We can never know enough, we can never settle, we can never stop growing. Fortunately, these days it’s easier to do, as there are so many different conferences, and courses to attend and learn from. Of course, we can’t attend them all, but the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NCSA) recently held their Tactical Strength and Conditioning Annual Training (TSAC) conference at the end of April in San Diego. It was an opportunity and knowledge investment I simply couldn’t pass up. There were well over fifty different presentations from a generic to a more specific focus on topics as varied as “Training the Warrior Athlete”, to “Managing and Applying Human Performance Data”.
I’ll be honest, it was a lot to take in, and it’s going to take a while to process and digest, but I was excited by the privilege of attending and networking with so many other like-minded fitness professionals. It will pay dividends for our clients and partners and we continue to Aspire, Grow, and Excel. Here are a couple of highlights.
Training the Warrior Athlete
Strength and conditioning coach Mike Boyle is a pioneer in the field. He has primarily worked with pro athletes in Major League Baseball and the NHL, and I love his outsiders’ perspective into military fitness (MBSC, 2016). He is about changing the paradigm in military training, and “treating the elite like they are elite”. This doesn’t mean using kid gloves and inflating egos, but it means viewing and treating warriors like the highly valuable assets they are. He advocates training with safety first. Once past selection, pushing operators beyond technical failure is ill advised. Coaching is still necessary especially since the warrior athlete needs to be protected from himself!
The costs to pro teams when their players get injured is steep from payroll costs to games and marketing. Of course for those working in the small tightly knit units in SOF, it is much more than that. There are never enough operators, and building a highly cohesive team takes a lot more than merely putting highly qualified operators together. Cohesion takes time, and an injury can kill the capability and readiness of the whole team.
Mike goes on into specifics on training and coaching and conducting a risk/benefit analysis with any training prescription. Not all athletes are the same and training should accommodate their specific needs from the young (Filet Mignon) operator fresh in the stalls to the grizzled veteran Warrant Officer (beef jerky). The focus is always not just capability but training the warrior for longevity and was best summed up by his final slide. “My only hope is that I made you think about the long term value of your assets.” (NSCA, 2016)
Physiological Performance for Women in Combat Arms
Probably the least controversial topic in US military circles right now is their ongoing integration of women into combat roles. Tunde Szivak, MA, CSCS is from Ohio State University Human Performance Laboratory, but more importantly is also a veteran having served two tours in Iraq. When one of her soldiers was hurt watching her struggle to recover inspired Tunde to take the road she is now on in kinesiology (Jones, 2010). Her lecture looked at the training and performance requirements for women to meet the physical requirements for combat trades.
While there are physical performance differences between men and women, these differences are trainable. Targeted training narrows the physical performance gap between the sexes, and she points out the sizeable variance between population averages and the extremes that elite athletes can achieve. Men do have a greater hypertrophic (size increase) and strength response than women, however, women have a greater potential to increase upper body strength and hypertrophy. To realize this potential, women will need a tailored training program with heavy, and very heavy resistance and periodized strength training.
Interestingly Szivak makes the comparison between combat tasks and sports that women already compete in. The requirement to “walk, crawl, run, and climb over varying terrain for 25 miles” is comparable to marathon running. “Raise and carry a 160lb person on back” is similar to the performance of an Olympic lifter, or power lifter. In fact, she goes on to recommend Olympic lifts, heavy loading, and metabolic training movements in preparation for assuming combat tasks such as hauling a Mk-19 grenade launcher, or casualty drags in full kit.
The point she emphasizes is that training be specific to the demands of the particular trade (MOS) and include all relevant physical performance parameters. Most of all, for women resistance training isn’t just a benefit, but it’s a must!
One other point is worth mentioning that she made at the beginning of her talk. No matter what your feelings on women in combat are, they are everywhere on the battlefield now that there are no front lines. Her training prescriptions are every bit as valid and valuable for the sisters we serve alongside no matter what their MOS (NSCA, 2016).
There is much more to tell you about from the TSAC Conference, but I will save that for future articles. I will end this by saying I love what I learned and I look forward to putting this into practice with my clients and helping them to grow into their potential.
(Featured image courtesy of survivaltacticalsystems.com)