T Nation

Ideas for Military/Boot Camp PT Changes

So as many of you know, in boot camp for pretty much all of the military branches, PT consists of bodyweight exercises and a lot of running. Many veterans are now saying that they felt strength was the limiting factor in their performance, and there seems to be a general move towards increasing the amount of strength training in military settings.

Now, the reason for the current PT set up in boot camp is pretty simple. Bodyweight exercises and running are cheap, require little to no equipment, and build mental endurance as well as physical endurance. Unfortunately, this seems to promote the “skinny fat” build and leaves many of these recruits less combat effective then they could be.

Instituting a barbell strength training program at boot camp would be difficult. Can you imagine trying to work through squats, deadlifts, and benching with a drill instructor screaming at you? And unless the gyms that house the equipment are enormous and incredibly well stocked, it would be difficult to get entire platoons and companies through with a decent program in any feasible length of time. Also, how would progress be measured? Would everyone do the same weight, or would it be scaled in some way?

An idea I had was to institute barbell, kettlebell, or even ammo can complexes. During my time at Marine Corps OCS, there were several stations with preset barbells out around some of the paths we ran on. The weight was never very great (maybe 60 a barbell?) We only used them maybe 2-3 times while I was training there, but the barbells had varying amounts of weight and the stronger guys could always grab the bigger barbells.

Complexes would allow for a high time under tension, and the weight would not have to be very high to elicit a training response. After a set period of time, the trainees could move up to a higher barbell to increase the difficulty of the movement, and many different complexes could be performed. I would imagine that a workout involving alternating sets of complexes with sprints would be an incredibly tough, and the work capacity and combat readiness of the trainees would go through the roof. Even if they were only instituted twice a week, I think they would allow for some incredible improvement.

Plus, making cheap crappy barbells that can be stored outside would be much cheaper than outfitting a gym with proper equipment, and the workouts would be much shorter than a typical strength training session.

Anyone else have any ideas on changes that could be made, or even if changes should be made at all?

Well, first I don’t think it’s fair to state that bodyweight exercises cannot build significant strength and ipso facto result in a skinny fat physique; look at Cirque De Soleil performers/acrobats, Men’s Gymnastics, BBoys, Ninja Warrior competitors, or anyone who achieves a high degree of bodyweight strength and you will see some pretty impressive physiques and very impressive feats of strength and athleticism.

But, just like any piece of workout equipment, one has to know how to correctly use the body as a resistance implement and how to progressively increase the degree of difficulty/stress on the muscles to be able to continue to cause beneficial adaptation with it. This is far less common knowledge than external resistance modalities of training (like BB’s, DB’s, KB’s, CB’s, etc…) though and as a result you have less than optimal programming.

In regards to your idea, personally I think a circuit format would be more practical and efficient. That would require only enough equipment so that there was something for each person to do (and you could even include some bodyweight stations in there like pull-ups variations, push-up variations, Ab work, etc…), would still keep everyone moving and thus would still produce metabolic improvements (quite possibly even better than complexes if you structured the stations correctly), allows each individual to utilize a weight or intensity level that challenges them in each exercise (rather than being limited by the weakest exercise in the complex), and would be easier to coach for the instructors (since everyone would be doing only one thing at a time and thus form corrections would be easier to spot).

I would also suggest doing the stations for time rather than a set number of reps as this prevents “bottlenecks/traffic jams” should some people be faster/better conditioned than others, allows for each individual to push as hard as they can without everyone getting out of sync, and keeps everyone a little unsure of exactly how much longer they need to keep working (rather than being able to count down in their head how many reps they still have to do) which is more like what they would experience in reality.

That is my experience training groups of people anyhow. I’m not saying your idea of the complexes couldn’t work, just that IME circuits work better in that context. Hope this helps.

[quote]Sentoguy wrote:
Well, first I don’t think it’s fair to state that bodyweight exercises cannot build significant strength and ipso facto result in a skinny fat physique; look at Cirque De Soleil performers/acrobats, Men’s Gymnastics, BBoys, Ninja Warrior competitors, or anyone who achieves a high degree of bodyweight strength and you will see some pretty impressive physiques and very impressive feats of strength and athleticism.

