Avoiding Common PT Test Training Errors
February 25, 2011
As the spring season nears, Soldiers across the Army are gearing up for physical fitness tests. There are probably many Soldiers who are worried they may not pass.
There is good reason to worry. When a Soldier fails a PT test, it can jeopardize promotion, delay acceptance or completion of advanced military schooling, and virtually condemn an otherwise stellar Soldier to receive an average evaluation report.
Because there is so much at stake, it would be wise to understand some common training errors that may make the difference between a pass and fail score. This article will focus on safely and effectively passing the two-mile run.
Training Error #1: Overtraining
Overtraining (also called overuse) occurs when the volume and intensity of an individual's exercise routine exceed his/her body's ability to recover. Overtraining leads to reduced performance and may ultimately lead to injury. Overtraining is so prevalent in the military that it's responsible for 40-50 percent of outpatient clinic visits, and most of these are due to excessive running. Running programs become excessive because of the belief that increased running results in more fitness. This belief leads to programs that have Soldiers running five days a week for extended distances. However, research shows that Soldiers who run three days a week for no more than 30 minutes have two-mile run times that are just as good as those who run five days a week. Additionally, Soldiers who run three times a week have substantially less injury risk than those who run five days a week. Medical professionals therefore recommend that Soldiers train for a two-mile event by running no more than three days a week.
Training Error #2: Specificity
After overtraining, lack of training specificity is the next most common mistake. Specificity is an exercise principle that describes how the body will adapt precisely to the demands placed upon it. Simply stated, if you want to improve the two-mile run time, focus on training distances around two miles. Training at greater distances (three to five miles is typical) can be a problem because greater distances require different pacing with less speed. The last thing a person who fails a PT test needs is to run at a three-mile pace to pass a two-mile test, but this is exactly what would happen if three miles were the training distance.
Training Error #3: Pacing
Pacing is the even spreading out of a runner's endurance so as not to burn out prior to finishing the event in the time necessary to pass. This principle is important because the two-mile run is an aerobic event that requires sustained speed over a relatively long duration. The biggest mistake in pacing for the two-mile run is beginning with a pace that is not sustainable aerobically (starting way too fast). Anaerobic burn-out sets in quickly, and the runner then must slow considerably to attain a sustainable pace or risk not finishing the test at all. It is far better to start at a slow to moderate pace while increasing speed throughout the event. There should be enough energy left for a strong finish.
Training Error #4: Inefficient Running Style
Distance running is all about putting one foot in front of the other with the least amount of energy necessary. Efficient runners look like they are gliding down the road without any effort. A runner's head should be straight forward, chest and shoulders should be relaxed, elbows bent about 90 degrees allowing arms to swing naturally, not forcefully. Stride length should be short, hips should lift the knees just enough to progress the feet forward. An inefficient running style is easy to spot. Arms swing dramatically, knees come up way too high, stride length is way too long, and there is a pronounced head bounce as if the runner is bounding down the road. All these excess movements increase the demand for oxygen and make passing the two-mile run a chore. A small change in one's running efficiency may improve overall run time.