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Physical Fitness In or Out of the Military or
Physical Fitness, the Military, and You

by SFC Robert J. Ehrlich, Master Fitness Trainer

As soldiers in the United States Army, the individual has an obligation and a requirement to maintain a level of fitness conducive to completing his/her mission. The mission, wartime or peace, of winning on the battlefield, is based on our military occupational specialty.

Many units have master fitness trainers and experts in physical fitness assigned to them who have studied in college or were certified by the American Council on Fitness. Unfortunately, many of these units do not apply any of the principles of physical fitness these soldiers were taught. Units are stuck in the standard ways of formations and control and do the same old boring routines every day. They form up, report the morning status, and then do what everyone refers to as the "dirty dozen" (12 of this, 12 of that, and 12 of this other). Then back in formation and run to cadence behind the guidon. Sure, it looks good and everybody is doing something and there is a great deal of control, but there are other options and what many units do is more harmful than helpful.

It is fine to hold a unit (platoon, company, battalion, brigade, or division) run from time to time. This promotes esprit de corps and brings everyone together. The focus of physical fitness training should be focused at maintaining or improving one's physical fitness level to meet the demands of the peacetime or wartime mission (tasks and purpose).

There can be harmful effects to this type of training, however. As an example use soldier "A" and soldier "B." Soldier A is an exceptional performer who is concerned about his fitness and trains regularly, scores 300 on his APFT, and watches his diet. He normally does 12:30 on the 2-mile run (100 points for his age of 25). Soldier B is an average soldier who does PT with the rest of the unit, has a normal score of 240 on his APFT, eats what he wants, and cares little about dieting because he is in fair condition. He normally does 18:36 on the 2-mile run (61 points for his age of 39).

When these two soldiers are put together in a formation and have the standard run behind the guidon (9-minute mile), what has been done? Answer: Soldier A is running at a pace that is too slow for his level of fitness and is of little value to his training needs. Soldier B is training at a level that is beyond what he can do on the APFT if he is putting in 100 percent. It could be harmful, even fatal, if he is pushed to maintain and stay in the formation. (Soldiers have had heart attacks in formation by being pushed beyond their limits in a unit run.) Soldier B commonly falls out of the unit run and ends up in the remedial PT program.

Master fitness trainers are taught to develop physical fitness regimens that are suited for groups and individuals. The idea is simple -- ABILITY GROUPS. Group soldiers together based on their 2-mile run time, not just a slow group and a fast group, but multiple groups (three-five based on the number of soldiers). Place one soldier in charge of the group (for accountability and pacing). Give the groups a distance to run or a time hack to run, about 25 minutes. Bring everyone back together for the cooldown. This not only promotes a fitness level targeted at the user level, but also provides variety in training.

The training programs must also be varied. Everyone can relate to the old dirty dozen. How many units actually have a variety in their daily routines? From experience and observations, very few units. Programs should be tailored to the unit mission-essential task list to enhance a wartime physical fitness level and provide a solid foundation to conduct physical training. FM 21-20, Physical Fitness Training, 30 September 1992, provides a guide for developing training programs and gives ideas on what to put into those programs. Examples are: grass drills, guerrilla drills, aquatic PT, log drill, partner resistance, sandbag PT, exercise to music (aerobics or PT exercises done to the beat of songs), etc.

So, why not do it? Usually the answers are time, familiarity, leadership, and "It's different from what trainers 'normally' do." People are hesitant to change. If it is tried and something does not go right, or it feels awkward, or if there is the perception of everyone not participating and laughing, then stop and never do it again. Familiarity comes with repetition.

A physical fitness training program should meet the acronym P.R.O.V.R.B.S.

Progression - A progressive program that adds time, weight, and repetitions over a gradual period in which individuals increase their strength, speed, and stamina.

Regularity - The program must be conducted regularly to have any benefit. Sporadic exercises may do more harm than good.

Overload - The program must tax the muscles to where they produce an effort beyond that which they normally do. When a muscle is overloaded by isometric, isotonic, or isokinetic exercises, it adapts by becoming stronger.

Variety - The "spice of life" which maintains interest and enthusiasm in the program. Remember the daily or dirty dozen and the run behind the flag?

Recovery - The program must allow recovery between resistance and speed training to allow the muscles to rebuild and become stronger. Vary the program by hard and light days or by muscle groups. Running fast every day is more destructive to the muscles than beneficial. The muscle tissues begin to break down, and the individual will become slower and more prone to injury than see improvement.

Balance - The program must balance the exercises that work all the major muscle groups in both the upper and lower body. The program must include all the components. For example, check out some of the body builders at the gym -- big chest, arms, necks, cut abdominals, but chicken legs or calves.

