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Military fitness programs have really started to develop over the years. Once upon a time most military forces incorporated running, push-ups, pull-ups and sit-ups. That was it. They might have included a few burpees and rifle exercises into the mix. However now most militaries use the weights room and various other strength and conditioning tools. But there is still a long way to go with military fitness programs.
Military fitness is unique in that the needs of a soldier are non-specific. Soldiers face varied demands everyday. An infantry soldier needs to be battle fit and ready at all times. At the same time a sapper needs to be fit to cope with heavy demands of their job such as lifting, carrying, walking etc. The issue is that the military of any country cannot cater to each individual on a personal level. PT programs need to be created to be useful for every corps and every soldier. In the long run all soldiers have to face similar demands anyway.
My point is that military fitness programs need to be applicable to such a broad spectrum of physical skills and attributes. Long distance running and a few push-ups are not going to cut it. But neither is letting soldiers just work out on their own accord in the weights room. So many people do not have the required knowledge to create a program that will serve all functional needs. This results in bodybuilding style programs in the gym with the addition of jogging. This is not conducive to effective training for the military athlete.
This article is not an exact program perse, however what I am aiming to do is provide a template for the design of strength and conditioning regimes for military personnel. This includes some examples and ideas.
The first and foremost point to take note of is the need for varied stimuli. The needs of military personnel are not 100% predictable. Their needs vary from marching or running across a long distance over rugged terrain carrying all their gear to face to face combat or simply needing to haul large pieces of equipment or climb over a boulder to get a better vantage point.
A program with a set structure of sets, reps, rest periods etc. is not going to produce the required fitness. These sort of programs are only useful if the activity to be trained for is predictable and constant with consistent conditions.
Variance is the preparation of an individual for varied demands by introducing constantly changing stimuli. This should not be entirely random however. A program that elicits varied physical attributes still needs to be structured so as to contain as many stimuli as possible and to train elements relatively frequently. This is alternative to simply doing a random workout every day.
Variance results in an athlete that is able to squat heavy, has a vertical jump exceeding 50cm, can run a mile in under six minutes, sprint 100 metres in under 12 seconds and still possesses the ability to run a marathon in under four hours. The soldier needs to be a well-rounded athlete and the well-rounded athlete is equal parts gymnast, weightlifter, sprinter, middle distance runner and field athlete. I will discuss later how to structure effectively varied military fitness programs.
The military athlete is placed under various demands throughout his or her career. It is likely that this will involve some extreme physical circumstances such as a lack of sleep for weeks at a time, continuous marching for days, sandbagging a flooded river, building a bridge, direct combat etc. some of these demands require a supremely conditioned individual. A lack of preparation is a virtual death sentence should the need arise to cope with anything on this end of the scale.
This sort of extreme demand will not be catered to by someone who is merely fit and healthy. The soldier that excels under such circumstances is the one that has physical attributes that exceed the needs and has energy to burn. Simply enduring it will not suffice.
To adapt to these extreme circumstances the soldier needs to train and prepare for the worst physically. However psychology is also a major aspect of physical effort and suffering. The person without the ability to withstand and adapt to the suffering is the one that dies.
But how, one may ask, can someone adequately prepare for extreme physical demands as seen in military operations? The answer is through extreme PT programs. The bulk of PT obviously cannot be excruciating otherwise soldiers would simply burn out and die of exhaustion. But it can still be hard with the occasional test of will. Military fitness programs should include a mix of short and intense workouts that allow a person to push to the point of vomit and longer workouts that really test the endurance and staying power of the soldier.
Portability and Convenience
In order to be effective with a large number of people a military PT program needs to be convenient and applicable to all circumstances, regardless of equipment and facilities. This requires preparation and alternatives for all exercises and workout structures. With a squat rack they can do deadlifts, without weights they can do gymnastics, without space to run they can perform circuits etc. There should always be a contingency plan in place for military fitness training.
This is why I always recommend training a variety of skills that span weightlifting, gymnastics, sprinting, middle distance running and athletic disciplines such as throwing. These should all form a part of military fitness programs.
Convenience and portability means you will need to make the most of the resources you have from time to time. This sometimes means improvising or having portable pieces of equipment, like gymnastics rings or even one's own pack to be used as a weighted exercise implement.
The structure of a military fitness regime needs to fit into the military specific training. Military PTIs don’t have the flexibility to structure a program weeks in advance because there are certain military operations and exercises that need to be completed, sometimes at a moment’s notice.
