Editor’s note: This week we’re publishing excerpts from FM 21-20, an Army field manual from 1946 that includes the physical training program used by GIs during WWII. You can read the story behind FM 21-20 here. This series may offer you practical suggestions on exercises to incorporate into your own workouts, or simply inspire you to get in shape and embody the kind of strength and fitness that would make your grandpa proud!
Guerrilla exercises focused on things like crawling, jumping, and carrying others, and were specifically designed to increase the kind of agility a solider needed to thrive in combat. Many of the exercises would today be considered plyometrics, which are great for increasing your speed, power, and explosiveness, along with your overall mobility. As the manual mentions, these exercises are quite strenuous, and they’re another popular form of punishment on GoRuck Challenges. I had never attempted the armless, legless “crawl” before, and found it an excellent way to look ridiculous in front of your loved ones!
FM 20-21: War Department Field Manual, 1946
a. Guerrilla exercises not only contribute materially to conditioning and developing the body, but they also give practice in many activities used in trench and guerrilla warfare, and in scouting. They are a valuable supplement to conditioning exercises and introduce variety into the program.
b. Six or eight exercises from the large number available should be sufficient for the usual daily program. More or less may be used as the situation requires, but too many should not be employed at one time because they are exceedingly strenuous. The length of time or the distance for each exercise depends upon the condition of the men and the difficulty of the exercise. Normally each guerrilla exercise is done for a period of 20 to 30 seconds. Such activities as the broad jump and hops are done a definite number of times. For variation, many of the guerrillas can be done to the right, left, rear, or at double time. Most of these exercises may be employed as events in relay races.
TYPES OF GUERRILLA EXERCISES. There are four types of guerrilla exercises: ground (on hands and feet), squat-bend (bending legs or trunk), erect, and double (in pairs). In general, it is advisable to combine exercises from more than one type.
a. Ground Exercises.
EXERCISE 1: ALL-FOURS
Face down on hands and feet, walk forward.
EXERCISE 2: BEAR WALK
Face down on hands and feet. Travel forward by moving the right arm and leg simultaneously and then the left arm and left leg simultaneously. Keep knees straight.
EXERCISE 3: LAME DOG
From the front leaning rest position, and with the left foot elevated, travel forward on both hands and the right foot. After walking the required distance, change the position of the feet.
EXERCISE 4: FACE DOWN CRAWLS
Face down. Keep head, body, legs and arms close to the ground. Inside of feet should be flat on ground. Using hands and feet. In crawling face down, where the legs are used, push with the inside of the feet, not with the knees.
Using hands only.
Using feet only.
Using neither hands nor feet by wriggling the body.
EXERCISE 5: FACE UP CRAWLS
Using hands and feet.
Using hands only.
Using feet only.
Using neither hands nor feet.
EXERCISE 6: FROG JUMP
Travel forward by leaping from the squatting position, with hands on ground and between knees. Land on hands with arms extended and bring up legs to the squatting position.
EXERCISE 7: POLLYWOG CRAWL
Keeping the face downward, and the back and legs straight, walk forward on hands and feet. Hands advance with short steps, feet advance by hunching the hips and bending the ankles.
EXERCISE 8: CRAB WALK, FORWARD
In the sitting position, support body on hands and feet and walk in direction of feet.
EXERCISE 9: CRAB WALK, BACKWARD
In the sitting position, support body on hands and feet and walk in direction of hands.
EXERCISE 10: INCH WORM
From the front leaning rest position, move the feet up toward the hands in short steps. Every effort should be made to get the heels on the ground as quickly as possible and to keep the palms touching the ground as long as possible. When feet are as close as possible to hands, walk forward on hands to front leaning rest position. Do not bend the knees.
EXERCISE 11: BOUNCING BALL
Face downward. Support body on hands (shoulder width apart) and feet. Keep feet apart, back and legs in line, and knees straight. Travel forward by means of a series of short simultaneous upward springs of hands and feet. Bounce hips up and down.
b. Squat-bend Exercises.
