Platoon run wearing full ACUs, body armor, and pro-masks while carrying logs

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Earlier this week I wrote about the power of scoring a 300 on the APFT, and in that post I linked to an older post defending the APFT as a good, easy to administer measure of baseline fitness. I actually don’t write about physical training that much, because it is one of the things that are hard to talk about in the military because just about everyone thinks they’re an expert.

Since physical training seems to be the theme on the blog this week, I’d figure I’d write about something I’ve noticed since being back in the Army in regards to PT. I’m prefacing what follows as being completely anecdotal – although I’ve confirmed it over and over with NCOs and officers who have been in for awhile.

First, it seems that the physical fitness of soldiers today is lower than it was a decade (+) ago when I was enlisted. This reflects in lower APFT scores (than I remember) and a general lack of enthusiasm for fitness. This is not to say that platoon’s don’t have their physical fitness monsters. They still exist and mostly blow the other soldiers away in terms of physical fitness. But the fitness of the soldiers who only do PT when they’re forced to do PT seems to be lower than it was before. Of course, this can have a lot to do with leadership and good PT plans – no question. And in fairness, the time requirements placed on soldiers today and the number of tasks that need to be completed in a given day also seems to have increased over the last decade as well. PT is often the first thing to fall off of the training plan out of necessity.

At the same time, we’re living in a wonderful time in terms of knowledge and understanding of physical fitness. The past twenty years has seen an explosive growth in what we know about the human body and how to maximize performance. Whether you hate it or love it, CrossFit has reinvigorated the art and science of exercise performance. Companies like Military Athlete (now StrongSwiftDurable), which studies how exercise correlates to actual tactical performance didn’t exist before. The internet allows this information to be shared and accessed instantaneously and at extremely low cost.

So while the general fitness of Americans has decreased, so has the fitness of the incoming generation of soldiers. At the same time, the top level potential of those interested has increased. I’ve seen the lowest of the lows and the highest of the highs during the same time period.

Which brings me to the strange article title.

Part of the problem, as I can see it, is that because PT often falls off training plans and getting everyone together to do PT on a regular basis is becoming harder and harder, well-intentioned NCOs and officers often try to do everything all at once. At my current post, it isn’t uncommon to see an out of shape platoon wearing full kit and pro-masks running down the street carrying logs. Half of the platoon, of course, is 100 meters behind, struggling just to keep up.

There’s a tendency – especially among junior leaders who are good at PT – to try and “break off” their subordinates during PT, either as a way to “get it all in” or simply to establish that they are indeed good at PT. A commander I served with wrote about this last year, as a great lesson learned.

One of the hardest things to do as a leader during PT is train down to the lowest common denominator. A leader who is good at PT most likely got there by training hard, almost certainly on his or her own time, outside of work. What is hard to understand is that many soldiers – if not most – only do the unit PT they’re forced to do in the morning. This, after experiencing PT as a punitive event in basic training. What is right for the leader who is also good at PT probably isn’t the same for the young soldier who rolls out of bed dreading it every day.

There’s a way to get that soldier on board, but I guarantee you that a platoon run in full kit and pro-masks while carrying logs is not it.

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