But, just like any piece of workout equipment, one has to know how to correctly use the body as a resistance implement and how to progressively increase the degree of difficulty/stress on the muscles to be able to continue to cause beneficial adaptation with it. This is far less common knowledge than external resistance modalities of training (like BB’s, DB’s, KB’s, CB’s, etc…) though and as a result you have less than optimal programming.

In regards to your idea, personally I think a circuit format would be more practical and efficient. That would require only enough equipment so that there was something for each person to do (and you could even include some bodyweight stations in there like pull-ups variations, push-up variations, Ab work, etc…), would still keep everyone moving and thus would still produce metabolic improvements (quite possibly even better than complexes if you structured the stations correctly), allows each individual to utilize a weight or intensity level that challenges them in each exercise (rather than being limited by the weakest exercise in the complex), and would be easier to coach for the instructors (since everyone would be doing only one thing at a time and thus form corrections would be easier to spot).

I would also suggest doing the stations for time rather than a set number of reps as this prevents “bottlenecks/traffic jams” should some people be faster/better conditioned than others, allows for each individual to push as hard as they can without everyone getting out of sync, and keeps everyone a little unsure of exactly how much longer they need to keep working (rather than being able to count down in their head how many reps they still have to do) which is more like what they would experience in reality.

That is my experience training groups of people anyhow. I’m not saying your idea of the complexes couldn’t work, just that IME circuits work better in that context. Hope this helps.[/quote]

I didn’t mean to intend in any way that bodyweight movements couldn’t be used to build strength. But I agree that the major problem is that progressing on them, outside of just increasing the reps, is often misunderstood. I used to train some gymnastics myself, so I know the level of athleticism and conditioning that can be achieved through bodyweight movements, but I do think that they are “harder” to use to develop strength, simply due to the high degree of skill development that many of the advanced techniques take.

That being said, I do like the circuit idea. We did several of these actually, and it was within circuits that we used the barbells I talked about earlier. What I like about the complex idea over bodyweight circuits is that it allows for more easily training strength in the lower body. While the upper body can be more sufficiently stimulated through bodyweight exercises in this manner, I feel that developing strength in the legs through bodyweight alone requires advanced techniques that many trainees probably do not have the ability to perform. Sure, you could do squats with a partner on your back, or buddy drags and carries, but again progression on these types of moves, outside of increasing reps/time, is difficult to do.

Upon reading through your quote a second time to make sure I was answering your points, it seems you also included the idea of weights in these circuits. I really like the idea of circuits, and one of the things I thought complexes would better allow is saving space. Instead of needing several stations, you would only need the one for the barbells. But I do like the idea that having to move between each station would increase the metabolic demands. Plus it would reduce the number of “barbells” needed.

I think strength training would be excellent. I broke my foot in Marine boot camp, so I was recycled into the “broke dick” platoon or Medical rehab platoon and I could not run obviously. We had an entire Barracks that we only shared with the “Fat Body” platoon who they made live on the upper deck…LOL. In the squadbay next door we had some free weights and a Universal machine, and some other odds and ends. I lifted weights and did pull ups and situps every day plus my rehab for 2 months. I went in to boot camp weighing 132lbs and graduated weighing 175-179. I gained a lot from just eating a shit ton because I was a double rations “dbl rat” private.

The only time we really used heavy things normally was lifting logs or carrying equipment, which we did a lot of. However I do think there would be some benefit to having circuits in PT 2-3 times a week where you could do some lifting etc.

As a side note for todays Military, I think they should make it harder and I wish you had the option to just quit so the weak ones could move on and not drag everyone down.

I went to Basic Combat Training in 2001. I was about 4 weeks into training when Sept 11 happened. A lot has changed since with regards to training doctrine. We used to train in the woods and dig foxholes. Now, I’m sure soldiers are probably learning how to clear buildings and fight on streets and rooftops. Even the uniforms have changed. Back then, we still wore BDUs and black leather boots.

A typical day involved getting up at the butt crack of dawn, running or PT (or both) for an hour, breakfast, and then either marching or being bussed off to a training area and the whole day spent learning something (rifle marksmanship, NBC, D&C, navigation, first aid, how to throw a grenade, etc.). And, of course, getting smoked by Drill Sergreants in the process. So much time and energy is spent learning, moving, and practicing that I couldn’t imagine there being time to train with barbells and kettlebells. At least that was my experience. I got more than enough exercise doing pushups, flutter kicks, running and marching, and had very little left in the tank after a long day of instruction or being tested on what I was instructed on.

