Injury prevention, through building strong and durable athletes, is one of the primary goals of the Strategic Athlete strength and conditioning program. One of the major reasons this program was created was due to the feedback I’ve received in the past, and even just the other day, about other programs out there on the internet (typically free) that offer up their very own version of “military fitness” or, typically (as the complaints go) just a whole lot of crazy volume and the suggestion that if you can’t suck it up and get it done then you’ll never be a Navy SEAL…

As a guy who believes firmly in the minimal effective dose of training necessary to elicit the most beneficial response is the best way to train an athlete, military or otherwise, I can’t help but find these programs silly and, in many cases, dangerous to the long-term fitness and wellbeing of those following them.

However, the purpose of this post isn’t to try and convince the believers of the “it needs to be 3 hours long and programmed by a Navy SEAL or it’s shit” persuasion that they are wrong… I’m just here to offer up another solution that honestly, I just think is better.

***On a side note, this is the same stance I have on endurance training… I coach seminars for CrossFit Endurance and firmly believe that a high-intensity interval-based program, such as CrossFit Endurance, that focuses on technique, strength & conditioning, and then adding volume is a smarter approach to endurance training… Although the LSD way works as well, your likelihood for injury just goes way up.

But what is the solution?

Obviously, most of us know that the traditional military PT is just not going to get the job done. Although 3-mile runs, push ups, pull ups, and flutter kicks may get a recruit out of basic training in better shape then they went in it is no way to train for the rigors of military life, especially on the combat arms side of the house. Not only does this type of training not get the job done, it’s also a leading cause of injuries in the military today.

In fact, non-battle injuries, due to overtraining and repetitive use (i.e. running & running & running & running), have been reported to have resulted in more medical evacuations from Iraq and Afghanistan than any other combat-related injury (1). That is pretty ridiculous.

So how do we fix this?

Through smarter training.

The vast majority of traditional military PT is focused on long duration aerobic exercise, supplemented by body weight calisthenics (i.e. Push Ups, Pull-Ups, etc.). This may be great for a baseline of easy to implement, no-equipment-required, basic fitness but it is leaving you open to many of the chronic overuse injuries that are plaguing the military right now. So let’s ditch the hours of cardio and add in some real strength training.

In a study by Hoffman, Chapnik, Shamis, Given, and Davidson (1999) it was found that recruits who were stronger were 5 times less likely to suffer an injury (specifically stress fractures). I think this information can be safely used to support the notion that individuals who are stronger are typically much less likely to get injured during training. It was also noted that recruits in this study who reported a high level of physical activity prior to their induction into basic training sent significantly fewer days on light or limited duty (2).

Understanding this, it’s safe to say that strength training is a critical component to military physical readiness.

If you’re reading this then I’m sure that this is not a shocking revelation however it seems that many military leaders either don’t understand this concept or don’t have an appropriate knowledge base to implement a safe and effective strength training program on the unit level. Which leaves the individuals to either hit the gym and wing it or seek out coaching and training programs to help.

So how do we build strong and durable athletes?

Well, as the study by Hotelman et al. (1999) pointed out, we need to increase overall strength. At Strategic Athlete, we do so by consistently hammering a few key lifts, such as the squat, the deadlift, and the press (Bench & Shoulder) at maximal and sub-maximal loads in order to build absolute strength and power.

In addition to that, we need to supplement the heavy lifting with accessory work that will continue to reinforce the strength training program without crushing the nervous system and leaving the athlete drained. Two of my favorite exercises for this, as many of you, may have noticed in the programming (if you’re a member), is the walking lunge and the step up. Each of these movements builds unilateral strength, muscular endurance, coordination, and balance. We can also load or unload them as necessary based on the ability of the athlete and/or the purpose of the workout.

By combining a simple to follow, consistent strength training program and supplementing with the accessory work I’ve noted above I’ve been able to build athletes that don’t break down under load, during long movements, and over the course of multi-day (or week) military selections. For example, I rucked 12 miles in just over 3 hours (no running at all) with 45# dry and my legs felt like a million bucks afterward (**Important to note that the longest I rucked before this event was 90 mins in training). In addition to that, I finished the event I was participating in 22 hours later (~26 hours total) and although worn out, I still had plenty in the tank physically.

So when you think about your training program you need to remember that durability is a very important factor and something you should be training for. A solid strength program, designed to get you as strong and durable as possible, will do wonders to help you survive AND thrive throughout your career.

References

  1. Non-battle injuries result in more medical evacuations than combat
  2. Hoffman, J., Chapnik, L., Shamis, A., Givon, U., & Davidson, B. (1999). The effects of leg strength on the incidence of lower extremity overuse injuries during military training. Military Medicine, 164(2), 153-156.