Study Tests Unconventional Methods of Military Physical Preparation
Like athletes, soldiers require a broad range of physical tools to perform their jobs correctly. However, concerns are mounting about the traditional military fitness protocol’s ability to meet these requirements.
In a recent Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research article, researchers decided to see if they could do better. Not only did the researchers want to find a better way to exercise and reduce injuries to soldiers, but they also acknowledged the difficulties of getting in a good workout during deployment. They examined the program's effectiveness over a short period of time for those who were already fit.
In the study, the soldiers all performed a round of testing. The goal of the testing was to give the researchers standards so they could determine normal performance in all groups. They also wanted a starting point for the two different workout programs, in order to see which worked better over time. The tests were as follows:
- Thirty-meter rush wearing a fighting load
- Simulated casualty recovery wearing a fighting load
- One-repetition maximum bench press
- Maximum repetition pull-up test
- Medicine ball put
- Vertical jump
- T-test agility drill
The participants were then split up into two groups. They trained in either the traditional military way, doing push ups, sit ups, and running, or in a way that is unconventional and new to military personnel. The second workout looked more like that of an athlete than the typical military training. The alternate workout included some loaded marches and a few calisthenics, like push ups and sit ups, but also had much more. It included four days of core work, weight lifting twice per week, agility, speed, and power work twice per week, and flexibility work on five days per week.
Each group performed these routines for seven weeks, after which they were tested again using the same tests written above. The new program was more or less considered a job well done. Maximal strength, upper body power, and simulated field tests all showed substantial improvements doing the more varied training. Thus, the researchers concluded it was effective.
There are further considerations here, however. First, traditional military training is chosen for a reason: it can be done anywhere, which makes it easier for deployed soldiers. Second, it’s not a surprise that medicine ball shot-putting and bench pressing were performed better in the new program, since these exercises were also done during training.
The key aspects of the tests were the loaded running and the loaded casualty recovery simulation. These are much closer to actual field conditions for soldiers than, say, a bench press. Unfortunately, the researchers reported that the casualty recovery was an unreliable test, as performance changed significantly from day to day.
While the results were more tenuous to me than they were to the researchers, the study brings up a larger point. With modern technology and knowledge of athletics, it may be time to do more to make sure that soldiers are physically prepared for their work and that they remain as safe and injury-free as possible.
1. Mark Lester, et. al. “Effect of Specific Short-Term Physical Training on Fitness Measures in Conditioned Men,” Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 28(3), 2014.
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