The Seven Ps dominated my time in the military. Proper Planning and Preparation Prevents Piss Poor Performance. Attention to detail is the key to life and death when soldiers are placed in harm’s way. One key area where attention must be paid is in the physical preparation of soldiers either entering the service for the first time or deploying on operations. Physical training for the military is some of the most brutal training on the planet. If you have chosen to try out for one of the special operation units around the globe, you better have your head squared away for the coming hell you will suffer.
The fitness world is constantly trying to find the fittest person on earth through various watered-down competitions. You need look no further than a group of soldiers operating in the mountains of Afghanistan. High altitude and the presence of people who are trying to kill you by any means available will force you to up your game. And conditioning is not just for the troops engaged in the firefight. The units providing base security need to maintain an alert vigil over their comrades. All who serve in the military need to look out for one another. Being in peak shape will enable those on sentry or operations room duty to maintain mental acuity.
A common picture of military training is that of either muddy people on an obstacle course or marching about under huge packs. Those are important tools in the physical training of soldiers, but the battle space has changed. Urban terrain now dominates much of the land deployed soldiers operate in. While the long distance marches and runs prepare our troops for the rigors of their tour we need to look at incorporating speed, agility, and quickness drills found in sports like football (soccer) and hockey. The ability to cover short distances quickly under combat load, while having the fast feet and kinesthetic awareness, that these drills will develop is key to surviving an ambush or to dominate the ground and win the firefight.
Just as professional sports teams practice for game day, so the deployed soldier must prepare. The difference for him or her is that it’s game day every day. With the current operational tempo, volunteers need to be trained and put into the fight. Time should not be wasted at training units on building physical fitness. Applicants must arrive ready for training.
To that end let us look at a few examples of training you can do in your home and/or commercial gym to better prepare to serve your country. Here are my nine pieces of advice to get ready for the military:
1. Being in control of your body is key.
Pull ups, push ups, lunges, air squats, and sit ups must be performed. Depending on your current fitness level start slow 5-10 reps for 1-2 sets. Pull ups are going to suck for many, so work one or two at a time. With all the listed movements, you are going to need to be able to smash out thousands of these. These movements will form the core of resistance training in the unit you join.
2. The ability to cover distance on foot is paramount.
Again start with small distance and employ a walk/run protocol. Depending on where you have chosen to serve you need to get miles in your legs. Being comfortable with load on your back/front (actually everywhere) is key. Start with a light pack and either increase the distance you cover or the weight. Do not increase distance and weight together. This will wreck your legs and set you back.
3. Hills are your friends.
Find a good hill and sprint up it. Then add weight and either sprint or walk briskly up it for reps.
4. Learn to walk.
Sounds stupid, but with the load you will carry and the distance you will cover you won’t be running much. Walking requires a different way of moving the body. During my time in the British Para’s we learnt to lean forward at the waist and throw your legs forward from the hip while swinging the arms. It’s amazing how efficient this is for covering distance with load.
5. Agility ladder and cone drills.
These will give you the control needed to cover short distances quickly and the ability to change direction, so you can take cover while advancing towards the fight.
6. Do compound movements.
Squats/press/deadlift, aka powerlifting and Olympic lifting, need to form the base of all gym training. Curls are not great for combat. You need to be able to handle load and move explosively.
7. Get training buddies of similar mental disposition.
You will feed off each other and keep motivating one another. Try loading two bars with 50kg each and take turns carrying them in the farmer’s carry position, two people at a time. This will simulate casualty evacuation. Similar techniques are employed in the selection and training of some units – they use stretchers, but you get the gist of it. Try running 5km as a group, and if the bars touch the ground during changeover or if someone drops the bars, the group does 20 burpees.
8. Learn to swim or get better.
Once you have attained a certain confidence then get into board shorts and T-shirts to swim, or do it in combat pants. With the addition of clothes, swimming becomes most entertaining.
9. Find your dark zone.
That pit of physical hell where you think you can’t go on. Once you push through this dark place your mental toughness increases and your military career will be safe and successful. It’s up to you. How bad do you want it?
Are you in the military? What preparation helped you the most? If you are aspiring to join the military, what do you find to be your physical obstacles? Post to comments below.
Photos courtesy of Shutterstock.