properly Give them all the support that you would to an elite athlete because their job is way beyond elite

[00:06:44] Martin: Yeah. I agree. Absolutely. You mentioned then enforcement, fire, I’m thinking paramedicine, ambulance. those are classed as these tactical personnel as well?

[00:06:53] Rob: Indeed, so we do work with wilderness paramedics. We do , work with paramedics in general Who defines what as tactical personnel varies a little bit. But for us, it’s somebody who puts their life on the line for the betterment of the community. You go, oh, you know, ambulance officers don’t.

Well, ambulance officers are getting stabbed. From one of the last reports I read, around a third of all hems in the UK are now wearing anti stab body armor. You know, they’re getting one hit punches and they’re getting beaten by family members or friends of the person they’re trying to treat. So yeah, they’re putting their lives on the line to assist the community.

[00:07:23] Martin: Yeah, it’s a tough job. It’s a tough job. often not recognized in the same levels as, what I think of as the traditional tactical personnel, but just as important, right. 

[00:07:32] Rob: Indeed.

[00:07:32] JP: So Rob, considering the requirements of those individuals who work in extremist context, also load carriage a fundamental requirement, especially for military personnel, but also for those other organizations. So based upon your extensive body of published work over the years, what sort of conclusions have you came to as an individual in regards to optimizing load carriage performance?

May that be for military personnel or boy like matrix? Thanks.

[00:07:56] Rob: the reality is, is no point where you can condition the body that it will be able to withhandle every single load. And everybody thinks that, you know, oh, if we condition you enough you can carry any load. That’s not, the case. There is a point where your body will break.

But what we can do is try and make sure that, that point lasts as long as possible, You’ve got as much physical redundancy in your system as possible. And there are two things you need. If you want to be good at load carriage, there’s two things you need. it’s like a car.

You need a big engine, but you need a strong framework. And if you’ve got a big engine and a small framework, it doesn’t work. If you’ve got a strong framework and a small engine, it doesn’t work. So you need that combination of, aerobic fitness, just pure beast aerobic fitness, but you also need strength.

Real strength and we’re not talking just absolute strength here. We’re talking about relative strength the ability to move your own body weight

[00:08:43] JP: Do you feel the pendulums maybe swung somewhat We used to do a lot of endurance based type training, developing aerobic capacity, but it seems almost the last decade because of the S and C bandwagon that’s went completely the opposite way. And I know within certain quarters within the UK that that’s an issue which is being discussed now.

before there were people event. We can’t do distance steady state running to develop aerobic capacity because it increases. I could have injury. So we’ll just go in the gym and do loads of strength training or extreme conditioning type programming. And then what they’re finding is this having an adverse effect on people hitting the minimum standard for load carriage.

[00:09:16] Rob: Indeed and it’s not only physiological. It’s psychological as well is something about keeping your brain active when you’re running 5 10 15 kilometers when you’re carrying a pack on your back and you’ve got nothing to think about how much this sucks Um keeping your brain active in the gym You know, when you’re doing short, sharp sets, you’re done.

If you’re doing HIIT workouts, you know that you’ve only got to push yourself for a short period of time. But when you’ve just got that, thumb and bum, mind in neutral, just keep going, keep going, keep going, unless you develop it, you’re not going to have it.

[00:09:45] Martin: how do you train both those things at the same time? So you said the strength, the aerobic fitness and the robustness put yourself in that place psychologically.

[00:09:54] Rob: So if you look at all the literature on load carriage, optimizing load carriage performance, you make sure they’ve got a couple of strength sessions in there, you make sure you’ve got a couple of aerobic sessions in there, but once every 7 you have a pack march. you want the load weight, you want the terrain type, the terrain grade, and then the actual speed of march to all be similar to what you require. So it’s no good going out and doing a 5k stomp as fast as possible, but you’re going to be going out field, doing patrols of 3km an hour for 8 12 hours a day, if not longer. That’s what you’ve got to develop yourself. Then look at how you do it. So if I’m doing it by myself, you know, say you can’t go out, say you’re in an area where you’ve got confined space, so you can’t just go out 15km into the middle of nowhere, you’d get on a treadmill and do it, great, but what you do is you face the treadmill towards a white wall, and you stare at that wall and you walk.

No music, no sound, no movies, nothing. You stare at the fricking wall and you walk. if you got the capability or you’re moving with a unit and you’re doing a pack march as a unit, what you do is you put up figure 11 targets, you put up number plates, you put up bits and pieces, Kim’s games, bits and pieces of information on the ground as they walk and then you test them.

All right. There’s 16 objects that could have been used by the enemy. What were they on the march? And now not only do they have to make sure that they stopped thinking about other things, but they’ve now got to focus. and scan foreground, midground, far ground as they walk. So it’s not thumb and bum, mind and neutral now.

They’ve got to try and pick out information. So you give them something to do with their brain whilst they’re actually walking, unless you want to get them to that point where if it sucks, you’ve got to keep going. Then you give them no input at all, except their own brain and their own pain.

