By Brian Hill, Fort Leonard WoodDecember 3, 2019
FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. -- Company D, 31st Engineer Battalion, at Fort Leonard Wood is one of a small handful of training units piloting a new concept in physical readiness mirrored on characteristics of the new Army Combat Fitness Test.
The Strength Training Program was developed by the Maneuver Center of Excellence Directorate of Training and Doctrine's Training and Education Development Division at Fort Benning, Georgia, who looked at an assessment of Soldier physical fitness in relation to the Army Physical Fitness Test.
"The APFT does not adequately assess the domains of muscular strength, explosive power, speed, agility, flexibility and balance," said Capt. Jeffry O'Loughlin, Company D commander. "This new physical training program was developed to better prepare a Soldier's readiness for the demands of the modern battlefield by focusing on all aspects of combat fitness -- similar to the aim of the ACFT."
According to Maj. Donny Bigham, head strength coach for the Tactical Athlete Performance Center at Fort Benning and developer of the program, the pilot's purpose is two-fold.
"First, it will increase lethality and survivability through physical dominance," he said. "Second, it will increase readiness by reducing musculoskeletal injuries in order to improve a unit's mission capability in the operational force."
According to O'Loughlin, the program has a balanced design to attain the new physical readiness training goals to develop strength, endurance and mobility. The current fitness model has 47 aerobic sessions, 18 anaerobic sessions, zero strength sessions and zero mobility sessions.
"The Strength Training Program Delta Company implemented consists of 16 aerobic sessions, 16 anaerobic sessions, 19 strength sessions and 19 mobility sessions," he said. "It deliberately integrates more strength and mobility workouts into the schedule to increase physical readiness in all aspects. The current model only builds muscular endurance -- we instead instruct proper form while lifting heavier weight. Correspondingly, trainees are better prepared to complete warrior tasks and battle drills, such as casualty extraction."
The program allows for strength and endurance development into the performance of basic military skills such as marching, speed running, jumping, vaulting, climbing, crawling and combatives.
"The ACFT will utilize six assessments at a minimum to capture all of the essential attributes of a Soldier to ensure nothing is overlooked in training the Soldier as a tactical athlete," Bigham said. "The combination of fitness components, along with the performance fitness skills provide a better picture of the true functional competence required to physically dominate any mission related tasks. This program ensures exercise order, variation and the specificity necessary to be successful on today's battlefield."
As part of the new program, an assessment divides trainees into three ability groups -- advanced, trained and untrained -- and the results seen so far in Company D over 18 months show an overall increase in APFT scores and decrease in injuries. From 2018 through the most recent training cycle to be completed, Company D went from 26 injuries to 11, eight, seven, and finally just four. At the same time, O'Loughlin saw average physical training scores jump from 212 to 227 (237 to 248 in advanced individual training).
O'Loughlin said he feels much of that success can be equated to this new way of thinking in Army physical training.
"This program is not just about lifting kettlebells," he said. "We also consider active recovery with mobility sessions with rollers and balls to break up adhesions and scar tissue to speed up the healing process and help prevent over-training."
According to Bigham, seven training units have completed the program so far, and currently all trainees assigned to the 198th Infantry Brigade at Fort Benning are piloting the program as of Oct. 1 of this year. Across the board, he's seeing injury numbers halve, while APFT failure rates are about a third of what they were previously.
"Physical training should be the number one aspect when it comes to improving lethality on the battlefield," he said. "It must be mandatory to ensure Soldiers have the tools in their kit bag to win the last 100 yards. This strength-based program will be a force multiplier that will increase lethality, combat effectiveness, moral and ethical decision making, overall readiness and survivability on any battlefield that enemies pose a threat to our nation."