Monday, December 25, 2006

Fit to Run

The Army's revised fitness program builds combat-ready bodies--and road-ready ones, too.

Quality Over Quantity

The goal of the revamped program was to maximize fitness while minimizing injury. Most soldiers in basic training work out four to six days a week for an hour. Van Camp and Palkoska fine-tuned their speed session (six 30- to 60-second sprints with double recovery time) and standardized endurance runs to twice a week for 30 minutes. The new program also includes three days of strength training--focusing on upper-body and core moves--and a series of postworkout stretches. Mobility exercises (plyometrics) are done every day because they're a crucial skill for soldiers dodging bullets, but the workouts are also useful for runners, who may need to jump over curbs or side-step pooped-out competitors. "If all you ever do is run in a straight line, your ankles won't have the explosive power to cut or turn," says Van Camp. The soldiers' exercises and drills can be done with little equipment, which makes them perfect for runners without a lot of time to get to the gym.

While there was some resistance to the changes, the numbers won out. Independent studies showed a 12 to 25 percent decrease in injuries and significant increase in performance. "We saw improvement of fitness based on two-mile tests and fewer injuries," says Van Camp. But for him and Palkoska, it's not just a matter of making a few cadets score better on tests. It's about making sure their soldiers are as strong and as fit as they can be. That's some basic training we all can use.

DYNAMIC WARMUP Soldiers use these exercises to prepare for their workouts. You can do the same or incorporate them into a core or strength workout.

The Rower: Lie flat on your back with your arms above you. Perform a sit up by bending at your hips and knees and bringing your arms forward. Use your abdominal strength, not momentum, to pull yourself up. Do 10 repetitions.

The Prone Row: Lie face down with arms straight out. Raise your head and chest, then pull your arms back like a row. "This exercise compensates for all the time we spend sitting and bending over," says Van Camp. Do 10 repetitions.

The Squat Bender: Stand with your feet shoulder width apart. Squat until your thighs are parallel to the ground. Return to the starting position, then bend forward and reach toward the ground. Return to the start. Do 10 repetitions.

PLYOMETRICS These drills give you power for the final kick. Add them to speed sessions.

Power Skips: Skip on the balls of your feet, keeping knees high and arms in an exaggerated running motion. Skip for 25 yards, rest, repeat. "When you explode up on each movement, you're working the three joints that give you explosiveness for sprinting," Van Camp says.

Laterals: Get in a slightly crouched position with your back straight and your arms out in front of you. Step quickly side to side, bringing the trailing leg next to the leading leg. Stay in the crouch and move 25 yards to one side, then return with the opposite leg leading.

STRENGTH Do these as a circuit--one immediately after the other. Start with one set, build to three.

Push-ups: Hands and toes on the ground with back straight (knees can be on the floor). Do 10 to 12 repetitions.

Sit-ups: Lie with your knees bent and your hands behind your head. Use your abdominals to bring your head to your knees. Do 10 to 12 repetitions.

Pull-ups: Using an overhand grip, lift up until your chin is above the bar (or start in the up position, and take five seconds to lower yourself).

Variation: Hang from a pull-up bar with one overhand and one underhand grip. Turn your body sideways. Bend your elbows to pull your body up and bring your knees to your chest (right). Do five to eight repetitions.