The overall goal of the Army Physical Fitness Training Program is to develop Soldiers who are physically capable, ready to perform their duty assignments or combat roles and to promote good health, resiliency and physical readiness through exercise. To best plan PRT to achieve this goal, leaders must know the PRT system. Chapter 2 explains the Army PRT goal. Adherence to the exercise principles of precision, progression, and integration are key to program effectiveness and injury control. These principles of exercise should be used in developing all PRT schedules.
This is strict adherence to the best execution standards for PRT activities. Precision assumes that the quality of movement is just as important as the amount of weight lifted, number of repetitions performed or distance run. For example, when a Soldier can no longer maintain the PRT leader’s push-up cadence speed or the correct form while performing push-ups, he will get into the six-point stance and continue his push-ups. This allows precision and completion of the specified number of repetitions.
Precision is essential in resistance training to develop strength and mobility whether the Soldier is performing CDs, CLs, the strength training circuit, or using strength training machines (STMs). Precision also depends on the use of stable body positions, appropriate range of motion, proper speed, and proper breathing. Too little stability, too much weight, exceeding the appropriate range of motion, improper speed, and improper breathing technique reinforce faulty motor patterns. Over time, these practices could lead to injury. Chapter 9, Strength and Mobility, provides safe and effective resistance training techniques. When a Soldier fails to maintain proper running form or speed during speed running, he should slow down to regain proper running form. Typically, Soldiers perform the first two repetitions of speed running intervals (30:60s and 60:120s) or the 300-yard SR too quickly. When this happens, it causes form to break down and affects the ability to maintain speed for the specified number of repetitions. Soldiers should be instructed to pay attention to their speed in order to maintain precision.
This is the systematic increase in the intensity or duration of PRT activities. Proper progression allows the body to positively adapt to the stresses of training. When intensity or duration is increased too rapidly, the Soldier cannot adapt to the demands of training, and is unable to recover, leading to overtraining and possible injury. The following are gradually increased to produce the desired physiological effect:
- Intensity (resistance and pace).
- Exercise volume (number of sets and repetitions).
- Duration (time).
In the toughening phase, the duration of the ability group runs (AGRs) progress from 10 minutes to 30 minutes gradually over the training cycle. The pace of individual Soldiers or the group also gradually increases over time. For example, in the sustaining phase during the conduct of CLs and speed running, Soldiers progress from wearing the individual physical fitness uniform (IPFU) to Army combat uniforms (ACUs), boots, advanced combat helmet (ACH), and improved outer tactical vest (IOTV). Progression in strength is achieved by increasing one or more of the following for each exercise when using strength training equipment.
- Resistance (weight).
- Number of sets.
- Number of repetitions.
Adhering to the scheduled intensity and duration prevents the Soldier from progressing too fast. How fast the Soldier should progress also depends on how regularly he performs challenging activities and how much rest and recovery time he gets. PRT time is a valuable resource, especially during the toughening phase. Every PRT session develops strength, endurance, and mobility. To ensure improvement, PRT sessions in IMT occur 5 or 6 times a week and last 45 to 60 minutes. PRT sessions in the sustaining phase last 60 minutes or more and occur 4 to 5 times a week. If PRT cannot be conducted first thing in the morning, it should be conducted at some other time during the duty day. Training sessions should be sequenced to ensure adequate recovery.
Commanders and PRT leaders must avoid overtraining syndrome during the planning and conduct of the PRT program. Overtraining significantly impacts Soldier resiliency through the degradation of physical performance, as well as, behavioral and emotional well-being. Through a proper ramp of progression (intensity, duration, and type of exercise), PRT exercises, drills, and activities provide a demanding physical challenge that leads to improvements in affective, cognitive, and psychomotor Soldier performance.
Overtraining occurs when training involves excessive frequency, intensity and/or duration of training that may result in extreme fatigue, illness or injury. This may occur within a short period of time (days) or cumulatively (weeks/months) over the length of the training cycle and beyond. Overtraining often results from a lack of adequate recovery, rest or in some cases, a lack of nutrient intake. Thus, too much training, too little recovery, and/or poor nutrient intake (fueling) may elicit both the physical and psychological symptoms associated with overtraining syndrome. Refer to Table 5-1 for the symptoms associated with overtraining syndrome.
Table 5-1. Symptoms of overtraining
The term “overreaching” refers to the earliest phase of overtraining. Overreaching consists of extreme muscle soreness that occurs as a result of excessive training with inadequate rest/recovery between hard training sessions. This process of overreaching occurs quickly after several consecutive days of hard training. Overreaching has both positive and negative results. When planned as part of the periodized training program, overreaching allows for the suppression of performance while developing tolerance. For highly conditioned Soldiers, overreaching is a planned component of their training for peak performance. Their higher fitness levels allows for a tolerance to this more intense training with proper rest/recovery and nutrient intake. Shortterm overreaching followed by an appropriate tapering period can elicit significant strength and power gains. Muscle soreness and general fatigue are normal outcomes following a series of intense workouts; however, if these outcomes are never completely resolved and performance continues to decline, these may be the first indicators of overtraining syndrome. Commanders and PRT leaders need to recognize these symptoms, especially in IMT and need to adjust training and recovery for these Soldiers. Performance indicators and physiological symptoms of overtraining are listed in Table 5-1.
