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

8-1 Obstacle Courses

Obstacle Courses
Physical performance and success in combat may depend on a soldier’s ability to perform skills like those required on the obstacle course. For this reason, and because they help develop and test basic motor skills, obstacle courses are valuable for physical training.
There are two types of obstacle courses–conditioning and confidence. The conditioning course has low obstacles that must be negotiated quickly. Running the course can be a test of the soldier’s basic motor skills and physical condition. After soldiers receive instruction and practice the skills, they run the course against time.

A confidence course has higher, more difficult obstacles than a conditioning course. It gives soldiers confidence in their mental and physical abilities and cultivates their spirit of daring. Soldiers are encouraged, but not forced, to go through it. Unlike conditioning courses, confidence courses are not run against time.

Commanders may build obstacles and courses that are nonstandard (that is, not covered in this manual) in order to create training situations based on their unit’s METL.

When planning and building such facilities, designers should, at a minimum, consider the following guidance:

– Secure approval from the local installation’s commander.
– Prepare a safety and health-risk assessment to support construction of each obstacle.
– Coordinate approval for each obstacle with the local or supporting safety office. Keep a copy of the approval in the permanent records.
– Monitor and analyze all injuries.
– Inspect all existing safety precautions on-site to verify their effectiveness.
– Review each obstacle to determine the need for renewing its approval.

Instructors must always be alert to safety. They must take every precaution to minimize injuries as soldiers go through obstacle courses. Soldiers must do warm-up exercises before they begin. This prepares them for the physically demanding tasks ahead and helps minimize the chance of injury. A cool-down after the obstacle course is also necessary, as it helps the body recover from strenuous exercise.

Commanders should use ingenuity in building courses, making good use of streams, hills, trees, rocks, and other natural obstacles. They must inspect courses for badly built obstacles, protruding nails, rotten logs, unsafe landing pits, and other safety hazards.

There are steps which designers can take to reduce injuries. For example, at the approach to each obstacle, they should post an instruction board or sign with text and pictures showing how to negotiate it. Landing pits for jumps or vaults, and areas under or around obstacles where soldiers may fall from a height, should be filled with loose sand or sawdust. All landing areas should be raked and refilled before each use. Puddles of water under obstacles can cause a false sense of security. These could result in improper landing techniques and serious injuries. Leaders should postpone training on obstacle courses when wet weather makes them slippery.

Units should prepare their soldiers to negotiate obstacle courses by doing conditioning exercises beforehand. Soldiers should attain an adequate level of conditioning before they run the confidence course, Soldiers who have not practiced the basic skills or run the conditioning course should not be allowed to use the confidence course.

Instructors must explain and demonstrate the correct ways to negotiate all obstacles before allowing soldiers to run them. Assistant instructors should supervise the negotiation of higher, more dangerous obstacles. The emphasis is on avoiding injury. Soldiers should practice each obstacle until they are able to negotiate it. Before they run the course against time, they should make several slow runs while the instructor watches and makes needed corrections. Soldiers should never be allowed to run the course against time until they have practiced on all the obstacles.

If possible, an obstacle course should be shaped like a horseshoe or figure eight so that the finish is close to the start. Also, signs should be placed to show the route.

A course usually ranges from 300 to 450 yards and has 15 to 25 obstacles that are 20 to 30 yards apart. The obstacles are arranged so that those which exercise the same groups of muscles are separated from one another.

The obstacles must be solidly built. Peeled logs that are six to eight inches wide are ideal for most of them. Sharp points and corners should be eliminated,

and landing pits for jumps or vaults must be filled with sand or sawdust. Courses should be built and marked so that soldiers cannot sidestep obstacles or detour around them. Sometimes, however, courses can provide alternate obstacles that vary in difficulty.
Each course should be wide enough for six to eight soldiers to use at the same time, thus encouraging competition. The lanes for the first few obstacles should be wider and the obstacles easier than those that follow. In this way, congestion is avoided and soldiers can spread out on the course. To minimize the possibility of falls and injuries due to fatigue, the last two or three obstacles should not be too difficult or involve high climbing.

