Five exercises the Air Force should be teaching you…

Posted: November 6, 2010 in Posts

This was written with many of my friends in mind. It will remain a work in progress for many weeks, mostly as I find information I’ve read on the subject of muscular imbalance and misplaced. I hope to increase the clarity and accuracy of the article over time.

The standard Air Force fitness program would be recognizable to any military man in the world. Push-ups, Sit-ups and Running, usually on pavement. Nearly every Airman  that gets tired of being a little thick around the middle, hits the Base Exchange for a new pair of Nikes and proceeds to run/walk a mile and a half and do a few sets of Push-ups and Sit-ups every day for a couple of weeks until something stops them. Typically its boredom or shin splints.

The problem with this program is that it focuses primarily on strengthening the anterior, or front of the body and does little to prepare the legs for the rigors of running. This can cause muscular imbalances in both the shoulders and hips that lead to injury. It also leaves you vulnerable to repetitive use injury of the legs hips and feet. Shoulder injuries, back pain, shin splints, damage to the ankles, knees and hips all could result from a grossly imbalanced training program. In the extreme, focusing on Push-ups and Sit-ups can pull the shoulders and upper back into Kyphosis. Sit-ups activate the hips as well as the abdominal and this imbalance can pull the front of the pelvis up and cause other postural problems, leading to back pain, lower leg pain and a host of other problems.

Not only can a balanced training program help avoid injury, it can boost performance. The positive effects of pre-season weight training on runners have long been observed. Sprinters are noted for their relative large amounts of muscle mass. While the push-up is certainly better for your shoulders than the bench press, the rear of the shoulders have much less involvement than the front deltoids and chest. Strengthening the rear of the shoulders and upper back means that power from the chest can be transferred through the shoulders more effectively. Stronger core muscles and shoulders will help greatly in the Push-up portion of the AFPT test. A strong back means doing Sit-ups without lower back pain.

These exercises strengthen the legs, the posterior chain (everything from the base of your skull to your ankles), and the shoulders. Strong quads, hamstrings and calves mean more power and propulsive force with every stride and additional ability to absorb impact. A strong shoulder girdle means that all of the muscles that keep your shoulders stable and protect them from injury don’t fail on the twentieth Push-up. A strong lower back assists in Sit-ups, running and Push-ups.

Assuming that you continue on a program of Push-ups, Sit-ups and Running, the Air Force should be teaching you these five exercises, for balance, injury prevention and the ability to kick ass on your next PT test:

1. The Front Squat:

And the real version, in the rack position, not the crappy arms crossed kind. If you do only one exercise from this list, make it Front Squats.

The front squat is one of the best leg exercises you can do, it also strengthens just about everything else as the midsection, shoulders and chest are all activated to keep the bar in place and the spine straight.

If you can’t do Front squats, try the Goblet squat instead and work your way up to fronts.

2. The Standing Military Press:

Shoulder strength anyone? ‘Nuff said. This also works the abs and the back to a a larger degree than you’ll notice at first. For someone who’s next promotion depends on their push up score, the standing military press requires a lot from the serratus, which plays a large role in the push-up.

The alternate to this would be a Dumbbell press. Also standing.

3. The Two Hand Swing:

Explosive full-body movement, solid hamstring work, lower back strengthening, what’s not to love?

Do these hard and heavy and get a great cardio workout at the same time.

4. Suspended Push-ups:

Suspended Push-ups are seriously hard. Really, really hard. They get all those muscles in the shoulder girdle that actually keep you shoulders attached to your body working overtime. Engaging them to a much greater degree than a regular push up. Fortunately, you can start off with the handles higher to put more weight on your feet and work lower. Once you get to the point that you can do a solid set of 20 Suspended Push-ups, you no longer have to worry about that part of the test.

Suspension trainers can be as simple as two pieces of strong rope, or as complicated as a $185 TRX. Ironically, Suspension trainers can be used to train folks who can’t do more than a few regular push ups by allowing them to move their feet closer to the anchor point and raise their upper body further off the floor, shifting more weight onto their feet,

5 Sled work:

Pushing, pulling any sled work can be a huge benefit. Sled work is to running as Suspended Push-ups are to the regular Push-up. It’s resisted running. Many coaches now favor sled work over Squatting and Deadlifting for athleticism and performance. If I could do only one cardiovascular exercise, it would be sled pulling.

Sleds have been adopted by many members of the first responder and special forces community. They flat work. You can make one for an insanely small amount of money.

An easy program would be to hit the first four exercises two days of the week, spend another two dragging a sled and doing regular Push-ups and Sit-ups and another two just running. Rest on the seventh day.

I have no real recap. Everything above speaks for its self.  The facilities for all of these are provided for free on most Air Force facilities or are cheap to make. Give these five to six weeks of solid effort and see improvements you’ve never dreamed of. Keep at it and stay healthy and pass PT tests for years to come.


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