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Article – 8/9 RAR Introduction to High Performance 2017

Training programs associated with strength, conditioning and maximal power are being recognised as important components of military fitness. Historically military fitness has had a significant focus on aerobic endurance style activities. This may be due to the simplicity of implementing training programs, periodisation, or a follow on from the ‘base’ military style adaptation needed at Kapooka.

As a training outcome, the current tests associated with physical training programs revolve around biannual or annual assessments and are not necessarily specifically tailored or designed to meet the intent of the ever evolving, high-end war fighting requirements. “There is no doubt that a war fighter’s maximal strength and power will dictate the magnitude of force and power in submaximal high intensity endurance performances, literally translating into better performance on the modern day battle field.” (William J. Kraemer and Tunde Szivak, 2012).

Discussion

Although professional sport and soldiering are two different disciplines there is a correlation between specific training outcomes. Traditionally, muscular endurance training programs have used moderate loads lifted for 12-15 repetitions. “Any form of training must mirror the specific demands of the sport or intent. In resistance training, this means that the load used should match the resistance that must be overcome while competing. The number of repetitions or the duration of exercise bouts in a session should approach that during the event. Muscular endurance training makes up only one part of an annual strength program – even for endurance athletes. It should follow a phase of maximal strength training because the greater their potential for strength endurance, the more force they will be able to apply over a prolonged period. Heavy strength training has also been shown to improve exercise economy in endurance athletes.” (Bompa TO. 1999).

In the modern soldiering environment, a soldier performs up to five sessions a week dictated by operational tempo. This is exclusive of any training that the individual soldier may do in his or her own time. Why is this relevant…? A professional sporting organisation generally will train five days per week with multiple sessions that revolve around recovery, recuperation and rest with a weekly focal point (Game Day). A soldier may train 1-5 days per week with a focal point of a deployment, exercise, return from injury or to just be a functional, athletic soldier capable of anything, anytime. The difference is that we train our soldiers without the support of nutrition, massage, recovery sessions, and pre, during and post workout supplementation.

The intent of being physically fit, mentally resilient and emotionally intelligent to win a game, battle or war suggests that the correlation between high-end war fighting and elite athletes is more familiar than we recognise.

During an eight week period in early 2017, 8/9 RAR conducted a specifically designed high performance program that revolved around increasing strength and power as Phase 1. The intent is that Phase 1 will lead into a 12 week program (Phase 2). 8/9 RAR provided 26 candidates to conduct Phase 1 of the strength/power program.

The 8/9 RAR command team were interested in conducting a specifically designed elite sports program that had tailored military goals associated with high-end war fighting to see if a correlation could be made. The program itself revolved around six compound movements: back squat, floor press, high pull, push press, snatch grip deadlift and dumbbell lunge. It also included a battle beep test which was specifically designed to test the association between strength, power, agility and coordination under fatigue while utilising fine motor skills such as a magazine change.

In the work The Psychological Effects of Combat as cited in (Grossman and Siddle, 1999) the following information is relevant to the battle beep test:

  • 60-80 BPM normal resting heart rate
  • 115 BPM fine motor skills begin to deteriorate
  • 115-145 BPM optimal complex motor skills, visual reaction time, cognitive reaction time
  • 145 BPM complex motor skills deteriorate
  • 175 BPM cognitive processing deteriorates, loss of peripheral visual, loss of depth perception, loss of near vision and auditory exclusion
  • 175+ BPM irrational fighting or fleeing, freezing, submissive behavior

The battle beep test focused on controlling the candidate’s heart rate whilst developing the compound movements associated with strength/power relevant to the job specificity of conducting a short burst, taking a firing position and conducting a magazine change under test, time and progressively fatiguing conditions.

The results

The individual strength movement and average strength gains can also be seen in fig 1.

Figure 1

The strength/power training that was incorporated into the program was based on six primary compound lifts with supplementary power and intensity movements (as seen in fig 1). The major increase in strength occurred over the lower body plane. This suggests that current training programs in Defence focus too much on upper body strength compared to using the biggest, most powerful muscles – the legs. The training results suggest that this increase in lower body strength and power had a second order effect in the job specific battle beep test. By increasing the output of the legs, the candidates were able to lunge, power up, and move explosively and dynamically across the 7m shuttle. The increase in strength allowed for the candidate to conduct more repetitions comfortably prior to lactic acid building up or a spike in heart rate and deterioration on fine motor skills. The individual and specific battle beep test average can be seen in fig 2. Situations such as a magazine drop, not making the beep line or a weapon malfunction was recorded as a stop.

Figure 2

Conclusion

During the last eight weeks, 8/9 RAR have been involved in a study based around an elite sports high performance strength/power training program with a specific focus on military correlation. Although this study is in its early stages, and the data is raw, we are seeing positive results without injury.