Trainers must always be aware that falls from the high obstacles could cause serious injury. Soldiers must be in proper physical condition, closely supervised, and adequately instructed. The best way for the timer to time the runners is to stand at the finish and call out the minutes and seconds as each soldier finishes. If several watches are available, each wave of soldiers is timed separately. If only one watch is available, the waves are started at regular intervals such as every 30 seconds. If a soldier fails to negotiate an obstacle, a previously determined penalty is imposed.

When the course is run against time, stopwatches, pens, and a unit roster are needed. Soldiers may run the course with or without individual equipment.

Obstacles for Jumping
These obstacles are ditches to clear with one leap, trenches to jump into, heights to jump from, or hurdles. (See Figure 8-1.)

Obstacles for Dodging
These obstacles are usually mazes of posts set in the ground at irregular intervals. (See Figure 8-2.) The spaces between the posts are narrow so that soldiers must pick their way carefully through and around them. Lane guides are built to guide soldiers in dodging and changing direction.

Obstacles for Vertical Climbing and Surmounting
These obstacles are shown at Figure 8-3 and include the following:

– Climbing ropes that are 1 1/2 inches wide and either straight or knotted.
– Cargo nets.
– Walls 7 or 8 feet high.
– Vertical poles 15 feet high and 6 to 8 inches wide.

Obstacles for Horizontal Traversing
Horizontal obstacles may be ropes, pipes, or beams. (See Figure 8-4.)

Obstacles for Crawling
These obstacles may be built of large pipe sections, low rails, or wire. (See Figure 8-5.)

Obstacles for Vaulting
These obstacles should be 3 to 3 1/2 feet high. Examples are fences and low walls. (See Figure 8-6.)

Obstacles for Balancing
Beams, logs, and planks may be used. These may span water obstacles and dry ditches, or they may be raised off the ground to simulate natural depressions. (See Figure 8-7.)

Confidence obstacle courses must be built in accordance with Folio No. 1, “Training Facilities,” Corps of Engineers Drawing Number 28-13-95. You can obtain this publication from the Directorate of Facilities Engineering at most Army installations.

Confidence courses can develop confidence and strength by using obstacles that train and test balance and muscular strength. Soldiers do not negotiate these obstacles at high speed or against time. The obstacles vary from fairly easy to difficult, and some are high. For these, safety nets are provided. Soldiers progress through the course without individual equipment. Only one soldier at a time negotiates an obstacle unless it is designed for use by
more than one.

Confidence courses should accommodate four platoons, one at each group of six obstacles. Each platoon begins at a different starting point. In the example below, colors are used to group the obstacles. Any similar method may be used to spread a group over the course. Soldiers are separated into groups of 8 to 12 at each obstacle. At the starting signal, they proceed through the course.

Soldiers may skip any obstacle they are unwilling to try. Instructors should encourage fearful soldiers to try the easier obstacles first. Gradually, as their confidence improves, they can take their places in the normal rotation. Soldiers proceed from one obstacle to the next until time is called. They then assemble and move to the next group of obstacles.

Rules for the Course
Supervisors should encourage, but not force, soldiers to try every obstacle. Soldiers who have not run the course before should receive a brief orientation at each obstacle, including an explanation and demonstration of the best way to negotiate it. Instructors should help those who have problems. Trainers and soldiers should not try to make obstacles more difficult by shaking ropes, rolling logs, and so forth. Close supervision and common sense must be constantly used to enhance safety and prevent injuries.
Soldiers need not conform to any one method of negotiating obstacles, but there is a uniformity in the general approach. Recommended ways to negotiate obstacles are described below.

Red Group
This group contains the first six obstacles. These are described below and numbered 1 through 6 in Figure 8-8. Belly Buster. Soldiers vault, jump, or climb over the log. They must be warned that it is not stationary. Therefore, they should not roll or rock the log while others are negotiating it.

Reverse Climb. Soldiers climb the reverse incline and go down the other side to the ground.

