Becoming a warrior requires honing advanced skills and elite combat techniques. But as soldiers master the battlefield, they must improve their strength through rigorous fitness practices and a strict diet.
During a special competition two weeks ago, soldiers at the IDF (Zahal)’s Combat Fitness School showed us how they stay in top physical shape year round. The contest featured a range of grueling exercises, from team races to obstacle courses and tests in Krav Maga, a method of self-defense developed in Israel.
The Combat Fitness School trains soldiers to serve as instructors in a variety of fitness disciplines. The trainees go on to assume a critical responsibility: making sure Israel’s defenders are in the best possible shape for combat. By the end of their course, the aspiring instructors develop expertise in self defense, combat fitness, life-guarding and many other fields.
The school uses cutting-edge techniques to train its instructors. For example, it applies groundbreaking technology during “navigation runs,” where IDF (Zahal) soldiers traverse kilometers of difficult terrain to find a particular destination. Participants carry computer chips that track their route throughout the run, requiring them to stop at docking stations along the way. The technology allows commanders to calculate the soldiers’ travel distance and assess their navigation strategy.
In addition to teaching exercise to the future instructors, the fitness school promotes a high level of nutrition for all soldiers. Lt. Col. Hamber describes the school’s kitchen as “revolutionary,” calling it a model for other dining halls in the Israeli army. “There are no sausages here and no hamburgers,” he says. “Our bread is made from whole wheat and baked freshly on the base. We only serve water at meals, and sugared beverages aren’t available.”
Israel’s Ministry of Sports and the Wingate Sports Institute recently certified two of the school’s major courses: fitness and health, and martial arts. “For the first time ever in the school’s history, our soldiers can use these courses to receive credit in colleges and universities,” explained Lt. Col. Gil Hamber, the school’s chief commander. “They also earn certificates that qualify them to practice as instructors and lifeguards outside of the army.”
Accrediting the school proved to be a painstaking process. “In order to get academic approval, we rebuilt all of our courses, introduced new content and worked closely with the Wingate Institute to make sure IDF (Zahal) instructors pass on the best education to the rest of the army,” Lt. Col. Hamber says. “We have an amazing opportunity to promote excellence in the IDF (Zahal) and give our soldiers tools for the future.”
Brig. Gen. Itay Virob , the Head of the Infantry and Paratroopers Corps, summed up the importance of the IDF (Zahal) combat fitness department best. “For our soldiers, combat fitness has two main purposes,” he said. “First, we must make sure that soldiers are physically fit to accomplish their mission. The second goal, which is even more important, is to help soldiers build self-confidence and overcome mental obstacles in their way.”