Evaluation of the South African army physical training programme: fitness attained and injuries sustained

Gordon, Neil Farryl
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Physical fitness has remained an essential requisite of modern-day armed forces. Despite considerable advances in the science of exercise training, the South African Army physical training programme has remained essentially unaltered for over a decade. Furthermore, it has been suggested that the efficacy of South African Army basic training centres might be limited by the injurious nature of the physical training modes used. The present 3-part investigation was therefore designed as an initial evaluation of the South African Army physical training programme in terms of both physical fitness attained and exertion-related injuries sustained. In Part I of this study, the effect of 1 year South African Army training on endurance fitness was investigated. The pre-military training maximal 02 consumption of 53.14 mg.kg-1.min-1 did not change significantly during the course of the study. In contrast, lactate turnpoint (m-g O2 ,kg- .min-J") and maximal treadmill performance time were moderately enhanced (7.5% and 8% increase, respectively, p<0.05) by the initial 10-week basic training programme. A further analysis of the results indicated that this endurance training effect was limited to the average and, in particular, the below-average fitness recruits. Although this could be regarded as an adequate situation, the effec= tiveness of the physical training was limited in that 17% of recruits were unable to complete the post-basic training exercise test as a result of exertion-related injuries; of these recruits more than 50% had initial below-average fitness levels. Furthermore, the observed beneficial effect of basic training on recruit endurance fitness levels was transient in nature, the values on completion of 1 year military training being essentially unaltered from those existing prior to military conscription. This preliminary assessment of the South African Army physical training programme demonstrates a need for the introduction of changes during and, in particular, after basic training. In Part II of this study, the effect of 1 year South African Army training on muscular strength, power, power- endurance, speed, and flexibility was investigated. When considering the entire study group, a significant enhance= ment by basic training was observed for the isokinetic muscular strength of the right elbow extensors alone (17% increase, p <0.05). Stratification of training responses on the basis of initial recruit fitness levels revealed significant (p<0.05) improvements with basic training for all measures of muscular strength, power, power-endurance, and speed, but not flexibility, in the below-average fitness recruits. In contrast, with the exception of elbow extensor strength, fitness levels of the average and above-average recruits were not improved by basic training. Furthermore, for all recruit fitness groups, values documented on completion of 1 year military training differed insignificantly from those recorded prior to military conscription. Although further research (aimed at assessing the physical requirements of various military work and emergency situations) is needed to evaluate the desirability of the observed selective enhancement of recruit fitness levels, it is evident from the present data that greater emphasis should, at the very least, be placed on flexibility training and physical conditioning after basic training. Finally, in Part III of this study the incidence and nature of exertion-related injuries sustained at a large South African Army basic training centre were studied. A total of 404 separate injuries were incurred by 359 of 947 recruits during the 10-week basic training cycle. Of these injuries, 18.3% were sustained with (Group 1) and 81.7% without (Group 2) an obvious sudden acute precipitating event. Exertion-related injuries were responsible for a loss of 2 711 recruit-days of basic training. While the knee sustained the largest number of Group 2 injuries, lower-leg injuries resulted in the greatest loss of basic training time. Fourty two separate radiographically confirmed stress fractures were incurred by 39 recruits, the incidence of recruits with stress fractures being 4.12%, a value considerably higher than that of the United States Army. These data leave little doubt that the injurious nature of the South African Army basic training programme studied is costly in terms of training time lost and may prohibit large numbers of recruits from deriving the optimum conditioning benefits.
A thesis submitted to the Faculty of Medicine, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Medicine
South Africa, Army, Defence force, Army Physical training programe, Injuries
Farryl GN. Evaluation of the south african army physical training programme: fitness attained and injuries sustained: Witwatersrand University; 1985.