BY AMY ASHMORE, PHD
Military-inspired training is characterized by:
- Multi-joint, total body exercises.
- High volume sessions.
- Performing exercises with low loads.
Multi-joint, total body exercises
Multi-joint exercises like the deadlift, squat, leg press, lunge, bench press, and military press are better suited to improve muscle mass, strength, and power than single joint exercises like triceps extensions or the seated knee extension (Paoli, 2015). A defining characteristic of military-inspired exercises is that they are all multi-joint total body exercises that include deadlifts, squats, push-ups, and pull-ups which are typical strength training exercises along with less common exercises like tire flips, bear crawls, and full sit-ups. Regardless of the specific exercise, the thing that all of these exercises have in common is that they are advanced exercises that use more than one joint and numerous muscles at one time.
High volume training
The type of exercise is important in military-inspired training, but what really sets it apart from all other types of training is the volume or amount of exercise that is done in one session. Military-inspired training uses high volume or high repetition sessions – a contested practice in exercise science because training volume is one of the most debated topics in exercise science; however, there is one study (Amirthalingam, 2017) on a particularly relevant training method –
German Volume Training (GVT). GVT uses high volume resistance training , specifically 10 sets of 10 and therefore is a good comparison to military-inspired training. When researchers compared GVT to a traditional five set of 10 repetitions program on body composition the results showed that for both groups (10 sets and five sets) there were significant positive body composition changes. Based on the results of the Amirthalingam (2017) study, it appears that high volume training is effective for increasing lean body mass and decreasing fat mass.
Although high-intensity loads are undoubtedly effective to build muscle mass and develop strength and power, they cannot be used in high volume sessions that characterize military inspired training; therefore, low-intensity loads are used in high volume training sessions. Whereas the efficacy of high-intensity loads is well documented, low-intensity loads have been studied much less. To determine if low-intensity loads are effective, researchers (Ozaki, 2018) measured muscle endurance outcomes under high loads (80% of one repetition maximum; 1RM) and low loads (30% of 1 RM). The results showed that in the elbow flexor muscles endurance as measured by how many repetitions exercisers could complete at 30% 1RM increased only in the low-intensity load (30% 1 RM) group demonstrating the value of low loads to developing muscle endurance.
Reducing the risks
Because multi-joint total body exercises utilize many muscles at the same time the exerciser is prone to fatigue, mechanics errors, and injury when used in high volume training. Therefore, caution must be used to make sure that proper exercise mechanics are maintained throughout the entire high volume sequence, and if form is broken the exerciser should take a rest and resume when recovered.
Any discussion on high volume training warrants a mention that when used improperly the method can lead to overtraining and in severe cases acute (one time) or long-term rhabdomyolysis. Rhabdomyolysis is a serious condition that is caused by the breakdown of muscle tissue that leads to the release of muscle fiber contents into the blood which can be harmful to the kidneys and may lead to kidney damage (Miller, S. 2013). Therefore, it is recommended that high volume sessions are alternated with low volume sessions and exercisers are aware of the symptoms of overtraining like exhaustion, extreme thirst, heat-related illnesses, muscle cramps, and muscle and joint pain, among others and stop exercising immediately if they feel overexerted or overly tired.
Military-inspired training methods that use total body exercises to complete high volume, low-intensity sessions can be an effective way to build muscle endurance and change body composition for the better. However, any high volume training program is an advanced way to train and all exercisers should use caution and alternate high volume training sessions with lower to moderate volume sessions and include moderate to high load sessions as well.
Amirthalingam T, Mavros Y, Wilson GC, Clarke JL, Mitchell L, Hackett DA. (2017) Effects of a Modified German Volume Training Program on Muscular Hypertrophy and Strength. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. Nov; 31(11):3109-3119.
Miller, Scott, “Rhabdomyolysis” (Oct 2, 2013), www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000473.htm (accessed February 19, 2019).
Ozaki H, Kubota A, Natsume T, Loenneke JP, Abe T, Machida S, Naito H. (2018).
Effects of drop sets with resistance training on increases in muscle CSA, strength, and endurance: a pilot study. Journal of Sports Sciences. Mar; 36(6):691-696.
Paoli A, Gentil P, Moro T, Marcolin G, Bianco A. (2015). Resistance Training with Single vs. Multi-joint Exercises at Equal Total Load Volume: Effects on Body Composition, Cardiorespiratory Fitness, and Muscle Strength. Frontiers in Physiology. Dec 22; 8:1105.
For more information on multi-joint exercises, check out Timing Resistance Training.