How do you imagine combat soldiers staying in shape in the IDF (Zahal)? Is the first image that comes to mind muscular soldiers wearing army fatigues lifting heavy weights in the gym? This is the furthest thing from the truth. Combat fitness is entirely different. Combat soldiers don’t train for looks, they train for survival.
Imagine this: You’re fighting your way through enemy territory. Shots are being fired from every direction. Someone is yelling but it is almost impossible to hear what they are saying over the sounds of nearby explosions. Your mind is racing and your heart is beating at a furious pace. Your lungs are burning and your legs are about to give out. The race is on to complete the mission as fast as possible.
Hundreds of hours spent in the gym lifting weights will not make a difference in combat scenarios like the one described above. Unlike regular fitness which focuses on running, lifting, and packing on muscle, combat fitness trains the body to function while under extreme stress and fatigue. In one word, combat fitness can be defined as “endurance.” It is the ability to push your mind and body to accomplish the impossible.
In order to become a combat soldier, you have to train like one. Soldiers need to be able to carry heavy weight for long distances after weeks of little sleep, and need to be prepared to deal with unpredictability.
In each platoon, there is a soldier responsible for keeping his fellow soldiers in perfect shape. Lieutenant Stephanie Hirsch, commander of the combat fitness instructor course, is responsible for teaching these soldiers the art and science of fitness. “We start off teaching the basics. We teach them anatomy, physiology, and biology,” she said.
Soldiers training with their combat fitness instructor
Combat fitness comes with its unique set of challenges. In the field, there are comfortable gyms with ample room to work out. The environment can be unfriendly and space can be limited. Combat fitness instructors are taught how to work around these limitations by utilizing high-intensity interval training. “We create circuits out of different exercises and the soldiers cycle through each one. This allows each soldier to train his or her entire body even without access to a real gym,” Lt. Hirsch explained.
Combat soldier running up a step pyramid in a fitness exercise.
After building a strong foundation, the course adds combat into the equation. The course teaches each soldier how to train properly for their units’ distinct fitness needs. For example, infantry soldiers need to be able to carry heavy gear for hours on end. This requires a strong back and powerful legs. Soldiers in the Armored Corps, on the other hand, need more upper body strength to be able to lift their heavy cannon shells.
Are you ready to begin training to be #IDF (Zahal)Strong? “Add extra weight while doing bodyweight exercises,” Lt. Hirsch recommends. “Train every single day, push your body beyond the max, and get creative with your environment. In combat fitness, there are no excuses.”