On today’s battlefield, in addition to cardiorespiratory fitness, soldiers need a high level of muscular endurance and strength. In a single day they may carry injured comrades, move equipment, lift heavy tank or artillery rounds, push stalled vehicles, or do many other strength-related tasks. For example, based on computer-generated scenarios of an invasion of Western Europe, artillerymen may have to load from 300 to 500, 155mm-howitzer rounds (95-lb rounds) while moving from 6 to 10 times each day over 8 to 12 days. Infantrymen may need to carry loads exceeding 100 pounds over great distances, while supporting units will deploy and displace many times. Indeed, survival on the battlefield may, in large part, depend on the muscular endurance and strength of the individual soldier.
Muscular fitness has two components: muscular strength and muscular endurance. Muscular strength is the greatest amount of force a muscle or muscle group can exert in a single effort. Muscular endurance is the ability of a muscle or muscle group to do repeated contractions against a less-thanmaximum resistance for a given time. Although muscular endurance and strength are separate fitness components, they are closely related. Progressively working against resistance will produce gains in both of these components.
Isometric, isotonic, and isokinetic muscular endurance and strength are best produced by regularly doing each specific kind of contraction. They are described here. Isometric contraction produces contraction but no movement, as when pushing against a wall. Force is produced with no change in the angle of the joint. Isotonic contraction causes a joint to move through a range of motion against a constant resistance. Common examples are push-ups, sit-ups, and the lifting of weights. Isokinetic contraction causes the angle at the joint to change at a constant rate, for example, at 180 degrees per second. To achieve a constant speed of movement, the load or resistance must change at different joint angles to counter the varying forces produced by the muscle(s) at different angles. This requires the use of isokinetic machines. There are other resistance-training machines which, while not precisely controlling the speed of movement, affect it by varying the resistance throughout the range of motion. Some of these devices are classified as pseudo-isokinetic and some as variable-resistance machines. Isotonic and isokinetic contractions have two specific phases – the concentric or “positive” phase and the eccentric or “negative” phase. In the concentric phase (shortening) the muscle contracts, while in the eccentric phase (elongation) the muscle returns to its normal length. For example, on the upward phase of the biceps curl, the biceps are shortening. This is a concentric (positive) contraction. During the lowering phase of the curl the biceps are lengthening. This is an eccentric (negative) contraction. A muscle can control more weight in the eccentric phase of contraction than it can lift concentrically. As a result, the muscle may be able to handle more of an overload eccentrically. This greater overload, in return, may produce greater strength gains. The nature of the eccentric contraction, however, makes the muscle and connective tissue more susceptible to damage, so there is more muscle soreness following eccentric work. When a muscle is overloaded, whether by isometric, isotonic, or isokinetic contractions, it adapts by becoming stronger. Each type of contraction has advantages and disadvantages, and each will result in strength gains if done properly. The above descriptions are more important to those who assess strength than to average people trying to develop strength and endurance. Actually, a properly designed weight training program with free weights or resistance machines will result in improvements in all three of these categories.