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Heavier Kit? Stronger Soldiers!

An article last week in Popular Mechanics lamented the fact that today's soldiers are being asked to carry ever-heavier loads of squad and personal equipment, even as advances in battlefield technology continue apace with modern warfare. Our friend Glenn Reynolds thought I might have something to say about this, and amazingly enough I do.

It seems odd to me that an entire article could be written about how heavier-than-ever kit must be carried by combat infantry without once using the word "stronger." The actual weight of the components of battlefield munitions is examined in excruciating detail, from batteries to bullets, from body armor to water, from communications to medical gear, as are the efforts to minimize its weight through technology. Strategies to help soldiers carry increasing loads were listed -- track vehicle "mules," motorized exoskeletons, and various robotic options are discussed, but by the end of the piece no plans for dealing with the problem had been announced. It was observed that "[a] soldier carries 100 pounds of the lightest kit imaginable."

The fundamental problem here is quite simple, as is its solution: Soldiers are not strong enough to carry a heavier kit, and as long as military physical training remains rooted in pushups, situps, and running, PT will be inadequate to the task of producing a stronger soldier. The solution is to address basic training from a strength approach and to leave subsequent conditioning to the discretion of the company command team based on the needs of their unit's assignment. Essentially all of it now is conditioning, with no barbell strength requirement in place at the basic training level.

To be sure, the Army seems to understand that it should address this problem. But their response has been typical of a military bureaucracy: leave 90% in place and take the lowest bid on the 10% that gets the chop. My suggestion is quite radical, highly effective, quite inexpensive, immediately productive, easily implemented, safer than endurance-based training, and as a result will never even be considered. I'll share it with you.

The vast majority of military recruits are young men. These people are plagued with poisonous levels of natural testosterone. Instead of running them into the ground, let's make them stronger by implementing a correctly designed and performed barbell-based strength program as the primary PT modality for basic training.

It is perfectly normal to take an 18-year-old kid from no deadlift at all to 400 pounds in six months, with comparable increases in all the other strength indices. This will be accompanied by an increase in useful muscle mass of anywhere from 20 to 30 pounds. I have done it professionally for 40 years, and it is not complicated if you understand the simple accumulative effect of adding five pounds to an exercise performed three days per week. If you have absolute control over the training and dietary environment of an 18-year-old kid -- as you do in basic training -- there is absolutely no reason why every male in the military cannot become at least two or three times as strong as they are under the current paradigm.