Mental conditioning tools in physical education toolkit for service personnel

Dr.Hab., Professor A.G. Shchurov1
Dr.Hab., Professor G.G. Dmitriev1
Dr.Hab., Professor M.T. Lobzha1
Dr.Hab., Professor L.S. Uzun1
1Military Institute of Physical Training, St. Petersburg

Keywords: mental fitness, mental conditioning, physical education, extreme conditions

Background. Modern life challenges with the relevant changes in the human phylogenesis are being responded by revisions to the social integration, communication and cooperation patterns. The human relationships with the natural environments are still largely influenced by multiple negative natural and anthropogenic factors, with the humans opposing them with a variety of living styles and cultures, professional activities etc. that altogether are expected to secure a fair balance in the system. Life safety and stress tolerance issues in this context are given a growing priority due to the multiple risks for physical and mental health.

Objective of the study was to provide a theoretical and practical grounds for the modern mental conditioning tools beign applied in the standard physical education toolkit of the military service for high professional fitness.

Results and discussion. Since the military service is known to expose the service personnel to multiple real and anticipated stressors, due emphasis in the trainings needs to be made on the mental conditioning tools (in addition to the professional fitness securing ones) to train the servicemen for the quality service in a variety of challenging situations including extreme ones. Such mental trainings should be designed by the experts and commanders in view of the service technologies and electronics getting more and more complicated and sensitive to human errors [1].

In view of the increasing global tensions and challenges, military personnel of the Russia Federation have to keep highly fit for the local conflicts, with the trainings making an emphasis on modern versatile mental conditioning tools applicable both for the combat missions and effective relaxation and rehabilitations thereafter. Of special interest in this context are the studies by V.K. Shamrey, S.A. Kolov and B.V. Driga that found a full range of post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms in at least 19.5% of the local war veterans [4]. It is natural for military personnel to respond to the service mission hardships by the highest mental activity including courage, initiative, determination – or, vice versa, depression and mental disorders that suppress the individual physical capacity that may be followed by affective disorders. The study was designed to assess, among other things, the mental stressors typical for military exercises and combat missions and rate the stressors versus the incidence of service-specific mental disorders.

Importance of the subject may be illustrated by the fact that service-specific mental disorders accounted for up to 25% of the combat sanitary losses reported by Israel troops in 1973 warfare. This is a great regress compared to the WWII situation in the US troops where the service-specific mental disorders were reported at only 5-7% of the sanitary losses with a few peaks – e.g. up to 17% in the Pacific war conflicts [3-5].

Sleep and rest shortage is ranked high among the key service-specific stressors that are known to heavily undermine the combat fitness and trigger the service-specific mental disorders. We collected the data on the shortage of sleep and rest and the associating fatigue and mental health risk exposure in the tactical military exercises with defense operations: see Table 1 hereunder [3].

Table 1. Military personnel combat fitness/ activity rates versus the daily sleep time

Daily sleep, hours

Combat fitness/ activity rates


Combat fitness never exceeds 3 days and is fully lost thereafter


Combat fitness varies under 50% of the maximum for 6 days at most and is fully lost thereafter


Combat fitness is maintained at up to 90% of the maximum for 9 days on average

The key service-specific stressors in combat missions may be listed as follows: high risks for life; burden of responsibility for success of the combat mission; uncertainty of the combat situation due to the shortage of information; time pressure in the decision making process; mental unfitness for the mission and challenges; low confidence in the weapons; isolation from the main forces, etc. Mental conditioning tools, therefore, should be designed to: (1) build up high mental stress tolerance to cope with the service hardships and effectively defeat a strong enemy; (1) train good communication qualities and skills to facilitate solutions in challenging/ extraordinary combat situations; (3) secure excellent social and psychological climate and teamwork in the combat units, task forces and crews; and (4) help the personnel master efficient self-control and self-conditioning methods [3]. Timely and effective health service shall be put in place to respond to the first service-specific mental disorders symptoms including depression, panic, excessive activity etc. [3].

The mental conditioning tools within the standard physical training toolkit shall be designed to cultivate the ability to:

  • Practice them under a time pressure;
  • Effectively switch off from one exercise to another when necessary;
  • Customize the practices to cope with extra discomfort and stressors/  burdens;
  • Practice in nighttime in whatever weather conditions;
  • Practice them during obstacle races with explosions, shootings etc.;
  • Practice teamwork with heavy losses and increased workloads on the still active crew members;
  • Run marches on hard routes with extra weaponry and ammunition etc. [4].

