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Physical Training Strategies for Military Women's Performance Optimization in Combat-Centric Occupations

Bradley C Nindl
Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 2015, 29 Suppl 11: S101-6
26506171
The physiological differences, particularly of upper-body strength and power, between women and men, and the rigors of combat-centric occupational demands would seem to place women at a significant disadvantage, as the U.S. military opens up previously closed combat-arms military occupational specialties (MOSs) to women. This inherent disadvantage can be significantly mitigated by implementing effective and comprehensive physical training (PT) regimens for women targeting those fitness components most critical for those tasks considered most essential for solider warfighting duties (i.e., strength and power). Regrettably, the military historical and legacy overemphasis on aerobic fitness and on "field expediency" as the major criteria for implementing training have limited the extent to which the military has fully operationalized state-of-the-science PT policies. This continued legacy approach could be problematic regarding fully enhancing women's abilities to perform physically demanding combat-centric occupations and could place the successful integration of women into ground combat MOSs at significant risk. Seminal studies from the literature indicate that (a) a minimum of 6 months of periodized combined resistance/endurance training preparedness is recommended for untrained women considering entering combat-arms MOS training; (b) any comprehensive PT program should incorporate and emphasize progressive load carriage training; (c) a greater emphasis on upper body on strength/power development in military women is needed; (d) heavy resistance training in the range of 3-8 repetition maximum sets should be incorporated into training programs to target type II motor units and muscle fibers (those fibers that produce the most force and have the greatest capacity to hypertrophy); (e) low-volume, high-intensity interval training should be considered as a time-efficient training method to improve aerobic fitness while protecting against lower-body musculoskeletal injuries; (f) flexible nonlinear periodized programs should be considered to best accommodate the unpredictability and operational functional needs of the military training environment; and (g) serious consideration should be given to revamping the manner in which the military conducts physical readiness training, with a departure from "field expediency" as the major criteria for determining PT policies. With an increased emphasis on the human dimension of soldiering and concerted strategic, operational, and tactical efforts to maximize individual physical readiness and performance, the science of training physiology exists to leverage and better physically prepare women as they enter more combat-centric occupations.

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