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Soldiers pump iron

Thursday, 2 April 2020

James Cook University researchers have been investigating new fitness programs to better prepare Australian soldiers for the battlefield – and pumping weights could be the answer.

JCU PhD student and Army Reserve Lieutenant Brian Heilbronn enlisted 49 serving soldiers and subjected them to a new training regime over a 15-week period.

He said traditional army training has often consisted of high-volume, low-intensity training focusing on aerobic endurance.

“Instead of that, we split them into three groups and introduced resistance training at different levels to two groups, using the third as a control group. Resistance training is effectively weight training,” said Mr Heilbronn.

He said that soldiers, especially those in combat roles, have been called ‘tactical athletes’ because of the high levels of strength, power, speed, and agility required.

“These physical demands are further compounded by soldiers wearing and carrying heavy loads, sometimes when they are also hungry, sleep deprived and under extreme stress,” he said.

“So in line with these demands we investigated whether there was a better way of preparing them to fight.”

The researchers found the groups doing weight training improved more than the non-weight training group in both general strength and fitness measures, as well as army specific tasks.

“Simulated fire and movement drills, where soldiers are required to alternately run then drop and crawl, improved for both of the resistance training groups,” he said.

“One of the weight training groups saw significant improvements in a test involving a 5km march carrying around 30 kilograms of equipment.”

Mr Heilbronn said the experiment was especially valuable because the participants were serving soldiers and their routines during the 15-week program were often interrupted by the needs of the army.

“This is important, as it reflects the normal battle rhythm of an army unit. Despite the interruptions in physical training, the soldiers still made significant improvements in strength and fitness, which demonstrates the effectiveness of high intensity resistance training within an army training continuum.”  

Mr Heilbronn said the study showed resistance training, despite unpredictable interruptions, was effective in keeping soldiers conditioned for the specific tasks associated with war-fighting.

“It suggests that army PT staff should incorporate structured, individualised, high-intensity resistance training as part of a balanced and holistic strength and conditioning program for their soldiers.

“This will allow improved capability, lethality, and survivability of the soldier, by giving them the ideal physical capacity to undertake their roles. It will also reduce the risk of overtraining caused by excessive running and loaded marching,” he said.

Mr Heilbronn’s project has now been expanded to further collaborative PhD studies with the army, encompassing the investigation of the physical, physiological and cognitive demands soldiers experience when balancing their physical preparation and tactical training.

Contact:
Mr Brian Heilbronn (Townsville)
T: 07 4781 3390
M: 0419 442 702
E: brian.heilbronn@jcu.edu.au