BMT Injuries during National Service

Enlisting into National Service (NS) is a rite of passage in any Singaporean boy’s youth – some may find it daunting while others may be excited to start that new phase in adulthood. Before getting assigned to the different vocations, one common experience that most will go through is Basic Military Training (BMT) which serves as a initiation to the army. The type of training that one will have to go through is dependent on your physical examination, but in general, most combat fit recruits go through a standard set of training. This includes extensive physical training which can result in BMT injuries.

BMT injuries comprise of more than just heat strokes – there are other musculoskeletal injuries that are much more commonly sustained during BMT activities amongst recruits. In this article, we cover the 5 most common musculoskeletal injuries as well as the BMT activities that tend to cause these injuries. We also provide useful tips on performing these training activities effectively so as to prevent getting injured. 

BMT Injuries
Photo: MINDEF

Why are the rate of BMT injuries so high?

BMT injuries are attributed to multiple factors. It could be due to one’s level of physical activity, environmental aspects, general lack of knowledge on performing the activity/exercise correctly and not knowing when to seek help.

Training during BMT is intense and frequent at levels a recruit’s body may not be accustomed to. For instance, prior to being enlisted to BMT, a recruit could have only been running a distance of 2km once a week while now, he has to run a distance of 2km 5 times a week. The sharp increase in the intensity of physical activities will result in a greater tendency for injury. 

Incorrect application of exercise techniques or improper methods of carrying out certain physical activities during BMT may also contribute to BMT injuries. This could be due to one’s carelessness or lack of clarification from trainers. It is essential for recruits to accurately carry out the proper or safe methods of performing an activity to reduce the risk of injury.

A lack of knowledge about the severity of their injuries or a fear of approaching someone for help with their pain could also result in recruits to carry on training by choice. Carrying on with training will likely cause the injury to worsen. If you feel pain, do speak to your trainer.

Common BMT Injuries For Each Training

Given the variety of training recruits will go through during the BMT phase, there are different types of injuries they may sustain. We have collated the top 5 BMT activities that cause injuries and tips on preventing these injuries.

Physical Training (PT)

Possible/Likely Injuries: Wrist injuries, Ankle sprains, Shin splint

PT sessions have a heavy focus on exercises like push ups, and running and movement drills. Different sessions of PT target different muscle groups according to the focus of the session. They range from upper body, to core, and lower body. Therefore, the types of injuries servicemen are susceptible to are considerably higher. 

Tips: 

Make sure you are working the right muscles

It is important to check in and clarify with the physical trainer during the PT sessions if recruits are unsure about the exercises or form. Correct application and clarification of exercise techniques and form is necessary here so that recruits will not be injured as a result of prolonged application of incorrect techniques. Doing so will also ensure that recruits will be activating the correct muscle groups during the PT sessions. 

Route March

Possible/Likely Injuries: Shoulder injury, Lower Back Pain/Disc Injury

The 24km route march is one of the significant milestones of BMT that marks the end of the recruit’s training phase. With a load of more than 20kg bearing on the backs and shoulders of our servicemen during their route march, shoulder injury and lower back pain are likely injuries they can sustain despite the progressive training. Disc injury is another potential injury that can physically affect them, causing great physical discomfort even after NS.

Tips:

Sling your rifle correctly

The way recruits sling their rifles can help reduce risks of injury. Ensure that the rifle sling is in contact with your back to spread the weight of the rifle, instead of letting the weight of the rifle hang on the shoulders only.

Don’t let your field pack be a burden

Adjusting bag straps tightly and reducing the gap between your field pack and your body ensures that the load of the bag is mostly supported by the upper back and shoulders. Do make it a point to fasten the clip on the chest strap so that the load can also be taken on at the front of the chest. Pack and organise the field pack to better distribute the weight. This eases the stress on the shoulders and minimises the risk of back pain. Add shoulder paddings to the straps to soften and spread the load on your shoulders. The load from your field pack will be distributed along the upper body preventing excessive loading on your lower back.

Field Camp

Possible/Likely Injuries: Ankle sprain

Training recruits to adapt to outfield and outdoor terrain may bring its shares of injuries too. Uneven terrain and drills that involve sharp dynamic movements often result in injuries like ankle sprains. Recruits with flat feet are also prone to ankle and foot injuries in the outfield environment as it may be difficult for their feet to adapt to the uneven grounds.

Tips:

Be alert and aware of your surroundings 

By practicing awareness of surroundings, recruits will save themselves much more from risks of injury. It is also best to avoid venturing into dangerous terrain, especially alone without the knowledge of the commanders. If there is a need to go through uneven terrain, proceed carefully.

Ensure your boots fit you properly

Besides preventing ankle sprains and injury, developing ankle stability through promoting proper and better wearing of boots will help minimise risk of injury too. One such way is to ensure adequate fit for army boots by leaving a one to two finger spacing in the front of the boot. It is also good to ensure snug fitting by tightening boot laces so that there isn’t excessive rolling of the foot inward and outwards. Do make sure that the boot is not too tight that it restricts blood flow in the ankle and foot. This will help to stabilise the ankle more in uneven terrains.

Individual Physical Proficiency Test (IPPT)

Possible/Likely Injuries: Shin Splint, Wrist injuries

IPPT is a key component in BMT and the NS journey. The push up and 2.4km run stations are particularly high risk due to the amount of stress placed on areas like the wrists, ankles, and legs. This can lead to sprains and muscle tears that can keep servicemen away from their training and duties.

Tips:

Adding Insoles

Recruits may want to consider wearing in-soles if they have flat feet. Standard training shoes are issued for recruits and they are not allowed to wear different ones, thus it is recommended to add arch supporting insoles for those with arch issues.

Recruits in BMT cannot choose their own running footwear but are able to wear shoes of their choice once they graduate. Good running techniques and posture should be adopted so that impact on the shin is minimised during running. Get adequate rest the day before and warm-up before training or IPPT test by doing lower limb stretches.

Watch your form!

Proper techniques for push ups is also key to ensuring an injury-free routine. Recruits should make it a point to ensure that their shoulders are directly above your wrist. Keep your elbows tucked in close to their body, and lower your body until it is one fist above the ground before pushing back up. They should feel their shoulder blades squeezing together as they go down and then moving away from each other while pushing up.

Standard Obstacle Course (SOC)

Possible/Likely Injuries: Ankle sprain

The SOC comprises many stations that involve participants to rely mainly on upper body and leg strength. Some stations are elevated above ground and have different types of surfaces (concrete and sand). This could result in ankle and leg related injuries if a recruit falls off or lands incorrectly.

Tips:

Pay close attention

During training, pay careful attention to the instructors. They will showcase proper landing techniques, as well as how to handle each station without injuries. 

Practice makes perfect

Recruits attempting the SOC should attempt each station during the initial training stages to get a feel of each element. This is also good practice to apply the steps the instructors have imparted to them.

An Injury Free BMT Is Possible

While most of these training activities may sound daunting, they should not be the concern of recruits who are hoping to enjoy an injury-free NS life. As long as they follow tips and stay sharp and careful, they should not be worried about sustaining injuries. Do not panic if you happen to sustain one of the aforementioned injuries as these injuries are extremely common. In our next article, we focus on general injury prevention tips and how to treat and manage injuries.