Wednesday, April 6, 2011

New Army Physical Fitness Test (3/3)

ArmyTimes Link:

Roughly 10,000 soldiers at eight locations will take the new physical and combat readiness tests over the next four months to help officials establish scoring scales.

As an eager Army awaits the details, soldiers have been sharing their views on the new fitness test. They have voiced full support, utter frustration — and everything in between.

The Army’s top officer said that the new dual-test approach is “a good innovation” and that it is time for change.

“It is focused on measuring the things ... that they need in combat,” Gen. George Casey, Army chief of staff, said in an interview with Army Times. “It's moving a little bit away from endurance being everything, aerobic endurance, and to measuring different strengths.”

Capt. LaRue Robinson, an administrative law attorney at Fort Knox, Ky., also gave thumbs up, saying the new PT test will go “miles” in preventing future injuries.

“The old one did a terrible job of measuring total physical fitness, and sit-ups are bad for your back and spine,” she said in an email to Army Times. “I know many soldiers will complain … but most will see the benefits sooner or later.”

Sgt. Tony Yang isn’t so sure. A member of the 12th Psychological Operations Battalion in Mountain View, Calif., Yang liked the idea of a new test but found the changes “puzzling.”

“The test will take twice as long to conduct and require more resources than a good stopwatch and a track,” he said in an email to Army Times. “Reservists who have little time outside of battle assembly to train to excel in the new PT test will suffer disproportionately compared to the active duty army, [which has] free, convenient gym facilities, mandated PT sessions and daily scrutiny.”

Monitoring form also may prove challenging. Although many instructors said the standing long jump consumes “a ton of time,” others saw the rower as the most challenging to administer.

“There are really a lot of points to watch,” said Staff Sgt. Jeffrey Heilman, a drill sergeant with Bravo Company, 3rd Battalion, 34th Infantry Regiment. “Even experienced graders can get burnout just paying attention,” he told Army Times.

James Culak, an ROTC cadet at the University of Tampa, ditched the traditional running, push-ups and sit-ups and implemented the PRT program this semester. The battalion’s APFT average has increased, and overuse injuries have decreased.

“It is a shame that we have been in combat for almost 10 years and we are just now beginning to implement a new PT test that will be more combat specific,” Culak said in an email to Army Times. “How many soldiers could we have saved from [medical retirement] had we just implemented a better system of preparing their bodies physically for the demands of combat, instead of worrying how many times they can flex their spines in two minutes?”

But self-described “old timer” Sgt. First Class Laurie Schultz is concerned about how older soldiers will handle the new events.

“I believe that this PT test forced on anyone over 40 is asking for major injuries,” she said. “Asking anyone over 50 to perform an APFT is wrong.”

This concern was echoed by Col. Kevin Madden, defense and Army attaché in Seoul, South Korea. He said in an email to Army Times that it was right to shorten the run and push-ups to a more “anaerobically demanding” distance and time, but feels the standing long-jump should be axed.

“The inclusion of an event that cannot be substantially improved unless incredible effort is invested ... is not an effective measure of readiness or fitness — just genetic potential,” said Madden, who has more than three decades of experience coaching track and field at all levels and disciplines. “Consideration should also be given to the degradation of the fibers, ligaments and tendons caused by aging. After age 30, the ability to jump becomes significantly impaired. Continuous jumping will accelerate the development of arthritis and bursitis in all but the most hearty of soldiers.”

Rather than focus on the new events, many soldiers such as Staff Sgt. Michael Howard are simply happy to see the end of sit-ups.

“They are bad for your cervical spine,” the North Carolina National Guard paramedic said. “I can't do them as well as the other events. I can still hump a 40-pound ruck up a mountain and run like a deer. So what does making sit-ups measure? Nothing.”

A number of others were unhappy that pull-ups weren’t included in the new test. Hertling agreed that the pull-up is the best measure for upper body strength. But he and the team of 16 fitness and nutrition experts that built the test didn’t include pull-ups because they wanted men and women to do the same exercises.

“Some folks will say it’s too hard and some folks will say it’s too easy,” Hertling said. “But once they apply this, they’ll find this approach to training and testing is the right way to achieve and maintain the type of fitness today’s soldier needs.”

Part 1 Here
Part 2 Here

Monday, April 4, 2011

New Army Physical Fitness Test (2/3)

ArmyTimes Link:

The PRT program replaced the 10-year-old physical fitness field manual and incorporates sprinting, climbing drills and other high-intensity exercises that mimic the challenges soldiers face in combat. Everything in the test is covered in the training.

Frank Palkoska, director of the Army Physical Fitness School, said operational units using PRT are seeing a 20- to 30-point improvement in the current test. But this Army-wide program still lacks wide participation. Many units are still using the old program, or electing to go with popular fitness programs sweeping the nation.

