Introduction

The outdoor fitness market has been the recipient of some negative press over the years regarding injuries and injury prevention. Some of this negativity has been undeserved and is partly due to ignorance of the working of this market. However, this said, there are a number of issues that have been identified with military physical training and a number of these are highlighted below.

Initial Recruit Fitness

The Adult Learning Inspectorate report (2005, p.6) states that improving the physical condition of recruits is a major goal of initial military training and “Physical education staff and facilities were invariably found to be good.”  However, the report also noted that many young people arrived overweight or unfit despite advice and encouragement to get fit and training programmes before joining up.  The effort to meet the necessary standards in the short time period was significant, and the report argued that too many injuries and too many recruits leave because of poor levels of fitness and that more flexibility was needed in scheduling initial training and planning each recruit’s physical regime.

Physical Training and Welfare

“Physical training instructors are expert in their field, but their preparation does not cover welfare matters.” (ALI, 2005, p.39), such as counselling and advisory services.  A complaint made by some critics is that military qualified fitness instructors are unapproachable and unsympathetic towards an individual’s problems.  However, military recruits and civilian members usually enjoy getting fit and success lies in instructors striking a balance between pushing them to do well and causing injury.

Practical Training Supervision and Progress

For practical training the ALI (2005, p.57) states that it “…is particularly well supervised, and recruits understand their progress.”  The ALI report also states that supervision and the general promotion of safety are good, and there are appropriate briefings and clear, detailed risk assessments are completed for all activities.

However, on the downside ALI notes that when physical training, such as press-ups or additional duties, is given as a punishment it is not formally recorded by staff.  This contravenes the instructors’ code of practice.

Gender-fair or Gender-free?

A study in 2002 (Table 1) showed that, across the British armed forces, women are twice as likely as men to be medically discharged through injury (Geary et al., 2002).  It is argued that this problem has been exacerbated by changing from a ‘gender-fair’ policy where women were set training goals appropriate to their physique, to a ‘gender-free’ approach prompted erroneously by a conviction in the military that equality of opportunity demanded it.

Table 1: Rates of injury & gender differences under the ‘gender-fair’ & ‘gender-free’ regimes

Gender-fair cohort

Incidences per 10,000

Gender-free cohort

Incidences per 10,000

Site of Injury

Male

Female

Male

Female

Achilles tendonitis

5.3

12.6

4.8

57.8

Knee pain

58.0

50.5

45.0

72.3

Back pain

31.0

151.7

21.0

202.3

Tibial pain

0.7

37.8

43.0

332.4

Stress fracture – tibia

5.3

12.6

16.0

231.2

Stress fracture – foot

8.8

50.5

13.0

101.2

Stress fracture – pubis

0.2

126.0

1.6

101.2

Stress fracture – femur

0.01

25.2

3.2

14.5

All sites

118.0

467.0

147.0

1113.0

Source: Gemmell, 2002

Physical Strength and Women

While physical fitness and stamina are issues for all four branches, strength is particularly emphasised by the Army and the Royal Marines.  Acquiring high levels of strength calls for steady and incremental physical conditioning, and without an investment of time there is a danger of temporary or permanent loss of recruits through, for example, lower limb stress fractures caused by carrying excessive loads.

“A culture which values physical strength arguably finds it difficult to find a place for women appropriate to their potential contribution.” (ALI, 2005, p.15).  Currently women are not allowed to serve in the Royal Marines but can apply for the All Arms Commando Course, although very few have taken up this offer.

Societal Change

The ALI (2005) also argued that there are many studies demonstrating that tensions have arisen from the widening difference between increasingly peaceful civilian life and service in a war zone.  Recruits’ expectations of their treatment follow the same trajectory: they are ill prepared for what they see as verbal or physical abuse, poor living conditions or harsh treatment which appears in any way gratuitous.  The ALI argues that tracking societal change is becoming more and more necessary, if training is to be efficient and appropriate.

The ALI (2005) also suggested that an urgency to prepare recruits properly for frontline service can easily be misinterpreted as brutality.  Dealing with the necessary transition in the modern world may require changing the desired end-product, or the speed with which this product is shaped.

Rehabilitation

The ALI (2005) noted the poor record keeping on rates of recovery and rehabilitation across the military.  However, where records do exist, for example at the Royal Marines’ establishment at Lympstone, they show that, with appropriate care, 80% of recruits can be helped to recover from injuries and resume progress towards full military effectiveness.

Where physiotherapists, medical professionals, physical training instructors and other rehabilitation staff work closely together, recruits’ recovery is often better managed and monitored; the best known example being the facilities at Headley Court.

Royal Marines training is arduous and it is inevitable that recruits will ‘pick-up’ injuries and Hunter Company[1] was instigated to treat and rehabilitate recruits to get them back into mainstream training as soon as possible.  It is based on two principles:

  • A tailored physiotherapy and rehabilitation routine; and
  • Maintenance of a recruit’s military knowledge by the company’s own instructors.

ALI Recommendations

As part of their recommendations for their first report regarding physical training the ALI (2005) suggested:

  1. That the armed forces exercise greater control over pre-entry physical testing, and reduce reliance on self-declaration (see Induction & Medical Screening section);
  2. The abandonment of the ‘gender-free’ approach to training women and the restoration of ‘gender-fair’ regimes; and
  3. More systematic use of data on fitness, the training undertaken, injury and rehabilitation.

In their follow-up report the ALI (2007) noted that, although there was still variation between establishments, considerable progress had been achieved across the military regarding physical training.

Definitions

  1. A department formed specifically to provide rehabilitation to recruits in order to aid their recover and return to military training, reducing the prevalence of medical discharges due to injury.

References

Adult Learning Inspectorate (2005) Safer Training: Managing Risks to the Welfare of Recruits in the British Armed Services. Available from World Wide Web: <http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/shared/bsp/hi/pdfs/21_03_05_ali.pdf> [Accessed: 13 November, 2012].

Adult Learning Inspectorate (2007) Better Training: Managing Risks to the Welfare of Recruits in the British Armed Services: Two Years of Progress. Available from World Wide Web: <http://www.mod.uk/NR/rdonlyres/E82B3EE1-182B-47F6-8693-05AF88E6CF63/0/MODBettertrainingfull.pdf> [Accessed: 13 November, 2012].

Geary, K.G., Irvine, D. & Croft, A.M. (2002) Does Military Service Damage Females? An Analysis of Medical Discharge Data in the British Armed Forces. Occupational Medicine, 52(2), pp.85-90.

Gemmell, I.M.M. (2002) Injuries among Female Army Recruits: A Conflict of Legislation. Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine. 95(1), pp.23-27.

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