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

1-7 Types of Fitness Programs

Types of Fitness Programs
The Army has too many types of units with different missions to have one single fitness program for everyone. Therefore, only broad categories of programs and general considerations are covered here. They are classified as unit, individual, and special programs.

Unit programs must support unit missions. A single unit may require several types of programs. Some units, such as infantry companies, have generally the same types of soldiers and MOSS. On the other hand, certain combat–service-support units have many different types of soldiers, each with unique needs. Commanders can develop programs for their own unit by following the principles in this chapter. MFTs know how to help commanders develop programs for their units/soldiers.

Commanders of units composed of both men and women must also understand the physiological differences between the sexes. These are summarized in Appendix A. Although women are able to participate in the same fitness programs as men, they must work harder to perform at the same absolute level of work or exercise. The same holds true for poorly-conditioned soldiers running with well-conditioned soldiers.

To overcome this problem in the case of running, for example, the unit should use ability group runs rather than unit runs. Soldiers in a given ability group will run at a set pace, with groups based on each soldier’s most recent 2-mile-run time. Three to six groups per company-sized unit are usually enough. Within each group, each soldier’s heart rate while running should be at his own THR. When the run is not intense enough to bring one or more of the soldiers to THR, it is time for those soldiers to move up to the next ability group.
Ability group running does two things more effectively than unit runs: 1) it lets soldiers improve to their highest attainable fitness level; and, 2) it more quickly brings subpar performers up to minimum standards.

It also allows soldiers to train to excel on the APFT which, in turn, helps promotion opportunities. Holding a fit soldier back by making him run at a slow, unit-run pace (normally less than his minimum pace for the 2- mile run on the APFT) hurts his morale and violates the principle of training to challenge.

Initial Entry Training (IET)
The training program in basic training (BT) brings soldiers up to the level of physical fitness they need to do their jobs as soldiers. However, the program requires good cadre leadership to ensure that it is appropriate, demanding, and challenging.

Trainees report to active duty at various levels of physical fitness and ability. During basic training they pass through the preparatory into the conditioning phase. During “fill” periods and the first week of training, the focus is on learning and developing the basics of physical fitness.

Training emphasizes progressive conditioning of the whole body. To minimize the risk of injury, exercises must be done properly, and the intensity must progress at an appropriate rate. Special training should be considered for soldiers who fail to maintain the unit’s or group’s rate of progression. Commanders should evaluate each basic trainee who falls below standard and give him individualized, special assistance to improve his deficiencies.

Additional training should not be used as punishment for a soldier’s inability to perform well.

More PT is not necessarily better. Chapter 11 describes how to develop physical training programs in IET units.

Advanced Individual Training (AIT)
Although AIT focuses on technical and MOS-oriented subjects, physical fitness must be emphasized throughout. Most soldiers arriving from basic training are already well into the conditioning phase. Therefore, AIT unit training should focus on preparing soldiers to meet the physical requirements of their initial duty assignments. (See TRADOC Reg. 350-6, Chapter 4.)

Walking, running, and climbing during unit training contribute to physical fitness, but they are not enough. Physical training in AIT requires continued, regular, vigorous exercise which stresses the whole body and addresses all the components of fitness.

By the end of AIT, soldiers must meet APFT standards. With good programs and special training, all healthy AIT graduate would easily be able to demonstrate that they, possess the required level of physical fitness.

TOE and TDA Units-Active Component
There are many types of units in the Army, and their missions often require different levels of fitness. TOE and TDA units must emphasize attaining and maintaining the fitness level required for the mission.

The unit’s standards may exceed the Army’s minimums. By regulation (AR 350- 15), the unit’s standards can be established by the unit’s commander, based on mission requirements.

TOE and TDA Units-Reserve Components
The considerations for the active component also apply to reserve components (RCS). However, since members of RC units cannot participate together in collective physical training on a regular basis, RC unit programs must focus on the individual’s fitness responsibilities and efforts. Commanders, however, must still ensure that the unit’s fitness level and individual PT programs are maintained. MFTs can give valuable assistance to RC commanders and soldiers.

Many soldiers are assigned to duty positions that offer little opportunity to participate in collective unit PT programs. Examples are HQDA, MACOM staffs, hospitals, service school staff and faculty, recruiting, and ROTC. In such organizations, commanders must develop leadership environments that encourage and motivate soldiers to accept individual responsibility for their own physical fitness. Fitness requirements are the same for these personnel as for others. Section chiefs and individual soldiers need to use the fundamental principles and techniques outlined in this manual to help them attain and maintain a high level of physical fitness. MFTs can help develop individual fitness programs.


The day-to-day unit PT program conducted for most soldiers may not be appropriate for all unit members. Some of them may not be able to exercise at the intensity or duration best suited to their needs.

At least three groups of soldiers may need special PT programs. They are as follows:

  • Those who fail the APFT and do not have medical profiles.
  • Those who are overweight/overfat according to AR 600-9.
  • Those who have either permanent or temporary medical profiles.

Leaders must also give special consideration to soldiers who are age 40 or older and to recent arrivals who cannot meet the standards of their new unit.

Special programs must be tailored to each soldier’s needs, and trained, knowledgeable leaders should develop and conduct them. This training should be conducted with the unit, If this is impossible, it should at least occur at the same time.

