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New Functional Fitness Study Could Change the Army Physical Fitness Test

The current Army Physical Fitness test hasn't been changed since 1979. A new study aims to develop a new APFT that assesses the physical requirements needed to fulfill mission essential tasks.

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Running two miles, doing push-ups, pull-ups and sit-ups are all good ways to test a soldier's basic fitness level. But, when faced with combat situations, the Army is looking beyond the basics to test the functional fitness levels of its men and women.

A baseline soldier physical readiness training study was conducted last month at Fort Carson in Colorado to develop a new physical readiness test designed around warrior tasks and battle drills. Ten years of warfare have led leaders to the understanding that the Army's physical training and testing doesn't adequately prepare soldiers to conduct their mission-essential tasks, says Dr. Whitfield East, who was one of the lead researchers in the study.

East says the current Army Physical Fitness Test hasn't been changed since 1979, adding that the goal of the new study is to develop a new Army Physical Fitness Test that assesses the physical requirements needed to fulfill mission-essential tasks.

"The most interesting thing we have found so far with this study is a very poor correlation with performance on the APFT and running the functional tests," says East. "This takes a significant amount of muscular strength and a significant level of aerobic work capacity to be able to do these tasks."

But testing functional fitness leads to problems as the definition of what is actually "functional" can vary from task to task and person to person.

"It really comes down to the definition of function," says Eric Beard, founder of Eric and a corrective exercise specialist. "If an exercise helps you climb stairs, lift boxes or breathe easier after chasing your kids, is it functional? Some like to look more specifically at speed of movement, plane of motion, body position and sequences of movements as driving function. Fitness masters Bruce Lee and Jack LaLanne, for example, were ahead of their time. They incorporated multiple aspects of training together. They performed 'integrated training,' which to me is a better term than 'functional.'"

In terms of integrated or functional fitness for the military's standards, it means a bit more than just climbing stairs or keeping up with the kids.

"This test honestly gauges a soldier more on his or her abilities to be able to shoot, move and communicate," says Spc. Ben Byerly, of the 127th Military Police Company. "Instead of doing your standard push-ups, sit-ups and run, which is good, this actually demonstrates a soldier's all around cardiovascular and muscular endurance."

While the study is at least a year away from completion, this new look at functional fitness for soldiers might mean military fitness centers have the opportunity to revamp their personal and group training philosophies to help military members perform better in the field and in any future fitness testing the Army may implement. However, Beard cautions that it is important to make sure that participants are physically ready for functional, HIIT and CrossFit classes before they even begin.

"The biggest challenge facing fitness professionals when trying to implement functional training techniques is actually the deconditioned state and poor posture of their client base," he says. "Kettlebells and training ropes are fun for fit pros and clients alike, but when the client has poor movement patterns and a weak core, these tools can be contraindicated."

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