Continued overreaching will lead to overtraining and elicit negative results. In many instances, Soldiers that experience a degradation of performance (a loss of strength or speed) feel the need to train even harder. Contrary to their belief, pushing harder not only decreases the chance of improved performance, but increases the risk of injury. Recovery, rest, and proper nutrient intake will elicit more improvement than training harder. When the volume and intensity of exercise exceeds Soldiers’ capacity to recover, they cease making progress and may even lose strength and endurance. Overtraining is a common problem in both resistance training and running activities. Improvements in strength and endurance occur only during the rest period following hard training. This process, referred to as supercompensation, takes 12 to 24 hours for the body to completely rebuild. If sufficient rest is not available, then complete recovery cannot occur. Overreaching as a training practice is not appropriate, nor is it recommended for Soldiers in IMT, especially for those who have low fitness levels, high foot time, and high training OPTEMPO. Overreaching may lead to overtraining syndrome and overuse injuries when hard training continues beyond a reasonable period of time.
Continued overreaching without adequate rest/recovery and nutrient intake leads to overtraining and eventually overuse injuries. The effects of overtraining syndrome may last weeks or months, inhibiting Soldier performance and possibly causing acute or chronic injuries that may limit or end a Soldier’s term of service. Specific examples include rhabdomyolysis, pubic ramus stress fractures, compartment syndrome, and femoral neck stress fractures. Commanders and PRT leaders must be cognizant of overtraining symptoms listed in Table 5-1. Figure 5-1 is a graphic description of Soldier response/adaptation to overreaching, overtraining, and overuse.
Figure 5-1. Soldier response/adaptation to overreaching, overtraining, and overuse.
Causes Of Overtraining Syndrome And Overuse Injuries
Safe progression for performance improvement is complex, involving many variables that impact success (entry fitness level, ramp of progression, total volume of activity, rest/recovery, and nutrient intake). Many of these variables can be controlled following the principles of precision, progression, and integration, as well as, monitoring Soldiers in training and making training adjustments as required. Common mistakes to compensate for low performance and rate of improvement are the conduct of multiple training sessions, high intensity “smoke sessions,” and/or excessive corrective action using exercise. All of these are detrimental to performance improvement and lead to overuse injury.
Multiple Training Sessions
Multiple training sessions per day have both positive and negative effects as they relate to performance improvement and injury control. Highly conditioned Soldiers may respond well to an additional daily training session that challenges them differently than the one conducted earlier that same day. For example, on strength and mobility days, the morning PRT session may consist of CD and CL exercises, while the second PRT session may target specific muscle groups using resistance training equipment. On endurance and mobility days, speed training may be conducted during the morning PRT session and during activities such as aquatics. Use of endurance training machines (ETM) and agility exercises may be conducted in the afternoon. Soldiers with lower fitness levels, such as those entering IMT, recovering from injury, and those returning from extended deployment (RESET), are better served with a second training session of lower intensity that targets specific needs for improvement, but does not lead to overtraining. For example, Soldiers in BCT and OSUT (red, white, and blue phases [R/W/B]) typically perform a challenging PRT session in the early morning. If a second session is conducted in the afternoon, it should consist of activities that address specific needs and/or technique and mobility improvement, but not be so intense that they cause undue fatigue that may lead to overtraining. For example, a second PRT session should consist of activities that promote stability, mobility, and proper body mechanics, such as, 4 for the core (4C), hip stability drill (HSD), and RD. Commanders and PRT leaders should understand that “more is not better” and additional recovery time (rest) may elicit higher performance than the conduct of additional PRT sessions. In IMT, PRT two-a-days are highly discouraged and should be treated as the exception rather than the rule.
High Intensity/Volume Training Sessions
Soldiers commonly refer to these training sessions as “smoke sessions.” Many times in these types of sessions, the difficulty, intensity, and volume of exercise is too high and the purpose may be to punish Soldiers by bringing them to the point of exhaustion. This type of training is a dangerous practice that inhibits building resiliency because performance is degraded, motivation is lowered, and risk of injury is high. Thus, training sessions for the sole purpose of “smoking” Soldiers have no place in the PRT system. Many times, these sessions produce life-threatening conditions for Soldiers, such as, heat fatalities, debilitating overuse injuries, and rhabdomyolysis and may lead to permanent disability or death.
When exercise is used for corrective action, it is often performed incorrectly, promoting overtraining syndrome, and overuse injuries. Often corrective action mimics “smoke sessions,” punishing Soldiers with little or no corrective value. Consideration must be given to the number of times per day exercises are used for corrective action for individual Soldiers and groups of Soldiers to avoid the cumulative effect and limit the potential for overtraining syndrome. The following guidelines should be followed when employing exercise as corrective action.
- Only the following exercises should be selected for performance of corrective action.
- Only one of the above exercises may be selected for each corrective action.
- The number of repetitions should not exceed FIVE for any one of the exercises listed above.
Integration is the use of multiple training activities to achieve balance in the PRT program and enhance appropriate recovery between PRT activities. Because most WTBDs require a blend of strength, endurance, and mobility, PRT activity schedules are designed to progress Soldiers in their physical activity in an integrated manner. Several different exercises and activities are employed to develop all three components. Leaders should balance the PRT schedule with other training to avoid conflicts with physically demanding events that can lead to overtraining. For example, if the CFOC course is the day’s main physical training event, leaders should not schedule strength training for PRT, unless it is conducted later in the training day. If conflicts cannot be resolved, PRT should be performed after a physically demanding event (later in the duty day), rather than before the event (in the morning). The PRT schedule provides a well-rounded program that develops all of the components of physical readiness equally. PRT drills and activities include exercises that condition all major muscle groups for a total body workout. Failure to adhere to the training schedule as written will result in an emphasis on one component at the expense of another. The activities in PRT schedules should allow Soldiers to improve their overall physical fitness, combat readiness, and achieve the standard of the APFT.
Commanders and PRT leaders schedule PRT sessions based on the number of days available for each week of training. For example, if only three PRT days are available in the toughening phase, then the toughening phase schedule is followed, and those days where PRT is not conducted are omitted. Omitted training days are missed and should not be made up. The same principle applies to training schedules in the sustaining phase.