But Sgt. First Class Cornelius Trammell said, “If you want to be successful in combat and in your career, you need to get on with the PRT and train your soldiers properly.”

“All of the stuff in the PRT is implemented out here,” he said. “If you do PRT right, you’re going to fly through this test.”

Shoenfelt, a 12-year infantryman who regularly scores a 300 on the PT test, had just finished the CRT, which may replace one of the two PT tests soldiers do each year. He called that test a “smoker” that challenged a lot of muscle groups that hadn’t been challenged before.

He demonstrated the CRT with fellow instructor Trammell. The duo wore the Army Combat Uniform with helmet and rifle for the CRT, which kicks off with a 400-meter run followed by an obstacle course. The soldiers pushed through low hurdles, high crawls and over-under obstacles that tested individual movement techniques. Next was a 40-yard casualty drag of a 180-pound litter, followed by a 40-yard run with 35-pound ammo cans atop a balance beam.

With muscles burning, the pair conducted point, aim and move drills followed by a 100-yard ammo can shuttle sprint. The CRT wrapped up with a 100-yard agility sprint.

Trammell came in at 5 minutes flat. The wheeled vehicle mechanic, who scored a 278 on the last PT test, said his thighs were still feeling the effects of the casualty drag. Shoenfelt was 13 seconds behind him. As they caught their breath, a lean and weathered general offered his blunt philosophy behind the CRT.

“When it comes time for the current test, people who are in shape don’t prepare for it while others cram in the weeks ahead,” said Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling, who as deputy commanding general for initial military training was chief architect of the new test. “With this test, even if you are in great shape, it will get the best of you if you are not prepared.”

There was no argument from a winded Hernandez, who described the new test as “more physically demanding.” Foster said it is a “better measuring tool.”

“You can be fat and out of shape and pass the old APFT. That’s impossible with this one,” she said.

“There is a key difference between readiness and fitness,” Hertling said. “This test is about readiness. It’s about soldiers being ready to be a tactical athlete.”

Part 1 Here
Part 3 will be posted later this week.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

New Army Physical Fitness Test (1/3)

ArmyTimes Link:

And with good reason. Staff Sgt. Timothy Shoenfelt, drawing deep breaths and dripping with sweat, had just completed his first run of the new combat readiness test. He was one of four instructors from the Army Physical Fitness School to test the new fitness tests March 1.

Two weeks later, more than a dozen drill sergeants took the Army Physical Readiness Test before administering it to 137 basic-training soldiers.

Despite the vast differences in ages, body sizes, years of service and gender, all participants gave similar advice to an Army that awaits the change: Get ready. And you can do that by following two simple rules, they said.

• First: Give attention to form. The five-event physical fitness test marks the first change to the test in more than 30 years. Knowing the rules and right form for each event will enhance your scores. The wrong form will hinder your success.

For example, don’t take your good push-up scores for granted. The days of free-styling push-ups with wide arms or closed hands are over. Now, the index finger has to be aligned with outside of the shoulder. And it is harder than it sounds.

Sgt. First Class Jason Waller found out the hard way. The 18-year veteran saw his number of push-ups cut by half because of the restricted position and inability to rest.

“New soldiers don’t have as much of an issue with the form, because that is how they are taught to do push-ups,” he said. “But for soldiers who have been in awhile, there will be some breaking of old habits.”

This was clear for Staff Sgt. Danica Foster, a drill sergeant at the physical fitness school who demonstrated the events March 1. The observer quickly put her efforts to an end when Foster paused halfway through the push-ups to get a better position, much to her dismay.

Pfc. Joseph Kalsic said 20 percent of his push-ups didn’t count because his hands were too far apart.

“It’s all in the form,” he said.

In the rower event, about 10 percent of reps were not counted because they were not done properly. Participants had trouble keeping their feet together.

“I always maxed out on sit-ups, but only scored in the low 30s on the rower,” said Staff Sgt. Abner Baker, a drill sergeant. “I don’t know how many I did that didn’t count. You definitely need to learn to do them right.”

One thing that leads to a breakdown of form is the abdominal burn that results, said Staff Sgt. Luis Hernandez, a drill sergeant at the physical fitness school.

“When you’re doing a sit-up, you’re using abs and part of your legs,” he said. “With the rower, it is all abs — and you can feel it.”

And even something as simple as placing a wooden block behind the starting line, a requirement of the 60-yard shuttle run, can prove catastrophic.

“I saw soldiers running hard, but they would drop the block too soon,” said Pvt. Jeremy Tilley. “The drill sergeants kept telling them, but people kept doing it and it cost them a lot of time.”

Parts 2 and 3 will be posted this week.