USA — New PT Program Develops Battle Skills, Warrior Tasks

FORT POLK, La. — The winds of change are blow­ing through the Army’s Phys­i­cal Readi­ness Train­ing Pro­gram, and Fort Polk, La., is tak­ing the ini­tia­tive to stay ahead of those changes

Army's new Physical Readiness Training program
Junior non­com­mis­sioned offi­cers take part in a sprint exer­cise on Fort Polk, La., dur­ing a class on the Army’s new Phys­i­cal Readi­ness Train­ing pro­gram Dec. 1, 2010. The class, host­ed by the post’s NCO Acad­e­my, gave the young lead­ers a first-hand look at the new pro­gram.
U.S. Army pho­to by Chuck Can­non
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“It was about time we took a look at how we did our phys­i­cal fit­ness,” said Fort Polk Com­mand Sgt. Maj. Jef­frey Hof. “If you think about it, dur­ing peace­time, the all-vol­un­teer Army goal was to take a civil­ian, break him down to noth­ing, then build a soldier.” 

Using the post’s Non­com­mis­sioned Offi­cers Acad­e­my as its con­duit, Hoff and the Joint Readi­ness Train­ing Cen­ter have come up with a plan to ensure each bat­tal­ion on post has some­one versed in the new pro­gram to lead the change. 

“How many times did you run 10 miles in Afghanistan or Iraq?” Hof asked a col­lec­tion of sergeants and staff sergeants dur­ing a class on the new PT pro­gram held on Dec. 1, 2010. “You did­n’t. That’s why it’s impor­tant to make these changes to the pro­gram. It incor­po­rates sci­en­tif­ic effort from doc­tors who under­stand the human body.” The new PT “man­u­al” is Train­ing Cir­cu­lar 3–22.20, replac­ing the old Field Man­u­al 21–20. Sgt. 1st Class Ver­non Alcorn, chief of train­ing for Fort Polk’s NCO Acad­e­my, was the lead instruc­tor for the class on the new prac­tices giv­en to non­com­mis­sioned offi­cers from each bat­tal­ion in ear­ly Decem­ber. He said Army PT has not real­ly changed all that much over the years. 

“The way we con­duct that PT has changed,” he explained. “We’re work­ing to get our sol­diers phys­i­cal­ly fit and bet­ter able to com­plete their war-fight­ing tasks.” Alcorn said the new pro­gram goes along with what sol­diers do in com­bat situations. 

“The longer runs are going away,” he said. “It will be more like a track meet, with sprints and short­er runs. You can still do unit runs, but you won’t do the same thing every day.” 

Staff Sgt. W.B. Fanch­er and Staff Sgt. John McKen­na, instruc­tors at Fort Polk’s NCO Acad­e­my, were two of the cadre who helped to train the post’s junior NCOs on the new PT pro­gram. “FM 21–20 trained sol­diers for one thing only: The PT test,” Fanch­er said. “The new pro­gram helps sol­diers per­form all of their com­bat roles, from jump­ing off the rear of a truck to clear­ing a room of combatants.” 

Fanch­er list­ed three rea­sons for the new pro­gram:
— Reduce injuries — build­ing mus­cles in areas not nor­mal­ly used allows for mus­cle recov­ery;
— Com­bat effi­cien­cy — Cor­re­lates to actions used in com­bat and relates to war­rior tasks and bat­tle drills; and
— Instill dis­ci­pline — Gets sol­diers used to tak­ing com­mands from lead­ers. Sol­diers must be dis­ci­plined to sur­vive in combat. 

The program’s goal is to devel­op sol­diers who are phys­i­cal­ly capa­ble and ready to per­form their duty assign­ments or com­bat roles. Once the pro­gram is in place, McKen­na said, sol­diers and lead­ers will see its benefits. 

“It’s going to help them with their war­rior tasks and bat­tle drills,” McKen­na said. “We want to show Fort Polk’s lead­er­ship how the pro­gram works and how it will help them accom­plish their mis­sion, whether in gar­ri­son or down range.” 

McKen­na said the new pro­gram is a total body work­out. It incor­po­rates old-school exer­cis­es like the eight-count pushup, the squat ben­der and the bend and reach, along with new drills such as the back bridge, quardraplex and medi­al leg raise. 

“It does­n’t just train for the PT test, which is pushups, sit-ups and a two-mile run,” he said. “It works a soldier’s core and upper and low­er body. It also works the car­dio­vas­cu­lar system.” 

McKen­na said sol­diers should not be con­cerned that the new PT pro­gram will cause their PT test scores to drop. “There is a lot of inter­val train­ing — a lot of short dis­tance, fast run­ning,” he said. “While it might not seem like you’ll be able to run as fast, sol­diers will see an improve­ment in their two-mile times. And the end result is it gets sol­diers to a lev­el of fit­ness the Army needs.” 

One change McKen­na not­ed was that time, not dis­tance, is now used to gov­ern run­ning. “The man­u­al says 30 min­utes for the run, not a dis­tance,” he said. 

