Since ancient times in military conflict soldiers have been required to carry their load into combat or at least to staging areas closer to the battle field. Even today the ability to carry load is a vital skill and there is no choice but to continue it's usage and development during the training of tactical athletes.NATO defines mobility as one of the crucial 5 areas of capability. The NATO definition of Mobility as follows:

"The capability of the dismounted soldier to traverse through any terrain irrespective of weather conditions"

Some have asked if this is even still needed given the platforms for mobility that exist, but there is still need for tactically competent mobile infantry soldiers which means load carrying will continue to be a vital military skill. As there is no avoiding the use of load carry movements and training then there needs to be cast improvements in the quality of integration of load into training. The post aims to explore the use of load for "Pack Marching" and how influences load carry training. To provide a complete critique of the entire subject will be beyond the scope of this post but I'll highlight several key areas that I have found crucial in my own programming for tactical athletes with relation to Pack Marching. Although the main subject of this post will be training for Pack Marching I will also outline general load carrying training points I have found important. These are also points that I have found effective during my own training. If you want any reference material then please ask I will provide details of all studies and sources for my practices in this area.

Pack Marching and defining the "Combat Load"


If we're to understand what Pack Marching is and how we should train for it we need to have a standard definition of the term. For this I will be using those definitions outlined by NATO as these are more likely than most to be adopted as standards within NATO and the NATO trained nations. In order to condition the tactical athlete for Pack Marching we must also condition for basic loads as a foundation.

Fighting Load-This includes personal weapon, bayonet, clothing, boots, helmet and load bearing equipment not related to a rusk sack and a limited amount of ammunition. This can also include any specialist weapon(radio, anti-tank weapon, mortar etc) or load needed for a particular task which may cause the load to exceed the limit of standard issue fighting load. This needs to be trained for as a foundation for Pack Marching. There is a limit of 21.7kg on this load.

Approach March Load-This is a load geared toward medium range prolonged dynamic missions. This includes the weapon, loading pack, small/medium rucksack and the required amount of ammunition. There is a limit of 32.7kg of this type of loading.

Emergency Approach March Load-There are some missions and conditions which require the tactical athlete to carry loads exceeding previously stated limits. This could be due to long range missions objectives. impassable terrain for vehicles, when air transport is not available. In these situations the tactical athlete may need to cover 20km a day with a load of 54.5kg.

The weights given above are only guidelines, and following recent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq these guidelines are now under revision to reflect the nature of those current and future conflicts.

Pack Marching Physical Demands

To performed optimally the the Pack Marching mechanics must be such that stability is maintained as effectively as possible. The centre of gravity of the load must be kept as close to the body as much as possible and the larger muscle groups must be used to maximum effectiveness. Studies into the physical demands of Pack Marching have determined 5 factors which directly impact the energy output of the march:

The conditioning of the tactical athlete-There has been shown to high correlation between lean body mass and the speed of the load march. Tactical Athletes with a higher lean body mass have been shown to be more effective in Pack Marching. Similarly there is a negative correlation between fatness and pack marching effectiveness. Those factors also related to conditioning are included in this section such as height, bone structure, lower limb strength and endurance.

The load carried-This is obvious in that the energy expediture of the march increases with progressively heavier loading.

The speed of the march-Again this is another obvious one, but it is speed more than load which has a higher demand on the physiology of the tactical athlete.

The grade of the terrain-The grade of the terrain is a factor that works in combination with speed and load. It is something that needs to be conditioned for and there needs to be careful selection of the correct loading for the severity of the terrain.

The type of the terrain and climate-A quick note that for the purposes of this post climate conditions will be included in this category as climate conditions are element of the type of terrain. There has been found to be a positive correlation in energy demands with a scale of increasing demands in the following order:

1.Smooth black topped road
2.Light dirt road
3.Light brush road
4.Heavy brush road
5.Heavy brush
7.Loose sand
8.Soft Snow(the energy demand increases the deeper the snow gets)

Studies were conducted into the orientation of the pack on the back or the front of the body. Front positioning of the pack on the front of body was deemed and effective method of loading although not practical for the nature of military missions. Packs on the front of the chest may obscure vision, breathing and mobility into certain positions during combat.

How to train for Pack Marching

 Despite the level of the data into Pack Marching and it's effects there is still no real agreement on how to train for it. Presented below are my evidence based practises for training tactical athletes for Pack Marching.

How frequently should you Pack March?

Many studies have attempted to compare various training programs and the amount of improvement gained from certain areas of training. One of those factors was frequency. What all programs agree on is that when it comes to frequency those who perform 2 loaded marches per week are in the optimal position to improve. It is for that reason that all of my programs such as 24 Week Special Forces Strength and Conditioning Program include twice weekly Pack Marching. More than this ad you risk injury and decrease the quality of the rest.

