For the last ten years, Dr James Bilzon, Director of Studies for the Sport and Exercise Medicine Programme at the University of Bath, has worked closely with the Army Recruiting & Training Division (ARTD) to reduce the incidence of musculoskeletal injuries (MSI). The research has proved successful with a range of trainees, including paratroopers, new trainees with lower fitness levels and female recruits.
Female-only training regimes
Research showed a higher incidence of injury in females than males when they formed a minority proportion of mixed-gender platoons. Medical discharge (MD) due to injury was at the rate of 95 per 1000 trainees, compared to 25 per 1000 in males. The formation of single sex platoons, offering improved training techniques and female commanders, was piloted. After a 12-month evaluation, women were achieving the required level of operational fitness, with a huge reduction in MD, which now stands at a similar rate as that of their male colleagues. To date, the British Army is believed to be the only army in the world to introduce female-only training regimes.
Parachute Regiment Training
Training to be an elite Parachute Regiment soldier is widely regarded as the most arduous in the British Army. Pass out rates were very low – around 43%, and MD was high, at 14.4%. An in-depth study resulted in a complete overhaul of the 26-week training programme, including the introduction of a fourth meal in the evening and a more rigorous selection procedure to ensure the best candidates were joining training at the front end. First time pass-out rates increased to 58% and discharges due to musculoskeletal injuries decreased to 5.1%.
Broadening the impact
The benefits of combining occupational physiology research in the lab, with intensive testing in the field, have been proven for, and continue to benefit, the British Army. Studies in low oxygen environments, such as storage facilities used by the British Library, have helped to develop new working practices, and Dr Bilzon continues this work in other sectors, as diverse as the fire service and grocery retailing, where operational fitness and injury rates can be improved through better training techniques.