[00:11:28] JP: one of the students on our MSC program. Made a brilliant point in one of his submissions And it was exactly that. you’ve got to suffer and you’ve got to embrace the suffering to carry loads, heavy loads, and indeed if you look at the operational loads carried in recent fears and sometimes up to 70 kilograms for people, if you’ve not had that physiological what and psychological exposure to it in the form of some stress inoculation training. ’cause that’s fundamentally what it is. you’re going to get your, bum handed to you for want of a better word.

 I think in in some quarters people seem to be risk averse to load carriage. They think that, oh, if we do load carriage it’s going to injure us. And it’s like, well, anything can injure you. We can’t prevent injuries.

We can reduce the likelihood, but the balance to be had?

[00:12:08] Rob: I think you raise a really good point. And it’s one of the funniest things that you’ll see. Oh, we won’t go out and do a pack march because people might get injured, but let’s go to the gym and put a loaded vest on. And do burpees and, you know, jump heaves and that. But it’s load carriage training because we’re wearing a weighted vest.

By the way, there is absolutely no evidence for weighted vests, 

[00:12:25] Martin: Yeah, they look cool. They look cool, Rob. They look, they 

[00:12:28] Rob: they do have one, one benefit that isn’t towards pure strength. And that’s that discomfort, getting used to something rubbing and annoying.

But it also has thoracic impedance, which is the resistance against your chest while you’re trying to breathe. you’re actually weight training with your breath. you do have those benefits, but I don’t think that’s why they’re doing it. If that’s why they’re doing it great. If they’re doing it because that is now their new load carriage, I go, well, I think there’s something else you could be doing.

 The number one biggest predictor of future load carriage performance is previous load carriage performance. End of story. That is always the biggest.

[00:13:00] JP: A number of years ago you mentioned a topic which I hadn’t heard of, of PICO, program induced cognitive overload, recognizing all the stimuli which, someone who operates in these environments, may be exposed to.

you think this concept PICO is well understood within tactical populations per se, or is it something that’s just on the periphery?

[00:13:18] Rob: I think it’s very much on the periphery. I think quite often because the, programs, particularly the conditioning program, is normally done in isolation. So the S& C coach may do it, the PTI may do it, but they’re not sitting down with the OPSO going, okay, on this day, this week here, this is what we want to do, what are they doing? see it sometimes, we’d go out and do a pack march in the morning and then only later on find out that that happens to be the day they’re doing an NAVEX for training. And out they go, and they go do a Navex, or, they’re gonna, get ready for the Queen’s Birthday Parade.

I remember sitting down one day going, Are you kidding me? They spent three days on the parade ground after we just did a huge pack march, getting ready for the Queen’s Birthday Parade. So, we wondered why they all went down with dehydration. So there was a huge disconnect between what Ops were requiring them to do as part of training, and what we were actually doing.

And then that’s when we started to realize we need to coalesce these better, because then they could be going to the Mako, team and doing um, military unarmed combat. So they’re getting their arms and shoulders torn and over the place, getting flipped onto their backs, and okay, let’s now go and do an obstacle course. the staff would do in lines training, because the staff, and platoons would have competitions, to see which platoon would get the highest scores during PT. So the PTIs would give them a program, then they’d be doing stuff with the OPCEL, and then they’d be doing stuff with their own platoon staff.

 And we wonder why they get cooked. So we do have to consider everything. I mean, you look at some of the latest research on, college athletes , We know that when it comes time for exams, their risk of injury goes up because stress is stress. Your body doesn’t know the difference between financial stress, psychological stress, physical stress, emotional stress, your body responds to stress.

And if you keep adding different types of stress without understanding all the things that are contributing to it, your risk of over training, Obviously, will go straight up.

[00:14:58] JP: So if you’re looking at the broader pictures, looking at police fire service emergency medicine, they perform old carriage, but in different guises, burden carries, for example, firemen, obviously carrying hoses up a ladder and so on. How do you think would be the optimal approach for those populations in regards to developing those occupational tasks?

Specific capabilities?

[00:15:20] Rob: sure. So one of the biggest differences between military police officers in particular, law enforcement tend to wear their load bearing vest and that every day, but it’s a lighter load. It’s about 10 kilograms, but it’ll be every single day for every minute of their shift generally.

So you’ve got 10 kilograms by 8 to 10 hours a day, every day across your occupational career. Infantry soldier, yeah, they’ve got 70 to 80 kilograms at worst case, but the deployment cycle won’t be as long. Yeah. And then they’ll have an unload cycle. So they’ve got, short, high intense load carriage requirements, whereas law enforcement are just low and steady, cook and burn.

So they don’t really need to do load carriage conditioning in terms of wearing the load, because they do that every day on the job. What they need to do is make them stronger, make their aerobic system bigger, and do what we call non functional training. Look at how you can unload the system. So if they’ve been wearing their body armor all day, rather than getting them to do something like a heavy squat, which is more spinal compression, should I be giving them a chin up?