EXERCISE 1: DUCK WADDLE
Assume full knee bend position with hands on hips. Then walk forward.
EXERCISE 2: CHICKEN WALK
Assume full knee bend position. Grasp the ankles (left hand on left ankle, right hand on right ankle), and walk forward.
EXERCISE 3: FULL-SQUAT JUMPS
Assume full knee bend position, with hands on hips. Then travel forward by short bouncing jumps.
EXERCISE 4: INDIAN WALK
With knees bent slightly and trunk forward, let arms hang down until backs of hands touch the ground. Retaining this position walk forward.
EXERCISE 5: TOE-GRASP WALK
Bend knees slightly; bend trunk forward; grasp toes with hands (left hand on left toe, right hand on right toe). Retaining this position, walk forward.
EXERCISE 6: CROUCH RUN
Lean forward at waist until trunk is parallel with the ground. Retaining this position, run forward at a jogging pace.
EXERCISE 7: TOE-TOUCH WALK
Walk forward, bending trunk forward and touching one hand to toe of opposite foot on each step. The trunk should be raised to the vertical position between steps. The toe should be touched as close to the ground as possible. Keep knees straight.
EXERCISE 8: KNEE-TOUCH WALK
Walk forward, bending knees and touching knee of rear leg to the ground on each step. Knees are bent and straightened on each step.
EXERCISE 9: STEAM ENGINE
With fingers laced behind neck, walk forward in the following manner. As left leg is brought forward, raise knee, bend trunk forward and touch the outside of the right elbow to the outside of the knee. Then step forward on to left foot and raise trunk. Repeat with right leg and left elbow. Continue changing in this fashion.
EXERCISE 10: LEAP FROG
All men place hands on knees and bend head forward. One designated man leap frogs over the men in front of him and continues around the entire circle until he has leaped over each man. Then he returns to his original station where he immediately assumes the crouched position to enable the others to leap frog over him. As soon as he vaults over the first man that man gets up and leap frogs about the circle after him. The third man starts as soon as the second man has vaulted over him. This continues until all have vaulted over all the other men in the circle.
c. Erect Exercises.
EXERCISE 1: WALK ON TOES
Walk forward on toes.
EXERCISE 2: GIANT-STEP WALK
Walk forward, making every step as long as possible.
EXERCISE 3: FAST WALK
Walk forward at a fast pace, swinging arms vigorously (avoid running).
EXERCISE 4: KNEE-RAISE WALK
Walk forward, raising bent knee of advancing leg as high as possible on each step. Make every step as long as possible by extending leg forward.
EXERCISE 5: GOOSE STEP
Walk forward, swinging advancing foot hip high and then down to ground vigorously. Keep knee of advancing leg stiff. Steps should be of normal length. Swing arms.
EXERCISE 6: HAND-KICK WALK
Walk forward, kicking foot upward on every step, at the same time lean forward and touch toe with hand of opposite arm. Left hand touches right foot, and right hand touches left foot.
EXERCISE 7: STRADDLE RUN
Run forward, leaping to the right as right foot advances, and to the left as left foot advances.
EXERCISE 8: KICK RUN
Run forward, kicking foot of advancing leg upward on every step.
EXERCISE 9: KNEE-RAISE RUN
Run forward, raising knee of advancing leg as high as possible on every step.
EXERCISE 10: HOP
Travel forward by hopping on left foot. Take long hops. Change to right foot and repeat. Jump with both feet together.
EXERCISE 11: HOBBLE HOPPING ON LEFT FOOT
Holding right foot in left hand behind buttocks, travel forward by hopping on left foot.
EXERCISE 12: BROAD JUMPING
Travel forward by means of a series of broad jumps off both feet.
EXERCISE 13: STIFF-KNEE JUMPING
Holding knees stiff, travel forward by means of continuous short jumps (toe springs).
EXERCISE 14: HEEL-CLICK JUMPING
Travel forward by means of continuous high jumps, clicking heels together on every jump.
EXERCISE 15: HOP STEP
Travel forward by means of a series of hops and steps. Step on left foot, hop on left foot, step on right foot, hop on right foot, etc.
