Weight carrying - some context

Snows

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One of the things I expect almost nobody pre-joining has a good idea about is weight carrying. The Army, and particularly Para Reg, is pretty rare in requiring fitness standards from individuals with the regular addition of wildly variable amounts of weight. Imagine, for example, if cyclists regularly had 20, 50, or 80kg added to their bike. It would be a completely different sport.

Before anyone gets any ideas, this is not an encouragement to try this yourself now. In fact, it's exactly the opposite, see the last paragraph. But you can lift a dumbell or go to a gym and see what 10 - 20kg feels like, and work the following out from there.

Real weights and training weights

I'm not going to go into why these are all different, but they are. This is so you can see why there is a progression needed in your training, and some roles take time for you to adapt to the requirements, both physically and mentally.

Basic Para Reg tom role:
In a P-Coy style tab, you will be carrying ~20kg (16kg + water + rifle).
On recruits your minimum day patrol weight is about 16kg (webbing + helmet + rifle)
A realistic minimum exercise weight is about 25kg - this is a day patrol weight.
A realistic moderate exercise weight with section kit is about 35kg - this is a multi-day patrol.
A realistic maximum exercise weight for a standard infantry tom is about 60kg - this is all your kit for the exercise.
A realistic minimum operational weight is 30-40kg - this is day patrol weight (armour, ammo and specialist kit weighs a lot)
A realistic moderate operational weight is 50kg - this was what I regularly carried in Afghanistan as 'light' order (lolz)
A realistic maximum operational weight is up to 70kg - again, this is for a basic infantryman

Recce and Support Coy roles:
Add about 20kg to the above. Recce carry a lot of kit. So do signallers. So do snipers, MG platoon, mortar platoon.
It's not unknown for weight on the man to go above 100kg in a small, long-duration patrol. For most of us that is more than we weigh.

Casualty evacuation:
P-Coy stretcher = 90kg, between 4 men, each wearing about 10kg (more in webbing? I forget)
Operational stretcher = at least 110kg (man + armour + equipment), each man carrying wearing about 30kg, might be 4 men, might be 6, might be 2 men.
Recruit training / MATTs individual carry = minimum 70kg (one man no kit), maximum ~100kg (one man, his webbing, your webbing)
Advanced course (recce, snipers, SF, etc) individual carry = I've personally done a 170kg carry for 800m of the biggest bloke (110kg) on the course, half his personal kit (20kg), my personal kit (40kg). I cannot and never have been able to lift 170kg in a gym, that's verging on Olympic levels.

The Point

What you do on recruits and P Coy is not a maximum, it's not even close. It's fast and requires a lot of CV fitness, but it is the start of a career in which the major physical demand on you is going to be carrying a lot of weight, for long distances, quite slowly. The role you want needs you to be a mule, not a sprinter. Obviously, if you are carrying 80kg on an insertion tab, you aren't travelling the same speed as a 20kg on a 10-miler (but you may well be going further).

Unless you are a real physical outlier, you cannot just do this from day one, or even year one. It takes years of constant training to build this kind of fitness, or at least the ability to do it without getting injured very quickly. That is also why, again, you should not take this as a reason to start carrying these kinds of weights now. It's also why, even though it's hard for men, it's almost impossibly hard for women - the different sexes are physiologically build differently. I was in the same company at Sandhurst as the first woman to pass the Platoon Commander's Battle Course at Brecon: she was not only mentally tough and very competent, but she was remarkably physically robust. She was simply built differently to the other women in her platoon, even the fit ones. Whoever the first woman to pass Para depot is, bear that in mind if you are one of the blokes in her platoon: every day she's working twice as hard as you. It's not just about "fitness", it's about a very specific kind of physical endurance that combines cardio, build and weight-bearing strength. For the vast majority of us this means a long period of constant development.

