Army workouts are notoriously brutal. You can probably imagine soldiers lined up performing a seemingly endless number of Push-Ups with a Drill Sergeant barking at them throughout the workout.
This style of military training is no doubt brutally difficult and pushes soldiers physically and mentally. But does it actually create better soldiers? Based on what we know about strength and conditioning, this old-school style of training falls a bit short.
“When I joined the Army it was basically general calisthenics [bodyweight exercises], which were implemented about 37 years ago because we had limited access to any type of equipment and we had to train a large amount of people at one time,” explains Captain Matthew Dixon, Master Fitness Instructor for the U.S. Army.
When is the last time you saw an athlete performing exclusively bodyweight exercises? They have an important place in training but doing only bodyweight exercises severely limits your ability to build strength and power.
With the creation of the Master Fitness Trainer Course (MFTC), the Army is looking to revolutionize its soldiers’ workouts by transitioning to a system that closely resembles how athletes train to improve their sports performance.
“It’s similar to training a basketball player. They’re going to work on explosive power, speed and agility,” Dixon says. “Depending on what job a soldier has, we’ll build a program specific to what the hardest thing they’ll have to complete.”
This is accomplished with training programs that address the specific needs of a soldier so they can perform their job effectively at all times, whether that’s being on the frontline of a battle or working in the shop on heavy equipment. Workouts include primary lifts such as Squats, Deadlifts and Overhead Presses, accessory exercises and a heavy dose of conditioning work.
To put it simply, the Master Fitness Trainer Course is creating better athletes who can perform their job at a high level in the same way that a strength coach builds better athletes for their sport.
However, this comes with two major challenges: 1) The Army is a massive force with just under 1 million active and reserve personnel; and 2) Soldiers don’t always have access to a gym.
To solve these problems, the Army decided to take an educational approach that can be summed up by the proverb: “You give a poor man a fish and you feed him for a day. You teach him to fish and you give him an occupation that will feed him for a lifetime.”
Selected soldiers attend the Master Fitness Trainer course to learn about the Army’s training program, exercise science and general training principles. After passing the course, the Master Fitness Instructors return to their units and serve as on-site training experts for about 140 other soldiers in their company, and enlist the help of others to provide as much individual attention and instruction as possible.
“The goal is to educate them [Master Fitness Instructors] so they can teach their assistant instructors the proper coaching cues and goals for each training session so it can be implemented down to even a fire team level, which is 3-5 individuals,” Dixon says. “The leader in charge of that fire team would have the knowledge base to help them meet the goals of each training session, week and month.”
Additionally, expanding the knowledge base across the Army allows soldiers to have better quality workouts when they’re in the field and don’t have access to a weight room.
“In the field-type environment, you only have access whatever you’re carrying. We teach them that they can utilize tools like a rucksack or body armor to do the exact same thing,” Dixon explains. “If I load a rucksack up with 80 pounds, I can still train by doing Back Squats or Overhead Presses.It’s not a perfect scenario but we make sure we don’t lose our performance capabilities.”
So far, the results have been promising. Along with stricter physical standards for joining the Army, the new-aged Army training plan has shown a significant reduction in injury across the board.
That said, much of their success comes down to consistency and dedication—two primary tenets of the Army.
“One of the things the Army does every day is physical training,” says Dixon. “We are very consistent with physical training. It’s the most important thing we do every day. It might not be the most important thing we do in the day, but it’s the most important thing we do every day.”
Consistency and dedication should be two essential tenets for anyone who is working out. Athletes often search for some type of silver bullet or hop around from program to program in hopes of finding the path of least resistance to achieve their goals.
In reality, their problem is simply a lack of consistency and a lack of dedication to put in the work. Find a training program that’s appropriate for your goals, stick to it, bust your butt and you’ll be amazed at the results you experience.