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