Study Suggests Mental Strength More Important Than Physical Strength In Military Training

Study Suggests Mental Strength More Important Than Physical Strength In Military Training

Much is made of physical fitness for those wanting to go into the military. 

Before even getting onto highly demanding training programmes, assessments of fitness levels such as running time trials and body-weight relative strength tests often need to be completed. 

But interestingly, new research suggests that mental strength is far more important than any physical factors to make it through grueling weeks of training that are designed to separate the strongest from the group, and this evidence could be used to support the use of psychological training in sport.

Research published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research mHealth and uHealth examined three consecutive classes of marines and sailors enrolled in a specialised training course lasting 25 days. Both the participants’ physical and psychological activity was assessed.

Just over half of the 121 trainees passed the course and there was no correlation between the performance on physical exercises and whether a participant ended up finishing, neither was there a correlation on heart rate or sleep data either.

But when it came to mental testing, the trainees who had determined themselves as extroverted people who had a positive attitude were found to be the most likely to make it through the adversity faced on the training programme.

Lead researcher Leslie Saxon, executive director of the USC Center for Body Computing, said: "These findings are novel because they identify traits not typically associated with military performance, showing that psychological factors mattered more than physical performance outcomes.

"This study, the first to collect continuous data from individuals throughout a training, suggests that there may be interventions the military can take to reduce the number of dropouts.

"This data could be helpful in designing future training courses for Marines and other military units to increase the number of elite service members, as well as provide insights on how to help athletes and other high performers handle challenges."

The researchers on the study also carry out a lot of testing on elite sportspeople. Just as adversity is faced in the military, it is also faced (albeit on a different scale) in sport, where having the right mindset to get through challenges is crucial. 

Most significantly, we know this mindset can be learned, so the research is another reminder of the importance of spending time on mental training.