Combat-ready soldiers usually sport impressive physiques, whether they’re infantry, sailors, airmen, marines or in another branch of the services. War is a dangerous business, and those participating must be in top physical shape to stay alive and perform efficiently under immense stress. Military leaders train their troops with unparalleled intensity to prepare them for battle, but that doesn’t mean you have to sign up for a life of death and danger to enjoy the same health and aesthetic benefits.
You can apply the basic principles of military fitness to your workout strategy and get “fit to fight.” Some of you may have gym membership, or latest home workout equipment. But if you do not have, do not worry! Military fitness centers on cheap and effective cardio and callisthenic training, as well as the crude and brutal “ruck march.” This outline of military fitness training will also be helpful as preparation for anyone scheduled to attend basic training or boot camp!
The first thing that comes to mind when thinking about military fitness is usually miles and miles of running and singing. Combat troops are expected to perform under stress for indefinite periods of time; to prepare for this, cardiovascular training is of the utmost importance.
Soldiers run up and down paved roads as well as along nature trails with limited traction. To make things more challenging, they are expected to sing “jodies” at the top of their lungs, despite breathing heavily from exertion. Sailors and marines are also expected to be able to perform well in the water - another task requiring cardiovascular prowess.
How can you apply this to your own workouts? Simple.
Running is one of the easiest and cheapest exercises to pick up. You can either run as far as you can for a set period of time, or run a set distance as fast as you can. If you’re a beginner, start by running around your neighborhood. This is colloquially called “pounding the pavement,” and is a great place to start.
Once your body becomes more efficient at running, challenge yourself further by running nature trails or on sand. The lack of solid pavement makes you work harder to move, and natural inclines and declines challenge your muscles far more than the relatively level streets and sidewalks of a city.
Running not only improves cardiovascular efficiency and muscle endurance in your legs, it also improves bone density and core endurance.
Swimming is another great cardiovascular exercise and is much lower impact than running, although it does have a steeper learning curve. Remember never to swim alone, and never to swim in open water if you’re a beginner.
Swimming is an excellent workout in a safe environment, as it not only improves your heart and lung performance, but also upper and lower body stamina, while placing little stress on your joints.
The push-up is well known as a staple of military life. Push-ups are used to discipline misbehaving troops, “motivate” a sluggish platoon, and even mark a special occasion. Push-ups are part of an exercise group called “calisthenics.” Better known as “body weight exercises,”
Other movements in this group include:
Sit-ups, Pull-ups, Chin-ups, Dips, Mountain climbing, and more.
These movements are performed to increase a soldier’s muscular endurance. Being a cardio king doesn’t mean much if you can’t shoulder a rifle longer than a few seconds. Although these exercises are mostly performed with endurance and stamina in mind, they can also foster hypertrophy (muscle growth) when done with the right intensity.
Like running, calisthenics are easy and cheap. In fact, you can build a total workout program from just these two types of training without having to spend a dime. The ways in which to incorporate these movements into your workout regime are limited only by your imagination.
Some people like to do circuits; performing one movement for a predetermined number of repetitions, followed immediately by a different movement, then another, and so on.
Another way is to break up your long runs with calisthenics. For example, if you were running laps, you could do ten push-ups every half lap, ten-sit ups every full lap, and ten chin-ups every two laps. The possibilities are endless.
To maximize these movements for muscle size, focus more on pull-ups and dips, as these put the most stress on the muscles involved. Furthermore, adding weight to any of these movements will facilitate muscle growth as well as performing these movements “explosively” (called “plyometric” movements)
Rucking is the most hated, underappreciated, and misunderstood facet of military fitness. Also known as ruck marching, forced marching, or humping; rucking is the only part of military fitness that requires an initial financial investment. So what is it?
Rucking is military vernacular for hiking. Simply put, it’s briskly walking (sometimes lightly jogging) over road or terrain for extended period of time with a weighted backpack. It’s not really a “backpack” though - it is a rucksack, hence the name.
To simulate a combat load (a rucksack full of rations, extra uniforms, radios, water, and other field essentials), a soldier puts weights in his rucksack and marches from point A to point B (usually anywhere from 2 to 20 miles apart) in a specified period of time (generally at a 4mph pace). It is a rudimentary but effective way to train physical and mental stamina. Weighing oneself down while performing a basic movement (like walking) is the core premise of resistance training.
Before you start rucking, there are a few precautions to keep in mind.
- First of all, rucking is an intense workout and can easily lead to injury. It is also not necessary, as one can build muscle and fitness without this particular exercise. It is best to perform this exercise with good combat (or walking) boots: if you don’t use combat boots, make sure you have good ankle support.
- Furthermore, it is not appropriate for anyone with back problems or joint issues, especially in the knees or ankles.
- Finally, your rucksack should never weigh more than 20-30% of your own body weight. Beginners should probably start with 10% body weight, and only the hardiest individuals should venture into the 25%-30% range.
To get started, you first need a rucksack. Rucksacks differ from backpacks in that they have a metal frame, and many have a belt that clips around the wearer’s waist to stabilize the load. The metal frame is important because it is best to load the weight high in your rucksack. This is done by tying or otherwise securing the weight to the top of the frame.
If you’re a beginner, start by marching a mile with a load of 10% of your body weight. This short test distance will ensure that your body is ready for the challenge, as it is not for everyone. As you perform your first marches, ensure you maintain good posture to prevent injuring your back.
When you are sure that this exercise is for you, you can start adding more weight and going longer distances. As you travel farther and walk faster, you may experience chafing in your thighs or armpits, as well as blisters on your feet. To mitigate these problems, use body glide to prevent chafing and moleskin to prevent blisters.
If you’re up for the challenge, rucking can be the crown jewel of your workout regime. Rucking will build the muscles in your legs, strengthen your core and shoulder muscles, and is a challenging cardio workout as well. It’s also a fun alternative to running if you’re primarily a weightlifter. However, be careful with this workout and never do it more than twice a week.
No one has to be in better shape than members of the armed forces. Mimic their training to achieve similar fitness results - the training is cheap, effective, and can be fun. You can make it more interesting by inviting a friend, though even your fittest friend may be shocked by a good ruck march if they’ve never done one before!