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CrossFit Training is Making the Military Combat-Ready

military enlistment office

In war and in peace, the branches of the United States military have always represented a cross-section of America men – Southerners and Yankees, California surfers and Minnesota skiers.  On December 3, 2015, the Secretary of Defense, decided that all U.S. military combat positions are being opened up to women. This means that women will fill about 220,000 jobs including formerly male-only positions such as infantry, armor, reconnaissance and special operations units and the mosaic of Americans in the military will be even more representative of the country as a whole.

Unfortunately, the fitness of the “average” American man and woman is so poor that the leadership of the military branches is concerned about this the group of young soldiers succeeding in combat.  Sadly, the “Greatest Generation” has become the “Fattest Generation” and this has the potential of diminishing the fighting ability of our troops. This situation, along with the chronic obesity of the children who will be the next generation of U.S. soldiers, has forced the military to reconsider its physical fitness training.

Because of its popularity among soldiers – both new recruits and officers and especially the Navy SEAL program – CrossFit training has become a part of this conversation to fix the fitness of our fighting men and women.

An Early Study Showed the Effectiveness of CrossFit Training

In May 2010, the U.S. Army published a 69-page study evaluating the CrossFit program and its effects on combat fitness. This document summarizes the findings of a comprehensive evaluation of 14 military athletes over an eight-week period.

As noted in that report, “the purpose of this study was to test the CrossFit fitness program and methodology to increase the physical fitness of U.S. Army soldiers. Over the past several years, the CrossFit fitness program has gained popularity among U.S. Army soldiers and leaders.”

According the final report of this research, “Since the creation of the U.S Army, physical fitness training has played an important role in combat readiness. However, throughout its history the U.S. Army’s method for conducting physical fitness training has changed and evolved.  Most recently, in the late 1990s, the U.S. Army began to see evidence that its method of conducting physical training was not producing Soldiers ready for the rigors of modern ground combat.”

“This reality began a general move within the U.S. military towards functional fitness programs as many leaders and organizations began to rethink physical training and its relation to combat readiness. In 2006, it was estimated that up to 7,000 members of the U.S. military were using the CrossFit program regularly.  That number has grown exponentially since then represented by the fact that there are now over 58 non-profit military CrossFit affiliates throughout the world, to include affiliates at many major U.S. Army installations like Fort Bragg, Fort Hood, Fort Polk, Fort Knox, Fort Meade, Fort Leavenworth, the Pentagon and the U.S. Military Academy.”

This idea of functional fitness is a critical component of the U.S. military training. According to the Mayo Clinic, “Functional fitness exercises train your muscles to work together and prepare them for daily tasks by simulating common movements you might do at home, at work or in sports. While using various muscles in the upper and lower body at the same time, functional fitness exercises also emphasize core stability.”

This study produced four important findings. Here are the highlights.

  1. Over the eight-week study, every athlete experienced an increase in their work capacity, measured in terms of power output, with an average increase of 20 percent.  Therefore, we believe the CrossFit program was successful in increasing every athlete’s general level of physical fitness.  
  2. While those athletes that were least fit at the beginning of the study saw the largest net gains in work capacity, even the most-fit athletes in the study experienced significant gains.  The results of our study indicate that above average athletes overall work capacity increased 14.38 percent.  One of our most fit athletes, with considerable CrossFit experience, saw a gain of 28.3percent in overall work capacity.  
  3. Despite a generalized training program that did not specifically train the athletes for any of the assessments, the athletes’ performance on the assessments improved.  For example, on the one repetition maximum weight deadlift assessment, the athletes mean increase in work capacity increased 21.11 percent. These results lead to the conclusion that generalized training can prepare athletes for unknown and unknowable events, a crucial capability in combat, and can produce improvement in specialized events despite non-specialized training.    
  4. Generally the athletes in the study experienced relatively equal increases in power output in each of the assessments.  This indicates a balanced increase in performance across metabolic pathways and across the ten general physical skills.  We believe the consistency of improvement across assessments validates the CrossFit program’s claim that it produces a broad and inclusive brand of fitness.  

CrossFit is Making the Army of One Stronger

The current lack of physical fitness among young people is sad. However, if this condition impacts our U.S. fighting forces, the situation becomes more dire than merely sad. It becomes one of national concern. For its part, the U.S. Army has seen the benefit of CrossFit in preparing its recruits for physical challenge of combat and made the training its Physical Readiness Training (PRT) program.

As for those young people in high school and college, especially those who are contemplating a military enlistment, getting involved in CrossFit training would be highly advisable. If you’ve been in the military and have benefitted from CrossFit training, contact us and let us share your story with our readers.