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
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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Amirthalingam, T. et al. (2017) Effects of a Modified German Volume Training Program on Muscular Hypertrophy and Strength. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 31, 11, 31093119.
Miller, S. (2013). Rhabdomyolysis. U.S. National Library of Medicine.
Ozaki, H. et al. (2018). Effects of drop sets with resistance training on increases in muscle CSA, strength and endurance: A pilot study. Journal of Sports Sciences, 36, 6, 691–696.
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.