Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Review of Al Ciampa's PT manual


A note: this is my first review of a product or other material on the blog. I might do this often... or not. If you'd like to see more; or have anything specifically you'd like my thoughts on give me a shout and let me know. 

 I've always been fascinated by the physical requirements of the soldier. Individuals serving in the military need to have a bit of everything, physically; they cannot afford to specialize on a particular physical attribute but should ideally be ready to perform a wide variety of tasks in a range of different circumstances. They do not always have a great deal of time to devote to their physical improvement or even maintenance, either. So training has to be simple, general, effective, and 'cheap' in terms of time and recovery.

A while back I read Al Ciampa's hardening the soldier for combat and was very impressed. Enough so that when I saw him reference a 'manual' that explained his system more in depth I purchased a copy.

Al originally designed this manual as a resource for his students, a supplement for his instruction concerning physical preparation for the military. The current version is more expansive, intended for a broader audience--anyone, really, not just Servicemembers--but is not a standalone teaching tool. It is a manual, not a book. However, I believe it to be a really great companion to any material written by Pavel Tsatsouline, Dan John, Gray Cook, or the Original Strength methods. If you are unfamiliar with their bodies of work, Al's manual will introduce their basic concepts in a very accessible manner. Then you can proceed to studying their material in more detail with this background in place. If you are already familiar with them, the manual will help you understand the possible applications of those methodologies in greater detail.

Al has been developing the manual even since I received my first copy. The current (most recent) edit is a little over 100 pages. Smallish font, a fair number of pictures. Some instructional, some historical. They don't distract from the content or take up much space. There is a surprising amount of info in here for just over a hundred pages, and none of it is fluff.

Table of Contents:
Introduction and suggested use
1. Movement
-The chassis
-Load & speed
-Pain & Injury
2. The Basic Plan
-Chassis reconstruction
-The 'algorithm'
-basic training
3. Towards mastery
-the extended basic plan
-training progressions/specific programs
4. Appendices
Posture, corrective exercise, bioenergetics, strength training, minimal shoes, selection prep

The manual is pretty evenly split between movement theory (and some of the best descriptions thereof I've come across) and a 'here you go: do this!' training progression with plenty of explanations as to the 'why'. In my opinion it's worth getting the manual just for the Algorithm and the Basic Plan especially if you're 'broken'. Seriously, if you've been sitting too much or lifting too much or running too much or have bad posture or are just worn down, it's a fantastic place to start. What Al lays out is simple, easy to implement, has a clear progression, and is applicable to almost anyone. Doesn't get much better than that.

Other parts that stuck out for me--some ideas on programming the kettlebell swing; very sensible running advice, a primer on rucking, and a philosophy of PT prep that is more sensible than others I've seen. Look at most military fitness preparation programs and you will see a not-so-gradual buildup to hellish volume of pushups and running with little explanation or insurance of a proper background. This is very far from that.

This is not an instructional resource regarding the movements involved, but you may pick up some useful tips here and there even if you already know how to do them; and the descriptions and accompanying images are very clear. You could probably learn most (not all) of the important movements particularly in the 'algorithm' just from the manual; though that isn't necessarily recommended. A few sessions with a qualified instructor would be enough for most people, though.

Most of the manual content is not new to me at all but I still learned a lot. It was also one of the most enjoyable reads of any training material I've come across recently, and it doesn't take a lot of time to go through a few times. Just about everything in here can be applied right away too, it doesn't have to be 'earned'--that's kind of the point. I cannot emphasize enough that the presentation of the material is extremely clear and easy to digest even for someone without the aforementioned educational background.

Bottomline: I think you should get this. (And this is in no way self-serving advertising, I'm not connected with this venture of Al's at all.) If you're a coach, it will help you teach these concepts more clearly--introducing them, if you don't know them--and possibly help you think outside some boxes. Give it to your students and they'll understand why you're doing what you're doing. If you're anywhere on the spectrum of couch potato to competitive athlete, it might well help you improve physically with minimal additional instruction. Plus, it's just a nice little gem of simplicity and sensibility to add to anyone's training library. Al is asking for a 'donation' of $20, with 5% going to the Wounded Warrior Project; it isn't being formally published/sold at the time of writing. Contact him at: with the subject heading "PT manual".


More posts coming soon! I've been busy but it's time to start writing again. Email me with any questions or requests:


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  2. Can just only agree with this!
    Al isn´t just a great provider of knowledge in training and fitness, his experience of life will make him a coach in a own dimension.
    Doesn´t matter if you are a novice or a experienced athlete or coach by yourself, Al can definitely help you reach the next level.

    I really recommend him and his services!