Explosive training and shorter distance Pack Marching

Explosive training is a vital component for improving the shorter distance marches up to a distance of 5km. When compared to normal maximal strength programs a combination of explosive movements of 3-8 reps per movement produces optimal results when combined with plyometrics and field based training. I recommend a safe and well structured program of Olympic lifting and power circuits added to each training week. Some programs such my Minimal Strength Training Programs will add explosiveness and functional basic strength foundations to compliment your military PT. I have used these programs effectively with tactical athletes in the past.

Strength and Stability for Pack Marching

Pack Marching has certain negative effects on the posture mechanics. On  basic level there is an increase in the flexion of the truck and and increased forward position of the head. Along side this there have been found to be positive correlations between  triple extension strength of the hip, knee and ankle and ability to cope with increased lower back loading during Pack Marching. Shoulder and Back Strength was also found to be crucial in this regard. Every program I build for tactical athletes is built around 2 parts, the first improving strength in 3 key lifts which I have found help in this area more than other lifts. I also supplement this with stability training as prolonged periods in body armour and under training loads significantly reduced dynamic postural stability resulting in more lower extremity injuries.I have applied this in the following ways:

-Dead lift
-Snatch Grip Dead Lift off a Step
-Over Head Squat

The second part of strength training is specific hypertrophy of the surrounding muscles of the lower leg combined axial conditioning for injury prevention and over all combat strength:

Leg movements
-Front Squat
-Leg Extensions
-Lug Curls
-Calf Raises

Axial Conditioning movements for the posterior strength plus injury prevention lifts
-Glute-ham raises
-Seated good morning
-Pull Up Variations
-Bent over Row
-Face Pulls
-Kroc Rows
-Shoulder raises for shoulder health
-Single Arm Shrugs

Stability and Core Strength
-Single leg exercises on unstable surfaces
-TRX training
-Med ball drills
-Unstable surface training

Cardio-Weights, Conditioning and Pack Marching

I'm going to talk about endurance specific to this topic in the next section but first I want to address the issue of Endurance with weights. Studies performed to evaluate the effects of aerobic training vs cardio-weights. The results shown that cardio-weight training such as those found in Cross Training Workouts proved superior to building endurance for load carrying training. I all of my programs I also include power circuits and Cross Training.

Also in order to condition the body to operating similar mechanics and avoid loading for prolonged periods of time in a trunk flexed position under load I have found it useful to add activities which require the movement of the body in a similar way while still applying use of major lower body muscles with core strength. These have been useful for both conditioning and injury prevention:

-Step up variations
-Sled Pulls
-Up hill pull conditioning

Periodization of Pack March training

Effective readiness for load carrying starts with basic training and for this I use many different aspects of programming performed to optimal effect over an entire 24 week programming period. Combining your training with loads in the following way allows you make the most of your basic training period:

Duration- Studies into the effective duration of training ranging from 6 to 24 weeks. 24weeks proved to be the most optimal training period with 12 weeks next and decreasing down from there. All programs I prepare for tactical athletes are minimum of 12 weeks and if possible all would be 24 weeks. It is possible with intelligent programming to provide good programs in the 6-8 week range but I suggest these for athletes with a base of conditioning to start with.

Progressive Running- This is just standard running for endurance to provide the aerobic fitness base. However running as activity in itself acts as deloading activity for load carrying training. It is important for the tactical athlete to give the body time to recover from load carrying but also keep it active and in good condition.

Progressive loading-ALL load carrying not just Pack Marching should be built up progressively. The principle of progressive overload should apply to load carry training beginning only with combat load and then moving up progressively to Sub maximal training or testing.

80/20 Load Training-This is an application of the 80/20 principle for load training. 80% of a units combat training should be with the correct and full load for its function. This applies to combat drills right through to the marching distance the unit will most likely work over most of the time.

Sub maximal Test- After every period of training there should be a sub maximal test with a pass/fail related to an endurance marching event. This is one time only occurring at the end of a training program.

Adapting this model for operational rotations

This model is not just useful for basic training periods but I have also adapted it to operational rotations. These are the steps performed following an operational tour and to prepare for a following rotation:

Deconditioning and Deload Phase-Following the stresses of an active combat rotation it is important that the tactical athlete can heal and recover. This is a period where there should be a period of training under no load and using no weight. This is back to basics running, body weight and swimming. There should also be testing for corrective measure applied during this phase. This should also include periods of long recovery.

Reconditioning and Prehab-This is phase is for building up the basic unit conditioning phase for the units basic tasks. This is also a prehab phase for tactical athletes to follow the Prehab program to prevent injuries.

Mission Specific Conditioning-This a phase specifically for the specific requirements of the units next combat rotation.

If you would like more detail on programs I have used for this purpose you can contact me via this site. Alternatively you can see my 24 Week Special Forces Strength and Conditioning Program. If you would like any refernce material then place feel free to ask me and I will provide it.


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