An efficient structure for a military fitness program is generally three days on and one day off. This works well in terms of training frequency and allows for flexibility. It can be adapted to five days on and two days off or any other configuration that works for your unit. Sessions generally need to be short and intense. Most units don’t have 90 minutes a day available for training, nor do they need to. Long sessions should be structured into the program once every 10 to 12 days. These are endurance sessions of between 90-120 minutes. Endurance is a necessary attribute for soldiers, as sometimes long marches, runs or work is required. However keep in mind that endurance should not be added in at the cost of other aspects of fitness.
The three days on, one day off structure goes as follows…
Day one: Anything requiring skill. This includes specific physical drills and any athletic skill that is required.
Day two: Strength, speed and power. This is placed at day two due to potential fatigue after the workout placed at day three. Strength, speed and power should be varied between weightlifting, gymnastics, sprinting, plyometrics etc.
Day three: Metabolic conditioning/cardio. This session should be one that leaves you feeling completely gassed. Metcon is simply a workout that taxes the cardiovascular system and increases heart rate. This can include timed circuits, continuous exercise, interval training etc.
There is a specific reason for structuring things this way. Day one is reserved for skills and drills being placed after a rest. This ensures the soldier is fresh. Days two will be for strength, speed and power because they will still be relatively fresh and able to output maximum performance. Day three is a total wipe-out day and is placed at the end of a three day cycle because it is likely to cause some residual fatigue.
Military fitness programs are really not programs at all. A program generally has a set structure and remains the same for weeks at a time. In order for effective variance to be developed it is recommended to vary the time, rest periods, intervals, exercises, volume and generally just arrange workouts in as many combinations as possible while covering all bases equally and effectively.
Having said all that, the following is simply a sample program. This is a 12 day cycle of workouts for military personnel that follow the structure and guidelines outlined throughout this article. I do not claim that this is all one needs to do in terms of military conditioning. This is merely a guideline to provide a template for the effective design of military fitness programs.
Low crawl/leopard crawl practice. Practice the low crawl/leopard crawl as fast and silent as possible.
Throwing practice. Practice throwing a moderately weighted ball such as a cricket ball, baseball or something slightly heavier.
Practice an athletic skill of choice to finish. It might even be just practicing a given part of the military obstacle course, which most units have access to.
Back squat for 5-5-5 reps
Cleans for 5-5-5 reps
Triple broad jumps x 4 (a triple broad jump is jumping forward three times in succession)
4 x 100 metre sprints
20 minutes, as fast as you can, go through this circuit as many times as possible...
Squat jumps x 10
Burpees x 10
Pull-ups x 10
Practice hand to hand combat techniques. Pick between 1 and 3 different simple techniques and drill through them with a partner. If no partner is available then practice on a punching back using strike and kick combos.
Pick 2-3 complex gymnastics moves and practice them for 20-30 minutes.
Front squat for 10-10-10 reps.
Barbell row for 10-10-10 reps.
Military press for 10-10-10 reps.
Clap push-ups for 5-5-5 reps.
4 x 400 metre sprints at max pace with two minutes rest between laps.
Practice general gymnastics skills, parkour or elements of the military obstacle course. This can be extremely fun to do and will help to develop body awareness, coordination, balance etc. This is highly relevant, however unorthodox.
Pick an Olympic weightlifting movement and do 10 sets of 3 reps, increasing weight slightly on each set.
Sprint 100m then leopard crawl 20m, do 10 burpees and repeat for a total of 4 times. Do this as fast as possible, minimal rests.
There you have it, a military fitness program sample. This demonstrates variance and covers each of the 10 components of fitness. This sort of training allows a soldier to be in peak condition for anything that may arise with a reduced risk of overtraining. Military fitness programs need to combine this variance with extreme effort, pushing beyond boundaries in terms of intensity and sometimes endurance and structured to meet all needs and circumstances.
As I mentioned earlier, military fitness programs should not really be thought of as programs in the strict sense. Don’t take this program template as a set of instructions, it is merely a sample that can be used as a guide. Create your own workouts in varying combinations.
For further advice on military fitness programs contact us using the form below.
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YOUR COACH – Chris Lyons
Chris Lyons is an experienced strength and conditioning coach, having trained athletes of all ages and levels since 2002. Chris specialises in coaching athletes for speed and power specific to fast-moving sports such as rugby league, rugby union, soccer, Aussie rules football etc. Since 2002 Chris has conducted close to 15,000 hours of training and coaching directly with athletes and members of the general population. From this experience comes Sprint Ninja, based on tried and tested training methods combined with up to date research. Chris continues to challenge himself not only as a coach, but also as an athlete, competing in sprinting events, strongman and Olympic-style weightlifting.