For most fitness fanatics, training is generally about building one’s athletic performance, improving one’s physical appearance and staying healthy. For the survivor, however, fitness has a very different meaning – it is about mental and physical endurance, resilience and all round robustness. Whilst a runner may cover many more kilometres a week than a soldier, he will not be expected to do an 8-mile march with a 20kg back on his back, having not slept for 48 hours and eaten nothing but that available in an army issue ration pack – and then perform a series of other military drills. The loaded march is the ultimate drill for developing such abilities.
The key difference between athletic fitness and survival fitness is that in the latter, you still have to be in fighting condition after you’ve covered the ground, ready to survive in combat for as long as it takes.
So what exactly is the loaded march, when did it start and how can you train for this ultimate fitness test?
‘Tab’, ‘Yomp’, ‘Waste of time’ and ‘this is sh*t’ are amongst many of the names used for it but the loaded march has long been a core military exercise, but only really came to the forefront of public attention at the height of the Falklands conflict, during which the media highlighted the importance of the British army’s fitness and the valuable role it played.
After disembarking from ships at San Carlos on East Falkland, on 21 May 1982, Royal Marines and members of the Parachute Regiment yomped with their equipment across the islands, covering an incredible 56 miles in three days carrying loads of 36 kg – no mean feat for even the more seasoned of soldiers!
Thanks to the British press, images of British soldiers yomping became some of the most iconic images of the conflict and since then, the term ‘yomp’ has become widely used.
A loaded march is a demanding activity and requires careful preparation. Firstly, it is important to understand the importance of oxygen, essential for your body to perform. This means that it necessary to develop your body’s levels of performance through intense cardio training.
Loaded marches are also very demanding to the bones, muscles and ligaments. This means that a targeted physical training programme should be developed and followed to help build your physical readiness.
A yomp also involves covering a lot of uneven, slippery and varied terrain, so you should aim to do a lot or normal running on such ground to build up your foot and ankle strength before attempting to cover such ground with a load. In order to avoid causing damage, it is recommended that initial training is done in normal running footwear rather than combat boots which can be added into the equation later on.
The most important thing to remember is that it takes time to build your fitness and endurance to the level required to complete a military yomp – there is no quick, crash-course option and attempting to approach it without a gradual, progressive training programme is a recipe for injuries.
Like a marathon, the key to successful preparation for the loaded march is progressive training in which you increase the intensity and level of your training on an incremental basis. Unlike marathon training, however, the loaded march includes a substantial load, therefore the progressive training – although sharing some elements in common – will look quite different.
Ideally, a progression of 10% overall per week is an optimum target to aim for as exceeding this is likely to cause excessive strain and may set you back instead. Note the use of overall here – the progression target is considered as a whole, but you may focus one week on certain areas and another week on others. In such a case, it is important to adjust the individual weighting of each element in calculating your total progress.
The key areas that you will focus on together or separately during your progressive training are:
- Distance and duration;
- Intensity and frequency;
- Current level of fitnes.
Remember of course that your regime should also include dedicated rest and recovery time.
Having fun and staying safe
Loaded marches are physically and mentally demanding and a gruelling but necessary element of army training. For many civilians, the very idea of this form of training sounds like torture. But for those who love action, adventure and extreme challenges, the loaded march is as good as it gets and can be a hugely rewarding experience that allows you to take your fitness to a whole new level, increase your mental stamina and gives you a completely new training experience.
The key to enjoying the loaded march is to build up gradually with a tailored fitness programme, ensure that you follow recommendations for hydration and food intake, and look out for early signs and symptoms of injuries, which can often be prevented through proper training and by using the correct clothing and equipment.
Finally, if you are participating in a loaded march, make sure it is properly organised by an experienced and professional group who will ensure all the correct safety measures and first aid procedures are in place.
Want to train like a true survivor? Check out the full range of courses available from Wild Survivor here.