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Military Playing Down Long Runs, Adopting More Diverse Fitness Programs

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Feb. 26, 2007 – If a little bit of running is good for keeping warfighters in top form, then a lot of running is better, right? “Wrong!” say officials here at the Army Center for Health Promotion and Preventive Medicine.

The Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force have come to recognize that as beneficial as running can be to overall fitness, health and military readiness, too much of a good thing causes injuries that leave troops less fit, less healthy and less ready, Army Lt. Col. Steve Bullock, the center’s health promotion policy program manager, told American Forces Press Service.

As a result, the services are tailoring their physical training regimes to reduce the emphasis on “pounding the pavement.” Instead, they’re replacing regular long-distance runs with other forms of exercise, he said.

The goal is to reduce overuse injuries that translate military-wide to more than 8 million days of limited duty a year, said Keith Hauret, an epidemiologist for the Army’s injury prevention program. Fractures, sprains, strains and other musculoskeletal conditions, many resulting from physical training, take an even greater toll on the force in terms of lost- or limited-duty days.

“Injuries have a direct effect on readiness and a soldier’s ability to perform his duties, whether in training or while deployed,” Hauret said. “It has a direct impact on the soldier’s ability to perform, and that has a direct impact on that unit’s readiness.”

The services’ new approach to physical training aims to bring injury rates down while ensuring a fit military force.

“We’re not going soft,” Bullock said. “What we’re doing is increasing the intensity of the training, and the effect on heart, lungs and overall strength is actually better.”

The Army, for example, is reducing the miles troops run, breaking soldiers into “ability groups” for distance runs, adding speed drills to its PT regime and substituting grass drills and other forms of exercise for running.

“We have recommended no more than 30 minutes of running, and no more than three or four times a week,” Bullock said.

Higher-intensity, shorter-distance runs and interval training increase troops’ speed and stamina with less risk of injuries, he said. At the same time, this more balanced approach to PT actually improves their ability to perform in combat.

“What we do in the military is explosive energy,” Bullock said. “Soldiers need to be able to move quickly. They need balance and coordination. That’s not something they’re going to get through lumbering, long, slow runs.”

For their running programs, Bullock advises units to incorporate these training elements into their programs:

-- Follow a standardized, gradual and systematic progression of running distance and speed. Begin with lower mileage and intensity, especially in programs for new recruits, people changing units or those returning to PT after time off for leave or an injury.

-- Structure injury-prevention programs to target troops of average or below-average fitness levels who are at the greatest risk of injury, and ensure they’re running appropriate mileages.

-- Place troops in ability groups based on PT scores and measure their runs by time, not distance. This will reduce the risk of injury among the least-fit troops without holding back the higher performers.

-- Avoid remedial PT programs that require the least-fit troops to do more training than fit ones. This increases their injury risk, often with little or no improvement in their fitness.

-- Substitute higher-intensity, shorter-distance runs like repeated sprints, “Fartlek” training and other interval training activities for some distance runs.

-- Build in time for troops’ bodies to recover and rebuild following demanding PT sessions to reduce the risk of overtraining injuries.

“Injuries are the biggest threat to our forces and our readiness,” Bullock said. “Our goal is to help the military understand the burden of injuries and refocus their approach to physical training to reduce injuries in a way that actually improves readiness.”

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Related Sites:
U.S. Army Center for Health Promotion and Preventive Medicine


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