Physical Training Strategy
by Major Leslie J. Pierce
During my command of a divisional combat service support company, I made the following observations about physical training (PT): the routine exercises often called the "daily dozen" are boring; timed PT events are only effective for the motivated; junior leaders don't have ownership of the PT program; and some soldiers are afraid of the Army physical fitness test (APFT). I confirmed my suspicions with the first sergeant, and we developed a plan to correct the problems. Although the reactions of the platoon sergeants, platoon leaders, and the training noncommissioned officer (NCO) to our plan were mixed, everyone agreed to support it for a 90-day trial period, with after-action reviews every 30 days.
To change the routine, one of the four platoons was assigned responsibility for the company's PT events each week, on a rotating basis. What the first platoon planned for week one was what the entire company did during that week. For this part, the ground rules were fairly simple: the PT plans were scheduled a month in advance; each week, the platoon leader responsible for the next week's PT plan would brief or give handouts on the upcoming plan to other leaders within the company; PT could be carried out at any level from squad to company; and, to avoid boredom, we agreed that PT activities could not be the same during the week or on the following Monday. The goal was to vary the PT routine so we did not have a major PT event such as the daily dozen more than once within 4 PT days. As company commander, I imposed only two company-driven events. The first was a company run on the first Friday of each month, and the second was a company-wide APFT on the last Friday of each month.
I observed that, during exercises that were timed events, some soldiers were doing very few exercises while others were doing up to one a second. So we implemented a plan in which, at least for pushups and situps, soldiers had to complete a specific number of exercises. Those who finished quickly either watched and encouraged everyone else or did more of the exercise until the other soldiers finished. I believed that, if we performed to a quantity standard, the soldiers would have no option but to do the required number and (if done to standard) the faster the better.
By having the platoons come up with the PT schedule, we exposed the junior leaders to the execution of different types of PT events. We encouraged the platoon sergeants and platoon leaders to canvass their squad leaders for input into the PT schedule and events. In this way, we had the ideas and experience of 24 NCO's and officers to aid in PT scheduling and variety. This also took away the often-heard training arguments, "the only thing we ever do is the daily dozen," and "I sure wish they would let us ____, but we never do, so I'll keep quiet."
While trying to make PT fun and less routine, we needed to deal with the fear of the APFT that some soldiers have. I believe that some soldiers manage to avoid the APFT through sick call, temporary profile, car problems, and so forth because they are afraid they will fail. Our solution was to incorporate the APFT into the company PT plan so everyone took either a record or diagnostic APFT at the end of each month. This solution allowed everyone to practice the APFT, making the test less traumatic for those who feared it and offering a physical fitness tracking tool for leaders.
With each after-action report, we improved our planning and execution. Motivation for the new PT program remained high as soldiers were challenged, junior leaders were critically involved, and the individual and overall APFT scores increased. By the end of the 90-day trial period, all of our APFT "escapees" had passed the APFT.
In the following 90-day period, we further challenged the squad leaders by making squad APFT scores a part of their NCO evaluation reports. We found that about 40 percent of the squad's APFT scores remained high, 50 percent improved as squad leaders motivated and encouraged their troops during PT, and 10 percent kept passing but with slower progress.
I believe this program is based on some fundamental truths about the value of variety in training and the importance of junior leader participation as a multiplier in any program worth doing well. It was successful because it transformed a boring PT routine into a valuable program that gave participants input and junior leaders accountability.
Major Leslie J. (Chip) Pierce is an assignments manager for the Medical Services Corps at the Total Army Personnel Command, Alexandria, Virginia. He has a bachelor's degree from Louisiana State University at Shreveport and a master of arts degree in human resources development from Webster University in Missouri. He completed the Army Medical Department Officer Basic and Advanced Courses, the Army Combined Arms and Services Staff School, and is a graduate of the Army Command and General Staff College.