EXERCISE 16: PIKE JUMPING
Jump forward and upward from both feet keeping knees straight. Swing legs forward and touch toes with hands at the top of each jump.
d. Double Exercises.
(1) Arrange men according to their height and weight, and have the group count off by twos. The “ones” will be designated as A and “twos” as B. A’s carry B’s to start. At the command “CHANGE”, they reverse procedure.
EXERCISE 1: ARM CARRY
A stands facing B’s side. A bends his knees and leans forward, placing one arm behind B’s back and one arm under B’s knees., A straightens up, lifting B from the ground. B places near arm around A’s shoulder and clasps his other hand. Retaining this position, A runs forward 30 to 60 paces. Repeat with A and B alternating positions.
EXERCISE 2: FIREMEN’S CARRY
A stands sideways in front of B. A bends his knees and leans forward, placing one arm through B’s crotch. B leans forward until he lies across A’s shoulders. A straightens up, lifting B off the ground. A, using the hand of the arm through B’s crotch, grasps the wrist of B’s arm which is hanging over his shoulder. Retaining this position, A runs forward 30 to 60 paces. Repeat with A and B alternating positions.
EXERCISE 3: CROSS CARRY
A stands sideways in front of B and leans forward. B bends forward until he is lying across the middle of A’s back. A places one arm around B’s knees and one arm around B’s shoulders. A straightens up, lifting B from the ground. Retaining this position, A runs forward 30 to 60 paces. Repeat with A and B alternating positions.
EXERCISE 4: SINGLE SHOULDER CARRY
A stands in front of and facing B. A assumes a semi-squatting position. B leans forward until he lies across A’s right shoulder. A clasps his arms around B’s legs and straightens up, lifting B from the ground. Retaining this position, A runs forward 30 to 60 paces. Repeat with A and B alternating positions.
EXERCISE 5: HIP CARRY
A stands in front of B. B mounts A’s hips, and clasps his arms in front of A’s chest. A grasps B’s thighs. Retaining this position, A runs forward 30 to 60 paces. Repeat with A and B alternating positions.
EXERCISE 6: SHOULDER CARRY
A stands behind B and leans forward, placing his head between B’s legs. A straightens up, raising B to a sitting position astride his neck and shoulders. B hooks his feet around A’s back. A grasps B’s legs. Retaining this position, A runs forward 30 to 60 paces. Repeat with A and B alternating positions.
EXERCISE 7: WAIST CARRY
A stands behind B, bends his knees slightly and places his arms around B’s waist. A straightens his knees, lifting B from the ground. B raises his feet by bending his knees. Retaining this position, A runs forward 30 to 60 paces. Repeat with A and B alternating positions.
EXERCISE 8: PRONE CARRY
A and B lie side by side on their backs. A grasps the far forearm of B and then rolls to the opposite side pulling B on his back. Holding B’s arm, A crawls forward with B on his back. Repeat with A and B alternating positions.
EXERCISE 9: CRAWL CARRY
(1) A kneels astride B who is lying on his back. B clasps his hands about A’s neck. A crawls forward on hands and knees, pulling B forward. Repeat with A and B alternating positions.
(2) The double exercises above may be varied by requiring the man who does the carrying to lift his partner up from a supine or prone position. The partner who is lifted may be instructed to stay limp and pretend to be unconscious. Two methods of lifting may be used:
(a) B lies on his back. A grasps B’s wrists and pulls his trunk upright. A throws B upward and quickly grasps him around the chest under the arms. A then lifts B up quickly so that the upward momentum of B’s body carries him on upward when A releases his arms. A then grasps B lower down around the chest and maneuvers him into position for carry. Repeat with A and B alternating positions.
(b) B lies face downward. A grasps B around chest under his arms and lifts him upward to a position on his knees. A then lifts B hard so that B’s upward momentum carries him on upward when A releases his arms. A then grasps B lower down around the chest and maneuvers him into position for carry. Repeat with A and B alternating positions.
Read the Entire Series
The Importance of Physical Fitness
The Strength Course