Physical Training: British Army Physical Training Programme

Under Project THOR (Training for Human Optimisation for Readiness), the British Army’s new physical training programme has been introduced. The intent of the THOR programme is to reduce musculoskeletal injuries (MSKI) and medical discharges without compromising the Army's physical fitness standards. But the new PT programme isn’t just about lifting weights; a well-rounded physical training programme incorporates every major movement pattern and hits all three of a soldiers body’s energy systems [phosphagen, anaerobic and aerobic] weekly — if not per workout.

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Physical training is defined as muscular activity designed to enhance the physical capacity of a soldier athlete by improving one or more of the components of physical fitness. The three most important fitness components include muscular strength, muscular endurance and cardiorespiratory endurance (aerobic capacity). Muscular strength is the ability of  a muscle group to exert maximum force in a single voluntary contraction. Muscular endurance is the ability of a muscle group to perform short-term, high-power physical activity. Cardiorespiratory endurance depends on the functioning of the circulatory and respiratory systems.

Developing Soldier Athletes

Any given training session for a soldier athlete should include lifting, running, jumping, cutting and gymnastics movements (body-weight movements and isometric holds performed on the floor, rings, pull-up bar, climbing rope and so on) that are done in one of three ways: short-term and high-intensity bursts lasting about one to 30 seconds each, large bursts over somewhat longer periods of time (30 seconds to three minutes max each) and longer-duration, lower-intensity activities. This variety will allow soldier athletes to build muscular and cardiovascular strength and endurance as well as better mobility, which, aside from improving physical performance in the field, is important for Service Personnel’s overall health. From the high rate of injury publically documented, it is clear there is a need for soldiers bodies to be better conditioned in order to deal with the rigours of operations.

PT Programme

Injury Risk

In 2011 a study that examined injuries and injury risk factors in 660 British Army infantry soldiers during pre-deployment training found that one or more injuries were experienced by 58.5% of soldiers. The majority of the injuries sustained involved the lower body (71%), especially the lower back (14%), knee (19%) and ankle (15%). Activities associated with injury included sports (22%), physical training (30%) and military training/work (26%). Traumatic injuries accounted for 83% of all injury diagnoses.

To combat injury, training should include progressive resistance training. Progressive resistance training has been found to be the most effective way to improve performance in sports. Progression is achieved through the concept of progressive overload which involves small, systematic increases in the frequency, intensity and/or duration of the exercise as fitness improves.

PTI Thompson: "Learn the mechanics of fundamental movements, establish a consistent pattern of practising these same movements and, only then, increase the intensity of training sessions incorporating these movements. Mechanics, then consistency, and then intensity - this is the key to an effective training programme."

New Physical Training Programme

Upon initial eyes on the new physical training programme, for some soldiers it may seem like a lot to take in, but the good news is you don’t have to go 'turbo mode' on any specific element. Whether it be strength, explosive power or cardiovascular work, aim to attack a little of every element throughout the week.

Taking strength training as an example, we're aware that muscular strength is an integral component of fitness for a soldier athlete and the foundation from which all other abilities can be built upon. The stronger an individual becomes the more resilient they will be, as physical tasks become less demanding.

To help make the transition from your current training programme easier, as part of the #ArmourUp initiative, included below is the first series of saveable and shareable Armoured Athlete WOD’s (AAW's) that will feature a variety of functional exercises across all movement patterns. From moderate to heavy lifts, explosive sprints, jumps and lateral bounds, flexibility, swimming and gymnastics skills no area will be left unchecked. The targeted WOD's incorporates a programme that hones a soldier athletes mental edge as well as their physical capabilities. Accessible from any smartphone, additional written content will arm individuals with the all important 'why' and 'how to' of the core functional movements; including delivering everything an individual needs to execute the training programme confidently wherever they are based.

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Armoured Athlete Workouts 1 - 3

Arming individuals world-wide, the below workouts deliver on specific training objectives, supported with a philosophy to create a stronger mind-set, enabling any individual to go further in training an in their careers.

If you're interested in learning more about how to develop a stronger mind-set, a dedicated training article has been written on the topic.

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[10 min warm-up, 45 minutes main body, 8 min cool-down]

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[Gym based AAW's]

New GCC Physical Employment Standard Tests

The British Army’s Physical Employment Standards (PES) are designed to “match an individual’s physical ability to their employment and specify optimised employment-based physical tests for the current operating context, with the aim of achieving optimal ‘job-person fit’ and ensuring standards are maintained” (Women in GCC Findings Paper, 2016).

Two main types of assessments are utilised in job-task performance: basic fitness component tests and job-task simulations. Basic fitness component tests evaluate the physical constructs required to perform a specific job and include tests of muscular strength, power and endurance, aerobic power, balance, agility, or anaerobic power. In contrast, task simulation tests assess the applicant's ability to perform the critical physically demanding job tasks associated with a particular job. Setting valid PES that reflect the true demands of a job will help provide qualified women and men with equal access to physically demanding occupations.

