Wednesday, March 02, 2011

The New Army PT Test

I don't do PT tests anymore.  It's hard to do pushups when you can't lay your hands flat, or make a decent fist, or get the skin graft that's grown into and adhered to your bicep to not feel like it's pulling said bicep to shreds.  Same goes for the grafts on my quardiceps and hip flexor for doing situps or running.  For that matter, degenerative disc disease in my lower back pretty much nixes the situp, too.

Even before I was injured, however, I hated the Army Physical Fitness Test.  I didn't think it was a good measure of anything.  It was a great discriminator between the wasp-waisted, sunken chest crowd with zero real upper body strength and hips like a 10 year old girl.  For people with muscular frames, especially those of us with a predisposition to carry the bulk of our weight in our upper body, the PT test was a pain in the ass.  The Push-up was easy enough, just a burn in the triceps; but the sit up meant (for me) burning hip floexors and a sore back, right before I got to go to the 2-mile run.  Running is something I prefer not to do--not that I couldn't, there were many mornings that my young men would try to grind the old man down, only to find out that I can run practically forever.  I just don't like to run long distance fast.  Long distance running is about endurance, short distance running is sprinting, and done for speed.  Running long distances fast is for dudes used to chasing down deer and running from lions. 

So the Army (finally!) decided to redesign the Army Physical Fitness Test.
First, the developed an advisory board working group.  Of the sixteen people on that board, eight are doctors, and only three are soldiers.  Of the three soldiers, there is a Lieutenant Colonel, who is a Physical Therapist, and one, countem, ONE Non-Commisioned Officer.  So, problem one:  there is only one person on that board who is responsible for actually training soldiers.   

The working group has come up with two tests:  the Army Physical Readiness Training Test (APRT) and the Army Combat Readiness Test.  Both tests will be graded on a sliding scale for age and gender.  Problem two:  the enemy makes no exception for age and gender.  Duty performance is not based on age and gender.  There exist physical differences between women and men, young and old, but there should exist only one standard, period.  However, in order to make that standard "fair"--another concept our enemy does not understand--the standard to pass would have to be so low to allow women to pass that men wouldn't really have to do more than show up to pass.

On to the events:
APRT:  60-yard shuttle run.  Great for anerobic testing.  Shit on the knees and ankles.  Be ready to see an increase in these types of injuries.
  • 1-minute Rower:  Great stress on lower back.  Be ready to see an increase in these types of injuries.
  • Standing long jump:  Measures your ability to jump.  Not sure how we can train to improve this score, it's a function of your body mass and fast-twitch muscles.  Some got a lot of ‘em, some don't.
  • 1-minute push up:  they axed the 2-minute push-up, because according to the board’s analysis of the old APFT, "High-speed/repetition of push-up and sit-up in training lead to overuse injuries in the neck, shoulder and lower back…" so naturally, keeping it as an event of only ONE minute means we’ll do less of them when we do PT, right? 
  • 1.5 mile run:  Again, the board noted in their reasoning for designing a new test that “repetitive high volume running in training increases risk of overuse injuries to hips, knees, ankles and feet.”  So they recommend cutting .5 miles off the test.  Guess what?  This will NOT cause units to say “Hey, we only have to run 1.5 miles now.  Let’s stop running every day for PT.  Not gonna happen.  Units do long runs most days because a) people forget that variety is a key factor in physical fitness, b) people fail to actually have a plan for PT, and running eats up lots of time, c) the wasp-waisted sunken-chest crowd like running because they are good at it and d) forward motion means you must be working hard at PT.

