National service, here we come

SINGAPORE- National service (NS) is a time that boys become men, but many boys view its approach with trepidation.

And unfortunately, many are so poorly prepared - physically as well as mentally - that they end up with avoidable injuries, said Dr Roger Tian, consultant sports physician at Singapore Sports Medicine Centre and Changi Sports Medicine Centre at Changi General Hospital (CGH).

He and his colleagues see a steady stream of national servicemen and Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) regulars with injuries, mainly to the lower back and limbs.

Dr Tian said: "The causes of these injuries are often inadequate physical preparation or poor physical fitness prior to enlisting or embarking on intensive training."

To prevent this from happening - and to demystify military training - he and physiotherapist Cameron Black co-wrote a book to prepare teenage boys for military service.

Boys To Men: The Complete Guide For National Servicemen taps the expertise of 12 local experts from the sports medicine, sports science and military medicine community.

The result is a book that details and illustrates at least 35 strength, flexibility and power training exercises, running drills and training strategies to help soldiers ace the Individual Physical Proficiency Test (IPPT).

It also illustrates the right techniques for running and lifting, essential skills for soldiers and even spells out a nine-month physical training programme guide for enlistees.

The skills outlined in the book are useful beyond the two years of NS.

"Through the book, we also hope to inculcate a lifelong habit of physical exercise, so that readers can continue to reap the benefits of improved health, energy levels and reduced risk of lifestyle diseases, such as hypertension, diabetes and obesity, after they leave the SAF," said Dr Tian.


Dr Tian recommends not leaving NS preparation to just before enlisting.

"It's never too early to start the exercise habit," he said.

Not only does regular exercise improve physical fitness in preparation for national service, it has also been shown to help young people perform better academically, have a better body image and improved mental health. These are all important issues for those in their late teens, he said.

"Such preparation is often neglected by enlistees, who would rather spend their time on schoolwork, socialising, or on the Internet. All it takes is 30 to 60 minutes of exercise, three to five days a week, to prepare oneself physically," said Dr Tian.

For those currently active in sports, a four- to six-month period of conditioning using the exercises in the book is recommended, he advised. Boys who are more sedentary should start their preparations nine to 12 months before enlistment.


Preparing for national service is not just about being physically prepared.

It is equally important to be mentally prepared and this, sometimes, requires a change of mindset.

"Mental and physical preparation is important for successful NS. If one understands the challenges, one can anticipate and prepare for them," said Dr Christopher Cheok, senior consultant and head of the psychological medicine department at Khoo Teck Puat Hospital.

Knowing the pitfalls and preparing for them can help prevent crises and personal conflicts, he said.

His own book, Will To Fight, launched in late 2012, teaches boys how to prepare themselves mentally for NS. For instance, it talks about how one can survive socially and deal with superiors.

Finally, a healthy diet that limits intake of fat and alcohol is also key to a successful military stint.

Said Dr Tian: "Besides regular exercise, developing healthy eating habits will also enable their bodies to adapt and recover better from physical and mental stress."

A third book that is helpful for recruits-to-be is The Recruits' Handbook, published by the Ministry of Defence, which addresses administrative issues such as medical screening, enlistment procedures, discipline and adjusting to life in the military.

Get a copy of Mind Your Body, The Straits Times or go to for more stories.