Military-inspired training methods that use total-body exercises to complete high-volume, low-intensity sessions can be an effective way to build muscle endurance and improve body composition. Specifically, military-inspired training is characterized by:
- Multijoint, total body exercises
- High-volume sessions
- Performing exercises with low loads
Read on to learn more about how to incorporate this style of training into your exercise program.
Multijoint, Total-body Exercises
Multijoint exercises such as the deadlift, squat, leg press, lunge, bench press and military press are better suited to improve muscle mass, strength and power than single-joint exercises such as triceps extensions or the seated knee extension (Paoli et al., 2015). A defining characteristic of military-inspired workouts is that they predominately feature multijoint, total-body exercises, such as deadlifts, squats, push-ups and pull-ups, as well as less common exercises such as tire flips, bear crawls and full sit-ups. These are all advanced exercises that use more than one joint and numerous muscles at one time.
The type of exercise is important in military-inspired training, but what really sets it apart from all other types of training is the volume or amount of exercise that is done in one session. Military-inspired training uses high-volume or high-repetition sessions. While training volume is one of the most debated topics in exercise science, one recent study compared German Volume Training (GVT) to a traditional strength-training program. GVT uses high-volume resistance training; specifically, 10 sets of 10 repetitions (which makes it a good comparison to military-inspired training). When researchers compared the effect of GVT and a traditional training program featuring five sets of 10 repetitions on body composition, they found that both groups (10 sets and five sets) experienced significant positive body-composition changes, suggesting that high-volume training is effective for increasing lean body mass and decreasing fat mass (Amirthalingam et al., 2017).
Although high-intensity loads are undoubtedly effective for building muscle mass and developing strength and power, they cannot be used in high-volume sessions that characterize military-inspired training. For this reason, high-volume training sessions require low-intensity loads. Whereas the efficacy of high-intensity loads is well documented, low-intensity loads have been studied to a much lesser degree. To determine if low-intensity loads are effective, researchers measured muscle-endurance outcomes under high loads [80% of one repetition maximum (1-RM)] and low loads (30% of 1-RM). The results showed that in the elbow flexor muscles, endurance as measured by how many repetitions exercisers could complete at 30% 1-RM increased only in the low-intensity load (30% of 1-RM) group, thus demonstrating the value of low loads to developing muscle endurance (Ozaki et al., 2018).
Reducing the Risks
Because multijoint, total-body exercises utilize many muscles at the same time, fatigue, mechanics errors and injury are more likely to occur when these exercises are used in high-volume training. Therefore, caution must be observed to make sure that proper exercise mechanics are maintained throughout the entire high-volume sequence. If form is broken, take a rest and resume when recovered.
Any discussion of high-volume training warrants a mention that, when used improperly, this method can lead to overtraining and, in severe cases, acute or long-term rhabdomyolysis. Rhabdomyolysis is a serious condition that is caused by the breakdown of muscle tissue that leads to the release of muscle-fiber contents into the blood, which can be harmful to the kidneys and may lead to kidney damage (Miller, 2013). Therefore, high-volume sessions should be alternated with low-volume sessions. Additionally, be aware of the symptoms of overtraining such as exhaustion, extreme thirst, heat-related illnesses, muscle cramps, and muscle and joint pain, among others, and stop exercising immediately if you feel overexerted or overly tired.
Finally, remember that any high-volume training program is an advanced way to train. Use caution and alternate high-volume training sessions with lower- to moderate-volume sessions and include moderate- to high-load sessions as well.
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Miller, S. (2013). Rhabdomyolysis. U.S. National Library of Medicine.
Paoli, A. et al. (2015). Resistance training with single vs. multi-joint exercises at equal total Load volume: Effects on body composition, cardiorespiratory fitness and muscle strength. Frontiers in Physiology, 8, 1105.