Army Physical Fitness Test (APFT) FM 21-20 / TC 3-22.20 Training Info

1-6 Phases of Fitness Conditioning

Phases of Fitness Conditioning

The physical fitness training program is divided into three phases: preparatory, conditioning, and maintenance. The starting phases for different units or individuals vary depending on their age, fitness levels, and previous physical activity.

Young, healthy persons may be able to start with the conditioning phase, while those who have been exercising regularly may already be in the maintenance phase. Factors such as extended field training, leave time, and illness can cause soldiers to drop from a maintenance to a conditioning phase. Persons who have not been active, especially if they are age 40 or older, should start with the preparatory phase. Many soldiers who fall into this category may be recovering from illness or injury, or they may be just out of high school. Most units will have soldiers in all three phases of training at the same time.


The preparatory phase helps both the cardiorespiratory and muscular systems get used to exercise, preparing the body to handle the conditioning phase. The work load in the beginning must be moderate. Progression from a lower to a higher level of fitness should be achieved by gradual, planned increases in frequency, intensity, and time. Initially, poorly conditioned soldiers should run, or walk if need be, three times a week at a comfortable pace that elevates their heart rate to about 60 percent HRR for 10 to 15 minutes. Recovery days should be evenly distributed throughout the week, and training should progress slowly. Soldiers should continue at this or an appropriate level until they have no undue fatigue or muscle soreness the day following the exercise. They should then lengthen their exercise session to 16 to 20 minutes and/or elevate their heart rate to about 70 percent HRR by increasing their pace. To be sure their pace is faster, they should run a known distance and try to cover it in less time. Those who feel breathless or whose heart rate rises beyond their training heart rate (THR) while running should resume walking until the heart rate returns to the correct training level. When they can handle an intensity of 70 percent HRR for 20 to 25 minutes, they should be ready for the next phase. Chapter 2 shows how to determine the THR, that is, the right training level during aerobic training.

The preparatory phase for improving muscular endurance and strength through weight training should start easily and progress gradually. Beginning weight trainers should select about 8 to 12 exercises that work all the body’s major muscle groups. They should use only very light weights the first week (that is, the first two to three workouts). This is very important, as they must first learn the proper form for each exercise. Light weights will also help minimize muscle soreness and decrease the likelihood of injury to the muscles, joints, and ligaments. During the second week, they should use progressively heavier weights on each resistance exercise. By the end of the second week (four to six workouts), they should know how much weight will let them do 8 to 12 repetitions to muscle failure for each exercise. At this point the conditioning phase begins.


To reach the desired level of fitness, soldiers must increase the amount of exercise and/or the workout intensity as their strength and/or endurance increases.

To improve cardiorespiratory endurance, for example, they must increase the length of time they run. They should start with the preparatory phase and gradually increase the running time by one or two minutes each week until they can run continuously for 20 to 30 minutes. At this point, they can increase the intensity until they reach the desired level of fitness. They should train at least three times a week and take no more than two days between workouts.

For weight trainers, the conditioning phase normally begins during the third week. They should do one set of 8 to 12 repetitions for each of the selected resistance exercises. When they can do more than 12 repetitions of any exercise, they should increase the weight used on that exercise by about five percent so they can again do only 8 to 12 repetitions. This process continues throughout the conditioning phase. As long as they continue to progress and get stronger while doing only one set of each exercise, it is not necessary for them to do more than one set per exercise. When they stop making progress with one set, they should add another set on those exercises in which progress has slowed. As training progresses, they may want to increase the sets to three to help promote further increases in strength and/ or muscle mass.

For maximum benefit, soldiers should do strength training three times a week with 48 hours of rest between workouts for any given muscle group. It helps to periodically do a different type of exercise for a given muscle or muscle group. This adds variety and ensures better strength development.

The conditioning phase ends when a soldier is physically mission-capable and all personal, strength-related goals and unit-fitness goals have been met.


The maintenance phase sustains the high level of fitness achieved in the conditioning phase. The emphasis here is no longer on progression. A well-designed, 45- to 60-minute workout (including warm-up and cool-down) at the right intensity three times a week is enough to maintain almost any appropriate level of physical fitness. These workouts give soldiers time to stabilize their flexibility, CR endurance, and muscular endurance and strength. However, more frequent training may be needed to reach and maintain peak fitness levels.

Soldiers and units should always be encouraged to progress beyond minimum requirements. Maintaining an optimal level of fitness should become part of every soldier’s life-style and should be continued throughout his life.

An effective program uses a variety of activities to develop muscular endurance and strength, CR endurance, and flexibility, and to achieve good body composition. It should also promote the development of coordination as well as basic physical skills. (See Chapter 10 for guidance in constructing a unit program.)

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