Time, money, effort and resources are continually put into the development of high-end war fighting with a focus on gaining an adaptive edge. Put simply, it comes back to the artistic development of soldiers physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. Whilst science plays a role, it is the art of how we tailor a system and a program to meet the enduring developmental needs of the solider and the warfighting force element. A holistic approach is essential if we are to promote a resilient and adaptive force. A sound strength and conditioning model that is structured and contains periodisation shaped towards key performance metrics and fluidity will ensure our soldiers train to optimise performance.

Way ahead

Phase 2. The 12 week program will branch into adaptive cardiovascular response, prehabilitation, weight load walks (specific to the infantry PESA) and collation of subjective data such as energy levels. A further data analysis will be conducted at the completion of the study. This will provide the opportunity to affirm and validate the outputs of Phase 1 whilst informing the development of a sustainable training and development model for soldiers and force elements within combat teams, battle groups and combat brigades. That said, this model can be tailored for any ‘group set’ of soldiers and ECNs in order to optimise their performance relative to their strength and output requirements.

References:

William, J., Kraemer & Tunde, K. Szivak. (2012) Strength Training For the Warfighter. Human Performance Laboratory, Department of Kinesiology; and Department of Physiology and Neurobiology, University of Connecticut, Storrs, Connecticut.

Baechle TR and Earle RW (2000) Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning: 2nd Edition. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics

Fleck SJ and Kraemer WJ. (2004) Designing Resistance Training Programs: 3rd Edition. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics


About the author: Jimmy Wright has many years experience in sport and fitness. Within the military his postings have included 16 ALR, 2 CDO, 1 RTB and 7 CSSB. He is currently posted to 1 CHB. Outside of the military, he has worked  for a number of professional sporting organisations such as the South Sydney Rabittohs, Port Adelaide Football Club as well as individual elite professional athletes.

14 thoughts on “Article – 8/9 RAR Introduction to High Performance 2017

  1. This is fantastic! I think this way of training will take us leaps and bounds and even prevent injuries. Soldiers in general may be considered ‘fit’ but majority aren’t ‘conditioned’ appropriately for their specific role, especially now with PESA being introduced. Not a huge problem for those of us with easy PESAs that don’t require additional training to pass but those in Combat Corps are another story.

    Just one example that I can directly relate to this – I deployed to Kabul as a part of a UASUV Drive Team. I wasnt originally panelled in for that position, however I ended up replacing someone partly because eventhough they were a CFL and were considered incredibly fit, they werent physically STRONG enough to pull the Team Commander (our heaviest person) out of the car with all their gear and weapons on during basic drills an I could – repeatedly. Was it all upper body strength? No! All lower body in my personal experience, so I’m not suprised by the data you listed. Look at the standardised PT session and its a no brainer that its not setup to help in scenarios like I just mentioned. And if you consider the warfare we are engaged in now, those scenarios are highly likely to continue in the coming years and thats a very basic drill without adding catastrophic circumstances into it.

    Me being able to pull a 100kg+ soldier with all their gear on out of a 4WD in a scenario where their body is completely limp and lifeless can literally only be attributed to my own strength training outside of PT. Sure this other soldier was super fit, but was their fitness functional for the job they needed to do? No.

    I think what you’re dping is fantastic and I sincerely hope it continues to produce quality data eventually resulting in its implementation Army wide. Having been posted to 2CDO yourself, I’m sure you will remember seeing members conduct more decentralised PT. Perhaps conducting some more studies/research in that area in regards to how and why they train and utilise recovery methods the way they do would further benefit/ and improve your argument for this study. I wish you all the success, please keep us updated.

  2. Training our soldiers professionally using science is definitely the way forward. Why shouldn’t our soldiers be trained like professional athletes?! Great article. Keep up the good work.

  3. Excellent article very interested in the end result… please keep us updated.

    Glad to see someone utilising factual data backed by qualified results and thinking outside the box …. congrats

  4. Great work guys. It’s such a positive thing to see that more and more we are moving away from ad hoc PT delivery that often cancels itself out beyond raising untrained individuals up to a base, and are truly looking at a science based approach to enhancing human performance.

    One of the counter arguments (which I don’t personally prescribe too) against programs lie that which you’ve described above is that as it limits training variability, it becomes boring. Did the authors find that the participants got bored with the program and if not why not?

    1. IRT the discussion about limited training variability and how it may cause boredom, here are my thoughts…

      The pace at which society currently operates at is of a very high tempo. Whether it is a business, a sporting organisation or an individual seeking success, the pressures associated with striving for excellence and being a standout within a given field has its own stresses. As the defence is a direct sociodemographic reflection of society we too face these threats.

      To get the fittest force, in the quickest time, ready for the next battle…

      The second order effect of this is that we either conduct ad-hoc Physical Training or “boring” programmed PT.