So I’ve got spinal distraction. Should I be throwing them in the water? Because their spine has been compressed all day. The last thing I want to do is compress it more. If I am going to do some spinal compression work, how am I going to decompress the spine before I then say, OK, well now you’re about to go on shift.

Where there’s 10 kilograms for the next eight hours. So you need to think about, okay, that load carriage, they’re wearing the load, they’re doing that. So what else can I do to optimize their ability to do that? Which means the system and optimize what they can do.

[00:16:45] JP: So, uh, Martin, I’m just mindful that you’ve probably never experienced load carriage like this, have you?

[00:16:50] Martin: I have two children, JP. I’ve experienced load carriage

[00:16:53] JP: Um, I think we need to a Bergen 



[00:16:55] Martin: I’ve put a 35 kilogram child on my shoulders and carried it up over Dartmoor. So yeah, I’ve experienced load carriage.

[00:17:02] JP: We need to get you a poorly fitted Bergen, which gives you real bad chaffs on the back and, uh, what you have that experience and you can, uh, comprehend it from a psychologist standpoint.

[00:17:12] Rob: If I can just add one variation, we’ll talk about the firefighters now. Because they’re in the middle. Their loads are almost triple that of law enforcement. Anywhere between 22 to about 32 kilograms. But the body positions they go into. Quite often they’re down on their knees, crawling, leaning.

So they’re leaning forward with all this weight on their body. Then they’re in clothing that is not really permeable. It doesn’t want to let external heat in. So they sweat a lot inside that clothing. They’ve got thick boots on that prevent range of motion at the ankle because it’s got to be fire resistant and fire retardant.

So, again, their movement mechanics now, under load, is very, very different. But it’s also intermittent. It’s only when there’s a fire. if they’ve gone to a call and they put on their full gear, within the last, 14 days, you don’t need to load them up, they’ve done that, but you do also need to train them to move under that load.

So this is where I would actually see people doing squats, doing deadlifts, doing carries, doing hose drags, whilst wearing their turnout gear, because the movement pattern is very different.

[00:18:09] Martin: Yeah, super interesting. What about tactical roles don’t require load carriage? I’m thinking There’s many different roles in these defense and security intelligence types of communities, 

and there might be very sedentary, that they could have an office based job looking at screen all day, maybe in a dark room, there’s a whole spectrum. Does your research unit at bond focus on those more sedentary type roles and how how do we optimise those?

[00:18:34] Rob: definitely. We’ve got, we break them into two general groups, very general. You’ve got your sedentary group and your kinetic group. Your kinetic group are the ones whose primary job is on their feet doing stuff. Your sedentary group are the ones that are primarily sitting down. We do know that they can change.

So quite often you’ll be in a sedentary group but you might have to do your annual re qualification and suddenly you go away and do your use of force training for three days. So you’re very sedentary and suddenly you’re kinetic for three days. But what we have found is that those that have very sedentary jobs, they are more likely to suffer health conditions and acute injuries from going to the gym and trying to smash it all out in one hour.

And then, you know, 23 hours of neglect, one hour, I’m going to try fix my life. So,

[00:19:13] Martin: that sounds like me.

[00:19:15] Rob: but then you’ve got the kinetic person who doesn’t really have to worry about their health from not doing enough physical activity because they definitely are. You’ve still got to worry about their diet and all those other aspects of it.

But, likewise, they’re more likely to suffer from those overuse injuries because they’re doing the same thing over and over again. but even within the sedentary groups, there’s differences. So for example, we’ve done some work with the Mounted Police. Now the Mounted Police don’t actually get up and run around very much because they’re on the back of a horse.

But when we looked at their heart rates, every time they’re training the horses in a stable, they’re doing a hit session, basically. So their heart rate’s punching 80 percent max. even though they’re not physically moving very much. Then you get a highway patrol officer who’s speeding in a fast car, doing a highway pursuit, constantly going up and down the highway.

Their heart rate can get up to 80 percent max and they’re not physically moving, but that is because of a hormonal dump. So the difference is one needs to do a lot of aerobic activity. So the sedentary highway patrol officer needs to do a lot of physical activity because even though they’re getting the hormonal dump, the heart rate up, they’re not actually doing physical activity to do that.

Conversely, The mounted police officer is getting their heart rate up and doing physical activity through isometric muscle contraction. So they need to do some more range of motion work because they’re not doing any range, they’re just sitting in this fixated position. So even sedentary people, you need to break down what they do and what they have as part of their job and what they’re missing.

And then obviously that counter functional, how do we protect them from the impacts of that job.

[00:20:40] Martin: So people who have got these sedentary jobs, they might be cognitively demanding. But they are doing those cognitively demanding tasks whilst stationary, whilst still probably sat down. Are you aware of evidence that links being more physically healthy with being more cognitively able?

does it improve cognitive performance if you are able to focus more on, improving physical health?

[00:21:04] Rob: from the research. I’ve seen it. It’s really hard to actually definitively claim that because every individual in a research group would have Different levels of intelligence, of cognitive performance in the first place. but generally if you are more physically capable, you are using less glucose and glycogen and glucose and glycogen, that’s your fuel source for your brain. So if your brain is burning that energy, uh, if you’re more physically fit, you’ve got more of it to use. and you’ve got more on redundancy if you’re doing a physical activity with it. conversely, what we do know and what the research does show is if you’re less healthy, absenteeism is going to be higher.

