It may be no surprise to you that I spend a tremendous amount of time attempting to figure out how to best design and implement a training program for the military population.
This is a mission of mine as I have come to believe, since I’ve been a part of the nonsense, that the traditional aerobic training so favored by the military is just a tad better than a complete waste of time for the vast majority of military members.
Unfortunately, this traditional run, push-up, pull-up, sit-up, repeat stuff that is still going on today serves pretty much one purpose — To get a better physical fitness test score. Fortunately, today’s military members are incredibly smart and have realized the uselessness of these antiquated tests and have began to seek out real training elsewhere (Internet, CrossFit box, etc) in an attempt to build themselves up to a level of strength and conditioning necessary to do their jobs well.
Because of this, those with the most at stake (financially and ego) have done their best to discredit these so-called “commercial fitness programs” that are “extensively advertised to play on the warfighter’s tough mentality…” (Yea, that is in an actual peer-reviewed study).
Furthermore, since many of these programs (i.e. CrossFit) seem completely random (in many cases they may be, but the quality of the CrossFit coach/gym is a topic for another debate/blog) they are immediately discredited by the traditional fitness establishment.
The funny thing is, they don’t even seem to believe their own bullshit and go on to say in a review titled “Strength training for the warfighter” that a program, to meet the specific demands of the soldier, needs to consist of:
The standard closed chain movements such as presses, squats, deadlifts, and pulls, include unilateral (single sided) and bilateral (both sides) movements, eccentric and concentric contractions, a variety of rest periods.
The use of free weights instead of machines, movements that mimic natural patterns in the environment, and a variety of resistances and load to maximize the force/velocity curve and maximize the recruitment of the most motor units possible.
They suggest varying sets, reps, the workout order (although suggest using common sense here) and suggest a flexible non-linear approach be used to accommodate the daily needs of the military member (Kraemer & Szivak, 2012).
This sounds very familiar to me…
Let’s start with some of the challenges of a military fitness program…
Improvements in physical fitness and injury prevention should be the primary goal of any training program, however, most people in the academic fitness world do not have a clear definition of what fitness actually is.
Let’s talk about fitness in terms of a member of the military. Now some would argue that the needs of the supply clerk and the needs of the infantryman are WILDLY different but since I’m a Marine, I’m going to go ahead and assume that each of these individuals are a rifleman and both need to be able to pick my ass up and drag me to cover if I’ve been shot…
Does this individual need to be strong?
Does this individual need to be powerful?
Does this person need to have a strong anaerobic system?
Flexibility and mobility to prevent/buffer against injuries.
How about the motor control to perform a variety of complex and fine motor skills (i.e. coordination, agility, balance, and accuracy)?
Ok, so to sum it up it…
Sounds to me like this ‘military athlete’ needs to have cardiorespiratory endurance, stamina, strength, power, speed, coordination, agility, accuracy, and balance.
Or, the ability to move a large load, a long distance, and do it quickly (You need to move like your hair is on fire!)
That sounds familiar to me too, but let’s move on…
Back to the main argument against these evil “commercial fitness” programs
But, but, PERIODIZATION!
Now, having a well thought out, periodized program designed to cycle an athlete through specific phases of programming in order to ‘peak’ them for a season or competition is a great thing. If you can sit down with your favorite sexy-fireman calendar and plan out you macro-, meso-, and micro-cycles in ass bleeding detail AND then stick to that program then I commend you.
However, this is terribly unrealistic for a member of the military (or really anybody with a life outside of ‘train, eat, sleep, repeat).
If fact, in a study by Souza et al. (2014) it was noted that during a six-week study of the effects of a periodized and non-periodized strength training program the non-periodized group improved their maximal strength significantly more than the periodized group.
So what does that mean?
It means that following a strict periodized program is not the only way young grasshopper…
(As long as a coach with some experience and common sense is around)
In fact, in a review by Kraemer and Szvak (2012) it was noted that a flexible non-linear program may be more beneficial as the daily demands on a military member may constantly change, especially when you factor in mandatory PT.
(DISCLAIMER: Although this supports my point, Dr. Kraemer has made some headline in the CrossFit world for fraudulently publishing false data. Again, a topic for debate some other time)
However, this seems to make much more sense to me as a practitioner of strength & conditioning training, as well as a student of it.
Think about the last time you were going hard in the gym and felt great, crushing big weights, PR’ing a lift, feeling good about yourself. Now, how about that time where you were dragging ass and just going through the motions.
Technically, if you following this beautiful (theoretical) periodized program, you’ll get great results on either day… We are smart enough to know that this doesn’t make any sense.
The Flexible Nonlinear Program
Yep, that is a fancy heading for this:
A program designed with a whole lot of best practices, experience, and common sense. If you feel like crap on Tuesday, take the day off or scale back the intensity (load, speed, etc) of that workout and live to fight another day.
Here’s the deal
You are not a professional athlete and thus should not be trained as one.
Unless your work day revolves around eating, working out, and sleeping then you need a program that is flexible enough to accommodate your physical and mental highs and lows.
You have to be good at everything.
You need to be strong and powerful and fast and mobile and agile and hostile. You need to be able to run and sprint and climb and jump and shoot and move and communicate. Then you need to be able to drop your heart rate, in a high stress situation, and put accurate rounds on target.
None of these aspects is less important than the others…
Sure biasing towards strength and power is probably going to get you a better return than maxing out that 3 mile run time but you need to be moving all of the dials in the right direction or you’ll be leaving big holes in your game.
Ultimately, you probably need a coach or at the very least a training program designed by a coach who understands the strengths, demands, limitations, and weaknesses of the average warfighter.
Oh, and also, knowing all the big fancy science words, concepts, and theory, doesn’t make you a good coach or program developer (Another topic for future debate!).
Kraemer, W., & Szivak, T. (2012). Strength Training for the Warfighter. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 26(7), S107-S118.
Souza, E. O., Ugrinowitsch, C., Tricoli, V., Roschel, H., Lowery, R. P., Aihara, A. Y., Leao, A. R. S., & Wilson, J. M. (2014). Early adaptations to six weeks of non-periodized and periodized strength training regimens in recreational males. Journal of Sports Science & Medicine, 13(3), 604-609.