I would defintely agree that post basic training the Army should have a better PT program. My unit’s PT was never consistent. There was no programming, no specificity. We’d show up, do pushups and flutter kicks for 30 minutes, maybe run 2 miles, and that was that. I guess it depends on the type of unit you’re in, the type of job you have, and the type of “work day” you have as a soldier. Obviously, guys in the infantry and guys in the motor pool are going to have completely different programs.

[quote]alpha_mike wrote:
I went to Basic Combat Training in 2001. I was about 4 weeks into training when Sept 11 happened. A lot has changed since with regards to training doctrine. We used to train in the woods and dig foxholes. Now, I’m sure soldiers are probably learning how to clear buildings and fight on streets and rooftops. Even the uniforms have changed. Back then, we still wore BDUs and black leather boots.

A typical day involved getting up at the butt crack of dawn, running or PT (or both) for an hour, breakfast, and then either marching or being bussed off to a training area and the whole day spent learning something (rifle marksmanship, NBC, D&C, navigation, first aid, how to throw a grenade, etc.). And, of course, getting smoked by Drill Sergreants in the process. So much time and energy is spent learning, moving, and practicing that I couldn’t imagine there being time to train with barbells and kettlebells. At least that was my experience. I got more than enough exercise doing pushups, flutter kicks, running and marching, and had very little left in the tank after a long day of instruction or being tested on what I was instructed on.

I would defintely agree that post basic training the Army should have a better PT program. My unit’s PT was never consistent. There was no programming, no specificity. We’d show up, do pushups and flutter kicks for 30 minutes, maybe run 2 miles, and that was that. I guess it depends on the type of unit you’re in, the type of job you have, and the type of “work day” you have as a soldier. Obviously, guys in the infantry and guys in the motor pool are going to have completely different programs.

[/quote]

I am sure it has changed quite a bit in order to be suited to the theatres we fight in now. When I was in we started Dessert Storm. All Marines had to attend Combat Training for 30 days before going to your normal MOS School.
That encompasses MOUT training, Hiking, more land nav. Bayonet training. Formations any aspect of warfighting. We fired every weapon in the Marines inventory and had to assemble/disassemble and so on. It was a real shitty month I will tell you. We humped to the field and back every week and every hump was longer and longer. Full pack and you had to carry all your MRE for a week with you. Our instructors made us take all the cleaning gear out of our weapons and we put it in a M60 ammo can and someone had to carry that shit everywhere we went. Someone was always trying to pass it off lol. I remember falling down many times and I would have to take my pack off in order to stand up or get your buddies to pull you up.

I will agree it would be hard to implement strength training in boot camp, especially like the air force where they are on a 2 week vacation or however long it is… I do think though there could be improvements.

And I like the idea of being able to quit so you can go home and be a failure…did I say that already??

[quote]alpha_mike wrote:
I went to Basic Combat Training in 2001. I was about 4 weeks into training when Sept 11 happened. A lot has changed since with regards to training doctrine. We used to train in the woods and dig foxholes. Now, I’m sure soldiers are probably learning how to clear buildings and fight on streets and rooftops. Even the uniforms have changed. Back then, we still wore BDUs and black leather boots.

A typical day involved getting up at the butt crack of dawn, running or PT (or both) for an hour, breakfast, and then either marching or being bussed off to a training area and the whole day spent learning something (rifle marksmanship, NBC, D&C, navigation, first aid, how to throw a grenade, etc.). And, of course, getting smoked by Drill Sergreants in the process. So much time and energy is spent learning, moving, and practicing that I couldn’t imagine there being time to train with barbells and kettlebells. At least that was my experience. I got more than enough exercise doing pushups, flutter kicks, running and marching, and had very little left in the tank after a long day of instruction or being tested on what I was instructed on.