Presently the Armed Forces of the Russia Federation make a special emphasis on the personnel mental trainings for the service specific hardships for success in the extremely difficult situations. The mental conditioning methods are designed to cultivate high stress tolerance; confidence in the individual performance and teamwork; ability to cope with fairs and uncertainties to successfully complete the combat missions etc. [2, 4].

Conclusion. Modern physical training methods with a special emphasis on the mental conditioning components are designed to make the personnel fit for actions in hard and extraordinary situations. Actual effects of the service-specific stressors and risks largely depend on how competent and skillful the servicemen are in the mental conditioning domain of the physical training process. A special role in applying the mental conditioning tools in the standard physical training toolkit shall be played by the unit/ crew commanders. The theoretical and practical components of the military physical training process shall give a high priority to the modern mental conditioning tools, with every theoretical and practical issue addressed by the relevant physical training process psychology methods, in the context of the harmonized integration of the modern pedagogy and psychology.


  1. Lobzha M.T., Shashkin G.A., Antrofikov S.A., Rustamkhanov Z.R. Pedagogicheskie tekhnologii obespecheniya bezopasnosti zhiznedeyatelnosti voennosluzhashchikh v usloviyah chrezvychaynykh situatsiy sredstvami fizicheskoy podgotovki [Educational technologies to ensure life safety of servicemen in emergency situations by means of physical training]. Aktualnye problemy fizicheskoy i spetsialnoy podgotovki silovykh struktur. 2018. no. 4. pp. 134-138.
  2. Pashuta V.L., Belyaev V.A. Fizicheskaya podgotovka kak osnovnoy element boevoy gotovnosti voennosluzhashchikh k vypolneniyu zadach v kontrterroristicheskikh operatsiyakh [Service personnel physical fitness as a core element of combat fitness for antiterrorist missions]. Teoriya i praktika fizicheskoy kultury. 2018. no. 4 (1). pp.  40-42.
  3. Uzun L.S. Taktika vyzhivaniya voennosluzhashchikh i voennosluzhashchikh MVD v ekstremalnykh situatsiyah [Survival tactics of servicemen of the Ministry of Internal Affairs in extreme situations]. St. Petersburg: MIA RF, 1998. 180 p.
  4. Shamrey V.K., Kolov S.A., Driga B.V. Otdalennye posledstviya boevogo stressa s pozitsii biopsikhosotsialnogo podhoda [Long-term effects of combat stress in biopsychosocial perspective]. Vestnik psihoterapii. 2011. no. 38 (43). pp. 104- 111.
  5. Shchegolev V.A., Sivak A.N., A.A. Kochin, V.Yu. Egorov Podgotovka spetsialistov voenno-fizkulturnogo profilya v vooruzhennykh silakh vedushchikh stran NATO [Military sport specialist training in Armed Forces of NATO lead nations (based on public foreign sources)]. Teoriya i praktika fiz. kultury. 2016. no.2. pp. 61-66.

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Modern life challenges with the relevant changes in the human phylogenesis are being responded by revisions to the social integration, communication and cooperation patterns. The study analyzes the most efficient mental conditioning tools that may be applied in the service personnel’s physical education toolkit. As demonstrated by the study data, the service physical education shall be designed to: make the service personnel mentally fit for the service-specific challenges and combat missions; develop good communication and conflict control skills necessary for extreme situations; and facilitate the team spirit formation and teamwork cementing in the service units and crews. The study also analyzed the factors of influence on the mental performance in combat/ service missions; and the physical education service models, methods, conditions and efficiency rating criteria to ensure high professional fitness for the service challenges and extreme situations. The study demonstrates the ways to apply the modern physical education toolkit to make the personnel mentally fit for extreme situations and hard missions. In the theoretical domain, the faculty and unit commanders shall be competent in the general logics of the modern physical education service for success of the mental conditioning methods within the physical education toolkit. Thus the military personnel physical education theory and practice shall secure the mental conditioning component being designed with duly harmonized contributions from the modern education theory and psychology for success.