      In acknowledgement of the discussion about variability i would suggest that programmed performance can be broken down into two areas:

      1. Science
      2. Art

      Science – The statistics, evidence based programming, data analysis etc

      Art – The human element

      The science of programming, periodisation and implementation of programming is well documented. ( I will not expand on this)

      Art – The human element… how can data / or a program with scientific backing come to life… it needs a catalyst.

      A car can get you from A to B (Science) but how fast, smooth, comfortable and which way you get there is dictated by the driver (Art) in this case the driver…is the instructor.

      The instructor follows the science and artistically brings it to life.. by motivation, by control, by presence… the human element.

      As an instructor if i am allowing my audience to get bored.. then i am not doing my job.

      A successful program is about CONTROLLING The art and the science!

  5. Well done Jimmy.

    Excllent piece of work. Your holistic approach with sound scientific principles is a credit to you. I loved your article on how you balanced both maximum output with endurance in a periodised model. Couldn’t agree more. Looks like you worked hard and also your team to do the work. Well done to you and the team. The soldiers must have been impressed by following some scientific training principles how quickly they progressed. Great program mate.

    As opposed to my other comment I made elsewhere….sorry for being so conclusive and naive as I failed to appreciate the balance of your overall methodology. Once I reread your article properly I personally now think you have nailed it. Quite Brilliant I reckon….

    Cheers. MD

    1. Well said Mark. Jimmy’s forward thinking approach reminds me of you back in the day. Great to see that our trade has people (and many of them) that will put themselves,and their great ideas, into the public forum for nothing else other than the betterment of our soldiers. Well done to both you and Jimmy Wright.
      Browny

  6. An excellent and extremely important article that should be widely disseminated! The author is clearly very passionate about the outcomes of the studies!

    The question of military PT and it’s effectiveness seems to have gone through a number of evolutions over time but in the end it should come down to the end state. As the author rightly points out, they train for warfare and to achieve success in circumstances of high stress, high fatigue and high stakes…focussing training on passing an annual fitness test does not appear to enable successful outcomes in that primary role! An all encompassing training approach towards developing performance to enable mental/physical resilience when it is needed and developing a mental blue print or pool for soldiers to draw on is crucial. We are a product of our past experiences.

    Keep up the good work!

  7. For far too long physical training in Defence has been modelled toward reactive, risk mitigating fitness standards and neglecting real performance metrics. Good to see an evidence-based approach using specific attributes identified through a real-time, job specific needs analysis. Just as professional athletes do, we get paid to perform at a certain physical standard; as such we should take a similar approach and place greater emphasis on physical performance. If you speak to a number of professional athletes they don’t enjoy at least 90% of training sessions, it is work. Whilst there is definitely a time and place for individuals to enjoy training, performance and sustainability (both physical and mental) should be the main goal. Ultimately, we are professionals and should approach training as professionals. Although in its infancy, this is a positive step towards changing the whole of organisation approach towards physical training. Great work Jimmy and Tav!

  8. Interesting read with very valid points and well thought out article overall. Always good see new approaches that will benefit a lot of people and improve the way we operate.

  9. Great article, really good work. The results speak for themselves. This training produces noticeable improvements in soldier fitness and with that comes the individual motivation and enthusiasm to seek higher levels of fitness.

    Our current PT is great at keeping people at a base level but I think to many people are trapped by this. As soldiers we should be striving for constant improvement, not hovering at a standard.

    Once again, awsome stuff. Keep us updated!

  10. I agree with the article but I wish we could start having more of a focus on singular and group motivation. I believe without motivation you can plan the best program and or sessions and still get standard results. I also cannot agree with the assessment of comparing soldiers to professional athletes. We do not get to train twice a day and have a recovery session at the end, we do not have a game day to strive for, we do not have nutrition given to us at our door. In order to make this comparison more real we have to start to make changes to those factors.

  11. A great paper Jimmy. I was particularly interested in your comments regarding unit PT getting individuals to a base standard but not improving without intelligent programming. I believe that by drawing this parallel in other areas we can determine that what we are doing is not getting the most out of an opportunity.

    Imagine going to the range four times a week for an hour. Initially a member is behind the group average but after a short time they are shooting at a similar standard to the group. Now imagine that group is averaging a 135mm grouping, not amazing by any stretch but we are spending four valuable hours a week over the course of a year to still shoot a 135mm grouping. The only way in which we can improve is through applying intelligent programming, developing a competitive atmosphere and understanding the science so we can apply the art to produce improvement. There is an enormous amount of potential in four hours a week.

    I am interested in your thoughts regarding a set routine for group PT ie. A day for cardio, battle pt, circuit training and swimming. Do you see any opportunities in changing this to focus on specific areas multiple times a week?

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