Alcorn said the new pro­gram is an excel­lent way to stan­dard­ize unit PT and meet the com­mand sergeant major of the Army’s intent to see Sol­diers doing PT prop­er­ly and to stan­dard. Fanch­er, speak­ing on the sec­ond day of the local two-day PT class for the post’s junior NCOs, said some of the sol­diers were already feel­ing the results of the new exer­cis­es. “We’ve turned a cou­ple of heads,” he said. “But there are still skeptics.” 

Alcorn said those who con­sid­er them­selves “PT ani­mals” are more like­ly to resist the change. 

“Stan­dard­iza­tion takes away from the ‘I can do more than you’ atti­tudes,” he said. “Every­body is dif­fer­ent; body types are dif­fer­ent. The new pro­gram is a total body work­out, both strength and endurance — every ses­sion. It’s strict and for­mal and geared to all types of soldiers.” 

McKen­na said the intent of the pro­gram is to pro­vide a 60-minute work­out to start, even­tu­al­ly build­ing up to about 90 min­utes. A typ­i­cal PT ses­sion would include 15–20 min­utes of warm-up exer­cis­es, 30–40 min­utes of car­dio­vas­cu­lar or mus­cu­lar work, fol­lowed by 5–10 min­utes of cool-down exercises. 

“The man­u­al is full of great exer­cis­es to do dur­ing each ses­sion, so there’s no rea­son to become bored with doing the same thing every day,” McKen­na said. The opin­ions of the junior NCOs who attend­ed the WLC’s class were var­ied, but most said they were will­ing to give the new pro­gram a chance. 

“It’s going to take some get­ting used to,” said Sgt. Christo­pher Nordin, Head­quar­ters and Head­quar­ters Detach­ment, 88th Brigade Sup­port Bat­tal­ion, 1st Maneu­ver Enhance­ment Brigade. “I had to get used to not stretch­ing, which is com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent. Appar­ent­ly a study by sci­en­tists say our old style of stretch­ing actu­al­ly put our mus­cles to sleep. I guess I believe the scientists.” 

Staff Sgt. Mon­ni­cia Jack­son, 21st Chem­i­cal, Bio­log­i­cal, Radi­o­log­i­cal and Nuclear Com­pa­ny, 83rd CBRN Bat­tal­ion, said the new pro­gram is an improve­ment. “It’s going to cut down on injuries,” she said. “I think the core work­out is best; it pro­vides an over­all body workout.” 

She did note one area that she would have to work on. “The turns on the shut­tle runs will take get­ting used to,” Jack­son said. “You’ve got to be coor­di­nat­ed.” Staff Sgt. Kevin Welling­ton, Head­quar­ters Com­pa­ny, 4th Bat­tal­ion, 353rd Infantry Reg­i­ment, 162nd Infantry Brigade, said he likes the fact that the pro­gram focus­es on com­bat tasks. “Pushups and sit-ups are great, but not what we’re doing in Afghanistan or Iraq,” he said. “The new pro­gram is bat­tle focused.” McKen­na said once the pro­gram is ful­ly imple­ment­ed, it con­sists of three phases. 

“There is an ini­tial con­di­tion­ing phase, tough­en­ing phase and sus­tain­ing phase,” he said. “Most Sol­diers at Fort Polk are already through the ini­tial con­di­tion­ing phase and will begin in the tough­en­ing phase.” 

The tough­en­ing phase devel­ops foun­da­tion­al fit­ness and fun­da­men­tal move­ment skills, McKen­na said. The sus­tain­ing phase con­tin­ues phys­i­cal devel­op­ment and helps the Sol­dier main­tain a high lev­el of phys­i­cal readiness. 

“Sol­diers must do exer­cis­es cor­rect­ly before mov­ing to the next phase,” McKen­na said. Frank Palkos­ka, the U.S. Army Phys­i­cal Fit­ness School direc­tor, said the old fit­ness pro­gram was flawed. “You had units that said, ‘all we’ve got to do is pushups, sit-ups and run, and the more we run, the bet­ter we’ll be.’ That’s a flawed concept.” 

Palkos­ka said there is a false assump­tion that if you score high on the APFT, you can do every­thing a Sol­dier needs to do. 

“You can’t take a 130-pound marathon run­ner, put 120 pounds on his back and march him at 10,000 feet (ele­va­tion) in Afghanistan,” he said. “Those are the types of issues that led us to the devel­op­ment of the new doctrine.” 

Hof said it’s the “right time” to change the PT program. 

“We are in the ninth year of a two-front war,” he said. “We don’t nec­es­sar­i­ly need sol­diers who can run from tow­er-to-tow­er, although there is noth­ing wrong with that,” he said. “But we do need sol­diers who are phys­i­cal­ly fit, can com­plete their war­rior tasks and bat­tle drills and sur­vive on the bat­tle­field. The new PT pro­gram will help our sol­diers do that.” 

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs) 

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