Specificity - This is tailoring the program to the specific goal you want to attain, whether it is building those chicken legs or calves, improving your 2-mile run time, or meeting the requirements of your unit METL. Tie it all together.

Before you begin a program, first ensure that you are fit enough to participate in that program. A regular checkup can provide this.

Now you begin Developing a Program. Design the program so that it has obtainable goals; this way you do not become discouraged and quit. Keep it simple at first; this way you will get into the routine of doing a session or exercise that you normally do not do.

Next comes the Preparatory Phase. Start with the basics for the first week or so. Stretching static -- slow into the stretch, then hold and slow out of the stretch, no jerking movements. Light weights, something comfortable, but provides resistance. A slow jog, not so fast that you are out of breath. Get the idea?

The next step is transition into the Conditioning Phase. At this point, start increasing the weight, number of repetitions, time of the run, and speed of the run. Remember that using weights light enough to manage will decrease the possibility of injury to the joints, muscles, and ligaments.

The final area is transition into the Maintenance Phase. Once you have reached your goal, the maintenance phase should come into play. This is where you no longer have to work so hard. You can lighten up on the number of repetitions or the number of workouts to maintain your fitness level.

There is no definitive answer to any of these phases. Each must be done by the individual who is participating in the program, especially since each of us is just that -- an individual.

Next conduct the physical training session. A good session will include the following: a warmup (light exercises to get blood flowing) from 1-5 minutes; stretching, to ensure flexibility, from 2-5 minutes; the conditioning exercises or routine, from 20-40 minutes; a cool down from 3-5 minutes; and stretching, to ensure the muscles remain flexible, for about 5 minutes. Total time - 1 hour.


Training Heart Rate (THR): the percentage of training at heart rate reserve to produce a training effect. A training effect is reached between 60-90 percent of heart rate reserve. A note of warning: It can be dangerous to train at the 90-percent level. To figure the THR at which you wish to work, use the following formula:

  • Subtract your age from the constant of 220.

    Example: 220-20 = 200 BPM (beats per minute).

    This gives you your maximum heart rate (MHR).

  • Check your resting heart rate (RHR). Sit quiet and relaxed for 5 minutes, then check your pulse for 30 seconds and multiply by 2.

  • Subtract the RHR from the MHR.

    Example: 200 BPM - 69 BPM = 131 BPM.

    This gives you the heart rate reserve (HRR).

  • Now calculate the training heart rate (THR) on the level at which you wish to conduct your aerobic session: 50 percent (low fitness level), 60 percent (a little higher), 70 percent (average level), 80 percent (high level), 90 percent (an Olympic contender). Use this in a decimal equivalent. (% x HRR) + RHR = THR.

    Example: (0.70 x 131 BPM) + 69 BPM = 160.7 BPM (rounded 161 BPM).

  • Now divide this number by 6 so you have a 10-second count. This makes it easier for you to check your heart rate during your exercise session to determine if you are in your training window.

    Example: 161 x 6 = 26.8333 (rounded 27 beats in 10 seconds).

The next formula is on your Body Fat Goal. This is the goal you would like to be at to meet body fat standards or a goal that you wish to achieve. The formula goes like this:

  • First, you must have a current body fat percentage (% BF) and your current weight.

    Example: 26 percent body fat from unit tape test (determined by dietitian at the hospital or from your doctor) or from using AR 600-9 and a partner (if you want to keep your results private). Some other methods are body fat caliper examination, hydrostatic immersion, and electro-calcium impedance.

  • Second, take your current body fat percentage (decimal value) and multiply it by your current body weight in pounds. The answer is your current body fat in pounds.

    The formula looks like this: .%BF x CURR WT lbs = BF lbs.

    Example: 26 x 200 = 52 pounds body fat.

  • Third, take your present body weight in pounds and subtract the body fat in pounds. The result is your lean body mass (LBM). Lean body mass is the weight of your bones, muscles, blood, vital organs, and other bodily fluids required to sustain life.

    The formula looks like this: CURR WT lbs - BF lbs = LBM lbs.

    Example: 200 - 52 = 148 pounds.

  • Fourth, determine your body fat goal (as a decimal) and subtract that from the constant number of 1. This will give you what is called the percent difference (DIFF).

    The formula looks like this: 1 - .BF Goal = DIFF.

    Example: 1 - .20 = .80.

  • Fifth, take the lean body mass in pounds (LBM lbs) and divide that by the difference (DIFF). This will give you your target weight in pounds. The formula looks like this: LBM lbs/.DIFF = TGT WT lbs.

    Example: 148/.80 = 185 lbs.

  • Finally, take your current weight in pounds and subtract your target weight in pounds. This is how much you will need to lose to reach your target weight or required weight loss.

    The formula looks like this: CURR WT lbs - TGT WT lbs = LBS to lose/WT LOSS.

