Commentary: Army strength begins with physical fitness
May 9, 2013
FORT SILL, Okla. -- What is the new Army Physical Readiness Training (PRT) program? Does it work? Why did the Army stop using the old Physical Fitness Training program, which was used for more nearly 20 years? How does it contribute to a Soldier's success on the Army-required semi-annual Army Physical Fitness Test (APFT)?
Questions such as these are being voiced among Soldiers, both enlisted and officers, throughout the Army.
As a graduate of the Commander's Total Fitness Course and, most recently, the first Master Fitness Trainer Course, I am a strong advocate for the Physical Readiness Training program, and its effectiveness as it pertains to training the way we fight.
Throughout the history of the military, physical fitness has been an interwoven factor in deciding the outcome of battles.
The previously used 1992 version of Field Manual 21-20, Physical Fitness Training, begins with details of how Task Force Smith, U.S. Army, was defeated by members of the North Korean People's Army during the early days of the Korean War in 1950.
As the American troops withdrew from battle, they left behind wounded troops and valuable equipment. Although the NKPAs troops were poorly equipped, their high level of physical training for the demands of war in the region versus that of Task Force Smith was a considerable factor to their success in battle.
Perfect practice makes perfect
Sgt. 1st. Class David Rispress, MFTC instructor, Fitness School, Physical Readiness Division, Fort Jackson, S.C., said one of the ongoing issues during the course was, "Soldiers came with bad habits that they bring over from their units."
He said those habits, motivational chants and performing exercises using the wrong posture, contributes to various standards being accepted in different units across the Army.
One benefit and potential downfall of the PRT system is that anyone can pick up a copy of the field manual, read it, get a basic understanding of the material and do a physical training session.
While the read-and-execute process works well in theory, the effectiveness of the program is compromised when untrained PRT leaders teach Soldiers bad habits because of a lack of knowledge.
As with any exercise program, simple adjustments in a person's posture affects what muscles and joints they are using.
For example, when Soldiers perform movements that originate from the straddle stance, they should keep their feet pointed straight ahead instead of outward. However, many
Soldiers and PRT instructors turn their feet outward as they would when standing at the position of attention.
One such movement is the lateral, which is done as a part of Military Movement 1. When the exercise is performed correctly, the hip flexor muscles are properly engaged and the Soldier develops the ability to safely move laterally. When performed incorrectly, more strain is put on the quadriceps and hamstring muscles, which assist in lateral movements but are not the primary muscle groups that are being target for development when performing the movement.
Combat Readiness vs. Army Physical Fitness Test readiness
There have been various versions of FM 21-20 from 1941 through present day . Although physical training programs have been in existence for years, it is notable that in the 1941 version, commanders were given various events by which they could measure degrees of their Soldiers abilities and adjust the intensity of their physical training programs to get them to an acceptable standard. Additionally, when a formal, standardized physical training test was added to FM 21-20, 1946, it was also used as a moral and unit cohesion booster as well as an indicator of the physical fitness level of an individual or unit.
The common theme then and now is: the Army's physical training program has never been designed to help a Soldier pass a physical training test. Moreover, the function of the physical training test has been, and is, to measure a portion of an individual's level of physical fitness.
However, the new program does include the pushup and situp drill, which is designed to help Soldiers improve on pushup and situp requirements for the APFT. Speed running and distance running are also included.
I believe that Soldiers who pass basic training and advanced individual training are capable of running at least two miles, barring an injury. Therefore, as a Soldier transitions from the toughening phase of PRT, the question should shift to: How can I train to run faster over a long distance?
Train as You Fight: Evolution of PT
The armies of the world are no longer fighting with stones and swords. Boulders have been replaced by artillery projectiles. The bow-and-arrow has been replaced by small-arms weapons such as the M16 and AK47 rifles, and on a larger scale, ballistic missiles.
Camels, donkeys and horses are no longer the preferred method of transportation for the modern warrior. Instead, we use horseless chariots of various sorts. Even as the war in Iraq came to a close and the war in Afghanistan is scheduled to end, our military made changes in its primary vehicle, the high mobility multipurpose wheeled vehicle.
The HMMWV was first converted to an unarmored version as our wartime operations demanded. Eventually, vehicles such as the mine resistant ambush protected were integrated onto the field of battle.
Technological changes and advancements such as these are not uncommon during the war because war has her own version of one-up-man ship: one side develops a technology and its enemy attempts to overcome it with something better, hence today's M1 Abrams tank versus the World War II Tiger Tank.
As technology and the tactics we use in on the ground in war has evolved over the years, the physical training that we conduct has also changed. Platforms such as the MRAP are higher off the ground than the HMMWV and last-century-fielded jeeps. In a combat situation, Soldiers may have to rapidly disembark one such platform. If their bodies are not conditioned to properly land, they will likely be more susceptible to various leg, knee, foot and ankle, back and femoral neck injuries.
Master Fitness Trainer, PRT
While the MFT has several roles, at a basic level, an MFT serves as the linkage for the command between physical and medical readiness of the unit. They advise the commander on the proper planning, implementation and execution of PRT.
Implementing master fitness trainers provides an opportunity for Soldiers to educate Soldiers on the correct way to execute PRT within their units.