Upcoming Study: Improving heavy rucking and upper body pulling strength in females

By Jamie Cunningham

With females being allowed into combat roles, females have had the opportunity to attend military schools and selections that were previously open only to males.  Many of these schools, such as Ranger School or the Marine Infantry Officer Course, have a high attrition rate for females.  Currently, little to no research exists regarding female-specific preparation for these military schools and selections.

The purpose of this study is to gain information that can be used to improve the programming methodology used to prepare females tactical athletes attending military schools and ruck-heavy selections. 

Background:

During background research for this study, it was found that heavy rucking and events requiring upper body pulling strength tend to be most problematic for females.  For example, in both Ranger School and the Marine Infantry Officer Course, males and females often struggle with the heavy ruck loads that regularly exceed 100 pounds.  Also, both courses include events requiring significant upper body strength, including chin-ups, pull-ups, and/or push ups, and completion of an obstacle course which includes rope climbs.

The basis for the ruck portion of this study was taken from the “Run Less, Run Faster” guidelines for endurance running (http://www.runnersworld.com/race-training/run-less-run-faster).  Similar to the “Run Less, Run Faster” methods, this study utilized 3 days of aerobic training (rucking) per week that included a threshold ruck, intervals, and a longer aerobic ruck.  For the pull-ups and rope climbs, a progressive volume training protocol was used.  Volume protocols are commonly utilized by MTI with good results and were shown to elicit positive performance improvements for pull-ups in a previous MTI study (http://mtntactical.com/research/the-best-way-to-improve-pull-ups-part-iii-the-results-and-the-verdict/). 

The Mission-Direct Study:

For this study, we chose to look at the effects of loading on the performance improvements of the ruck, pull-ups, and rope climb. 

For the ruck, we have chosen to utilize two different protocols.  One protocol uses the same weight (75#) for all rucks during the study.  The other protocol uses variable weight (50-100#) for the rucks.  The pre- and post-assessments will be performed with 75#, therefore the “same weight” group uses a training load that is highly specific to their assessment load.  The varying load used by the “variable weight” group will allow for greater variations in intensity and pace during the workouts which may result in greater adaptations of the aerobic system.

For the pull-ups and rope climbs, we chose to look at a bodyweight protocol vs a loaded protocol.  The pre- and post-assessments will be performed at body weight for both groups.  The “bodyweight” group will perform all workouts at their bodyweight with no additional loading.  The “loaded” group will be performing less reps, but will complete the pull-up workouts with 15# and the rope climbs with 25#.  Participants will be asked to carry the load in a pack/ruck on their back vs. a weight vest in order to mimic the loading demands that may be encountered during a military school or selection. 

The study began with the pre-assessment on 19 July, and will run for 3 weeks with the final assessment on 10 July.  We have had tremendous support and interest in this study with 59 females signing up.  However, there has been a rather large attrition rate with only 17 participants that have reported their pre-assessment results.  For various reasons, 14 of the 59 participants were unable to start the study on 19 July and will be following the study a week later.  The attrition rate of these participants is not yet known. 

Below is the Assessment we are deploying for this study. 

  1. Max Rep Strict Pullups
  2. Max Feet of Rope Climb in 3 min
  3. 3-mile Ruck for Time at 75#

Of the 17 participants that have recorded their pre-assessment results, 11 are military and 6 are civilian.

Below are the average results from the initial assessment

Age

Height

Weight (lbs)

Pull-Ups (reps)

Rope Climb (ft)

Ruck Time

Average

30

5’6”

145

7.4

65.7

53:51

Range

24 – 41

5’1” – 5’11”

112 – 174

1 – 20

22.5 – 120

37:53 – 1:33:00

 

Programming Protocols:

Protocol 1:    Variable Weight Ruck + Bodyweight Pulling

Monday

Tuesday

Wednesday

Thursday

Friday

Week 1

Assessment

Pull-up progression:

35% unloaded

2 x 1 mile intervals at 75#, interval pace

Rope Climb progression:

35% unloaded

3 Miles Long:

50# Easy (able to hold conversation)

Week 2

Threshold 1.5 miles at 100#, fast as possible w/o straining

Pull-up progression:

40% unloaded

2 x 1 mile intervals at 75#, interval pace

Rope Climb progression:

40% unloaded

4 Miles Long:

50# Easy (able to hold conversation)

Week 3

Threshold 1.5 miles at 100#, fast as possible w/o straining

Pull-up progression:

45% unloaded

2 x 1 mile intervals at 75#, interval pace

Rope Climb progression:

45% unloaded

5 Miles Long:

50# Easy (able to hold conversation)

Week 4

Re-Assessment

 

Protocol 2:     Same Weight Ruck + Loaded Pulling

Monday

Tuesday

Wednesday

Thursday

Friday

Week 1

Assessment

Pull-up progression:

25% loaded 15#

2 x 1 mile intervals at 75#, interval pace

Rope Climb progression:

25% at 25#

3 Miles Long:

75# at Aerobic Pace

Week 2

Threshold 1.5 miles at 75#, fast as possible w/o straining

Pull-up progression:

30% loaded 15#

2 x 1 mile intervals at 75#, interval pace

Rope Climb progression:

30% at 25#

4 Miles Long:

75# at Aerobic Pace

Week 3

Threshold 1.5 miles at 75#, fast as possible w/o straining

Pull-up progression:

35% loaded 15#

2 x 1 mile intervals at 75#, interval pace

Rope Climb progression:

35% at 25#

5 Miles Long:

75# at Aerobic Pace

Week 4

Re-Assessment

 

Questions?
Email coach@mtntactical.com.

About the Author
Jaimie is a Physical Therapist and strength coach in Southern Pines, North Carolina. This study is part of her MTI Fellowship.