Intern Blogs Part 3

Today's blog comes from SAPT intern Nick Allevato. Nick is in ROTC at Mason and brings us a great post about the state of the physical training requirements of the Army.

The Immobile Army:

Why the Army Fails at Fitness. Why it needs to change.

As I read through past blogs and noticed Mike’s Navy post, I feel compelled to rep the Army (Go Army, Beat Navy).  However, I am going to focus on a major issue I perceive in our Army; it’s the Army’s physical fitness testing and it’s failing our troops.  In fact, when Army fitness specialist Dr. Edward Thomas tested Soldiers on the World War Two era Army Physical Fitness Test (APFT) in 2000, the results showed that even the current APFT “studs” could not keep up with Greatest Generation fitness.  So, why has such a decline occurred in Army fitness?  Why are our Soldiers looking like this guy?

Well, it’s all about the “standard” and they’re actually meeting it.

How could that guy be meeting the Army’s standard?! An institution who is supposed to be ready for combat 24/7!  Well, the current APFT involves timed push-up, sit-up, and a two-mile run tests.  Soldiers are to do as many repetitions as possible and run the two-miles as quickly as they can.  It replaced the old APFT in 1992 and has not been modified since.  The events are scored on a point scale, with “60” in each event as "passing" and “100” being "maxing".  So, a minimum of 180 points are needed to pass the test and a solider can achieve up to 300 points.  The point system is scaled to age and gender and is based off repetitions and the run time.  To provide you some perspective of the required “standard,” take a look at the required passing scores for 17-21 year-old males and females:




2-Mile Run









Just to briefly interpret the table, which is based on 17-21 year olds (prime fitness age); males only need to do 1 push-up every 3 seconds for 2 minutes; females only need to complete 19 push-ups in TWO MINUTES; females can average nearly a 9:30 minute per mile pace for the 2-mile and males only need to average around a 8:00 minute per mile.  While it may seem somewhat sad, these are the standards for the world’s greatest fighting force!  Regardless of job description, for example an infantryman or a doctor, all Soldiers train for the same test; this test is the Army's interpretation of proper fitness.

But is this an effective and relevant standard?  Is it accurate to evaluate a doctor stationed in a hospital on the same test as a paratrooper?  Perhaps not, seeing as that would be like taking Spongebob and Squidward both taking a clarinet test when Spongebob’s job is to be a fry cook.  Not to mention that the event techniques aren’t even taught properly!  Just take a look at the push-up image to the left, which is the exact standard from the Army PRT Manual; the elbows flair out, the lumbar spine is in hyperextension, and the hands are not underneath the shoulders. This poor education of proper technique only makes an irrelevant fitness standard even worse.  See for yourself here as Army Drill Sergeants grade a Best Warrior Competition APFT:

Soldiers are simple individuals.  Not as to be interpreted as "stupid," but simple in how they perform, train, and execute.  Give a Soldier is a task with a standard to meet and they will do everything they can to meet and exceed that standard (standard=success).  This is especially true in today’s Army where downsizing occurs regularly.  Adherence to the standard, and only the standard, is how Soldiers ensure they still have a job.  Since the current APFT involves timed push-up, sit-up, and the two-mile run test, Soldiers are going to work solely on improving those scores.

Interestingly, the current Army Physical Readiness Training (PRT) program, which is the physical training doctrine, calls for Soldiers to perform certain crawling movements, hip stability work, and proper techniques.  But as mentioned earlier, Spongebob going to practice his fry cook skill if he is clarinet performance?  Of course not, because he would fail, then lose his job and his pineapple house.  In the same way, Soldiers are going to do push-ups, sit-ups, and running every training session because that’s their test; to them, doing anything else doesn’t make sense.

The result of this terrible standard of fitness is an immobile, unfit Army that doesn’t even realize how bad it is.  In fact, even the Army Master Fitness Trainers seem to lack understanding of how the body should move.

They are supposed to be the “coaches” of their units, yet they do not even understand a basic hinge pattern.

A change in the Army’s fitness standard is long overdue and the Soldiers are suffering as a result.  We are developing weaker, injury-prone Soldiers.  Who knows how many cases of low-back pain are due to the monotonous torque of the spine in the sit-up test? Or how many ACL tears could be with proper agility training? Or how much money the Army could save in rehabilitation costs by simply developing proper movement patterns in Soldiers?

The Army needs to change to a job-relevant, comprehensive APFT that reflects Army PRT and evaluates the basic principles of fitness (muscular strength, endurance, flexibility, etc.).  Recommendations could include an obstacle course, a timed ruck march or step-up test, an agility T-test, a sled push, pull-ups, and shuttle sprints.  These performance tests would be much more reflective of a properly moving, combat-ready Soldier.  At this point, the semantics of scientifically choosing one exercise over another is not as crucial as a simple step in the right direction.  In the words of General George S. Patton, “A good solution applied with vigor now is better than a perfect solution applied ten minutes later.”  An overhaul of the Army’s PT is needed, and it is needed now.

Useful References:

-“Army Physical Fitness Test is not effective for measuring a soldier’s ability to function effectively in today’s battle space”

-“World War Two Army Physical Fitness Test”

-“The Old Army, It Turns Out, Was the Fitter One”