So you’re not going to be on the job. And your risk of injury when you then run to the gym in the afternoon and decide to do your one hour of activity means you’re more likely to be injured. So you’re not going to be at your job.

[00:21:47] JP: Yeah, I definitely agree there. in regards to training medallies, what are your thoughts on the use of extreme conditioning programs such as crossfit? Obviously, they’ve gained massive popularity over the past 20 years in line with the growth of the internet, and I would argue that There’s pros, but there’s a lot of cons. 

[00:22:04] Rob: Yeah, look, hit the nail on the head. definite benefits. But there’s also potential concerns. Some of the benefits are it’s getting a lot of people off the couch and doing something. you’re getting women now slinging weights where beforehand. They weren’t as likely to get up and do power moves and, you know, throw weight around, which is fantastic.

Likewise, I think one of the reasons why many tactical populations embrace this is because normally when you go to a PT session, the goal is, what, survive? There is actually no goal to the session. whereas when you were doing CrossFit or Extreme Conditioning programs, you had a goal. Do this number of reps.

Do it this fast. You actually had something to try and achieve. To measure at the end of it. So you can walk and go, Hey, this is what I did. So, it gave you a goal as part of your training. The concern is, many people, they only go extreme, which means their body doesn’t recover, they don’t have the skill set to go extreme, and sometimes they don’t have the understanding that, for example, just because I do a move like a snatch, which is a power based move , doing it 30 times, it’s not what a snatch is meant to be done like.

It is a power move. It is meant to be done, you know, very, very few times, explosively up with no eccentric. It’s dropped. So doing a move until you blow out is Potentially harmful. So understanding the right exercises that can be used, is the key goal. knowing about recovery, because again, many of the programs that go, I’ll do this, one today, and I’ll do that one tomorrow, or they just throw a workout of the day up on the board.

But if you’re just throwing random workouts of the day up on the board, how do you periodize? How do you make sure you load and unload? How do you monitor training load? How do you progress training load? How do you bring somebody back from an injury? This one size fits all approach, as we know, is a one size fits no one approach, and can be potentially harmful.

[00:23:51] JP: For sure. 

[00:23:52] Martin: You mentioned the word specificity earlier the context of training. Can you just talk about that as a principle of training? And what are the other principles of training that if anyone’s listening, who’s never really done this sort of stuff before, and they’re looking to be more physically able, what are the core principles a novice needs to know?

[00:24:14] JP: Great question.

[00:24:14] Rob: great question. Okay, well let’s start off where we almost finished off, with extreme conditioning programs. The first one is individuality. Every person that comes in is going to be different, every time. I mean, even you coming in every single day, you’re going to be different. You could have had a bad night’s sleep, You know, you could have had a great meal. You could have had a bad meal. You could be getting over a cold. So how you feel during that session is going to influence how well you can perform during that session. How old you are, your training history, your injury history is all going to influence your capability.

So if somebody is designing your program, they need to take into account your individual capability. And you can do that through things like ability based training. So that’s the first one. The next one is recovery. You know, everybody thinks, Oh, the training is what builds you. No, the training is what breaks you.

The recovery is what builds you. Okay. Your recovery is how you make everything stronger and better. So yes, you need to break it just enough so you can recover it and then break it again and recover it that little bit stronger. If you break it too much, you won’t have enough capability to recover it in time.

So it’s that optimized balance between breaking and recovering, giving it just enough time to recover stronger. So you’ve got individuality, you’ve got recovery, you’ve got, The most important one, specificity, is if you want to get better at swimming, guess what, you’re going to have to swim.

that’s what you’re going to have to do. And there’s a really good study done by Rudsky in where he had One of the platoons do a lot of running and one of the platoons just do pack marching. And believe it or not, both platoons increase their VO2 max, their aerobic capacity, the exact same.

But the platoon staff said that those that just did the pack marching perform better outfield. Because they were used to the packs, they were used to how uncomfortable it felt, where it rubbed, etc. So that specificity, getting used to everything and the nuances required of that specific activity you’re doing, we know it in sport.

We call it the home field advantage, because you know how the sun is going to glance off the side of that building at four o’clock in the afternoon, you know which way the wind’s going to blow, you know where the divot is in the field, so you don’t have to attend any cognitive bandwidth to those processes, you can focus on the game, and we see it in the home field advantage, so that’s your specificity principle.

You’ve got reversibility, if you don’t use it, you lose it, so if you’re not up doing something physically engaging, and you’re not physically conditioning your body, guess what? You’re going to lose fitness. In fact, you can lose around 1 percent VO2 per day of no activity.

So think about if you’re going to go on leave over Christmas, don’t just sit there and eat cake, because you’re going to come back and you know what’s going to happen your first day back. We’re going to find the biggest freaking mountain there is and we’re going to run up it. And you’re going to be sweating out some pretty interesting stuff.

