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Army leaders are in the midst of a multi-year, comprehensive physical readiness study to discover, define and implement the best physical fitness solutions for soldiers. While still in its early stages, the process will potentially impact the facilities and experts responsible for ensuring soldier physical readiness.

Mike Haith, HQE (highly qualified expert) for human dimension integration at the Army Initial Military Training Center of Excellence, Fort Eustis, Va., says the Baseline Soldier Physical Readiness Study emerged in 2012 after the Army pilot-tested the five-event Army Physical Readiness Test (APRT) and determined it was an inadequate fitness tool for commanders. (The test eliminated sit-ups but included a 60-yard shuttle run, one-minute rowing test, standing long jump, one-minute pushup test and 1.5-mile run.)

Photo credit: U.S. Army

"The chief of staff of the Army decided we're not going to deploy this test," Haith says. "We're going to conduct a more comprehensive review to develop an assessment tool that's gender-neutral, and it may in some ways be age-neutral, because the task is the task."The study addresses what it calls the two levels of baseline soldier physical readiness: general physical fitness and functional fitness.

According to information provided by the Center of Excellence, "general fitness" is the condition where "soldiers possess the capacity (strength, endurance and mobility) to execute WTBD [Warrior Tasks and Battle Drills]," and "functional fitness" is where they "possess the ability to perform WTBD" by integrating strength, endurance and mobility.

"What we've learned specifically is the previous training programs and the test was not adequate to prepare or assess soldiers' physical ability to perform in theater," Haith says.

"What we have to do is get away from the belief that we can do all of this without any equipment," Haith says. "We believe the Army needs to invest in the facilities necessary to train safely and effectively."

This means facilities that prepare soldiers to perform military tasks.

"If we don't have the facilities to adequately prepare them, then soldiers are going to do what they've always done: They're just going to look at the exercise event and just do the event every day in the hopes that that will improve performance," Haith says.

The Baseline Soldier Physical Readiness Study is in the first phase of a five-phase process set to conclude in April 2015 with a presentation and recommendations to Army leadership. The initial phase involves performing a comprehensive review of literature, case studies and fitness performance tasks from a variety of sectors, including military forces in other countries, police and even fire departments.

Outside influences and current actions will still impact the process.

The return of the Army's Master Fitness Training (MFT) course is one of those influences. Discontinued in 2001, the course certifies Master Fitness Trainers who then become advisers to unit commanders and ensure troop fitness. After a pilot program in late 2012 re-established the effort, a course earlier this year trained six mobile training teams. Beginning in April, those teams will travel to Army installations worldwide and prepare more new trainers. The Army's goal is 4,500 certified trainers at bases and facilities around the globe by the end of 2014.

Haith calls the MFT process the "opposite side of the same coin."

"What we're learning and have learned about physical development and how you train properly is integrated into the Master Fitness Training course," he says. "We need leaders out there advising commanders on how to [develop a program.]"

Other influences impact the process as well. In January, for example, the Defense Department rescinded the policy that had excluded women in direct combat positions since 1994. Haith says that has impacted what the Army is doing, but officials were already on their current path even before the lift on the women-in-combat ban was announced, as the study's entire approach is gender-neutral and focused on requirements to meet tasks. But the Army is addressing comparative performance between men and women.

"Strip out this emotional stuff and just get at what we know about women's capabilities and men's capabilities," Haith says. "How do they compare?"

The study also will investigate how current training programs influence injuries.

"In the next month or two, we're going to complete our systematic review," Haith says. "And we hope to present to senior Army leaders what we found in the areas of human performance."

The Army can save tons of money, time and resources. There is already an effective program that exists, it's called Crossfit. Instead of MFT''s start getting soldiers Level 1 certified, Olympic lifting certifications, etc. Consult with Glassman, he can help.
Cross-Fit is a great program, but still falls firmly within the current paradigm: 'functional', compound movements. HOWEVER, has anyone ever looked at a system that objectively measures a soldier's capacity to perform 'functional' movements? The answer is yes: in the UK, there is a company called Intelligent Training Systems. I've recently brought it to the US and we're now co-sponsored by ACSM. This new and emerging model is 'the missing link' and the Army should explore!!!
I agree Crossfit is great and I do Crossfit and unless you do Crossfit in full battle rattle and your basic load it's still not going to be effective enough for real time action.
Don't give Glassman anymore money. Consult with Louis Simmons from Westside Barbell who works with many college and professional teams as well as John Welbourn who founded CrossFit Football.
My Master's thesis is about active Army Majors and physical fitness. I would've liked to have made it for all ranks, but I was told to be specific. Please contact me after 1 MAY and my paper should have its findings.
Thank you.