There must be a positive approach to all special fitness training. Soldiers who lack enough upper body strength to do a given number of push-ups or enough stamina to pass the 2-mile run should not be ridiculed. Instead, their shortcomings should be assessed and the information used to develop individualized programs to help them remedy their specific shortcomings. A company-sized unit may have as many as 20 soldiers who need special attention. Only smart planning will produce good programs for all of them.

Commanders must counsel soldiers, explaining that special programs are being developed in their best interests. They must make it clear that standards will be enforced. Next, they should coordinate closely with medical personnel to develop programs that fit the capabilities of soldiers with medical limitations. Each soldier should then begin an individualized program based on his needs.

MFTs know how to assess CR endurance, muscular strength and endurance, flexibility, and body composition. They can also develop thorough, tailor-made programs for all of a unit’s special population.

APFT Failures
Although it is not the heart of the Army’s physical fitness program, the APFT is the primary instrument for evaluating the fitness level of each soldier. It is structured to assess the muscular endurance of specific muscle groups and the functional capacity of the CR system.
Soldiers with reasonable levels of overall physical fitness should easily pass the APFT. Those whose fitness levels are substandard will fail. Soldiers who fail the APFT must receive special attention. Leaders should analyze their weaknesses and design programs to overcome them. For example, if the soldier is overweight, nutrition and dietary counseling may be needed along with a special exercise program. DA Pam 350-22 outlines several ways to improve a soldier’s performance on each of the APFT events.

When trying to improve APFT performances, leaders must ensure that soldiers are not overloaded to the point where the fitness training becomes counter-productive. They should use ability groups for their running program and, in addition to a total-body strength-training program, should include exercises designed for push-up and sit-up improvement. When dealing with special populations, two very important principles are overload and recovery. The quality, not just the quantity, of the workout should be emphasized. Two-a-day sessions, unless designed extremely well, can be counterproductive More PT is not always better.

Overweight Soldiers
Designers of weight loss and physical training programs for overweight soldiers should remember this: even though exercise is the key to sensible weight loss, reducing the number of calories consumed is equally important. A combination of both actions is best.

The type of exercise the soldier does affects the amount and nature of the weight loss. Both running and walking burn about 100 calories per mile. One pound of fat contains 3,500 calories. Thus, burning one pound of fat through exercise alone requires a great deal of running or walking. On the other hand, weight lost through dieting alone includes the loss of useful muscle tissue. Those who participate in an exercise program that emphasizes the development of strength and muscular endurance, however, can actually increase their muscle mass while losing body fat. These facts help explain why exercise and good dietary practices must be combined.

Unit MFTs can help a soldier determine the specific caloric requirement he needs to safely and successfully lose excess fat. They can devise a sound, individualized plan to arrive at that reduced caloric intake. Likewise, unit MFTs can also develop training programs which will lead to fat loss without the loss of useful muscle tissue.

Generally, overweight soldiers should strive to reduce their fat weight by two pounds per week. When a soldier loses weight, either by diet or exercise or both, a large initial weight loss is not unusual. This may be due to water loss associated with the using up of the body’s carbohydrate stores. Although these losses may be encouraging to the soldier, little of this initial weight loss is due to the loss of fat.

Soldiers should be weighed under similar circumstances and at the same time each day. This helps avoid false measurements due to normal fluctuations in their body weight during the day. As a soldier develops muscular endurance and strength, lean muscle mass generally increases. Because muscle weighs more per unit of volume than fat, caution is advised in assessing his progress. Just because a soldier is not losing weight rapidly does not necessarily mean he is not losing fat. In fact, a good fitness program often results in gaining muscle mass while simultaneously losing fat weight. If there is reasonable doubt, his percentage body of fat should be determined.

Soldiers with Profiles
This manual stresses what soldiers can do while on medical profile rather than what they cannot do.

DOD Directive 1308.1 requires that, “Those personnel identified with medically limiting defects shall be placed in a physical fitness program consistent with their limitations as advised by medical authorities.”

AR 350-15 states, “For individuals with limiting profiles, commanders will develop physical fitness programs in cooperation with health care personnel.”

The Office of the Surgeon General has developed DA Form 3349 to ease the exchange of information between health care personnel and the units. On this form, health care personnel list, along with limitations, those activities that the profiled soldier can do to maintain his fitness level. With this information, the unit should direct profiled soldiers to participate in the activities they can do. (An example of DA Form 3349 is in Appendix B.)

All profiled soldiers should take part in as much of the regular fitness program as they can. Appropriate activities should be substituted to replace those regular activities in which they cannot participate.

Chapter 2 describes some aerobic activities the soldier can do to maintain cardiorespiratory fitness when he cannot run. Chapter 3 shows how to strengthen each body part. Applying this information should allow some strength training to continue even when body parts are injured. The same principle applies to flexibility (Chapter 4).

Medical treatment and rehabilitation should be aimed at restoring the soldier to a suitable level of physical fitness. Such treatment should use appropriate, progressive physical activities with medical or unit supervision.

MFTs can help profiled soldiers by explaining alternative exercises and how to do them safely under the limitations of their profile. MFTs are not, however, trained to diagnose injuries or prescribe rehabilitative exercise programs. This is the domain of qualified medical personnel.

The activity levels of soldiers usually decrease while they are recovering from sickness or injury. As a result, they should pay special attention to their diets to avoid gaining body fat. This guidance becomes more important as soldiers grow older. With medical supervision, proper diet, and the right PT programs, soldiers should be able to overcome their physical profiles and quickly return to their normal routines and fitness levels.

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