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A new way to measure fitness

Challenging, gender-neutral tests focus on the fight

Nov. 6, 2010 - 10:14AM   |   Last Updated: Nov. 6, 2010 - 10:14AM  |  
Soldiers close in on the finish line of a two-mile run during an Army Physical Fitness Test in Iraq.
Soldiers close in on the finish line of a two-mile run during an Army Physical Fitness Test in Iraq. (Army)
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Officials are putting the final touches on a new physical fitness test that will be proposed to Army leadership at year's end — and it will be unlike anything you've seen.

Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling, deputy commanding general for initial military training, won't reveal many details of the new PT test he's been working on for months. He said that if he does, everyone will try put in their two cents, and the test will become bogged down in personal opinion and preference. The general, a triathlete who holds a master's degree in exercise physiology, is instead relying on a team of fitness and nutrition experts to finalize the program.

But Hertling did give Army Times a sneak peek at the five goals that anchor the new PT tests. That's right — tests — plural, as in, there will be more than one, and that's the first of the five goals.

Second, you won't be able to train to the tests. Gone are the days when you could pump up your push-ups, sit-ups and trim your run time for a better score. There will be myriad events from which the tests can draw to measure aerobic, anaerobic and muscular agility.

Third, expect tests that address functional fitness, or how well prepared you are to do what the Army needs you to do. For example, you may be able to do 1,000 push-ups, but can you traverse a mountain? You may be able to run like a gazelle, but can you carry an injured soldier out of harm's way? Such activity requires an overall fitness that is neither obtained nor accurately measured by the current system. Therefore, these tests will focus on the results, not the process, Hertling said.

Fourth, the tests will be "gender-neutral." No separate tests for men and women. How that will work, and what it will mean for performance standards in the tests, have not been announced yet.

Fifth, the tests are designed to reduce injuries. Roughly one-fourth of soldiers' injuries result from physical training, according to Army statistics. But don't think this means the Army is going soft. On the contrary, this regimen is going to push soldiers to the limit.

Physical Readiness Training

Don't let fear of the new PT tests cause your blood pressure to skyrocket. Hertling has given you the answer before he ever showed you the test. And the answer is found in the new Physical Readiness Training program.

Officials from the Army Physical Fitness School at Fort Jackson, S.C., said units that have adopted PRT have seen a 30-point average increase in unit PT test scores.

The program incorporates sprinting, climbing drills and other high-intensity exercises that mimic the challenges soldiers face in combat.

PRT is a commander's program that is to be implemented across the Army. But the revolutionary approach still lacks wide appeal.

Staff Sgt. Timothy Sarvis, the drill sergeant of the year, presented PRT to a packed house during the 2010 Association of the U.S. Army Conference and Expo, held Oct. 25-27 in Washington D.C. He brought out four drill sergeants to demonstrate the 10 scientifically chosen warm-up exercises followed by a series of drills.

Sarvis didn't bring out four fat bodies — these men were cut. But even they were winded at the end of the abbreviated workout.

"PRT works. Period," Sarvis said to a strong applause.

The Q&A session that followed was quickly dominated by half a dozen sergeants major — including Sergeant Major of the Army Kenneth Preston — who stepped up to tout the program's worth and urge unit leaders to get on board.

Command Sgt. Maj. John Troxell, of Fort Knox, Ky., and the Human Resource Center of Excellence, said he stopped the routine runs and did the PRT program for six months.

"It took 76 seconds off my run time alone," he said. "If you train to the PRT, this test or any new PT test will take care of itself."

The PRT curriculum is tied to the Army's emphatic return to "full-spectrum" training and is directly tied to the Army Force Generation model, according to TC 3-22.20: Army Physical Readiness Training, which was released in March.

The program is used in basic training and noncommissioned officer, staff noncommissioned officer and officer career courses, Hertling said. The Physical Fitness School also has mobile training teams to teach units how to implement PRT.

PRT is the first of three steps designed to strengthen the overall health and well being of soldiers.

The second element is the Soldier Athlete initiative. The goal is to train the soldier to eat and drink healthier items that not only prepare him for strenuous physical activity, but also fuel him throughout the endeavor and aid in his recovery afterward.

"This is not simply about going to the salad bar to lose weight," Hertling told Army Times when he unveiled the plan in September. "You're an athlete, and your performance depends on how you fuel. This is about how you work your body's energy systems to contribute as a soldier. You're an athlete, and you need to treat your body as such."

The third element would be the forthcoming recommendations for new PT tests. If adopted, this would mark the first change to the test since it was introduced in 1980.

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