Cardiorespiratory Fitness - Programs To Improve Load-carrying Ability
The four generalized programs described below can be used to improve the soldiers’ load-carrying ability. Each program is based on a different number of days per week available for a PT program.
If only two days are available for PT, both should include exercises for improving CR fitness and muscular endurance and strength. Roughly equal emphasis should be given to each of these fitness components.
If there are only three days available for PT, they should be evenly dispersed throughout the week. Two of the days should stress the development of muscular endurance and strength for the whole body. Although all of the major muscle groups of the body should be trained, emphasis should be placed on the leg (hamstrings and quadriceps), hip (gluteal and hip flexors), low back (spinal erector), and abdominal (rectus abdominis) muscles. These two days should also include brief (2-mile) CR workouts of light to moderate intensity (65 to 75 percent HRR). On the one CR fitness day left, soldiers should take a long distance run (4 to 6 miles) at a moderate pace (70 percent HRR), an interval workout, or an aerobic circuit. They should also do some strength work of light volume and intensity. If four days are available, a road march should be added to the three-day program at least twice monthly. The speed, load, distance, and type of terrain should be varied.
If there are five days, leaders should devote two of them to muscular strength and endurance and two of them to CR fitness. One CR fitness day will use long distance runs; the other can stress more intense workouts including interval work, Fartlek running, or last-man-up running. At least two times per month, the remaining day should include a road march.
Soldiers can usually begin road-march training by carrying a total load equal to 20 percent of their body weight. This includes all clothing and equipment. However, the gender makeup and/or physical condition of a unit may require using a different starting load. Beginning distances should be between five and six miles, and the pace should be at 20 minutes per mile over flat terrain with a hard surface. Gradual increases should be made in speed, load, and distance until soldiers can do the anticipated, worst-case, mission-related scenarios without excessive difficulty or exhaustion. Units should take maintenance marches at least twice a month. Distances should vary from six to eight miles, with loads of 30 to 40 percent of body weight. The pace should be 15 to 20 minutes per mile.
A recent Army study showed that road-march training two times a month and four times a month produced similar improvements in road-marching performance. Thus, twice-monthly road marches appear to produce a favorable improvement in soldiers’ abilities to road march if they are supported by a sound PT program (five days per week).
Commanders must establish realistic goals for road marching based on assigned missions. They should also allow newly assigned soldiers and those coming off extended profiles to gradually build up to the unit’s fitness level before making them carry maximum loads. This can be done with ability groups.
Road marching should be integrated into all other training. Perhaps the best single way to improve load-earring capacity is to have a regular training program which systematically increases the load and distance. It must also let the soldier regularly practice carrying heavy loads over long distances.
As much as possible, leaders at all levels must train and march with their units. This participation enhances leaders’ fitness levels and improves team spirit and confidence, both vital elements in accomplishing difficult and demanding road marches.