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The Value of Movement Assessment in Military Training

By Ram Shalev, the CEO of PhysiMax

The armed forces of the United States is still the world’s best qualitatively, if not quantitatively (China’s army is bigger). But there is a danger on the horizon; the US Armed Combat Forces suffer from deteriorating levels of physical fitness in new recruits – the inability to handle the challenges of even basic training – sidelines as many as 50% of recruits during their first few months in the military. “We have 18 and 19-year-old kids coming into basic training that can’t skip or perform a forward roll,” according to Frank Palkoska, Chief of the US Army’s Physical Fitness Training School in a 2015 article. “They have not learned the motor patterns to execute these basic movements.

A more immediate issue is the lack of physical fitness among recruits, which studies by army officials have pinned as a major source of injury. A study published in Military Medicine, the journal of the Association of Military Surgeons of the U.S., says that “Initial Military Training (IMT)-related musculoskeletal injuries significantly impact the Department of the Army; approximately 25% of male and 50% of female recruits sustain one or more injuries during Basic Combat Training (BCT). Such injuries “consistently account for more than 80% of disability-related medical discharges among first-year recruits.” The study placed the cost of those discharges (medical treatment, processing, wasted resources) at $57,500 per discharged recruit – in 2005, the last year for which figures were available for the 2012 study.

If anything, things have gotten even worse since then – and it’s because kids aren’t getting the fitness skills they need to survive army life, said Palkoska. “It’s very difficult to get a person through an obstacle course when they’re starting so far behind, and ten [basic training] weeks isn’t enough to get them up to speed. You acquire most of your basic movement patterns by first grade, and our youth today just aren’t getting the physical education time they need. Lack of fitness is a societal problem. And the lack of qualified recruits is becoming a national security issue.”

To fix this, the various branches of the armed services have developed revised versions of their athletic training programs, designed to get soldiers into shape. The Marines’ High Intensity Tactical Training (HITT) program and the Army’s revised FM 7-22 program both, as the latter states, seek to develop soldiers “who demonstrate the mobility to apply strength and endurance to the performance of basic military skills such as marching, speed running, jumping, vaulting, climbing, crawling, combatives, and water survival. These skills are essential to personal safety and are effective Soldier performance—not only in training, but also, and more importantly, during combat operations.” The troops are constantly tested, with the results used to evaluate their capabilities and determine what other work they need.

Is that enough, though? According to Palkolska, fitness involves not just the ability to perform, but the ability to avoid injury – and given the low level of fitness, that’s an even rarer trait these days. “People get injured because they’re not moving correctly while training, he said. “For a long time we’ve held the belief about training that more is better. But more is not better. Better is better.”

So, how can we objectively measure and monitor movement assessment in such massive volumes in an effective way and provide the right corrective training programs for new recruits?

Recent advancements in human movement analytics technology can now help the US Army determine if soldiers are running, jumping and pivoting properly — all skills that soldiers need to hone in order to be battle-ready, and all activities that those who have not had proper fitness training often do poorly at.

Using evidence-based real-time analysis systems can now capture the movement without markers and determine exactly what a soldier is doing wrong – at what specific point their poor performance kicks in. With the problem now out in the open, the same technology can recommend the staff or medical personnel specific exercise programs to assist in improving squats or strengthen individualized capabilities, instilling in them the proper methods that they can use to remain healthy during training, and afterwards.

Such systems are already in use in NBA, D-1 athletic college programs and in pilot use in the army and in the US Marines and in healthcare organizations. A system like this could help the armed forces make the most of the people they need to work with.

Armed services training camps must deploy objective and scalable methods to measure and drive training effectiveness, allowing officers along with medical personnel, to easily and time efficiently review soldiers’ fitness performance and develop proper movement form to drive combat performance and readiness.

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