So here’s a hint. Don’t have reversibility. Keep yourself fit over your brake.

[00:26:50] Martin: I think that reversibility hits home for me as a man in his 40s. Now, I’ve worked with many different people, different arenas, sport, business, military, all sorts of things. I’ve seen it a few times. You’ve got the 40 plus year old man who is living off that marathon that he ran at 21. And they think they can do that again.

you know, the person who did an arduous course when they were in their early twenties, but now they’re in a sedentary job and they’ve not kept up that same level of training and trying to go back to that. Maybe the psychology’s still there. They still think they can do it. They believe they can do it, but the body maybe isn’t quite what it was.

Age 21. How quickly does it happen? You mentioned VO2max drops very quickly. But what about things like mobility, strength, power? do we lose them at the same rates?

[00:27:42] Rob: not necessarily at the same rate because our VO2 max will peak at a different, chronological age to our strength. For example, we, we tend to peak at our VO two at at a younger age, whereas our strength is more, you know, 28, 32 sort of areas, a little bit older. we tend to lose strength less quickly and regain it a little more quickly than aerobic fitness, for example.

 but age sucks . Once you hit 42, your first handbrake comes on. Once you hit about 48, the second handbrake comes on. Once you hit 52, the freaking parachute out the back goes. You just look at a cake now and suddenly you put on 5 kilos and you just look at the bloody thing. It’s a freaking nightmare.



[00:28:19] Martin: I’m 42 in about three weeks time. That’s awful 


[00:28:24] JP: same detail. I don’t want to hear that. 

[00:28:26] Rob: when I was younger, I’d get a cut on my arm and I’d hear, like, freaking Wolverine. You know, now I’ve got a cut on my arm that was there three, three months ago. Where the hell did that come from? So, yeah, as you get older, there is this, effect. And you, you nailed a very important point.

Because they’ve done the psychological hard yards, they still have that. They still have that belief in themselves, but the body can no longer do it. I used to represent Australia in acrobatics, and trampolining. I can still, right now, close my eyes and picture the perfect movement for a back somersault with a twist. If I stood up and tried to do that now, it would be a car crash. But I can still close my eyes and feel the movement. muscle memory is there. The muscle capability is not.

[00:29:08] Martin: I Was thinking of asking you to go and do do over no we Yeah, I’m Yeah, 

[00:29:13] Rob: I’m 

[00:29:13] Martin: do 

[00:29:13] Rob: it! Don’t even think about it!

[00:29:16] JP: there’s, I’ve certainly got a few stories where, reasonable gymnasts in their day in certain PT branches. I’ve tried exactly that. And it didn’t work out. too well for them. But that’s by the by. So, Rob, switching to the complete other end of the spectrum. when people join a tactical population, they come from society and obviously in society at the moment, general trend has been that people are more inactive than they ever have been before.

and the quality of recruit pool smaller than it ever has been. As in individuals meeting a minimum standard. And I remember when we were at that event over in San Antonio, the NSA tactical a couple of years ago, one of the keynotes is around the fact that this very issue was being deemed as a threat to national security in the US, which was an eye opener.

But then coming back to the UK, we are seeing the same sort of trends here. So what are your thoughts on that? On this issue and more importantly, what could we potentially do to address this tidal wave which is coming through?

[00:30:16] Rob: Look, that’s a great question. I really like your follow up question because that is the key thing. We can all talk about what the problem is, but no one actually goes, well, how are we going to fix this? And quite often, I think the way we fix it, isn’t the right way to fix it. and that’s simply the easiest way, which is by dropping standards.

So, Let’s look at the fact. Yes, they are generally getting less fit. It’s going to get worse. COVID has meant many people have spent two to three years in their homes, not doing any physical activity. So they haven’t learned motor patterns. They haven’t learned motor skills. So, when they have to now run, they haven’t had three years of running training as a youth to develop those skills.

They haven’t gone out and thrown a ball and caught a ball and done all those other physical activities you do as part of play. How is that going to affect them when they now want to try and do physical, gross and fine motor skills? We don’t know. without them even having had COVID.

That’s just the period of immobility that that’s happened. So yes, there’s going to be this decrease in fitness. We’re looking at long COVID. What are the impacts of long COVID? there’s some research coming out suggesting that they haven’t actually lost fitness. has happened is they just can’t access their fitness. because their body is fighting a chronic Infection basically it can’t access their fitness. So it’s not like oh, we’ll do more fitness training We’ll get you fitter. You can’t actually do the fitness training because they are gassed as it is. So they need Rehabilitation not reconditioning whereas those that have been locked up and are fine and didn’t actually end up with COVID They need reconditioning.

So we need to change our mindset on how we optimize this. We need to change How we even think about fitness tests at the moment, because I can bet you right now in the UK, like many other countries, is you’ve got a whole bunch of personnel who can’t pass their fitness tests, who are perfectly able to before they got COVID.

