Army's fitness program evolves
June 14, 2013
FORT SILL, Okla.-- If a personal trainer for the Baltimore Ravens came up to you and said 'this is the way the team does squats, or pushups,' you'd probably say, 'that's how it should be done. Why not? They're professional trainers.'
The Army is looking at its Soldiers the same way. Soldiers are paid athletes, essentially. That is not all they are, but being physically ready for battle is a big task, and the Army is now putting personal trainers in units to make sure they are executing their exercises properly.
The Army brought in a team of civilian fitness experts and an officer to train 30 staff sergeants and sergeants first class to be the experts. The four-week Master Fitness Trainer Course teaches the finer points of the Army's newest workout program Army Field Manual 7-22, or Army Physical Readiness Training.
After the Soldiers stopped moaning and groaning, terms like "broke off" were used regularly.
"I was a nonbeliever about going through this course. It definitely was an eye opener to let you know that you can get a good workout and not get injured and in fact improve your fitness and even rehabilitate yourself doing these exercises," said Staff Sgt. Brandon Caminero, A Battery, 3rd Battalion, 13th Field Artillery.
Soldiers know how to do pushups, situps and run, as part of the Army Physical Fitness Test, but that may be part of the problem. Some Soldiers are taught to train to the test, instead of training for combat conditions.
"PRT that's what we're learning, but the end state of this is how mobile are you going to be when you're deployed in your full gear? So now you know the position of how you need to be, how you need to land, jump, move sideways backwards forwards and that's what this re-emphasizes," said Sgt. 1st Class William Baer, B Battery, 3rd Battalion, 6th Air Defense Artillery.
"We're trying to introduce the same things from sports science on injury proofing athletes," said 1st Lt. Matthew Capoccia, Master Fitness Trainer Course team leader. "On a sports team, like a football player, if he's not doing anything to increase his flexibility he's much more likely to become injured when a force is applied to him. In the NFL a lot of what they do is increase range of motion.
The other thing they do is increase the smaller muscles that don't get a lot of attention like the lower back muscles, the hip muscles because when you exert a lot of force on these muscles that haven't been built up they tend to break."
Capoccia is a strong believer in the program because his sister went into the military as an athlete, and through good intentions from her leaders, she was injured during training.
"The Army always thinks that training harder is always the best answer but that's not necessarily true; if it violates exercise science then you're just training to the point of breaking people for no reason."
The group of Fort Sill Soldiers realized they have been doing some exercises incorrectly for years. That repititious mistake could've been underlying causes for injuries they formerly believed were normal wear-and-tear.
"The posture you have, the way you did the exercise, the cadence for it. Where we all came from different areas, FORSCOM, TRADOC, it was all different in those areas. We all learned the precise way of doing it and it made a huge differnece," said Baer.
Fort Sill's 2012 Drill Sergeant of the Year Sgt. 1st Class Victor Marquez, even admitted the best of the best, those meant to train Soldiers, may not be perfect in their instruction something he cannot wait to rectify.
"I'm going to be able to go out there and spot check and identify those mistakes we're doing right now so we can make sure to work on that precision portion of physical readiness training," said Marquez.
PRT not only focuses on strengthening those who are already fit, it also gives those who are injured workout options. Staff Sgt. Kimberly Marmolejos, Company A, 168th Brigade Support Battalion, will go on to assign workouts for those who are on profile, are overweight, or who cannot pass the APFT with a greater understanding and background from the course.
The new workout manual focuses on doing exercises correctly, to start and it also changes some things that have been ingrained in Soldiers, like long runs. Instead of training long distances, the FM teaches high intensity, shorter runs. There is also a very specific warmup meant to activate the muscles so they are ready when Soldiers decide to do quick movements or strength conditioning exercises.
"Educating people about the proper way to exercise, basically getting them in line with what the civilian world knows about exercise science and bringing the discoveries of the 21th century to the Army I feel like that's an important goal," said Capoccia.
If the workout isn't enough to convert Soldiers, the results back it up. PRT was put up against the previous Army FM 21-20, in three separate studies with Soldiers in Basic Combat Training.
What they found was between the two different fitness programs the Soldiers had roughly the exact same APFT scores, but PRT had 48 percent less overuse injuries and 24 percent less traumatic injuries. And with less Soldiers dropping out from injuries, more were retained using PRT.
"A 50-percent reduction in injuries! If the Army could just change that by changing its PT program and escape all these massive injuries why wouldn't they do it? It's been proven and validated by science to be at least the match for FM 21-20 and at the same time it doesn't violate basic scientific principles of exercise science," said Capoccia.