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

3-4 Workout Techniques

Workout Techniques
Workouts for improving muscular endurance or strength must follow the principles just described. There are also other factors to consider, namely, safety, exercise selection, and phases of conditioning.

Major causes of injury when strength training are improper lifting techniques combined with lifting weights that are too heavy. Each soldier must understand how to do each lift correctly before he starts his strength training program.

The soldier should always do weight training with a partner, or spotter, who can observe his performance as he exercises. To ensure safety and the best results, both should know how to use the equipment and the proper spotting technique for each exercise.

A natural tendency in strength training is to see how much weight one can lift. Lifting too much weight forces a compromise in form and may lead to injury. All weights should be selected so that proper form can be maintained for the appropriate number of repetitions.
Correct breathing is another safety factor in strength training. Breathing should be constant during exercise. The soldier should never hold his breath, as this can cause dizziness and even loss of consciousness. As a general rule, one should exhale during the positive (concentric) phase of contraction as the weight or weight stack moves away from the floor, and inhale during the negative (eccentric) phase as the weight returns toward the floor.

When beginning a resistance-training program, the soldier should choose about 8 to 16 exercises that work all of the body’s major muscle groups. Usually eight well-chosen exercises will serve as a good starting point. They should include those for the muscles of the leg, low back, shoulders, and so forth. The soldier should choose exercises that work several muscle groups and try to avoid those that isolate single muscle groups. This will help him train a greater number of muscles in a given time. For example, doing lat pulldowns on the “lat machine” works the latissimus dorsi of the back and the biceps muscles of the upper arm. On the other hand, an exercise like concentration curls for the biceps muscles of the upper arm, although an effective exercise, only works the arm flexor muscles. Also, the concentration curl requires twice as much time as lat pulldowns because only one arm is worked at a time.

Perhaps a simpler way to select an exercise is to determine the number of joints in the body where movement occurs during a repetition. For most people, especially beginners, most of the exercises in the program should be “multi-joint” exercises. The exercise should provide movement at more than one joint. For example, the pull-down exercise produces motion at both the shoulder and elbow joints. The concentration curl, however, only involves the elbow joint.

There are three phases of conditioning: preparatory, conditioning, and maintenance. These are also described in Chapter 1.

Preparatory Phase
The soldier should use very light weights during the first week (the preparatory phase) which includes the first two to three workouts. This is very important, because the beginner must concentrate at first on learning the proper form for each exercise. Using light weights also helps minimize muscle soreness and decreases the likelihood of injury to the muscles, joints, and ligaments. During the second week, he should use progressively heavier weights. By the end of the second week (4 to 6 workouts), he should know how much weight on each exercise will allow him to do 8 to 12 repetitions to muscle failure. If he can do only seven repetitions of an exercise, the weight must be reduced; if he can do more than 12, the weight should be increased.

Conditioning Phase
The third week is normally the start of the conditioning phase for the beginning weight trainer. During this phase, the soldier should increase the amount of weight used and/or the intensity of the workout as his muscular strength and/or endurance increases. He should do one set of 8 to 12 repetitions for each of the heavy-resistance exercises. When he can do more than 12 repetitions of any exercise, he should increase the weight until he can again do only 8 to 12 repetitions. This usually involves an increase in weight of about five percent. This process continues indefinitely. As long as he continues to progress and get stronger, he does not need to do more than one set per exercise. If he stops making progress with one set of 8 to 12 repetitions per exercise, he may benefit from adding another set of 8 to 12 repetitions on those exercises in which progress has slowed. As time goes on and he progresses, he may increase the number to three sets of an exercise to get even further gains in strength and/or muscle mass. Three sets per exercise is the maximum most soldiers will ever need to do.

Maintenance Phase
Once the soldier reaches a high level of fitness, the maintenance phase is used to maintain that level. The emphasis in this phase is no longer on progression but on retention. Although training three times a week for muscle endurance and strength gives the best results, one can maintain them by training the major muscle groups properly one or two times a week. More frequent training, however, is required to reach and maintain peak fitness levels. Maintaining the optimal level of fitness should become part of each soldier’s life-style and training routine. The maintenance phase should be continued throughout his career and, ideally, throughout his life.
As with aerobic training, the soldier should do strength training three times a week and should allow at least 48 hours of rest from resistance training between workouts for any given muscle group.

