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Physical Readiness Training standards take shape

FORT BENNING, Ga. – Soldiers around the Army are taking a fresh approach to PT, following a formal overhaul earlier this year of the service’s physical fitness program.

Field Manual 21-20 has been replaced by Training Circular 3-22.20, known as Physical Readiness Training, which features techniques designed to improve conditioning and help prevent injuries. The new standardized model is based on lessons learned in eight years of war.

“It’s a big transition, due to the fact that the older Army – we were all about doing PT just to pass the (Army physical fitness) test, rather than to train as we would fight in combat,” said SSG Darius Andrus, a drill sergeant with A Company, 1st Battalion, 378th Infantry Regiment. “That’s the major change.”

He’s among 10 drill sergeants at Fort Benning who are part of the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command’s PRT transformation committee. As the program takes shape, the group coordinates any modifications or improvements with the U.S. Army Physical Fitness School at Fort Jackson, S.C.

Under FM 21-20, Soldiers only worked muscles used for sit-ups, push-ups and running, SSG Andrus said. PRT builds strength, endurance and mobility through activities such as crawling, climbing, sprinting, circuit training and combatives. He said other examples include preparing for foot patrols in full combat packs and equipment or hauling an injured buddy out of harm’s way.

“It stimulates all types of muscles,” he said. “The purpose of the PRT program is to develop a more agile, versatile, lethal and survivable force – while preparing Soldiers and units for the physical challenges of fulfilling the mission in the face of a wide range of threats, in complex operational environments, and with emerging technologies.”

Most civilians coming into the Army are increasingly out of shape, said LTG Mark Hertling, TRADOC’s deputy commanding general for initial military training. He discussed obesity and the poor physical shape of an average 18-year-old during the Infantry Warfighting Conference in mid-September.

“It’s not an Army problem. It’s a national problem,” he said.

The PT changes were necessary to reduce preventable training and sports injuries in Soldiers and boost mission readiness, SSG Andrus said. PRT was created in 2005 but didn’t become the Army’s primary PT program until March. The revisions in basic training were fully implemented at initial military training installations in July. 

The drill sergeant said the PRT program has significantly lowered the number of PT-related injuries across TRADOC. In the Army alone, musculoskeletal conditions account for more than half of all disabilities, creating compensation of about $125 million annually, he said.

“Knee and back injuries constitute a significant proportion of disability and limited duty,” he said. “PRT decreases injuries, which will in turn decrease the amount of patients seen by medical providers, lowering the compensation amount while increasing mission readiness.”

The youngest generation has grown up with energy drinks and soda while playing video games on the couch, instead of drinking milk and taking physical education classes in school, LTG Hertling said. The Army has seen a major increase in dental problems and bone injuries during basic training. In the last 15 years, average body fat has also increased to 30 percent in the South.

The general said the challenge is taking young Soldiers entering the Army under these conditions and getting them ready to hump the Hindu Kush, a 500-mile mountain range between northwest Pakistan and eastern and central Afghanistan.

“Obesity is a national problem,” LTG Hertling said, “but the Army will fix it – one Soldier at a time.”

Editor’s note: Lori Egan contributed to this report.


The Army’s Physical Readiness Training program consists of three conditioning phases:

  1. Initial phase – establishes a safe starting point for people considering entering the Army.
  2. Toughening phase – develops foundational fitness and fundamental movement skills.
  3. Sustaining phase – continues physical development and maintains a high level of physical readiness appropriate to a Soldier’s job and unit requirements.
  • Reconditioning is used to restore physical fitness levels that enable Soldiers to re-enter the toughening or sustaining phases safely, and then progress to their previous levels of conditioning.
  • Soldiers in basic combat training, one station unit training and Basic Officer Leader Course A participate in the toughening phase. Advanced individual training, the latter phases of OSUT, BOLC B and a Soldier’s first unit of assignment take part in the sustaining phase.
George N.