Ask Stew: Training for the Test to Get TO the Military


You may think that the fitness test you are taking prior to joining the military is not that important, nor accurately measures your ability as a soldier. That is true. However, such tests are very important in determining a base line of fitness that will prevent you from a greater chance of failure in training due to musculoskeletal injuries and overuse injuries.

Stew, I understand that you have to train for a fitness test to get INTO a specific training program and perform in the outstanding level if you want to be competitive, but is there anything I should be doing in addition to training for a fitness test? Great question. Like you (I am assuming), I do not like to "just train for a fitness test," as there is much more to military training than a fitness test to get THROUGH the training. However, when billets to enter programs such as Special Ops, SWAT, and branches of the military and departments in the law enforcement world are tight, the better you do physically the more competitive you are. Also, with the studies listed below, you can see how important a higher fitness level is to your performance in training and following longevity in active duty. (Related Article - See To and Through Article)

Check out the related studies in the Journal of Athletic Training (National Athletic Trainers Association) focused on the military tactical athlete. The same data hold true for law enforcement and firefighting as well. These studies took the performance on the entry fitness test of candidates and observed how they did in training. The studies focused on overall physical performance as well as injury statistics.

Why being physically prepared for running and other activities is important

Injured trainees are THREE times likely to be discharged before graduation. These injuries typically come from deconditioned candidates who lack posterior chain strength and flexibility (legs, hips, lower back) and a running foundation. Knee overuse injuries occur throughout the process (training, active duty, reserve units) and related to weak hips and leg muscles, and lack of a proper progressive running foundation.

But, to answer your original question: Working on your weakness is critical. Depending on your athletic history, you may be an endurance athlete and find that running is easy, but PT, lifting, and carrying weight are difficult. The opposite is true to the power / strength athlete who has difficulty running fast for longer distances but easily handles the PT, lifting, and carrying exercises. Depending on who you are, you may need to add in (and maintain) your strength, but build on your cardiovascular endurance and your running foundation in a progressive program. Beginner Running Plan -- Overuse injuries happen to beginner runners frequently if they are not prepared with the basics of running. Advanced / Spec Ops Running Plan -- Overuse injuries happen on the high end of the spectrum to even the best athletes with a descent running foundation. Progressive running plans are needed no matter what the level of fitness.

Some statistics about injuries in the military (from studies referenced below

Between 19 and 44 percent of Army trainees and 12.5 percent of Air Force trainees sustain a musculoskeletal injury. In Army trainees, chronic knee injuries are the most common overuse injury, accounting for up to 44 percent of all injuries. Lateral ankle sprains are the most common type of acute injury. These type of injuries can be predicted with high accuracy based on a simple fitness test score.

According to the Department of Defense, more than 800,000 military service members are injured each year, leading to an estimated 25 million days of limited duty annually. Most of these injuries are musculoskeletal and affect the lower extremity. They range from minor strains and contusions to major ligament sprains and bone fractures. All of these injuries typically contribute to a lack of readiness, poorer overall fitness, and obesity.

In the study: Prediction of Injuries and Injury Types in Army Basic Training, Infantry, Armor, and Cavalry Trainees Using a Common Fitness Screen

Using the standard Army Fitness Test, the results of the test showed that people with slower run times, fewer push-ups and sit-ups, and of older age were highly susceptible to acute musculoskeletal injuries. Slower run time was also were directly correlated with typical overuse injuries (shin splints, knee pain, stress fractures, etc.). Read the details of the study to see the line of fitness that determines success or failure in military training programs.

More Related Studies on Military Members, Injuries, and Fitness Correlation

Risk of Lower Extremity Injury in a Military Cadet Population After a Supervised Injury-Prevention Program A Meta-Analysis to Determine if Lower Extremity Muscle Strengthening Should Be Included in Military Knee Overuse Injury-Prevention Programs Risk Factors for Injuries During Military Static-Line Airborne Operations: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis

Unrelated to Muscloskeletal Injuries BUT Very Important for Future Knowledge Learning a proper way to cool the core temperature when overheated will save a life -- maybe your own. There are various methods of cooling the human body, from ice packs on hands, armpits, and neck, immersion in water (pool, lake, river, etc.), cool hydration, sweating, and more. Find out below what ACTUALLY works from these studies: Evaluation of 2 Heat-Mitigation Methods in Army Trainees  Cooling Effectiveness of a Modified Cold-Water Immersion Method After Exercise-Induced Hyperthermia – Important follow-up to above Heat Mitigation Study.

About Athletic Trainers (AT) - ATs are highly qualified, multi-skilled health care professionals who collaborate with physicians to provide preventative services, emergency care, clinical diagnosis, therapeutic intervention, and rehabilitation of injuries and medical conditions. The athletic training academic curriculum and clinical training follows the medical model. Athletic trainers must graduate from an accredited baccalaureate or master's program, and 70 percent of ATs have a master's degree. Learn more about the education of athletic trainers. (From

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