A New Age in Military Fitness

Googling about fitness, this TOJ found an interesting document. Last year, the U.S. military announced a new plan for total force fitness. The military considers it a major paradigm shift from the way it's trained soldiers for decades. Here and there it does have a new age flavor, which I'm sure made it controversial with the the stiff-upper-lip, macho-suffer-in-silence old guard, because it uses the word "holistic" and admits that the most hardened soldier has social, psychological and spiritual needs that impact their effectiveness in combat.

Not to worry -- the new "total force fitness" protocol is not intended to turn warriors into flower children. In fact, it's very explicit that the goal is to help soldiers be effective and resilient.

This TOJ finds it well worth reading because the military has long placed a priority on physical fitness, and has the resources to study what works and what doesn't when it comes to physical training. The reason physical training is so important is well-described in a quote from a training manual mentioned in the document:
War places a great premium upon the strength, stamina, agility, and
coordination of the soldier because victory and his life are so
often dependent upon them. To march long distances with
full pack, weapons, and ammunition through rugged country
and to fight effectively upon arriving at the area of combat; to
drive fast-moving tanks and motor vehicles over rough terrain;
to make assaults and to run and crawl for long distances; to
jump into and out of foxholes, craters, and trenches, and over
obstacles; to lift and carry heavy objects; to keep going for
many hours without sleep or rest—all these activities of warfare
and many others require superbly conditioned troops.  
But their new approach to fitness is not just about the skills needed in combat and recovering from combat injuries, but also reducing injuries during training and controlling obesity, an epidemic in the uniformed services as much as in the civilian world.

Read the document and you'll find an approach that is right in line with the best cutting-edge training practices, such as:
  • Optimum fitness involves more than running long distances with a heavy pack. In fact, too much running causes over-training and causes more frequent injuries. Endurance is no more important than mobility, flexibility, and strength.
  • Strength is more than doing lots of push-ups or lifting weights to develop isolated muscle groups. Strength must incorporate functional muscle groups needed to do practical tasks. 
  • All strength training must start with solid development of the core. The lower back is a well-known weak point in the human body it it's not routinely exercised and developed.
  • Training for peak performance also requires jumping (pylometrics) and sprinting. These have big payoffs in strength, speed, and power.
  • For years, the belief was that super active people like soldiers and athletes could eat anything and still thrive. No longer. Top physical performance depends on nutritious foods.
  • There's no such thing as one-size-fits-all fitness. Training must incorporate some general exercises for health and basic fitness, but optimum performance requires additional specific conditioning to perform the specific task.
After Osama bin Laden was killed by Navy Seals, an ex-seal was being interviewed about the training involved. The ex-seal said the training is very demanding, but the people who make it trough don't come our looking like a bulked-up football player. He said they are very strong, but don't look all that different than other people.

I thought about the ex-seal's remark today when the movie "Commando" with Arnold Schwarzenegger appeared on the screen; for many men pumping iron, his body back then is their goal. Total force fitness is not about how a person looks, but what he or she can do.

I think the military's vision of fitness is to have people with the endurance, strength, mobility and flexibility to run, sprint, crawl, climb, lift, swim, dive, and  jump like the athlete is this video from MovNat:

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