Syracuse Online

Military Fitness

Keeping Defenses Strong

Published March 24, 2003 in The Post-Standard.

By Dr Kamal Jabbour, Contributing Writer

Physical fitness plays a central role in the readiness of the armed forces. In the United States, several branches of the military formalized the requirement for physical fitness, and developed criteria for measuring strength and endurance. In every model, running stands as the exercise of choice for developing and measuring endurance.

In the late sixties, Dr Kenneth Cooper - a US Air Force lieutenant colonel and flight surgeon - developed the scientific link between aerobic activity and cardiovascular health. His book .Aerobics. and his 12-minute aerobic test for airman gained rapid acceptance among civilian and military communities around the world, and gave birth to the running boom of the seventies.

In the age of automation and locomotion, twenty-first century soldiers have less need for walking and running than their predecessors. However, endurance training provides the soldier with far more benefits than the speed of movement. The similarities between fighting and running are too numerous to dismiss. In fact, many soldiers become life-long runners, just as well as many young athletes become warriors.

The discipline of resting before a hard workout and tapering before a marathon translates readily into the anxious waiting before a battle. The cyclical nature of training, alternating between hard and easy, mimics the active phase of battle . alternating between intense fighting for long hours and anxious resting. On the opposite end of the spectrum, enduring hours of monotonous plodding enables pilots to fly thousands of miles strapped in a cockpit.

The US Air Force, Army, Navy and Marines have all established running standards for their members. An airman in his early twenties must complete a 1.5-mile run in under 12 minutes. A soldier must run 2 miles in 16 minutes 36 seconds. A sailor must run 1.5 miles in 13:45, and a marine must complete 3 miles in 28 minutes.

Surely, these speeds can be described as pedestrian, at best, and would not place in even the smallest hometown 5K race. However, combined with requirements for strength and body composition, these fitness standards create a military that is far healthier than the population it protects. To achieve that goal, the services have instituted a variety of exercise programs, including at least three weekly runs, and a mix of sit-ups and push-ups for strength training.

The formula of three weekly runs with daily sit-ups and push-ups can work equally well for civilians. By increasing our patience, strength and stamina, physical activity prepares us for the demands of the daily battles that life brings our way.

© 2003 The Post-Standard.

Kamal Jabbour runs and writes on the hills of Pompey, New York. His RUNNING Column appears in The Post-Standard on Mondays. Dr.J. created, webcasting live Every Lap of Every Race. He receives email at