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On Fitness
WRITTEN BY MOLLY MARTIN
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The New Boot Camp
Tailor-made for soldiers, this isn't your grandfather's basic training

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The Mountain Climber, which improves trunk stability and leg power, is one of the exercises in the U.S. Army's proposed new Physical Readiness Training. Here it's demonstrated by Capt. Dennis Edwards of the Army's Physical Fitness School at Fort Benning, Ga.
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PUSH-UPS, sit-ups, push-ups, sit-ups, running, running and still more running. For years, fitness training in the U.S. Army revolved around those three exercises.

Now a new regimen is on the rise. Coinciding with an increased awareness of military readiness, the U.S. Army's Physical Readiness Training may become the new standard for soldiers' fitness training and testing.

The current Army Physical Fitness Test consists of push-ups, sit-ups (two minutes each) and a 2-mile run. It demands some basic aspects of fitness and is easy to administer. But an emphasis on this test resulted in a similarly limited training program: extremely demanding on recruits in poor condition, ignoring differences in individuals and their job requirements, risking injury from muscle imbalances or overuse. And they provided fodder for countless scenes in films about the rigors of boot camp and drill sergeants.

The proposed Army Physical Readiness Training program still would include exercises for evaluating fitness, but the emphasis would shift from "test" to "readiness." Developed at the U.S. Army Physical Fitness School at Fort Benning, Ga., the program echoes the "functional fitness" trend in civilian health clubs.

"What we've tried to do is look at it from a more holistic standpoint and make a soldier more physically well-rounded, and at the same time reduce injury," said Lt. Col. Bill Rieger, commandant of the Fort Benning school. "A rational progression, an integration of a variety of activities and a precision of movement provide a greater factor of injury control. It can be applied in civilians, but maybe not to the standard we're doing it because there's not the precision."

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Testing, 1, 2, 3
• One draft of the proposed Army Physical Readiness Test included a standing long jump (longest of two tries), power squat (repetitions in 1 minute), heel hook (repetitions in 1 minute, hanging from an overhead bar and wrapping feet around the bar), shuttle run (six 25-yard sprints), push-ups (one minute) and 1-mile run (fastest time). Some details of Army physical training are at www.benning.army.mil/usapfs/ and updated standards will be posted if the proposal passes the draft stage. Examples of some exercises — but not necessarily the official version — can be seen at www.armystudyguide.com/resources/aprt/

• Fort Lewis has six training centers and four fitness specialists, offering free facilities, classes and personal training to not only active but also reserve and retired military, their families, and Department of Defense employees (military ID needed; some restrictions apply). Last year the Fort Lewis Sports, Fitness & Aquatics Division received the Army's Outstanding Sports Program Award, which covers the service's facilities worldwide. For information, call 253-967-4771.

Change of focus
Direct Focus, the Vancouver, Wash., company that makes Bowflex and has acquired Nautilus, Schwinn and StairMaster in the past three years, has changed its name to The Nautilus Group.
The new approach draws on current research within military agencies and also classic military training, calisthenics and even some popular approaches, such as yoga and Pilates. "Yoga is an advanced form of calisthenics," Rieger said, "and Pilates is a great thing."

Incorporating strength, endurance and mobility training, the new system has a toughening phase and a sustaining phase. The first develops — very slowly — fundamental skills and basic fitness, addressing differences in how soldiers progress. The second phase improves readiness related to duty position.

In both, exercises often correspond to actual situations soldiers might encounter on regular duty or in the battlefield. Hanging from a bar and being able to lock one's feet over that bar compares to the strength needed to get out of a foxhole. Squatting and lifting can translate to carrying a casualty in a litter. Learning to manipulate a weight overhead can apply to stocking boxes on a shelf or something civilians can easily relate to: putting luggage in an airplane's overhead bin.

Physical Readiness Training gives plenty of attention to the body's abdominal, back and hip muscles. "That's a key to a soldier being fit," says Rieger. "We have a variety of exercises that focus specifically on developing strength in that region, emphasizing posture and body mechanics, so the body is always stable and in a powerful position."

That means not only crunches but also ab rotation and back extension movements, as well as upright core exercises, to simulate real-life activity.

Although the proposed training manual awaits final approval, perhaps this summer, and it may be a couple of years before the program is in full use, some training began in 2000. Last summer, Wilma Guerra was one of four fitness specialists from Fort Lewis to attend a course at Fort Benning.

"To me, the old Army way of training was like petting a cat backwards," said Guerra, 37, a civilian government employee. "I've always wanted something to fit the soldiers specifically.

"The new Physical Readiness Training is more challenging but more beneficial. It might wear them out but it's not going to hurt them. Now they're building the soldiers up, not tearing them down."

Kinder, gentler and, perhaps, more effective.

Molly Martin is assistant editor of Pacific Northwest magazine. She can be reached at 206-464-8243, mmartin@seattletimes.com or P.O. Box 70, Seattle, WA 98111.

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