Right! So you’ve never stepped foot in a gym, you haven’t run since high school and you’ve got no idea how you’re going to pass your PFA. Continue reading if this is you…
Luckily for you the early days of training can be relatively straight forward. This is due to the fact that anyone trying to achieve anything physical should start with the same basic rule. Build strength and efficient movement patterns to develop athleticism. The reason why you should be taking an athletic approach to your training is due to the simple fact that once you’re in the military you’ll be paid to keep fit. You’ll be categorised as a tactical athlete and expected to live up to the physical standards set before you depending on your service requirements.
Ok let’s put the “tactical athlete’ title away for now and focus on what’s important ;-)
So, why do I lack strength and movement efficiency?
Take note of how many hours you are sedentary (not moving) during 24 hours. Sleep for 8 hours, sit down for breakfast and watch TV for half an hour, drive to work or catch public transport for half an hour, sit down at your desk at work for 8 hours, drive home from work for half an hour, after sorting yourself out and having dinner you sit down for 4 hours and watch TV then go to be again. This is a generic approach for the average person and as you can see many hours are spent in non active. This inactivity reduces your bodies ability to perform. Your core muscles go to sleep so you can’t hold yourself in a plank position to do push ups, your shoulders become hunched and your back muscles have gone to sleep so you can’t control your upper body when trying to lower yourself for a push up, your butt muscles have gone to sleep and don’t know how to control your hips and legs causing you waste heaps of energy while running, your hamstrings shrink and your calves get tight so you can’t touch your toes causing you to lack the flexibility to get an efficient running stride or you fall on your face when trying to do a squat. These traits have a huge impact on your physical ability and are generally the cause as to why you find it so hard to do anything physical let alone performance based ie. train for the ADF.
What do I need to do to improve these?
To start with you’ll need to focus on some basic movement patterns and develop your strength with these in mind. These basic movement patterns include pushing, pulling, squatting, lunging, hinging and bracing. It’s really important to have a well balanced approach to these movement patterns in order to develop the basis for your athleticism. And lucky for you all of these movements have differing levels of intensity, so even if you’ve never stepped foot in a gym before you can conduct pretty much all of these at home just by using your body weight. Then, once you feel confident enough, you can join a gym and start adding some weight to your training.
Let’s break these movements down into body weight exercises
This is in reference to exercises such as push ups and dips. There are many variations of these exercises including incline and decline push ups, handstand push ups, diamond and tricep push ups, regression and hand release push ups and the list goes on. And for dips there are several variations including straight bar, box, assisted or ring dips.
For someone like yourself who is just starting out I would include regression and hand release push ups and box dips as your pushing exercises. As you are probably aware, push ups are one of the exercises that you will have to perform during your fitness assessments. The purpose is to test your muscular endurance. Push ups can be some peoples worst nightmare. The ever fearful push ups will haunt you for the rest of your military career however if you can nail the proper technique early on in your training then you should have no problems throughout your career. Something to keep in mind when it comes to practicing your push up technique is to keep your repetitions low when practising technique. When developing strength with body weight exercises then your reps will need to be higher but remember, for technique, keep your reps low and make every single rep perfect, regardless of what height you’re practicing them at. Check out our resource on ‘How To Perfect Your Push Ups’.
Pulling exercises can include pull ups (hands over the bar) and chin ups (hands under the bar), suspension trainer rows with varying grips including neutral, under-grasp and over-grasp. When you are new to training and can’t complete pull ups or chin ups unassisted then it’s fine to use bands to assist until you build up your strength.
It’s possible to include all of these pulling movements as a beginner and just add assistance bands where needed.
Bodyweight squatting movements can include air squats, prison squats, box squats or jump squats. And as with all other movements, as you gain strength you can begin to add some varying weights to increase the difficulty once your body understands the correct movement pattern. All of these squat variations can be included in your initial training program.
Now this movement is by far the one that is neglected the most by beginner athletes. Hinging refers to hip dominant movements such as good mornings, glute bridges, single leg hip thrusts and single leg bodyweight Romanian deadlifts. These exercises have a stronger focus on your hamstrings than most other lower limb body weight exercises. Hamstring strength is essential in the correct function of the knee as well as assisting with your running gait and lifting ability.
You could probably guess the first exercise that comes to mind….planking. Bracing refers primarily to the development of your core. It is also encompasses other movements such as farmers carry but we’ll leave that for a later date when you are a bit more advanced. For now we are going to focus on some essential exercises that will develop the primary muscles in your core as well as some of the deep stabilisers. For starters your bread and butter core exercises include plank, side plank, hanging knees to elbows and deadbugs and high plank shoulder taps. Several other mid section exercises you could add to your program may include Russian twists, bird dogs, Pallof presses, leg raise holds as well as several other plank variations. There are several main factors as to why training your core is so important, such as it allows your body to operate as one entity. A lot of energy is wasted in individuals who lack core strength. Another main reason is that it protects your spine. Ensuring you create a safe and stable buffer around your spine is essential for the reduction of injury occurrences.
The other main component which needs to be included in your training schedule is running. It is really important that your running training is implemented at a steady pace. Running can be quite tough on your body so it’s essential that you increase the distance and time at a steady pace to ensure your body is conditioned appropriately. Conditioning of your body occurs when the ligaments, tendons and muscles adapt to the increase in workload. If you’ve never run before or have limited running experience then it is absolutely essential that you allow sufficient rest time in between running training sessions to allow your body to become conditioned to the stress of running. What is meant by this is that your ligaments, tendons and muscles are under quite a high level of stress when running, so at the end of the running session they need enough time to repair adequately before you conduct the next running session. Depending on your level of ability this rest time may be 48 to 72 hours. Often this rest time is neglected as there is an urgent need to get better at running quickly. Unfortunately this quite often leads to injuries such as shin splints or tendonitis which will leave you sidelined for several weeks or months. As mentioned, the best way to condition your body to running, if you are new to it or haven’t run in several years is through progressive overload.
An example of this would be: 1 minute running then 4 minutes walking x 6. Conducted 2 to 3 times per week. You would then increase your run time and decrease your walk time as you progress through the weeks.
As you can see there are several aspects you need to consider as a beginner to ensure you set yourself up adequately for service in the military. There is an extremely high injury rate, especially for females, however you can increase your chances of success by simply following the process and ensuring you cover off on building your strength in the basic movement patterns as well as build your conditioning to running slowly. It’s important that you developed your foundations before you consider other training aspects such as pack marching, obstacle course, fire and movement or other military specific physical activities.
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