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Taking shape: New PT program relates to Soldier tasks

FORT JACKSON, S.C. — From zero to 300 in three phases. 

That’s the goal for Soldiers participating in the Army’s new physical fitness training program being implemented at Initial Military Training schools here at Fort Jackson. 

Through the U.S. Army Physical Fitness School’s new Physical Readiness Program, IMT Soldiers are learning a systematic method to not only boost their physical training test scores, but also to prepare for the physical challenges of Soldiering both at garrison and during combat.

“We’ve created an Army physical readiness training program that supports Army Force Generation (ARFORGEN), which means how units are going to deploy, how they’re going to fight, how they’re going to redeploy — reset or refit, and then deploy again back to the box,” said Frank Palkoska, director of USAPFS. 

Palkoska and USAPFS’s deputy director, Stephen Van Camp, recently completed the final edition of a new PRT training circular they have been working on for nearly a decade. They sent what they call the “emerging doctrine” to the Army Publishing Directorate March 5 to be reviewed and printed. 

Though the circular will likely replace the current Army Field Manual 21-20 in the near future, its contents are only being taught at IMT institutions, a recent mandate from Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling, TRADOC’s deputy commanding general for IMT.

“We have a multi-prong attack (to teach ing it),” Van Camp said. “Drill sergeants are learning and teaching it. BCT Soldiers are getting it. Eventually, in the future, we’ll put together a PRT leader course so everybody in their career can get bigger and better progression toward (mastering it).”

Whereas the old PT was more of a civilian-based fitness program established from American College of Sports Medicine guidelines, the new PRT is based on a system of training that relates to Soldier performance, Palkoska said.

“Physical training prior to the war wasn’t really linked to what Soldiers had to do task performance-wise,” Palkoska said. “Soldiers would get up in the morning, do PT and wouldn’t consider how it applied to the other training that they did during the rest of the training day. We looked at how to link physical training to the performance of the tasks that the Soldiers had to do, whether it was combat related tasks or tasks related to their specific (military occupational specialties).”

To develop the new PT regimen, Palkoska and Van Camp said they studied Soldiers and whom they call “tactical athletes,” whose occupations require a similar level of fitness to perform their work. 

“We looked at how professionals such as police, SWAT teams, firefighters and rescue teams require a certain level of physical proficiency just to be able to perform the tasks of the job,” Van Camp said. “If you’re a firefighter and you can’t deploy the fire hose or go up a certain amount of stairs to rescue people or do certain tasks, then you’re not going to be able to perform.

“Well, the common core of what military people do is warrior tasks and battle drills, some of the most basic things they train for in basic training,” Van Camp said. “We developed the training to support the successful completion or performance of those warrior tasks and battle drills.” 

The PRT is broken down into three phases: initial, toughening and sustaining. 

During the initial conditioning phase, prospective Soldiers begin training according to a pocket PT guide given to them at their recruiting stations to help them adapt to PT before entering BCT, Van Camp said. Once the Soldiers come into BCT, they enter the toughening phase, in which they learn the Army’s foundational fitness and fundamental movement skills. 

As they move to Advanced Individual Training, where they train for their MOS, they enter the sustaining phase, then continue increasing their fitness levels at their gaining units and throughout deployments. 

During each phase, Soldiers participate in different variations of ground and off-ground training as well as combatives to work on three fundamental components of PRT: strength, endurance and mobility, Van Camp said. 

One significant change to the PRT is that in order to prevent injuries, the new program limits the number of repetitions for each exercise. In the past, Soldiers were required to do 50 to 100 reps for some exercises. In the new program, they are limited to doing five four-counts in the beginning stages, and work their way up to 10, or work on timed sets or circuits, Palkoska said. 

Exercises are modified for Soldiers returning from injuries or going through reconditioning, which allows them to restore their physical fitness levels to previous levels of conditioning.

The new program also has significant differences in running requirements. Rather than running for distance, Soldiers will now run for time and are allowed no more than 30 minutes of running during any given session. Speed running is required once per week, to include training such as hill sprinting and shuttle runs. 

“The key is to run faster, not longer,” Palkoska said. “Because the longer you run, the more predisposed you are to overuse injuries.

“And Soldiers in combat don’t run long distance,” he said. “They run very, very short distances as fast as they can … to get out of danger.” 

George N.