Certain factors must be part of any fitness training program for it to be successful. These factors are Frequency, Intensity, Time, and Type. The acronym FITT makes it easier to remember them. (See Figure 1- 1.)
Army Regulation 350-15 specifies that vigorous physical fitness training will be conducted 3 to 5 times per week. For optimal results, commanders must strive to conduct 5 days of physical training per week. Ideally, at least three exercise sessions for CR fitness, muscle endurance, muscle strength, and flexibility should be performed each week to improve fitness levels. Thus, for example, to obtain maximum gains in muscular strength, soldiers should have at least three strength-training sessions per week. Three physical activity periods a week, however, with only one session each of cardiorespiratory, strength, and flexibility training will not improve any of these three components.
With some planning, a training program for the average soldier can be developed which provides fairly equal emphasis on all the components of physical fitness. The following training program serves as an example.
In the first week, Monday, Wednesday, and Friday are devoted to CR fitness, and Tuesday and Thursday are devoted to muscle endurance and strength. During the second week, the training days are flip-flopped: muscle endurance and strength are trained on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and CR fitness is trained on Tuesday and Thursday. Stretching exercises are done in every training session to enhance flexibility. By training continuously in this manner, equal emphasis can be given to developing muscular endurance and strength and to CR fitness while training five days per week.
If the unit’s mission requires it, some muscular and some CR training can be done during each daily training session as long as a “hard day/recovery day” approach is used. For example, if a unit has a hard run on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, it may also choose to run on Tuesday and Thursday. However, on Tuesday and Thursday the intensity and/or distance/time should be reduced to allow recovery. Depending on the time available for each session and the way training sessions are conducted, all components of fitness can be developed using a three-day-per-week schedule. However, a five-day-per-week program is much better than three per week. (See Training Program in Chapter 10.)
Numerous other approaches can be taken when tailoring a fitness program to meet a unit’s mission as long as the principles of exercise are not violated.
Such programs, when coupled with good nutrition, will help keep soldiers fit to win.
Training at the right intensity is the biggest problem in unit programs. The intensity should vary with the type of exercise being done. Exercise for CR development must be strenuous enough to elevate the heart rate to between 60 and 90 percent of the heart rate reserve (HRR). (The calculation of percent HRR is explained in Chapter 2.) Those with low fitness levels should start exercising at a lower training heart rate (THR) of about 60 percent of HRR.
For muscular strength and endurance, intensity refers to the percentage of the maximum resistance that is used for a given exercise. When determining intensity in a strength-training program, it is easier to refer to a “repetition maximum” or “RM.” For example, a 1O-RM is the maximum weight that can be correctly lifted 10 times. An 8-12 RM is the weight that can be lifted 8 to 12 times correctly. Doing an exercise “correctly” means moving the weight steadily and with proper form without getting help from other muscle groups by jerking, bending, or twisting the body. For the average person who wants to improve both muscular strength and endurance, an 8-12 RM is best.
The person who wants to concentrate on muscular strength should use weights which let him do three to seven repetitions before his muscles fatigue.
Thus, for strength development, the weight used should be a 3-7 RM. On the other hand, the person who wants to concentrate on muscular endurance should use a 12+ RM. When using a 12+ RM as the training intensity, the more repetitions performed per set, over time, the greater will be the improvement in muscular endurance. Conversely, the greater the number of repetitions performed, the smaller will be the gains in strength. For example, a person who regularly trains with a weight which lets him do 100 repetitions per exercise (a 1OO-RM) greatly increases his muscular endurance but minimally improves his muscular strength. (See Chapter 3 for information on resistance training.)
All exercise sessions should include stretching during the warm-up and cool-down. One should stretch so there is slight discomfort, but no pain, when the movement is taken beyond the normal range of motion. (See Chapter 4 for information on stretching.)
Like intensity, the time spent exercising depends on the type of exercise being done. At least 20 to 30 continuous minutes of intense exercise must be used in order to improve cardiorespiratory endurance.
For muscular endurance and strength, exercise time equates to the number of repetitions done. For the average soldier, 8 to 12 repetitions with enough resistance to cause muscle failure improves both muscular endurance and strength. As soldiers progress, they will make better strength gains by doing two or three sets of each resistance exercise.
Flexibility exercises or stretches should be held for varying times depending on the objective of the session. For warming-up, such as before a run, each stretch should be held for 10 to 15 seconds. To improve flexibility, it is best to do stretching during the cooldown, with each stretch held for 30 to 60 seconds. If flexibility improvement is a major goal, at least one session per week should be devoted to developing it.
Type refers to the kind of exercise performed. When choosing the type, the commander should consider the principle of specificity. For example, to improve his soldiers’ levels of CR fitness (the major fitness component in the 2-mile run), he should have them do CR types of exercises. These are discussed in Chapter 2.
Ways to train for muscular strength and endurance are addressed in Chapter 3, while Chapter 4 discusses flexibility. These chapters will help commanders design programs which are tailor-made to their soldiers’ needs. The basic rule is that to improve performance, one must practice the particular exercise, activity, or skill he wants to improve. For example, to be good at push-ups, one must do pushups. No other exercise will improve push-up performance as effectively.