So it’s not that they’ve lost fitness, they just can’t access it. So how are we going to deal with that? That’s the challenge. To add to your other point, how are we going to do this with this new generation? Everything’s digital. short attention span, multiple tasks at once that they task switching.

lot of low level physical activity, but let’s look at the changing nature of warfare, a lot more drone based warfare. What is that going to mean? So we have to think about, what’s coming? What equipment are we going to use? And then we have to look at, well, this is what we’re getting. How do we change?

To optimize what we’re getting. Rather than going, well, if you don’t fit our mould, you break, we don’t care, we’ll try and find somebody else. So, guess what, if they are going to be less fit, and they’ve got less motor skills, etc. Well, we may need to look at how we condition them, pre condition them, before they get to the front door. How can we ramp them up to be fit enough to then join and serve? Now, there’s a couple of benefits to this. Some of the benefits are, even if they don’t end up serving, guess what? You’re making them fitter. You’re making them healthier. You’re giving them very important skills, which is going to be better for the whole community.

It’s going to have a, potential downstream effect on things like, ongoing healthcare. In general, for the community, but likewise, if you can get them physically fit enough, then you’ve got a good operator and we see it at the moment. We’ve got quite a few people that want to join mentally. They want to join. They just can’t meet the physical standard. Don’t drop the standard. We know why the standards then it’s needed. So if you’re not dropping the standard, these are the people we want but they’re not fit enough, well then how do we help them get fitter? We have to change our approach now. It’s no longer, hey you just come to us, it’s about how can we take this journey together and get you to where we need you to be, so that you can work with us.

 Just dropping the standards is not doing them a service and is not doing, the institution of service either, because as we know, if your fitness levels go down and you keep the standard of training the same, you’re going to break them.

[00:33:38] JP: agree. And it’s really interesting. Those observations which you guys are seeing in Australia mirror what’s being observed in the UK at the moment. People are very quick at identifying the problem and apportioning blame, but then say, well, how would we address this? And one of the.

The easiest ones, which I think, in my opinion, would be the training pipeline. If we lengthened the training pipeline, yes, there’s a cost to be had, but it gives you more time to train these individuals to develop not only their fitness, but also the other skills that they require You can improve their over readiness, you can prove the robustness and then output the other side is far better. it’s nothing new. We used to see it with junior leaders or apprentices within the military. They had a nine month training pipeline that was very effective people are more than happy to spend billions on technology and weapon platforms and so on.

In the military, for example, take just 1 percent of that and inject it in your training budget to lengthen the training pipeline to give this generation the chance because they can adapt the same as all of us, but we need to create that environment. But then at the same time, like you said, go downstream, get into the schools, work with the schools to improve physical activity levels.

There’s so much research done in that area now. It’s like applying it. 

 there was a, we present a video. of our programmes. It’s about John F. Kennedy and his drive for fitness within America. had La Sierra High School and they done this experiment in the sixties and video sort of reflects upon that.

And you have these older individuals talking about their experiences and how it set them up for life. And it’s been here before. Why, why can’t we do it again? So I think there’s a lot to it, but I think if there was a will and the motivation, we could certainly do something about it.

[00:35:09] Rob: We’re very good at investing in things, but not good at investing in people .

[00:35:13] JP: Yeah. 

[00:35:13] Martin: a Definite societal problem there. I think That’s that’s probably way more than we can deal with in this podcast. But yeah, It is true Rob. I’m potentially gonna open a can of worms 


[00:35:26] Rob: Oh, great.

[00:35:27] Martin: So get ready for this. I do this in every episode. There’s always a hand grenade. So this is your hand grenade. where does, biological, sex in this? What do we need to think about differently when we are dealing with women?

[00:35:41] Rob: Oh, frag out. Thanks for that. Um, look, look, it’s interesting because in general, physiologically, women are less fit than men. They’ve got a lower VO2, they’ve got lower strength. fundamentals, and that’s typically what we focus on. However, I’ve seen a 70 kilogram female out pack march a 120 kilogram male who’s had a previous knee op, you know, so we tend to focus only on sex, but there’s so many other factors.

You’d have a 25 year old female who’d probably out pack march a 40 year old, or you’d have a 40 year old female out pack march a 25 year old male, because they don’t have the mental strength for it. So I think, yes. Sex is an important thing to consider, because there are bio hormonal things that need to be considered.

But at the end of the day, forget sex, forget age, forget height, forget hair color, focus on the individual. How do we optimize you as the individual? Because I tell you what, seen some of the fittest men, You give them a back injury and guess what? You’ll have an 18 year old female who hasn’t walked out of sight in a dark night, you put a pack on her back and she’ll last longer. and as you’ve said, you can have the fittest man in the gym, you know, rip his shirt off and Instagrams everything he does, and then you put a pack on his back with no cameras, and you get him to walk in a straight line by himself, with no noise and no motivation, and he’ll crumple after a kilometre.

Because he’s got no external motivation. he’s got no source of internal motivation. And then you’d have a young female who’s purely internally driven. The concern we have is, in general, females are smaller and lighter. And if you’re carrying heavier packs, they are going to be injured. I’d say don’t focus on them because they’re female.