    Example: 200 - 185 = 15 lbs.

It should be noted that dieting alone for weight loss is seldom successful. One pound of fat is equal to 3,500 Kcal or calories. Exercise and diet are the best way to lose weight. If you are going to diet as a form of weight loss, check with your physician or dietitian. He can place you on a program that is suited to your needs. Do not go on an unsupervised diet of less than 1,500 calories a day for men or 1,200 calories a day for women. There can be far-reaching effects.

The last formula is the Energy Calculation, which is used to help you maintain your current weight. You need to know your current weight and activity level. Use the following numbers to calculate your activity level for the formula below: 13 = Sedentary, 14 = Light Activity, 15 = Moderate Activity, and 16 = Heavy Activity.

  • Take your current body weight (CURR WT lbs) and multiply that by your activity level (ACT LVL). The answer is the daily calories to maintain your current weight (Kcal Maint). The formula looks like this: CURR WT lbs x ACT LVL = Kcal Maint).

    Example: 200 x 16 = 3,200.

A word about profiles. Everyone knows those individuals who are on a profile or seem to ride a profile. Those individuals need to be sent back to the aid station or physician to receive a positive profile. A positive profile outlines the exercises and events that an individual CAN do while they are recuperating from the injury. This ensures that they stay fit while they are recovering.

If you put everything together, you can see how all the pieces fit. Have a target weight with a body fat goal, decrease your calorie intake, and train in your training heart rate zone. Results: weight loss with improved physical fitness. Simple when it is all explained, isn't it?

A little-known program that helps enhance physical fitness and provides an award that soldiers (officers and enlisted) can place in their official military records is the Presidential Sports Award Program (PSAP). It was established in 1972 under presidential order, and has since evolved into a program that spans 58 events, with more being added. (See AR 28-5, Welfare, Recreation, and Morale, 15 April 1973, for information on the PSAP.) Each event has its own specific qualifying standards that must be met to receive a certificate of completion. The certificate can be entered into an individual's official military records and used for promotion points.

Among the multitude of training programs listed are those conducted in the military such as: backpacking (road marches or field exercises); cross-training (half of the requirements for two separate events); orienteering (land navigation); pistol (range firing and/or qualification); rifle (range firing and/or qualification), running (in ability groups or at a cardiovascular rate (70 percent or better)); jogging (can be used for formation runs); and sports-fitness (generic daily PT). As you can see, the program has its benefits.

Anyone can participate in the PSAP; it is not only for soldiers. To participate, an individual picks up a PSAP flyer, which is available at most gyms on post, selects an event, and keeps track of his progress on a log. Once the individual has met the standards for that event, the results are sent in along with a $6.00 fee. For participating in the program, an individual receives: (1) a certificate for the event, signed by the President of the United States; (2) a letter of congratulations from the president of the board; (3) an embroidered color blazer patch with the event on it; (4) a sports bag ID tag; and (5) a shoe pocket (which can be laced into the shoe strings and used for storage). Other prizes may have since been added.

Everyone participating in the PSAP should be reminded that keeping the log is an individual responsibility and is based on the Honor Code (there is no checking or validating system). Be honest in keeping the log; do not try to backlog training. Not only will you cheat yourself, but also you will probably falsify your log (unless you have a personal fitness log that you regularly maintain). You must use a different log for each event you complete. Do not use the same information from one exercise session for more than one event (for example, running, jogging, sports-fitness, and cross-training; one session could probably be logged into each of these events). Once you submit a log, start a new log, even if it is for the same event; there is no limit to the number of times you may submit. Photocopies of logs are acceptable (copy the blank log, then fill it out). When you submit your log, ask for additional copies in the Remarks area; they will be sent to you.

As you can see, physical training should be geared toward the individual or ability group and the types of tasks the unit and soldiers will conduct in the field or in wartime operations. This will ensure soldiers are fit to accomplish the mission and the tasks of the METL. Physical training can be rewarding on many levels if applied properly. The individual(s) have a recognizable goal of enhancing their fitness level while earning a personal award that can be used in their official records for promotion and/or recognition. The unit prospers by having a more physically fit unit able to better perform its wartime mission.

It should be noted that this articles did not address other topics such as the components of fitness (cardio-respiratory endurance, muscular strength, muscular endurance, flexibility, and body composition) and the F.I.T.T. principle (Frequency, Intensity, Type, and Time). Those should be fairly self-explanatory.

A question for NCOs: Is there anything wrong with an excellence bullet in Part IV, Item c. (Physical Fitness and Military Bearing) of the NCO Evaluation Report if the individual achieved a less than 290 on the APFT but met all the standards and earned two Presidential Sports Award Certificates in two areas during the rated period? Check Update 6, Personnel Evaluations, AR 623-205, Enlisted Evaluation Reporting System, and see.

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