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More on Kettlebells and Infantry Fitness

May 31, 2002 07:22 PM

The previous article submitted was one man's happy experience with fitness tools that are fast, easy and fun. Having had about a year to play with KB's, we now have some definite ideas about them.

Pavel has a series of excellent articles coming out about the difference between Infantrymen (and SWAT/door kickers, PJ's, SEAL's, etc.) and athletes, so there's no need to revisit that. What we would like to discuss is specific fitness requirements and exercises to match.

Infantry strength must be full Range of Motion (ROM). In a direct fire environment, the Infantryman must launch from the prone and sprint like mad to the next piece of cover, hit, roll and come up shooting, all while carrying a load. He may also be called on to manhandle heavy, awkward objects from impossible positions into worse ones. Lower back and leg strength are at a premium for carrying casualties or what is grimly referred to as 120 pounds of "lightweight combat equipment."

Recovery demands placed on Infantrymen defy belief, not in the sense of an "off day" but in training the body to recover quickly during the short periods behind cover. It is our contention the body can be trained for efficient recovery and prevention of injury.

Start by going barefoot as much as possible. This will strengthen the muscles and connective tissues of the legs as well as build up a nice layer of callus. You may want to use the Aqua Sock ($5.95 at Wal Mart) until they toughen up. Running on the balls of your feet in the grass is great for this. Ditch the insoles in the boots. Power to the People talks about why.

About one month on PTP will build up the connective tissue and a base of strength to handle most anything. Pay strict attention to tensing and recruiting muscles. A couple of times a week, do some budges to grind up new synapses. Eat lots of protein. If you've been running the airborne shuffle for years, do some stiff legged deads to repair your legs. Pay particular attention to stretching those hip flexors. If you're stuck running in formation, get in back so you can run on your toes during those accordion sprint moments.

In our opinion, the top exercises for Infantry strength in the full ROM are the one arm snatch and the clean and jerk (or bump or military press), performed off elevated platforms and from the dead hang. These variations provide the necessary travel to build strength in the full range of motion as well as the ability to explode out of the prone without injury. Pay great attention to the cycle of tense/relax/tense as this corresponds nicely to sprint/flop/crawl/shoot/sprint.

To build recovery and endurance, the snatch (with less weight) and the one and two arm swings are perfect, especially when performed ballistically off elevated platforms. We run the heart rate up to 80-90% of max, then stop. Let the HR drop to 60-70% of max and run it up again. In the beginning, stop well short of failure. It is vital you train the body to take advantage of brief respites. As your nervous system toughens and your endurance increases, occasional training to collapse is acceptable. Rest thoroughly afterwards.

Don't neglect your presses.

In garrison, (or a mech unit) you can use dumbbells until you can afford Kettlebells. For lighter units, carry two empty sandbags and some 550 cord. Two minutes with your entrenching tool and you're in business. Fill the sandbags about half full to start, place the bags side-by-side, fold the tops over to form a handle and lash them together. Tie the filled portion of the bags together for a KB, or leave them untied to hang over the pipe for PTP. For PTP, a two-inch pipe or U shaped picked with multiple sandbags works well. (You can also hang it between vehicles or tree limbs for pullups.) Beats heck out of Century PT (100 pushups/100 situps) some maniac got into the system awhile back. Pavel's articles talk extensively about one legged squats, one arm push ups, hanging leg raises and pull ups for Infantrymen. Read and follow the Party Line, Comrades.

I hope this gives some ideas about ways to build fitness in units.

Randy Bartlett, former active duty Army Infantry Officer,
currently employed as an Instructor with Wackenhut Services, Inc.
under contract to a federal agency.
Currently assigned to C Company, 1/153D Infantry.
Randy is a Master Fitness Trainer and a former SWAT Officer