Weaver. Soldiers move from one end of the obstacle to the other by weaving their bodies under one bar and over the next.

Hip-Hip. Soldiers step over each bar; they either alternate legs or use the same lead leg each time.

Balancing Logs. Soldiers step up on a log and walk or run along it while keeping their balance.

Island Hopper. Soldiers jump from one log to another until the obstacle is negotiated.

White Group
This group contains the second six obstacles. These are described below and numbered 7 through 12 in Figure 8-9.

Tough Nut. Soldiers step over each X in the lane.

Inverted Rope Descent. Soldiers climb the tower, grasp the rope firmly, and swing their legs upward. They hold the rope with their legs to distribute the weight between their legs and arms. Braking the slide with their feet and legs, they proceed down the rope. Soldiers must be warned that they may get rope burns on their hands. This obstacle can be dangerous when the rope is slippery. Soldiers leave the rope at a clearly marked point of release. Only one soldier at a time is allowed on the rope. Soldiers should not shake or bounce the ropes. This obstacle requires two instructors–one on the platform and the other at the base.

Low Belly-Over. Soldiers mount the low log and jump onto the high log. They grasp over the top of the log with both arms, keeping the belly area in contact with it. They swing their legs over the log and lower themselves to the ground.

Belly Crawl. Soldiers move forward under the wire on their bellies to the end of the obstacle. To reduce the tendency to push the crawling surface, it is filled with sand or sawdust to the far end of the obstacle. The direction of negotiating the crawl is reversed from time to time.

Easy Balancer. Soldiers walk up one inclined log and down the one on the other side to the ground.

Tarzan. Soldiers mount the lowest log, walk the length of it, then each higher log until they reach the horizontal ladder. They grasp two rungs of the ladder and swing themselves into the air. They negotiate the length of the ladder by releasing one hand at a time and swinging forward, grasping a more distant rung each time.

Blue Group
This group contains the third six obstacles. These are described below and numbered 13 through 18 in Figure 8-10.

High Step-over. Soldiers step over each log while alternating their lead foot or using the same one.

Swinger. Soldiers climb over the swing log to the ground on the opposite side.

Low Wire. Soldiers move under the wire on their backs while raising the wire with their hands to clear their bodies. To reduce the tendency to push the crawling surface, it is filled with sand or sawdust to the far end of the obstacle. The direction of negotiating the obstacle is alternated.

Swing, Stop, and Jump. Soldiers gain momentum with a short run, grasp the rope, and swing their bodies forward to the top of the wall. They release the rope while standing on the wall and jump to the ground.

Six Vaults. Soldiers vault over the logs using one or both hands.

Wall Hanger. Soldiers walk up the wall using the rope. From the top of the wall, they grasp the bar and go hand-over-hand to the rope on the opposite end. They use the rope to descend.

Black Group
This group contains the last six obstacles. These are described below and numbered 19 through 24 in Figure 8- 11.

Inclining Wall. Soldiers approach the underside of the wall, jump up and grasp the top, and pull themselves up and over. They slide or jump down the incline to the ground.

Skyscraper. Soldiers jump or climb to the first floor and either climb the corner posts or help one another to the higher floors. They descend to the ground individually or help one another down. The top level or roof is off limits, and the obstacle should not be overloaded. A floor must not become so crowded that soldiers are bumped off. Soldiers should not jump to the ground from above the first level.

Jump and Land. Soldiers climb the ladder to the platform and jump to the ground.

Confidence Climb. Soldiers climb the inclined ladder to the vertical ladder. They go to the top of the vertical ladder, then down the other side to the ground.

Belly Robber. Soldiers step on the lower log and take a prone position on the horizontal logs. They crawl over the logs to the opposite end of the obstacle. Rope gaskets must be tied to the ends of each log to keep the hands from being pinched and the logs from falling.
The Tough One. Soldiers climb the rope or pole on the lowest end of the obstacle. They go over or between the logs at the top of the rope. They move across the log walkway, climb the ladder to the high end, then climb down the cargo net to the ground.

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