Focus on the individual. Because I can tell you what, if you had a 50kg male and you put a 100kg pack I don’t care how muscly they are and how fast they can run, you’re going to break them. And we’ve shown that now, there’s a lot of research talking about injuries, differences in injuries between males and females.

Once you account for fitness, those sex differences, dissipate. It’s just that females tend to have a lower aerobic capacity, so they tend to have less aerobic fitness. So because they have lower fitness, they get injured more. Not because they are biologically female. 

[00:37:50] Martin: Interesting. in the uk, at least in, in some of the arduous areas of the military, there are fewer women. There’s just not as many. maybe that will change, but right now there just aren’t as many. But if I look at policing, if I look at, The paramedic community. I’ve done working both of those communities, and it’s much closer to 50 50 in those sorts of communities. Is that a success story? Do you think you think they just train differently? Is it the demands are different that allow women be on par physically?

I mean, what are your thoughts?

[00:38:20] Rob: I can tell you a perfect example. I was once at a session where, there was about 200 military females, sitting to a lecture when they first opened up the ability for females to go to the front lines. And they said, look, you can now go and join infantry and do all this and, they’re getting this great political speech by the civilian.

And the female colonel there just said, look, can I stop you for a minute and turned around to all 200 women there and said, who here wants to go to infantry? And none of them put their hands up and said, well, it’s not whether or not they can, it’s whether or not they want to. So setting these 5, 10, 20 percent targets is ludicrous because heck, when I joined, I didn’t want to go to infantry.

I wanted to go to int. I got told, you’re going to infantry. so, there are still some cultural barriers, definitely. But I think there’s also, They don’t want to. And I think those that want to, now that you’ve given them the opportunity, they’ll get there. Because they will have the want to get there. it’s a little bit different to that law enforcement and fire and rescue, because when you join the police force, well, you’re joining the police force to be a police officer. we’re joining the army, you’re joining to be whatever they tell you you’re going to be.

[00:39:27] JP: So Rob’s are building on that. I’ve seen integrating females in the ground close combat is, uh, important area within the military in the UK at the moment. And there’s a lot of research being done several really good researchers across the board, but sort of feeding that concept of research.

 What are your sort of main areas of interest at the moment?

[00:39:44] Rob: well, we’re looking at law enforcement, body armor at the moment, differences between male and female body armor. and you know, it’s really interesting because typically we have females going, oh yeah, this is designed for males, not designed for females. It’s very uncomfortable on the breasts and, and yet when you actually have a look at the male feedback, yeah, they don’t have any concern about weight on their breasts, but it sits on their stomach.

And so you’ve got just as many complaints from the males. Just in a different body area. So it’s, guess what? Body armor is freaking uncomfortable. And it’s gonna sit here because this is where your vital organs are, and this is where we’re gonna protect them. So for a male, it’s probably gonna sit on your stomach and you’re gonna get uncomfortable.

For a female, it’s probably gonna sit on your breasts, and it’s gonna feel uncomfortable. Can we make the Body armor better? Yeah, potentially we can. We can individualize it, customize the fit, etc. But we need to get rid of this concept of designing male specific and female specific body armor in particular, because ultimately it’s got to cover the same area.

Every individual is different, so hopefully we’ll get to a point where we don’t just have a size small, medium, and large. We can actually start to customize body armor fit, more appropriately. and we see that with clothing as well. Yes, there are some differences, however, between male and female clothing, because of sweat distribution patterns, etc.

So yes, we do see differences in need for male clothing fit versus female clothing fit. Females will wear a bra, So that’s an extra layer of fabric. How does that layer of fabric, react with over layer of fabric? And then, of course, add body armour on top of that. Sometimes it’s the simple things like stupidity where, we buy the body armour from one company but we buy the shirt from another and guess what, it’s the shirt we’ve always had which has, those little pocket buttons right here and now we’re going to rest body armour on those two buttons.

I mean really, it’s not rocket surgery people, and yet they want to then go and change the body armor. Well, guess what? Change the undershirt. So one of the things we are looking at, with Australian Defense Apparel, which is the biggest defense company here for clothing and they do military and law enforcement and everything else as well, is imagine if, rather than getting bespoke individual bits of equipment and throwing them on the tactical personnel, whether it be military, law enforcement, fire and rescue, like a fricking tactical Christmas tree from all different providers.

Imagine if you had one provider who designed everything from the skin out. From the underwear, to the fatigues, to the body armour, to the load bearing vest, to every single bit of equipment, so it all fits, and coalesces, and moves in unity. Imagine that. 

[00:42:04] Martin: would be good. But that that’s never why in the UK, I can never see that happening. I could just imagine politics of getting involved. But 

[00:42:13] Rob: Yeah. 

[00:42:13] Martin: that is the answer. Surely?

The boots, socks, everything.

[00:42:17] JP: Yeah. It’s interesting over here because when I joined the army in 97 they were just starting issuing something called combat 95 the big game changer and it was better but it wasn’t that good I’m sure some of the listeners are familiar with Osprey.