Timed sets refers to a method of physical training in which as many repetitions as possible of a given exercise are performed in a specified period of time. After an appropriate period of rest, a second, third, and so on, set of that exercise is done in an equal or lesser time period. The exercise period, recovery period, and the number of sets done should be selected to make sure that an overload of the involved muscle groups occurs.

The use of timed sets, unlike exercises performed in cadence or for a specific number of repetitions, helps to ensure that each soldier does as many repetitions of an exercise as possible within a period of time. It does not hold back the more capable performer by restricting the number

of repetitions he may do. Instead, soldiers at all levels of fitness can individually do the number of repetitions they are capable of and thereby be sure they obtain an adequate training stimulus.

In this FM, timed sets will be applied to improving soldier’s sit-up and push-up performance. (See Figures 3-2 and 3-3. ) Many different but equally valid approaches can be taken when using timed sets to improve push-up and sit-up performance. Below, several of these will be given.

It should first be stated that improving sit-up and push-up performance, although important for the APFT, should not be the main goal of an Army physical training program. It must be to develop an optimal level of physical fitness which will help soldiers carry out their mission during combat. Thus, when a soldier performs a workout geared to develop muscle endurance and strength, the goal should be to develop sufficient strength and/or muscle endurance in all the muscle groups he will be called upon to use as he performs his mission. To meet this goal, and to be assured that all emergencies can be met, a

training regimen which exercises all the body’s major muscle groups must be developed and followed. Thus, as a general rule, a muscle endurance orstrength training workout should not be designed to work exclusively, or give priority to, those muscle groups worked by the sit-up or push-up event.

For this reason, the best procedure to follow when doing a resistance exercise is as follows. First, perform a workout to strengthen all of the body’s major muscles. Then, do timed sets to improve push-up and sit-up performance. Following this sequence ensures that all major muscles are worked. At the same time, it reduces the amount of time and work that must be devoted to push-ups and sit-ups. This is because the muscles worked by those two exercises will already be pre-exhausted.

The manner in which timed sets for push-ups and sit-ups are conducted should occasionally be varied. This ensures continued gains and minimizes boredom. This having been said, here is a very time-efficient way of conducting push-up/sit-up improvement. Alternate timed sets of push-ups and

timed sets of sit-ups with little or no time between sets allowed for recovery. In this way, the muscle groups used by the push-up can recover while the muscles used in the sit-up are exercised, and vice versa. The following is an example of this type of approach:

If all soldiers exercise at the same time, the above activity can be finished in about 3.5 minutes. As the soldiers’ levels of fitness improve, the difficulty of the activity can be increased. This is done by lengthening the time period of any or all timed sets, by decreasing any rest period between timed sets, by increasing the number of timed sets performed, or by any combination of these.

To add variety and increase the overall effectiveness of the activity, different types of push-ups (regular, feet-elevated, wide-hand, close-hand, and so forth) and sit-ups (regular, abdominal twists, abdominal curls, and so forth) can be done. When performing this type of workout, pay attention to how the soldiers are responding, and make adjustments accordingly. For example, the times listed in the chart above may prove to be too long or too short for some soldiers. In the same way, because of the nature of the situp, it may become apparent that some soldiers can benefit by taking slightly more time for timed sets of sit-ups than for push-ups.

When using timed sets for push-up and sit-up improvement, soldiers can also perform all sets of one exercise before doing the other. For example, several timed sets of push-ups can be done followed by several sets of situps, or vice versa. With this approach, rest intervals must be placed between timed sets. The following example can be done after the regular strength workout and is reasonable starting routine for most soldiers.

During a timed set of push-ups, a soldier may reach temporary muscle failure at any time before the set is over. If this happens, he should immediately drop to his knees and continue doing modified push-ups on his knees.

Finally, as in any endeavor, soldiers must set goals for themselves. This applies when doing each timed set and when planning for their next and future APFTs.

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