The road or foot march is one of the best ways to improve and maintain fitness. Road marches are classified as either administrative or tactical, and they can be conducted in garrison or in the field. Soldiers must be able to move quickly, carry a load (rucksack) of equipment, and be physically able to perform their missions after extended marching.
BENEFITS OF ROAD MARCHES
Road marches are an excellent aerobic activity. They also help develop endurance in the muscles of the lower body when soldiers carry a heavy load. Road marches offer several benefits when used as part of a fitness program. They are easy to organize, and large numbers of soldiers can participate. In addition, when done in an intelligent, systematic, and progressive manner, they produce relatively few injuries. Many soldier-related skills can be integrated into road marches. They can also help troops acclimatize to new environments. They help train leaders to develop skills in planning, preparation, and supervision and let leaders make first-hand observations of the soldiers’ physical stamina. Because road marches are excellent fitness training activities, commanders should make them a regular part of their unit’s PT program.
TYPES OF MARCHES
The four types of road marches – day, limited visibility, forced, and shuttle – are described below. For more information on marches, see FM 21-18.
Day marches, which fit easily into the daily training plan, are most conducive to developing physical fitness. They are characterized by dispersed formations and ease of control and reconnaissance.
Limited Visibility Marches
Limited visibility marches require more detailed planning and supervision and are harder to control than day marches. Because they move more slowly and are in tighter formations, soldiers may not exercise hard enough to obtain a conditioning effect. Limited visibility marches do have some advantages, however. They protect soldiers from the heat of the day, challenge the ability of NCOS and officers to control their soldiers, and provide secrecy and surprise in tactical situations.
Forced marches require more than the normal effort in speed and exertion. Although they are excellent conditioners, they may leave soldiers too fatigued to do other required training tasks.
Shuttle marches alternate riding and marching, usually because there are not enough vehicles to carry the entire unit. These marches may be modified and used as fitness activities. A shuttle march can be planned to move troops of various fitness levels from one point to another, with all soldiers arriving at about the same time. Soldiers who have high fitness levels can generally march for longer stretches than those who are less fit.
PLANNING A ROAD MARCH
Any plan to conduct a road march to improve physical fitness should consider the following:
- Load to be carried.
- Discipline and supervision.
- Distance to be marched.
- Route reconnaissance.
- Time allotted for movement.
- Water stops.
- Present level of fitness.
- Rest stops.
- Intensity of the march.
- Provisions for injuries.
- Terrain an weather conditions.
- Safety precautions.
Soldiers should usually receive advance notice before going on a march. This helps morale and gives them time to prepare. The leader should choose an experienced soldier as a pacesetter to lead the march. The pacesetter should carry the same load as the other soldiers and should be of medium height to ensure normal strides. The normal stride for a foot march, according to FM 21-18, is 30 inches. This stride, and a cadence of 106 steps per minute, results in a speed of 4.8 kilometers per hour (kph). When a 10-minute rest is taken each hour, a net speed of 4 kph results.
The pacesetter should keep in mind that ground slope and footing affect stride length. For example, the length decreases when soldiers march up hills or down steep slopes. Normal stride and cadence are maintained easily on moderate, gently rolling terrain unless the footing is muddy, slippery, or rough.
Personal hygiene is important in preventing unnecessary injuries. Before the march, soldiers should cut their toenails short and square them off, wash and dry their feet, and lightly apply foot powder. They should wear clean, dry socks that fit well and have no holes. Each soldier should take one or more extra pair of socks depending on the length of the march. Soldiers who have had problems with blisters should apply a thin coating of petroleum jelly over susceptible areas. Leaders should check soldiers’ boots before the march to make sure that they fit well, are broken in and in good repair, with heels that are even and not worn down.
During halts soldiers should lie down and elevate their feet. If time permits, they should massage their feet, apply powder, and change socks. Stretching for a few minutes before resuming the march may relieve cramps and soreness and help prepare the muscles to continue exercising. To help prevent lower back strain, soldiers should help each other reposition the rucksacks and other loads following rest stops. Soldiers can relieve swollen feet by slightly loosening the laces across their arches
After marches, soldiers should again care for their feet, wash and dry their socks, and dry their boots.
PROGRAMS TO IMPROVE LOAD-CARRYING ABILITY
The four generalized programs described below can be used to improve the soldiers’ load-carrying ability. Each program is based on a different number of days per week available for a PT program.
If only two days are available for PT, both should include exercises for improving CR fitness and muscular endurance and strength. Roughly equal emphasis should be given to each of these fitness components.
If there are only three days available for PT, they should be evenly dispersed throughout the week. Two of the days should stress the development of muscular endurance and strength for the whole body. Although all of the major muscle groups of the body should be trained, emphasis should be placed on the leg (hamstrings and quadriceps), hip (gluteal and hip flexors), low back (spinal erector), and abdominal (rectus abdominis) muscles. These two days should also include brief (2-mile) CR workouts of light to moderate intensity (65 to 75 percent HRR). On the one CR fitness day left, soldiers should take a long distance run (4 to 6 miles) at a moderate pace (70 percent HRR), an interval workout, or an aerobic circuit. They should also do some strength work of light volume and intensity. If four days are available, a road march should be added to the three-day program at least twice monthly. The speed, load, distance, and type of terrain should be varied.
If there are five days, leaders should devote two of them to muscular strength and endurance and two of them to CR fitness. One CR fitness day will use long distance runs; the other can stress more intense workouts including interval work, Fartlek running, or last-man-up running. At least two times per month, the remaining day should include a road march.
Soldiers can usually begin road-march training by carrying a total load equal to 20 percent of their body weight. This includes all clothing and equipment. However, the gender makeup and/or physical condition of a unit may require using a different starting load. Beginning distances should be between five and six miles, and the pace should be at 20 minutes per mile over flat terrain with a hard surface. Gradual increases should be made in speed, load, and distance until soldiers can do the anticipated, worst-case, mission-related scenarios without excessive difficulty or exhaustion. Units should take maintenance marches at least twice a month. Distances should vary from six to eight miles, with loads of 30 to 40 percent of body weight. The pace should be 15 to 20 minutes per mile.
A recent Army study showed that road-march training two times a month and four times a month produced similar improvements in road-marching performance. Thus, twice-monthly road marches appear to produce a favorable improvement in soldiers’ abilities to road march if they are supported by a sound PT program (five days per week).
Commanders must establish realistic goals for road marching based on assigned missions. They should also allow newly assigned soldiers and those coming off extended profiles to gradually build up to the unit’s fitness level before making them carry maximum loads. This can be done with ability groups.
Road marching should be integrated into all other training. Perhaps the best single way to improve load-earring capacity is to have a regular training program which systematically increases the load and distance. It must also let the soldier regularly practice carrying heavy loads over long distances.
As much as possible, leaders at all levels must train and march with their units. This participation enhances leaders’ fitness levels and improves team spirit and confidence, both vital elements in accomplishing difficult and demanding road marches.