I would defintely agree that post basic training the Army should have a better PT program. My unit’s PT was never consistent. There was no programming, no specificity. We’d show up, do pushups and flutter kicks for 30 minutes, maybe run 2 miles, and that was that. I guess it depends on the type of unit you’re in, the type of job you have, and the type of “work day” you have as a soldier. Obviously, guys in the infantry and guys in the motor pool are going to have completely different programs.

[/quote]

Oh totally. I wasn’t personally suggesting that the Armed Forces should add barbell/kettle bell work to what they already do, but instead in place of it.

I completely understand though that (as you guys pointed out) the time frame available to train new soldiers before they go out into the field is brief and that in most cases they are more concerned with building a strong mind/will that will not quit when exposed to uncomfortable conditions and a body that is capable of enduring rather than trying to build World class athletes.

"Instituting a barbell strength training program at boot camp would be difficult. Can you imagine trying to work through squats, deadlifts, and benching with a drill instructor screaming at you? "

That would be CrossFit

And you can get plenty strong from simply calisthenics. It’s just that in bootcamp, they don’t give a shit about doing any of them properly.

[quote]alpha_mike wrote:
I went to Basic Combat Training in 2001. I was about 4 weeks into training when Sept 11 happened. A lot has changed since with regards to training doctrine. We used to train in the woods and dig foxholes. Now, I’m sure soldiers are probably learning how to clear buildings and fight on streets and rooftops. Even the uniforms have changed. Back then, we still wore BDUs and black leather boots.

A typical day involved getting up at the butt crack of dawn, running or PT (or both) for an hour, breakfast, and then either marching or being bussed off to a training area and the whole day spent learning something (rifle marksmanship, NBC, D&C, navigation, first aid, how to throw a grenade, etc.). And, of course, getting smoked by Drill Sergreants in the process. So much time and energy is spent learning, moving, and practicing that I couldn’t imagine there being time to train with barbells and kettlebells. At least that was my experience. I got more than enough exercise doing pushups, flutter kicks, running and marching, and had very little left in the tank after a long day of instruction or being tested on what I was instructed on.

I would defintely agree that post basic training the Army should have a better PT program. My unit’s PT was never consistent. There was no programming, no specificity. We’d show up, do pushups and flutter kicks for 30 minutes, maybe run 2 miles, and that was that. I guess it depends on the type of unit you’re in, the type of job you have, and the type of “work day” you have as a soldier. Obviously, guys in the infantry and guys in the motor pool are going to have completely different programs.

[/quote]

i think you hit the nail on the head, with the issue of programming, and adding a rational structure to the plan.

when i was able to do my own PT plan, i would have days that focused on sprints, medium distance runs, days that focused on calisthenics (pushups, pullups and situps), roadmarches and Combatives. i also thought swimming should have been implemented more, but the Army’s is not too keen on that, as far as providing facilities…

my guys were generally pretty well rounded, but it wasn’t uncommon to have other squads have higher PT scores. i didn’t care, since my guys could hump, and everybody was scared to roll with us when we got into the Combatives pit…

Soliders need to know how to “soldier”.

Besides being able to do your job (keep in mind, the Army has LOTS of jobs), soliders should be able to walk, run, sprint, low/high crawl, while wearing full battle-rattle as well as carrying and operating weapon. Also, being able to carry or drag a battle buddy. More than anything, combat ops or supporting combat ops is exhausting.

I think the PFT system should be recalled. Can’t speak for other branches exactly, but Marine Corps PFT isn’t ideal. Running 3 miles, Max pull-ups, max- crunches tells you little about real combat readiness. I have seen marines who ran better PFTs than me fare far worse on patrols. I think the CFT (combat fitness test) is a good measure and could honestly serve as a replacement. CFT consists of 1/4 sprint (i think, its been a while) max ammo can lifts and a “combat obstacle course” kind of deal. However, all of these do little to address the kind of mental and physical stamina it takes to keep going during hours long patrols and operations.

[quote]Ranzo wrote:

As a side note for todays Military, I think they should make it harder and I wish you had the option to just quit so the weak ones could move on and not drag everyone down.[/quote]

I agree with this. Also, it should be less of a slow and bureaucratized process to kick the weaklings out of boot camp. Its damn near impossible these days to send someone home. I’m not saying people shouldn’t be given the chance to overcome their inadequacies, but the military shouldn’t be in the business of employing second-rate fighters.