Airborne for Old Guys
Here is a great information piece from an Army Soldier who completed the US Army Basic Airborne Course (BAC) at age 42. He has always been a great runner but needed to focus on the PT for the arms and legs to prepare for the landings / regular PT.
Phil Lowry is a JAG officer with the Utah National Guard. Here is his story of how to survive BAC during your late 30's and early 40's:
Airborne School poses particular challenges for Soldiers over 35 (which under the reg is the normal age cutoff for Airborne students). Those challenges come in two forms: (1) the PT test, and (2) the accumulating burdens of falling down a lot.
The PT test is very handily addressed in Stew's preparation book for the Airborne School. Pay particular attention to the timed drills, since as we age our ability to make explosive movement decreases. Timed drills allow you to retain the muscle memory required to efficiently do 42 pushups and 53 situps in under two minutes (hopefully in less than 90 seconds).
Remember that the PT test is done in washed river gravel, about the size of almonds. That means that the pushups will be done on a plank, a strange feeling. The plank may not be wide enough for those of you who prefer a wide stance. It wasn't wide enough for me (I like about 27 inches of space between the inside of my hands). Be sure to be able to comfortably pass the pushups at about a 25-inch stance. I found the situps to be easier in the gravel. Wiggle yourself into a depression before you begin so you are comfortable.
As for the falling down - there is a reason that there are not many football players older than 40. You will fall in a variety of ways in Airborne school. First, during ground week, in the 34-foot tower you will be falling in a harness onto a zip line, at least 6 times-if you master your exit. One guy in my stick went out the 34-foot tower 22 times. That takes a toll on the pinch points around legs, crotch and chest. It also taxes your neck to fall while tucking your chin in an ACH.
You will fall a lot more when learning parachute landing falls. Young guys tend to "get" PLFs quickly. Older guys can master it quickly, also, especially natural athletes. But if you are not very coordinated, or have to "unlearn" a technique (a martial arts forward roll, or a combat roll learned in combatives), you will be falling off the lateral drift apparatus (LDA) a lot. It does not really hurt at any given time, but it slowly but surely gives you bruises all over. It can also be very hard on your neck as you have to keep your chin tucked in all of your landings. A lot of bells get rung. Also, while in the PLF pit the only way you can travel is by bunny hopping with your feet and knees together. Sounds easy - until you do it for four hours.
During tower week, in the swing line trainer, you will fall even more. The SLT tends to hurt more than the LDA, since it is more realistic and harder to master. Mass exits in the 34-foot tower are comparatively easy, but come on the last day when you are beat. The two different harness training exercises are also easier, but once again give you that wonderful "pinching" feeling.
And, of course, there is jump week, where you put it all together, along with five 1/2 to 1-mile hikes at double time across a very soft drop zone that is as hard to run in as a newly plowed field. The manner of carrying the parachute, especially when hucking a combat load, puts a lot of stress on your already sore neck.
How does an oldster get ready for this? Some practical exercises:
1. Increase your endurance sets for your upper body, and try to use methods that engage large and small muscle groups in both power and stabilizing moves. Dumbbells are better than barbells, calisthenics are really good.
2. Focus on pullups. You need them to pull on your risers. But make sure not only your lats are strong, but also your hands and your forearms. Rock climbers do drills on these extremities-you should, too. Old guys tend to pull muscles in these areas more easily (I did), and it takes us longer to heal if we do.
3. Focus on your neck. There are a variety of techniques and exercises in published material that can help with both neck strength and endurance. The PLF puts a lot of strain on your neck (better your neck than your head). Even the youngest students complain about their necks at the end of ground week. It\'s worse when you\'re older. Also, get used to your ACH before you go to Airborne. You will always have it on whenever you train. It is a good idea to run or ruck with your ACH on as an endurance exercise. This will help your neck.
4. Run in boots. You will be doing so at Airborne. Get used to it. High-tec boots (Exospeeds, etc.) are authorized at Airborne.
5. Do more running than you need for the APFT. You should probably do at least half as much running as recommended by the training guide.
6. Endurance is more important than mass or strength, in all areas. Muscles with high endurance are highly vascularized, and so they heal quickly, and are less likely to be injured in the first place. Airborne training does not really require explosive strength-it requires efficient repetitive taxing motion, with the ability to absorb repetitive mild trauma.
7. The PT at Airborne is easy. Don't worry about it. Focus on the APFT and preparing for the actual training. That way, when you do PT, you won't worry about aggravating a training injury (try doing pullups with a pulled forearm muscle. Better to avoid pulling the muscle in training in the first place than having to baby it in morning PT).
8. Be ready for having to perform even if hurt. Cope and compensate as you can-there is no periodicity to the training. All of us oldsters had to suck it up, most of us more than once. I jumped three times on a badly bruised knee; a 43-year-old master sergeant jumped three times on a mildly sprained, but very painful, ankle.
The upside to being older at Airborne is that you will likely deal better with the mental stress that your physical ailments and the training environment place upon you.
"Remember, there is a difference between being hurt and being injured. You are all hurt-you are about to jump out of a plane for the fifth time. None of you are injured. Injured means you are in the hospital." stated the First Sergeant, Charlie Company, 1/507 PIR, BAC.
Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. If you are interested in starting a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle - check out the Military.com Fitness eBook store and the Stew Smith article archive at Military.com. To contact Stew with your comments and questions, e-mail him at email@example.com.
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