Marines’ love of physical training can actually be counterproductive, according to the director of the Force Fitness Division.
“They will overtrain,” Col. Stephen Armes, a triathlete, told Marine Corps Times. “They didn’t understand that recovery is a good thing.”
That is one reason why the Marine Corps plans to have roughly one force fitness instructor for every 200 Marines ― to advise unit commanders on when to push the envelope in PT, and when to throttle back, Armes said.
Elite athletes understand that for peak performance one must “take the easy days easy and the hard days hard,” rather than try to go 100 percent in every workout, he said.
“When an athlete performs a workout they are putting stress on the body,” Armes said. “Continuous stress will break the body down to a point where the athlete gets sick or overuse injuries occur. Short term recovery, or active recovery, would be done in the hours immediately after intense exercise. The body gets stronger by breaking it down (Exercise) and then rebuilding (Recovery). Both are critical elements of a holistic training program to avoid injury and make the athlete stronger.”
Force fitness instructors, who have gone through six weeks of training, understand that the human body needs time to recoup from strenuous exercise before it can grow stronger.
“The standard model is three weeks of build, one week of recovery,” Armes said. “The FFI [force fitness instructor] there is now the unit commander’s subject matter expert on fitness that can say: ‘Look, we’ve had three hard weeks; we’ve got to pull it back and have a week of recovery, let their body absorb the training they just put it and then come back at it with an increased stress load.’”
The Marine Corps trained more than 300 force fitness instructors in 2017, and the Corps expects to train a similar number per year until it has enough instructors for all company-sized units, he said.
Separately, Marine Commandant Gen. Robert Neller is considering sending athletic trainers to operating forces to reduce the number of injuries, Armes said. Trainers can help individual Marines avoid serious injuries, he said.
“I think if we have a weak link right now, it is the sports medicine/injury prevention piece,” Armes said. “My focus is to keep Marines to the left of the injury as much as possible and I think those athletic trainers will go a long way in doing that.”
In 2008, the Corps sent athletic trainers to training battalions at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego, and the Medical Rehabilitation Platoon assignment rate dropped from up to 15 percent to about 3 percent of recruits, he said.
So far, Neller has not decided on how many athletic trainers would be placed with the operational forces, Armes said.
The Marine Corps’ physical fitness program is constantly evolving, so expect some changes in 2018, he said. For example, Marines who are younger than 46 will be able to row 5-km on a rowing machine on the Physical Fitness Test if they are unable to run due to an injury.
Right now, Marines under 46 can only take a partial PFT if they cannot do the test’s run portion, Armes said. Marines who take two partial PFTs consecutively are evaluated by a medical review board.
“We have several Marines call in that wanted to do a full PFT but they physically could not do it for a number of reasons due to lower extremity injuries,” Armes said. “Before 2018, there was no clause that allowed those Marines to do that. I think it shows the board that, ‘Yes, I’m injured and I’m under 46, but I’m doing the extra effort.’ I think that just looks good to the boards that this Marine is doing what he can do until he gets fully recovered and can get back to running again.”