GCC PES Representative Military Tasks

RMT Loaded Mach - 2 stages.

Stage 1: - TAB: cover a total distance of 4km at 4.8km/hr (2.98mph a slow walk in a total time of 50min). Dress – webbing 9.5kg, weapon 4.5kg, bergen 26kg – total load 40kg.

  • 5 minute transition and water break before starting stage 2.
  • Stage 2: LM performance run: cover a total distance of 2km as fast as possible. Dress – webbing 9.5kg, weapon 4.5kg, daysack 11kg – total load of 25kg.

RMT Fire & Movement

Dress order: webbing, weapon, CBA and helmet.

  • Complete 5 x 30m shuttles in 7.5m bounds (total 150m/ 20 bounds) in time with audio track. Each 7.5m bound = run – prone.
  • Complete 2 15m crawl immediately followed by a 15m sprint (30m total).

RMT Casualty Drag

  • Drag a 111kg casualty (drag bag) 20m as fast as possible. Dress – MTP, webbing, weapon, CBA and helmet.

RMT Single Lift

  • Lift a 35kg Powerbag from the floor on to a 1.49m platform. Powerbag is capped at 60kg. Lifting will stop once participant reaches their maximum.

RMT Water Can Carry

  • Similar to a stretcher carry or movement of stores, participants will walk up and down a 30m course carrying 2 x 22kg water cans at 1.5m placing the cans down for 5 seconds at the end of each shuttle until pace can no longer be maintained.
  • Dress – webbing, weapon, CBA and helmet.

RMT Repeated Lift & Carry

  • Simulating lifting and carrying equipment e.g. replenishing stores, loading a vehicle or building defensive positions, participants will pick up a sandbag from the ground – walk/run 30m and touch the sandbag on 1.49m marker and drop the sandbag – walk/run 30m unladen to collect another sandbag. Repeat until 20 sandbags have been moved.
  • Dress – MTP, CBA and helmet.

RMT Casualty Extraction from a Vehicle

  • Single upright-pull movement on a rope attached to a weight stack. Only one attempt at each weight. If an attempt is unsuccessful, participants are allowed a second attempt at a weight 5kg lighter, following a rest. Heaviest lift capped at 110kg.
  • Dress – MTP, CBA, helmet and weapon slung.

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Gym Based Predictor Ground Close Combat Physical Fitness Tests

  • 2km best effort run: 500m warm-up, followed by a 2km best effort run.
  • Pull-ups: complete as many pull-ups as possible in 2 minutes.
  • Seated medicine ball throw: while seated with your back flat against the wall and legs out straight, throw a 4kg medicine ball as far as possible.
  • Vertical counter movement jump: standing vertical jump as high as possible.
  • 20m bag drag (55kg): drag a 55kg drag bag backwards as quickly as possible over a 20m distance.
  • Mid-thigh pull: complete two maximal isometric contractions. Simulating a deadlift, pull as hard as physically possible on a fixed bar whilst standing on two plates that measure force.
  • Single lift: lift progressively heavier Powerbags (20kg – 60kg, in 5kg increments) on to a 1.49m platform until a maximum lift is reached.
  • 30m sprint: starting in the prone position sprint 30m as quickly as possible.

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The 6 base-line exercises that cover all the training fundamentals

If you're wondering how to train for the new British Army's fitness tests, the below specific exercises are a good starting point for your improved training programme.

Weight lifting [60% of your back-squat max]

Intel (the reasons to start doing it): regularly training 60% of your max (an attainable goal for most Service Personnel) will translate to increased overall strength, power and speed, translating in to reduced injury risk and better performances in our job. As a compound movement, squatting is one of the most functional movements (not just a move for the glutes), meaning we do it multiple times daily. Improving your strength and movement pattern with this staple armoured exercise pays off in more mobility, resiliency, better job performance, increased athleticism and lower risk of injury in the lower back and legs (increases tissue capacity and bone density). Besides glutes, the back squat targets your back, abs, quads and hamstrings — some of the biggest muscles in our bodies.

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Actions on (how to do it): after un-racking a loaded barbell, stand with feet hip-width apart with the bar resting across your shoulders and an overhand grip wider than shoulder width. Create maximum tension throughout the body by keeping bracing the core; keeping knees in line with toes and eyes straight ahead, send hips back and down until they descend below knees. Stand, fully extending hips, knees and ankles. That’s 1 rep. Aim for 3-4 sets of 6-8 reps within 2-3 strength sessions per week.

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Running: explosive sprints and short distances

Intel: running fast for a short time or distance doesn’t require a ton of training or high mileage (which may avoid a potential injury and mean you’re less likely to lose motivation). Being able to execute short cardiovascular sessions demands strength, power, speed and endurance, improving a soldier’s overall fitness. It also creates a positive cardiovascular stressor that stimulates a Service Personnel’s body to grow stronger. In addition to being one of the best cardiovascular running drills, explosive sprints strengthen your abs, obliques, lower back, hips, glutes and every muscle in your legs.

