Army Takes New Approach to Fitness


Sports science and the general fitness levels of Army soldiers have both changed dramatically over the last few decades. As a result, the branch last year began implementing a comprehensive physical fitness scheme designed to ensure today’s soldiers have the physical skills and abilities they need in the field.

In March, the Army started piloting two new physical fitness tests at eight bases across the country. If the trial period goes according to schedule, the new Army Combat Readiness Test (ACRT) and the Army Physical Readiness Test (APRT) will replace the Army’s current 30-year-old physical fitness test (PT) on all bases by October, according to the Army News Service.

The last year has seen the greatest changes in the Army’s fitness training and testing in several decades, but they did not result due to a sudden change in approach. According to the Army News Service, the officers who led the creation and implementation of the new programs, Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling, Training and Doctrine Command’s deputy commanding general for Initial Military Training, and Frank Palkoska, director of the Army’s Physical Fitness School, had been speaking about the need for better physical fitness tests since they first met at West Point’s department of physical education in the early 1980s.

Hertling and Paloska were instrumental in designing the tests and the new Army Physical Readiness Training program introduced in August 2010. The tests are expected to evaluate the success of the program’s functional fitness training and gauge soldiers’ preparedness for combat or general physical duty better than the current PT. For example, in place of the PT’s timed sit-ups and push-ups and a two-mile run, the ACRT includes modules that reflect actions that soldiers might perform on the battlefield, including a sprint in which the soldier carries a heavy ammo canister and a “casualty drag” that simulates the action of carrying a wounded soldier to safety. The APRT’s tasks include a 60-yard shuttle run and standing long jump—tasks that, on the surface, appear similar to those in the PT but that fitness experts say are better tests of strength, endurance or mobility.

The Army’s revised plans for physical fitness started with the introduction of a new basic training program in March 2010. It was the first major overhaul in 30 years to the branch’s fitness training for new recruits, who, like the rest of the U.S. population, lead increasingly sedentary lives. The new 10-week program should address issues raised in a 2009 report by Mission: Readiness, a nonprofit organization of senior retired military leaders, which revealed that 15,000 potential recruits fail the military’s physical fitness entrance exam every year because they are too fat. Army spokespersons say the updated program aims to prevent injuries during basic training by gradually increasing soldiers’ fitness levels to prepare them for more rigorous training later.

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