Now we get to the fun test:  the Combat Readiness Test.  This test is a combination obstacle course and combat skills test.  It looks really fun, too.  This test is done in combat uniform, boots, body armor, helmet and with weapon.
  • 400M run with weapon:  Okay, not hard.  Not realistic however, as nobody does a 400M mad dash with body armor on.  So this is really a 400M jog while wearing 40+ pounds of extra crap.  Remember what they were saying about injuries to knees, necks, and backs?
  • Individual movement techniques:  (AKA Crawling around with all your crap on.)  There’s nothing wrong with this event, except the low crawl (hugging the ground as low as possible to move from cover to cover without exposing yourself) is not supposed to be done for speed.  It’s supposed to be slow, methodical, and most importantly, keep you from exposing yourself.  So including it in a timed event is pretty silly.  The high crawl—crawling along on your belly with your head up—is also something that doesn’t lend itself to a timed event—the more you hurry, the more likely you’ll do it wrong, and that’s just reinforcing bad habits in training.
  • 100m Ammo can shuttle sprint:  Now we’re going to do another shuttle run, with all our crap on, and add a full ammo can.  See previous comments about back/knee/shoulder injuries, and add in “I just dropped a goddamn heavy metal box on my foot” injury. 
  • Casualty Drag:  I love this one.  180 pounds of sandbags on a sled of some sort, to be dragged 30 yards.  Nothing says lower back injuries like dragging something heavy, for time.  I personally want to see the timetables for females, and watch as Private Benjamin tries to move her 120-pound body, 40 pound of gear, and 180 pounds of sandbags anywhere.  Good on her if she can, but I think this is a non-starter to begin with.
  • Balance Beam with an Ammo Can:  Good news!  If you didn’t break your foot during the Ammo Can Shuttle Run, you get a chance to break your ankle and your foot while navigating a balance beam with an ammo can (never, have I ever, had to cross a balance beam in combat!)  Balance beams are great—lots of fun when you’ve got all your gear on and a screwed up center of gravity.  Now add in an ammo can, and watch the injuries keep on coming!
  • Point-Aim-Move:  Not sure what they are going for here—but I guess they want you to point your weapon at something, aim at it (see “point”) and move around obstacles.  This is called “maneuvering.”  Granted, some guys have a hard time with the whole concept of "walk/chew gum."  But if you can stick your arm out straight in front of you and walk in a crouch, you've got this covered.
  • Finally, an agility sprint at the end, where you weave in and out of traffic cones.  This is also called the “Get the medics ready; we’re going to have a lot of ACL/PCL/MCL injuries!”
I get the idea—and all things considered, the APFT does, really, need to be redesigned.  What they have designed, however looks like it is far likelier to cause injuries than to make people more physically fit.  The ACRT is a test that they admit will be hard to train for, because it requires set-up, support, and facilities.  Anything we don’t train for, we usually don’t do well, and the end result is people get hurt.  There’s no “combat readiness” in balance beams.  There’s no “combat readiness” in shuttle runs.  There’s no “combat readiness” in a 400m run or agility sprint.  The  other half, the Army Physical Readiness Test, got rid of sit-ups for an event just as hard on the back, shortened the run a little, and added a shuttle run.  Yippee.  Now standard morning PT will go from Push-ups, Sit-ups, and Four-mile run to Pushups, Shuttle Run, Rowers, Jumps, and Four-mile run. 

I’m not saying this won’t work, because if it becomes the standard, we’ll make it work.  I’m just saying that it won’t
a) alleviate any repetitive motion/impact injuries,
b) fix the Army’s unwritten “we run every day” PT program,
c) shift focus away from training for the test scores to training for fitness, as long as test score is seen as an indicator of leadership ability/fitness for duty.  180/300 points is the army standard for passing the APFT, and you only ever meet that standard, you’ll be seen as a slacker.  Leaders are “expected” to score 270+, and suggested to score 290+.
d) force a dramatic change in the physical fitness of a unit
e) be score fairly, as long as there are standards based on age and gender (shouldn’t we also account for physiological differences in race, too?  Or is that racist?  So ageism and sexism is okay, but not racism.  Got it.)


PS:  if I were to design a PT test, it would involve short distance swimming, forced-marching with light load, a short sprint in combat gear, and a long, long walk—untimed, but you can’t stop and must finish.

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