Actions on: set a time or distance goal (such as 30-second intervals, 400-meter repeats) and push your pace out of your comfort zone. Aim to keep your head and torso lifted and relax your shoulders. Keep elbows bent at around 90 degrees and make loose fists with your hands. Maintain a short, quick stride (your foot should strike under your knee rather than in front). Whether on a track or parade square sprint anywhere from 20-100 meters, then recover for 4-8 minutes (that's 1 set). Aim to do up to 10 sets within 1-2 cardio-focussed sessions per week.

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Jumping: plyometric box jumps

Intel: box jumps build explosive power by training a soldier athletes fast-twitch muscle fibers. In addition to this, if you do any Olympic lifting such as cleans and snatches you’ll see improvement within these thanks to faster hip flexion. During the exercises, because you land high, there’s less impact (compressive stress) than vertical or broad jumps, which reduce the risk of injury to your knees. Each box jump rep recruits your abs, glutes, quads, hamstrings and calves — and fires up your heart rate, improving both core and leg strength as well as cardiovascular fitness.

Actions on: stand facing a box with feet hip-width apart and about a foot from it, arms at sides. Keeping knees in line with toes, send hips back and down to about a quarter squat. Jump off of both feet, swinging arms forward and up for momentum, landing with both feet entirely on the box. Stand, fully extending hips, knees and ankles. Step or jump down (that’s 1 rep). You may wish to place a mat on a hard surface for a lower impact upon landing. Aim for 3-4 sets of a minimum of 20 reps within 2-3 strength and power focussed sessions per week.

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Agility drills: lateral bounds

Intel: agility exercises such as lateral bounds improve a soldier athletes side-to-side quickness, power and hip stability. An agile soldier athlete in the field will reduce threats through changing directions sharper and quicker during attacks, and jumping over/around obstacles (think baby heads, banks and streams and OBUA training environments). Agility drills also develops better balance (think obstacle courses in kit). The box jump is a plyometric exercise (explosive jumping movement), which train a soldier’s muscles to fire in a way that protects their joints from injury. Most muscle recruitment happens at the hips, glutes, thighs and legs; the faster a soldier move the higher their cardiovascular boost will be.

Actions on: stand on your right foot, arms at sides. Jump off of your right leg as high and far to your left as you can, swinging arms right, landing softly on your left foot. Hold that position for a moment, then repeat on the opposite side (that’s 1 rep). Aim for 2-3 sets of a minimum of 20 reps within 1 speed and agility focussed session per week.

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Gymnastic skill: rope climb

Intel: besides strength, this exercise may also be about becoming confident with heights. From the AOSB physical tests on Main Board, to obstacle courses in training, there’s an adrenaline level associated with it that can keep workouts interesting and, when conquered, boosts a soldiers confidence.

Unlike with most strength exercises, the angle of your grip is uneven during a rope climb. Add your bodyweight and exhaustion to that mix and you’ve got one of the best ways to improve your functional grip strength (a weak grip translates to weakness across any strength exercise that requires you to hold on to something).

Rope climbs demand you to move your entire body weight in one motion, thus resulting in a full-body workout. Through upper body pulls, your core helps you stabilize and rotate, and your legs essentially do a few squats to propel you to the top.

Actions on: Jump to grab rope overhead with both hands and straight arms. Let the rope fall on the inside of your dominant leg, cross over your shin and wrap under your foot. Sweep your non-dominant foot under the dominant foot to pull the rope up, then clamp the rope between feet. Keeping the rope along the center of your body and your feet hooked but loose, tuck your legs and pull your knees toward your chest. Clamp your feet around the rope and pull your upper body toward the rope, hand-over-hand, extending your hips and legs. Repeat until you get to the top. Spread feet to slide down. That’s 1 rep. Try 1-3 sets of 1-5 reps (going only as high as you feel comfortable) 1 day a week.

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Strength & Conditioning exercise: pull-ups

Intel: The upper body compound movement recruits a large amount of arm and back muscles and improves grip strength. As an upgrade from the press-up, the pull-up has a truer application in our jobs today (think climbing over obstacles and entering buildings).

Actions on: if you're new to this exercise, use resistance bands that assist with the resistance. Starting from a dead hang position at the bottom, keep your abs and glutes tight and braced throughout the movement. Grip the bar as hard as you can to increase muscle recruitment then focus on pulling your shoulder blades down to initiate the movement, pulling yourself up in one smooth motion. Once your chest is touching the bar, lower yourself down under control into the full hang position.

For further strength and conditioning training read this training article.

Find more training articles and Armoured Athlete WOD's on Twitter or Instagram.

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