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"A look at the Army’s new PT test

Streamlined test shortens run, pares push-up time and cuts out sit-ups — just don’t call it easy
By Lance M. Bacon - Staff writer
Posted : Friday Mar 4, 2011 14:20:53 EST

A revolutionary new physical readiness test will shorten your run distance, eliminate sit-ups, change the way you measure push-ups and add three new events.

In addition, a new combat readiness test may replace one of the two PT tests soldiers do each year.

The changes — the first to the PT test since its inception in 1980 — stem from a nearly yearlong effort by Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling, deputy commanding general for initial military training, and Frank Palkoska, director of the Army Physical Fitness School. He and a team of 16 fitness and nutrition experts have built a new test centered on five events:

• 60-yard shuttle run

• 1-minute rower

• Standing long jump

• 1-minute push-up

• 1½-mile run

Don’t think for a minute that “shorter” and “easier” are synonymous.

“People look at events and say, ‘That’s easier!’ OK, go ahead and try it,” Hertling said in an exclusive interview with Army Times. “This test is much harder than it looks. I’ve done it and it certainly stresses the different energy systems much more than you anticipate.”

Evaluators will spend the next six months putting the test to the test at eight locations. Scoring scales will be finalized during the pilot program. Officials said times and repetitions needed for top scores will be harder to obtain.

Age groups are reconfigured in five categories: Under 30, 30-39, 40-49, 50-59 and 60 and older. Scoring scales will be the same for men and women.

Hertling briefed the new test to Army Chief of Staff Gen. George Casey in early February. In the presentation, which he provided to Army Times, Hertling said the current test is not a strong predictor of successful physical performance on the battlefield or in full-spectrum operations because it “does not adequately measure components of strength, endurance or mobility.” It instead provides “only a snapshot” assessment of upper- and lower-body muscular endurance and fails to identify anaerobic capacity. Anaerobic exercises are high-intensity bursts in which oxygen is not used for energy.

Tell us what you think
• Have you tried the new fitness test?

That’s why the run is being cut to 1½ miles, which Hertling calls the “gold standard.”

“A 1.5-mile run tests a different energy system in the body,” said Hertling, a triathlete who has a master’s degree in exercise physiology. “The physiology of your body gives you about 12 minutes of a break-even point for your anaerobic system to kick into your aerobic system. If you know you’re going to go for more than 12 minutes, you have a tendency to start off slower. When running mile and a half, you’ll tend to run it faster.”

The old test opted for a 2-mile run simply because it is easier to measure, Hertling said.

The rowing and push-up events will be equally tough to provide a more accurate muscular endurance assessment. For example, the new test cuts the push-up time by half, but there’s a catch: You can’t rest. As soon as you pause, you’re done.

“You literally have to be cranking the entire one minute,” Hertling said. “What we found through research is the second minute of the 2-minute test is just kind of struggling through and doesn’t give a true measure of muscle failure.”

The new “gender-neutral” test is designed to ensure soldiers can’t train to the events. For three decades, soldiers have pumped up push-ups and sit-ups, and trimmed run times for a better score. But this was at the expense of overall physical training that would enhance mission performance.

The new test is also designed to reduce injuries. Roughly one-quarter of soldiers’ injuries are a product of physical training, according to Army statistics.

The high speed and repetition of push-ups and sit-ups led to overuse injuries in the neck, shoulder and lower back, Hertling said in his brief to Casey. Repetitive, high-volume running increases risk of overuse injuries to hips, knees, ankles and feet.

The test, which is aligned with American College of Sports Medicine and Cooper Institute, also eliminates nonload-bearing alternate aerobic events such as the cycle ergometer and swim.

While the new test could become policy late this summer, Hertling said it is likely to happen in the next fiscal year, which begins in October. Though Casey will retire long before the test would become official, heir apparent Gen. Martin Dempsey, commander of Training and Doctrine Command, has already given the new test his support. Dempsey has been nominated to be the next chief of staff, pending Senate confirmation, which starts March 3.

Combat test
The new program addresses functional fitness, or how well-prepared you are to do what the Army needs you to do.

Such activity requires an overall fitness that is neither obtained nor accurately measured by the current system. For example, a soldier may be able to do 1,000 push-ups but unable traverse a mountain. Another may be able to run like a gazelle but can’t carry an injured soldier out of harm’s way.

To ensure that soldiers train as they fight, Hertling and his team created the combat readiness test. It includes five events founded on the warrior training battle drills concept.

It kicks off with a 400-meter run with a weapon. This enters into an obstacle course with low hurdles, high crawls and over-under obstacles to test individual movement techniques.

Soldiers then do a 40-yard casualty drag followed by a 40-yard run with ammo cans atop a balance beam.

Next come point, aim and move drills, followed by a 100-yard ammo can shuttle sprint.

The CRT wraps up with a 100-yard agility sprint.

The CRT is a balanced assessment of the Physical Readiness Training program, Hertling told Casey in his briefing.

The PRT incorporates sprinting, climbing drills and other high-intensity exercises that mimic the challenges soldiers face in combat.

Officials from the Army Physical Fitness School at Fort Jackson, S.C., said units that have adopted the PRT have seen a 30-point average increase in unit PT test scores.

The current plan would have soldiers conduct one PT test and one CRT each year.

Leadership is considering whether to keep the requirement for two PT tests each year and add a CRT before deploying."
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