Military putting a modern spin on PT workouts
Stars and Stripes August 20, 2006
Military leaders are employing atypical workouts to get troops in shape and ready for the physical rigors of combat, while also producing fitness gains and higher physical training test scores.
In an effort to promote fitness, prepare troops for combat situations and avoid training strictly to pass PT tests, Army and Air Force unit leaders in the Kaiserslautern, Germany, military community have troops engaging in some “outside the box” exercises.
Among them: running up Landstuhl’s “cardiac hill”; playing soccer in flak vests; and spinning around a baseball bat and then attempting to run in a straight line.
The unorthodox exercises break the mold of mechanically performing the same workout day after day, leaders said.
They also produce results, as was the case for Army Master Sgt. James R. Mosher, the first sergeant of Landstuhl Regional Medical Center’s Company B from February 2005 to May 2006.
When Mosher began as first sergeant, the 260-soldier unit had an Army Physical Fitness Test score average of around 230. Under his watch, the unit’s average score reached 255. The top mark on the Army’s physical fitness test is 300 and the minimum passing score is 180.
In a six-month period, the company’s number of PT test failures and soldiers with weight-control failures dropped by 70 percent.
“I tried to make PT where it was something fun to be at,” Mosher said. “You need to have a purpose why you were coming out there and getting up at o’dark-30 as it was.
“People don’t understand that playing soccer for an hour is a PT workout. Some of the old mind-set in the military was the daily dozen — as we called it — the push-ups, sit-ups, run and you’re done for the day.”
Hill toppersThe Air Force is also getting creative in its approach to exercising as it places a greater emphasis on fitness. For example, in early July, airmen with the 435th Medical Squadron at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center had an early-morning race up “cardiac hill,” which leads to the Landstuhl post.
The brutal, half-mile run uphill had the airmen — and a few soldiers who participated — giving it their all to make it to the top. The top male and female finishers in senior noncommissioned officer, noncommissioned officer, airmen and officer categories were awarded a one-day pass.
“We’ve been running around Landstuhl up the little hill,” said Chief Master Sgt. Rick Robinson, the 435th Medical Squadron superintendent. “I thought they were ready for a bigger challenge.
“This is to build teamwork, esprit de corps, camaraderie and unit cohesiveness. ... And to kill me, I think.”
The top finisher was Airman 1st Class Christopher Hampton, who shortly after cresting the hill in four minutes and six seconds uttered: “That hill’s no joke.”
Tech. Sgt. James Johnson is the 435th’s readiness noncommissioned officer and unit fitness program monitor. He is one of 35 physical training leaders in the 300-person unit.
“I’m trying to get people pumped-up about fitness and let them know that the culture is changing,” Johnson said. “We’re no longer at a time when fitness is on the back burner. Fitness is at the forefront now. Its role is increasing, especially as we talk about our evaluations.”
As a physical training leader, Johnson works out with airmen who are having weight issues or problems making the grade on the annual Air Force Physical Fitness Assessment. A score of 100 is tops in the Air Force test, and airmen must score at least 70 points to pass.
The problem airmen are required to work out five times during 15 physical training sessions available each week. Johnson, who can crank out 60 push-ups in a minute and 75 crunches in a minute, said the experience of physical training leader can be extremely rewarding.
“People used to run from me like roaches when the lights come on,” Johnson said. “But once they get off the program they come back and say, ‘You’re really someone who helped me out. You really cared, and I thank you for that.’ It’s kind of like that teacher back in high school that was always on you.”
‘This ain’t doing anything’When Mosher got into a position where he could craft a PT program for a unit, he knew he wasn’t going to simply train his troops to pass the PT test.
As the company first sergeant, Mosher had soldiers doing short runs holding ammo cans filled with dirt, carrying medical stretchers loaded with sandbags and playing “combat soccer” with three balls going at a time while wearing flak vests.
He also had the soldiers performing the dizzy bat race, in which they spun around a baseball bat several times with their head down and then attempted to run in a straight line. The exercise simulated the disorientation soldiers feel following a nearby explosion and built their ability to safely move away, Mosher said.
The simple act of change was the hardest part for the soldiers to adjust to, Mosher said.
“Initially, they were like, ‘This is not PT. This ain’t doing anything,’” he said.
“After a couple times, a couple of the sessions, the soldiers said, ‘Man, I’m sore. I’m hurting.’”
By improving the soldiers’ fitness levels without their realizing it, Mosher knew when the time to take the test came around they would be ready.
“My PT program was to prepare soldiers for real-life events,” he said. “Because of that, that’s what I did when I got here. The benefit is if you do it and put your heart and soul into what you’re doing, you’re going to pass the test.”
Without including the height, weight and body composition standards for age groups and gender established by each service, here are the basic physical fitness tests for the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines.
ArmyName: Army Physical Fitness Test
Events: Two-mile run, two minutes of push-ups, two minutes of sit-ups
Frequency: Twice a year
Perfect score: 300
NavyName: Physical Readiness Test
Events: 1.5-mile run/walk or 500-yard or 450-meter swim, two minutes of push-ups, two minutes of curl-ups (sit-ups), sit and reach
Frequency: Twice a year
Passing score: Must achieve at least “probationary” performance standard for curl-ups, sit-ups and one cardiovascular event. Inability to touch toes and hold for one second does not constitute test failure.
Air ForceName: Air Force Physical Assessment
Events: 1.5-mile run, one minute of push-ups, one minute of crunches, abdominal circumference
Frequency: Once a year
Perfect score: 100
Marine CorpsName: Marine Corps Physical Fitness Test
Events: Three-mile run, pull-ups for males/timed flexed-arm hang for females, two minute crunches
Administered: Twice a year
Perfect score: 300