Boot camps are an attempt to replicate the requirements of military training. They are accessible to everyone. But what does it really take to join the British Army (or a country's military)? Does a boot camp meet the requirements placed on a potential recruit and does this training prepare a person for the military way of life?
The answer is no. It is missing a key element, not only in the boot camps, but also in a variety of training methods used by those pursuing military careers. But before we get to what it is, let's examine the level of fitness required to join the military.
The three elements of choice
Note: These three requirements are specific to the British Army. Therefore, find out about the specifics of the selection process for your military branch.
While running is an integral part of being accepted into the Army, it is by no means the only method of training that should be used. Potential recruits are subject to a strict introduction and selection process. There are three key elements to the initial fitness test:
- The static elevator. The static lift simulates the placement of equipment on the rear of a vehicle at a height of 1.45 m. A power bag is used to mimic equipment with a take-off weight of 15 kg. You can then work your way up to 40 kg in 5 kg increments when the test ends.
- The Jerry can carry. This test determines the strength of your upper arms and shoulders. It's also a grip test. You will need to take two canisters weighing 20kg each over a distance of 150 meters. With your arms by your side and a canister in each hand, you are expected to complete this course in under two minutes. You must maintain a pace of no less than 5.4 km / h and the distance in meters that the weights can carry while maintaining the minimum pace.
- The 2.4 km Best Effort Run. The terms vary widely depending on which branch of the army you want to join. Time markings range from 9:40 a.m. for units like the Paratrooper Regiment to 2:30 p.m. for Junior Entry.
Most people have no problem with the first two elements. Where it breaks is the 2.4 km best effort run. After standing completely naked in front of a stranger (which is strangely becoming the norm for military personnel over the years), the running element of selection is one of the most nerve-wracking processes during the two-day interview.
“The underlying reason we fail is that potential recruits just didn't make it. They were hit either mentally from the pressure or physically from exhaustion or injury. "
I've heard all sorts of excuses, from "I have a cold" to "I'm missing a sock" (seriously, it happened). But let's not gloss over this. The underlying reason for failure is that potential recruits just didn't make it. They were hit either mentally from the pressure or physically from exhaustion or injury.
The times required are not particularly demanding. They hardly represent any form of specificity for a combat environment. This test enables the army to establish a gender-fair standard that can be easily replicated. It also enables us, as sports coaches, to see who really wants it. After all, this is an interview.
These first screenings will prepare you for your later career success.
Why you need to lift
If you are considering a career as a tactical athlete (and these men and women are, in fact, athletes themselves) then you need to lift weights. The modest stress fracture is the most common pathology in young men and women who are undergoing training. Stress fractures are small fractures on the tibia. They are painful and a potential career stopper.
“Although I applaud those who run 10k every day, test the 2.4k run weekly, and hammer their way at a local boot camp, they ruin their chances. These people are preparing to fail. "
Stress fractures are usually the result of inadequate preparation. Although most recruits ran before training, they are not used to the volume. They don't know how to properly approach their training and minimize the risk of injury while maximizing their physical performance.
Although I applaud those who run 10k every day, test the 2.4k run weekly, and hammer their way at a local boot camp, they ruin their chances. These people prepare to fail. I have had many such people break down and come to me for rehabilitation. You sit in front of me, scared and with watery eyes, wondering how it came about that you had a burning pain in your shin. Surely their hours of traversing the sidewalks that led to the selection and training of recruits didn't play a major role in their demise?
Running is a repetitive plyometric exercise. A load is added to this movement later in military training, so efficiency must be determined before becoming a recruit. In order to improve performance and reduce the risk of injury, we have to strain our musculoskeletal system.
How you have to lift
The movement I always use with my clients is the simple squat. This movement not only improves lower limb muscle strength, but also benefits our skeletal system. By loading the muscles of the lower extremities with what is known as the minimum essential load (one tenth of the force required to break a bone), we can stimulate new bone formation in the lower extremities. This benefit, combined with the accompanying hypertrophic benefits that lead to an increase in bone mineral density, could lower your risk of stress fractures and maximize your chance of completing your workout.1
"By putting what is called the minimum essential load on the muscles of the lower limbs (one tenth of the force required to break a bone), we can stimulate new bone formation in the lower limbs."
The squat is also a direct correlate to the movement of running. One screening tool to safely assess plyometric skills is the ability to squat 1.5 times your body weight for 1 repetition and do 5 repetitions in 5 seconds at 60 percent of your body weight.1 These are the same markers I use when performing a patient rehabilitation after a tibia fatigue fracture.
Soldiers conduct early morning physical training (PT) in the Jordanian desert.
When preparing for the 2.4 km run, less is more. Combining the squat and its markings with a well-structured anaerobic exercise program will both improve your chances of becoming a soldier and reduce the risk of injury along the way.
Anaerobic exercise not only shortens your workouts, it also brings greater benefits, such as an increase in VO2max and increased resistance to fatigue.1 Also, you will look better naked because of the increase in muscle mass and fat loss.
Linear sprint work has been used successfully as an anaerobic method in rehabilitation. This enables us to push the soldier hard without repeated hitting the lower limbs and with sufficient rest.
This plan has produced proven results, also for the arduous selection cadre of the paratrooper regiment:
- 5 × 4 at 80% of the current 1RM.
- Use a linear progression of 2.5-5 kg weekly for safe adjustment.
- Do sprint work using a mix of modalities including track, rowing, and cycling.
- Perform 200m x 12 with a total length of 2.4 km. This is directly related to the 1.5 miles test.
- Use a 1: 1 rest ratio. For example, if you can do 200m in 40 seconds, rest 40 seconds before repeating.
- The sprint sessions are flexible. You can shuffle the distance while keeping the same total. For example 400m x 6, again 1: 1 at rest.
The above workouts can be done three times a week, with a 1RM squat test and the 1.5 miles running test performed every 8 weeks.
I have achieved proven results with this plan, also for the arduous selection cadre of the paratrooper regiment.
Prepare for success
To sum up, no matter what country you live in, it is very easy to pass the Army fitness tests. The possibilities I discussed to take your training to a higher level are used not only by tactical athletes, but also by large sports clubs around the world. You test these methods not only physically, but also mentally.
Remember, you are training to save your life and the lives of others around you in battle. Don't be the man or woman who compromised the patrol, or worse, who never made it on patrol due to an avoidable injury.
1. Baechle, T. Earle, R. (2008). Basics of strength and stamina. 3rd ed. Champaign: Human Kinetics. Pp. 94-119.
Photo 1 by MoD / MOD via Wikimedia Commons.
Photo 2 by Photo: Lt Col John Skliros / MOD via Wikimedia Commons.
Photo 3 by Photo: Sgt Mike Fletcher / MOD via Wikimedia Commons.
Photo 4 courtesy of Shutterstock.