Juliette Ritzman
Maj (Ret), Returned to service as a CW2 (4/2012)
Utterly ridiculous comment. Show me what unit, when, and where anyone has consistently done PT in full kit. PRT calls for it occasionally, but that's it. You can do the same in CrossFit.

I've been doing CrossFit for a year, and I'm far stronger and generally more fit than I ever was doing Army PT for the 8 years prior to that.
I agree about CrossFit. I've been doing it about 4 years now and I'm in great shape. The biggest issue I see with the current PT program is everything is oriented towards passing the APFT. I think the focus needs to be shifted towards the Soldier's overall fitness level and away from the APFT. As long as that is the focus, you will only get Soldiers that are great at doing pushups, situps, and running for 2 miles but how much of these translate to the what a Soldier need physically and functionally to be proficient at their Warrior Tasks and Battle Drills.
Crossfit is a sport and as such is not functionally based. It would be like recommending that someone take up gymnastics or football. The adaptations that occur with sport improve performance under the conditions necessary for that activity. In many cases this adaptive process enhances some aspects at the expense of others. This eventually leads to injury and dysfunction. The Marine Corps HITT (High intensity tactical training) program looks to be much more comprehensive and they are way out in front of this as compared to all other branches of service.
I was a MFT and PTNCO back in the mid- to late-1990's. We were allowed the option of bringing in outside elements to improve the variety of fitness options available to us to complete our mission of keeping troops fit. There are several challenges that individuals outside of the services are or do not consider when commenting about any format's effectiveness for fitness and/or testing:

1) Time: We don't have the luxury of time for training or fitness at a unit level. While the argument for HIIT holds here, there is the issue of unit size vs. number of instructors to monitor. I was in charge of fitness for a 260-man combat engineer unit. There are no assistants, only Platoon Sergeants or Platoon Leaders (assuming they weren't already in mission briefings at that time) whose background isn't in fitness. And when the time comes around for fitness testing, you can run a 250+ combat unit through the APFT in 90 minutes or less with minimal training for testers. Complicated tests take too much time to complete, and can compromise the ability to complete the days' objectives. An entire day can't be committed to fitness testing. Which brings up the second:

2) Safety. Not everybody in a combat unit (or any unit, for that matter) responds to training of any type in a similar fashion or rate. Certain activities are easier to monitor than others. Training modalities based on HIIT, especially using explosive movements, or heavy external resistances, have been shown to increase risk of both injury and catastrophic injury as fatigue sets in, and technique begins to break down. Squeezing out an extra rep is great. Herniate a disk - you're still carrying your pack and battle gear later. Remember that.

3) Equipment/Cost. This is one of the current problems that units have to face when talking about fitness performance & testing. Complex training protocols (CrossFit, as an example) make use of a variety of training implements as part of the workouts that are designed. Equipment needs to be available in sufficient quantities to train a unit effectively, and can be easily stored in a readily accessible location for use (see item #1 - time). And for testing, the more complicated the testing, the longer it takes to complete, and the more difficult it becomes to score, especially without effective baseline/research available of what would be expected of a soldier, compared to a 'norm'.

4) Mission. This one is possibly the most important to me, since I was called out on it back then. Given I was a powerlifter at the time, my predecessor as a PTNCO simply asked 'you can deadlift 615? Excellent! How many times?' Missions don't run for 20 minutes, 30 minutes, an hour. Days run 18 hours (or longer). You don't get 5-6 meals a day. You get 3, one of which is a 'travel meal' (read: MRE). You're expected to keep pace for the duration of the mission, regardless of how long the mission runs. And many of the missions aren't based on '30 minutes' or '45 minutes'. They are based on objectives that could take considerably longer. Endurance is goal here.

There is certainly a place for HIIT training in the services. Physiologically, it replicates many of the stresses the body undergoes in a combat environment. But, the more complex and complicated a fitness/readiness program becomes, the more difficult it is to administer and sustain. While the current standards could use some revision, I agree, those revisions need to fit with the overall mission, and should focus on the base components we can effectively build off of (strength, aerobic endurance, muscle endurance, flexibility, relative power), versus application components (agility, applied strength, applied power, etc.).
Crossfit is a sport and as such is not functionally based. It would be like recommending that someone take up gymnastics or football. The adaptations that occur with sport improve performance under the conditions necessary for that activity. In many cases this adaptive process enhances some aspects at the expense of others. This eventually leads to injury and dysfunction. The Marine Corps HITT (High intensity tactical training) program looks to be much more comprehensive and they are way out in front of this as compared to all other branches of service.