It used to be our previous generation of body armor. It was there for protection. It wasn’t there for comfort. I can tell you that for a fact. but what’s, what’s funny is things are more could have improved, but the current generation, guess what they’ll do? They’ll chunter. They’ll think this kit’s rubbish.

It could be better. It could be better. It could be better. And the right, there’s areas where it could be improved. But I just think back to the days of wearing light weights, a big green jumper and a waterproof jacket, which wasn’t breathable. So you got wetter wearing it from sweat and perspiration.

 I think now, the personal equipment, which is issued, it’s markably better, but it can be better still.

[00:43:03] Rob: I don’t know if you’ve got one in the UK, but I know that in the US and Australia, in the US they’ve got, Grunt Works, in Australia we’ve got Digger Works.

[00:43:09] JP: Yeah, they’ve got one here. Tommy works. 

[00:43:11] Martin: Yeah, 

[00:43:13] Rob: um, and that is, that is absolutely fantastic, because it shows that they’re now taking it seriously, this, well, if we are getting a bit of kit, how does it interdigitate with everything else, and I think they have, they have been a game changer in helping prevent some of the problems that existed beforehand, and then, of course, we’ve got our DSTG group. they do a lot of great work. sometimes where the fall down is, is that implementation because they don’t have the support to implement because their job is to come up with Here’s the gear. And then it’s like, well, okay, what do we do with the gear? Well, You’re the infantry soldier, you’re supposed to know.

so, sometimes that, you know, where the rubber meets the ground, where good science meets practical application, there’s a bit of friction. And that’s normal, there’s supposed to be friction. But they don’t actually get time and funding to manage that. Because it’s too late, been tasked to go on to the next job, and the grunt has now got this pack going, okay, this is my pack, and puts it on their back and So there’s never that constant feedback loop, which would happen when that rubber meets the road at that initial phase.

Yes, we’ve got forms you fill out if, you know, like we’ve got rodents, your pack doesn’t fit, fill out a rodent and they’ll look at that. But I think if you had a more lively first 6 to 12 months of constant re sciencing in the field, it would be useful.

Maybe they do that 

[00:44:30] JP: that they’re going that way. Rob, I’m just mindful of time. So I’m just going fire one final question at you. So obviously you’ve had a lot of experience. You’ve had experience, as PTI. Then you obviously turned to the dark side and became a physio. If you were to give just one piece of advice to a young private rob Orr when you joined the Australian army, what would it be?

[00:44:50] Rob: Now, I must admit, I’ve been thinking about this for a while. cause that’s a great question. And I know there were many things I could have come up with. And then I thought, no, bugger it. I’m going to cheat. I’m going to use something that a corporal gave to me when I was going through Kapuka, just before I got out.

He said to me, never say no to a course. Never say no to any training course, no matter what it is. If it’s an Excel course, any computer based course, whether it’s a driver’s course, whether it’s a heavy weapons course, if they offer you a course, take it, and get your skill sets up.

And it does, it opens up so many doors and gives you so much experience and further knowledge about bigger things that I agree a hundred percent. never say no to a course, military, civilian, whatever. Always learn.

[00:45:36] Martin: Love that. I think that those are words to live by. people say being a yes man is not a good thing. But in this context, say yes, that’s that’s

[00:45:44] Rob: Well, it got, a high school dropout like me to someone who’s a professor with a PhD. whenever there was a course, I took it.

[00:45:50] JP: But then the flip side is never volunteer for anything. 

[00:45:52] Rob: I was voluntold often that I was going on a course.

[00:45:56] JP: .

so Rob, if want to know more about you, what’s the best vehicle for them to reach email social media.

[00:46:03] Rob: Email’s the best or just, have a look on our website. that’ll link through to us. That’s the Tactical Research Unit. So T R U at bond. B O N D dot E D U dot A U. Or just through you is fine. You know where to find me. 

[00:46:17] Martin: Yeah, we’ll put that in the show notes. So just before wrap up, Rob, I’d like to give you the final word. Anything you want to reinforce anything we’ve missed. would you like to say just to wrap up this episode?

[00:46:29] Rob: I’d like to say thank you. Thank you to all those who serve, who have served, and even those who are thinking of serving, but also those who support that serve. a huge thing to go out of your way to serve your community. and I think it is undervalued and I think that particularly those that are currently serving and those who have served deserve thanks for stepping forward when many others didn’t.

[00:46:54] Martin: Wise words. I think we all agree with that. Thanks, Rob. I’ve loved this talk. I’ve learned a ton. It’s been great. Thank you 


[00:47:02] JP: No, as always, mate, brilliant chat, dude.

[00:47:04] Rob: Thank you very much. Thanks gents.

[00:47:06] OUTRO: Thank you for joining us on the Optimizing Human Performance podcast, a Wavel Room production. If you’re enjoying this content, don’t forget to like and subscribe so that we can keep improving. And remember to visit wavellroom.com to find their latest articles, podcasts, and newsletters. If you know someone who could benefit from our discussions, please refer them to our show.

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