Depth of Training and Natural Ability: Importance for Soldiers and Athletes
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Depth of Training and Natural Ability: Importance for Soldiers and Athletes

More important than your performance on physical evaluations is your depth of training.

Have you ever met a natural athlete? For a rare few human beings, physical stamina, explosiveness, strength, or a combination of all three just seems to come naturally. It goes beyond having high levels of fitness or ability, it is also measured by a high degree of responsiveness to training and rapid improvement. Without a doubt, I have never been one of these priviliged creatures. Since the age of fifteen, I fought and scraped for every inch of physical ability I could find, and what I did find only came through sweat and tears. Though most of us may never fall into the "athletically-gifted" category, we can take some lessons from the priviliges and burdens of various body types.

Most evaluations of physical fitness, strength, and ability occur over periods of a few minutes. The Army Physical Fitness Test (APFT), for example, takes about an hour to complete, but you only spend from 14 to 25 minutes actually performing the events. The Olympic 10,000 meter track event takes 26 to 30 minutes for professional athletes. Yet, all of these events fail to realize a simple reality of life: it lasts longer than 30 minutes. Most of the competitive and evaluative tools we use to estimate our levels of physical shape provide only a brief snapshot of what kind of shape we are actually in. It is the depth of training that truly indicates what we have to offer, and military servicemembers as well as athletes probably understand this better than anyone.

In 2007, I was competitive enough at my college to land an Army Air Assault School slot at West Point in New York (most Air Assault classes take place at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, home of the 101st Airborne). Military schools are usually awarded to ROTC students based on competitive GPA and APFT score OMLs (Order of Merit Lists). I had not run much for aout the past month or so, but I was still in pretty good shape, so I figured I would be fine.

On the first day, I was required to take a P.T. test, because I did not have a current one on file. I took it and ran 2 miles in 12:20, which is a fairly decent time (I was about 2 minutes ahead of the next runner). The next day, I was a bit sore, but mostly fine. We had a 2 mile race and then an obstacle course scheduled. I struggled through the 2 mile but still ran decently, but my body was absolutely exhausted for the course. I did make it through the course, but I was very tired by the end of the day. The next day I woke up very sore, and I quickly found myself degrading as the physical training piled up.

What happened here? My depth of training was not sufficient to handle the rapidly increased load of physical activity at Air Assault School. Depth of training comes from dedicated exercise, and you can be sure of achieving good depth if you exercise around 3-6 times a week regularly. It is this continuous training that lends muscular stability to your body, and it is this reason why sequential years of training can make your body improve my incredible amounts. Just because you are performing at a good physical level does not mean that you have an adequate base of training, and it is this concept that many with natural athletic ability trip up on.

If you have acquired a decent base, you body will recover more quickly and you can handle greater loads. This doesn not necessarily mean that you will perform better on physical evaluations (although you usually will!), but it does mean that you have set yourself up for success. Granted, Air Assault School is an extreme example of progressive training, and one which many will probably never encounter, but the concept holds true for your own personal training routine. Remember to start slow and build up slowly, and you will respond to your training and improve in the manner that you desire.

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