Doing this kind of load carrying while running or even walking is, straight up, bad for you. Talking to military physios, they report it's very common for infantry soldiers to have collapsed arches in their feet and flattened backs where the lower spine is compressed. I'm half an inch shorter now than when I joined. But you will still have to do it, and if you aspire to the hardest roles, you will have to do it for extreme weights. The takeaways from this are:
  • Train smart for weight. Strength and conditioning isn't primarily about upper body strength, it's about leg, core and compound movement strength. You can build this naturally by doing it on exercise and in training, by carrying weight. It is much better to build it smart with low-impact exercises, in the gym, through bodyweight circuits and so on. All military weight-carrying is impact weight carrying - the less of this you do, the less overall damage you will do to yourself, and the less chance you will injure yourself.
  • Give yourself the best chance to heal and minimise damage. Flexibility is often ignored - some of the best, fittest soldiers I knew did pilates and yoga regularly as part of their routines before it was cool. Done properly both promote flexibility and core strength. Eating well is also important, but unfortunately there's a lot more bollocks out there about what that means, so I'm not going to weigh in on it. Do your own research and make up your own mind.
  • You can't rush it. If you are joining at 16-18, you still have anywhere up to 10 years before you reach your peak physical maturity. Muscle and fitness of the kind you need takes time to build. This is one reason why all the advanced courses everyone is interested in want slightly older applicants. You want a regular, progressive program of building up the weight you can carry. This takes years.
  • You can't eliminate damage. Carrying these kinds of weights for a career do damage to you. They also give benefits, but plenty of infantry soldiers develop knee, joint and other physiological stress problems later in life (sometimes earlier). You should be aware of that going in, but if you still go forward, you should focus on minimising the damage wherever you can. You can't avoid going on exercise. You can avoid running with a heavy bergan on concrete in your own time. Be smart.
  • Be aware of specific dangers. Tabbing up hills with weight is great for you and mostly stresses your heart, not your joints. Running down the same hill with weight is extraordinarily bad for you (it multiplies the impact). Plan your routes and ground accordingly.
Think of this not as how you learn to run, but as how you would learn, say, cliff diving. Nobody - who survives - thinks that they will learn cliff diving by finding a 100m cliff and starting from there. You learn to swim, you do strength and gymnastics, you get good at holding a body position perhaps using lines or a trampoline, then you dive off small heights, then you slowly increase the height as you become more competent. Eventually you can do the 100m cliff.

So for the third and final time, this is not an invitation to start tabbing with high weight. It's the opposite. You need to manage your expectations, understand that some of the aspirations young blokes naturally have will physically take time to achieve. You need, literally, to walk (with weight) before you run (with weight). That said, the more you start to build progressively now - gym or bodyweight work; core, yoga, pilates; and long walks with some weight, gradually increasing - the better prepared you will be for both recruit training and any aspirations you have beyond that.
 
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Parkhead

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Loved this post and as a former RM nod I can confirm that the progressive approach to yomping.. sorry.. tabbing is tough going. Something that I feel is so important in this post is the emphasis on not just getting fit in the civilian sense but also proper strength and conditioning. Your body will be under a lot of strain and stress and it’s important you don’t break yourself. The more robust your core and lower limbs are the better you cope
 

Tony_m

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Fucking mega post.


Lads never underestimate how heavy a load needed to fight and survive can be. The weight of weapons, extra ammunition potentially up to 8 mags or link, full body armour, ECM equipment/daysacks isn’t easy going. The average load carried by us on operations was approx around 60kg. Snows is bang on and this is why high standard of building solid robust body frames has never been more important. This is why we tab in PT and phys in depot and Bn will be conducted where realistic battle loads are carried.
 

Snows

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Some kind of hand carried weight is useful, because it means you add weight to exercises like lunges safely.

Whether or not you specifically need dumbells...there are lots of ways to carry weight. I have some jerry cans in my gym that I fill to a desired weight (since 1L water = 1kg), which only cost about £15 for two pairs. But also I've bought pairs of those 10kg adjustable iron weights that are pretty cheap on Amazon, so I can go to 10kg a pair or 20kg single. Others prefer kettlebells. Some textbooks weigh nearly as much, if you have some of those - equally a full tool kit, etc.

You don't need to spend money, you just need objects for which you know or can adjust the weight, and which are the appropriate size and shape for the exercises. That said, a pull-up bar is useful, since most houses don't have anywhere appropriate unless you're a pro climber who can hang off skirting.

Obviously these are not normal times so the only choice you have, if you are training during the next 6 months, is to provide your own kit. But in more normal times, it's usually better value to just get a non-ridiculous gym membership and use the kit there. Kitting out your own gym gets expensive fast.
 
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