This year, three women earned the coveted Army Ranger tab, prompting the Army to state that Ranger School is now open to all who can make the grade. In addition, Defense Secretary Ash Carter has told all the services to give him their plans for opening up previously excluded jobs to women after the first of the year.
For women who want to apply to those previously closed military units, it’s a given that strength training should be a critical component of their everyday routine.
For that matter, incorporating strength training into fitness routines is important for all women, regardless of age. Strength training improves everyday functional capability, helps prevent injury and improves performance in any athletic activity. It can be a vital component in preventing Type 2 diabetes and other health problems.
Consider: There is no difference in the quality of muscle in men and women, only the quantity of muscle mass. That will always create a disparity in run times, total repetitions and total weight used. But relative to their respective muscle mass and body structure, women are as strong as men.
The only downside that I have observed — while freely acknowledging that I haven’t kept any definitive data — is that women seem to drop their gained strength faster than men when they have a long-term break in training.
Regarding pullups, 100 percent of active-duty women with whom I have worked with were able to perform unassisted pullups within 30 to 60 days of starting their programs. I insist they do pullups every single day. A few started out being able to complete a nonassisted pullup. The rest used a gravitron — a specially designed machine that uses weights to assist — or bands.
Start your program by finding your one rep max in dead-lift, squats (these can be both front and back squats), shoulder press, bench press, and the lowest assistance you require to complete three pullups, palms facing away from you. Record these values.
The following are my top strength training exercises. It’s critical to have a knowledgeable trainer show you proper technique so that you maximize your effort.
Dead-lift. The No. 1 overall strength exercise and the clear choice if you do only one, as it works almost every muscle in your body. Your trainer should emphasize hip drive as the bar clears your knees. Ask about the hinge lift, which requires lighter weights but emphasizes the small muscles in the lower back.
Squats. Do both front and back squats (also include a leg press machine and hack squat machine, if possible). Work the legs every day. If you have a day without weight work on the legs, execute walking lunges, step ups, body squats and plyo jumps.
Shoulder presses. Use barbells or dumbbells to work the shoulders, upper back and core muscles. Make sure that at the top of the lift, your arms are in true vertical position (arms will run right by your ears).
Bench press. Work hands wide, at shoulder width, and inside shoulder width. This will put a focus on your triceps, chest muscles and upper back muscles.
Pullups. If you’re going to ruck a heavy pack, strong lats — a result of constant, plentiful pullups — will act as a stiffener on your back. Palms facing away is the standard; palms facing you incorporates more bicep. As you make progress, start wearing a weight vest.
Remember: Every day is the only way.
Bob Thomas is director of the Navy Wellness Center in Pensacola, Fla.