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The New MFTC: What about APFT Scores?

Clifford Kyle Jones
NCO Journal

May 24, 2013

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The members of the Physical Readiness Division are familiar with the criticism that the exercises outlined in FM 7-22, Army Physical Readiness Training, look “soft” and that average Army Physical Fitness Test scores have fallen in some places where PRT has been implemented.

“A lot of people say, ‘Well our average APFT scores have gone down since we’ve been doing PRT.’ I say, ‘Well, how are you scoring it?’” said Maj. David Feltwell, PRD’s physical therapist and medical liaison.

In one of the classes he teaches for the Master Fitness Trainer Course, he outlines a scenario in which 100 Soldiers arrive at a unit and 100 Soldiers take the APFT and score an average of 180.

“Now, let’s suppose you start out with 100, and at the end of the same period of time using [another] physical training program, 50 Soldiers take it, and they all score 300. What’s the average score for your unit? That (second) unit gets the APFT banner, but what you did was something called survivor bias — you lied,” he said. “You have to account for everyone who didn’t make it, and we don’t do that very well. A lot of people PCS or ETS or retire. It’s very hard to track and give an honest APFT average. Whereas in Basic Combat Training, you’re here for 10 weeks, so we know the averages. It’s really a true representation of that unit’s ability to get people to be able to complete the mission. In the Army setting, to me, it’s getting people into combat.”

In an earlier iteration, the new physical readiness system was known as Victory Fitness. It was tested on basic trainees because the environment could be controlled better and the results would be more valid. One battalion that had been trained on that precursor to PRT was taught the program for six months and then took on a group of trainees. Another battalion that hadn’t received that training used the Army’s legacy physical fitness program on another group of trainees.

“After 10 weeks, a statistic was looked at called cumulative survival, which measures how many people survived — not were alive but made it through to graduation,” Feltwell said. “Because the battalions had been matched up, to the extent that that’s possible, for everything except the physical training — gender, socioeconomic background, injury history, whatever you can to the extent that you can match them up — then the difference in cumulative survival at the end can be attributed to a very high degree to the physical training program. In the battalion that received the Victory Fitness Program — which became Standardized Physical Training, which became Physical Readiness Training — about 78 percent of the Soldiers made it through. You might think, ‘Wow, that’s not very good.’ But in the [other] nonstandardized group it was 68 percent.”

And the APFT data were similarly impressive, he said.

“With the APFT, if you look at the scores, for instance, 75 percent of the males who were in that Victory Fitness study scored over 60 points, when the standard was 50 points in Basic Combat Training. The APFT is taken care of; it’s no longer a significant emotional event.”

Feltwell himself conducted an informal study with Soldiers from a headquarters company at Fort Jackson.

Some worked night shifts or were injured, so they weren’t able to participate in the program and became a control group. Feltwell and his team examined the Soldiers’ scores in the fall, and in January of that cycle they conducted PRT, with the book, but without input from PRD. When they took their APFT in the spring, average scores for those who used PRT increased 38 points, Feltwell said. The average situp score was 91. Only one person failed, and she had just come off a pregnancy profile, Feltwell said. The group that couldn’t participate in the PRT program saw their average score rise, too, but only 17 points.

“You can’t get injury data out of [that study], but the performance data is amazing,” Feltwell said. “If you look at it statistically, we call that a very, very significant difference. And we’re careful how we use the ‘verys.’ We had very few people, but the increase in scores was so large that it gave us a large amount of power to say that there was a difference caused by that intervention. And that’s what, I think, the Army wants: to have something that increases your physical fitness and your readiness for combat. Well, that’s what PRT does.”

Master Sgt. Jeffrey Kane, a team leader for the MFTC’s mobile training teams, says if PRT seems easy, it’s probably because you’re not doing it properly.

“I’m very hard on the precision aspect of it, because all that precision, it builds discipline,” he said. “So when people are standing at the position of attention improperly, it bothers me, because if they’re going to do it improperly here, they’re going to do it improperly at their unit, and they’re going to teach people improperly. So if we can’t get the smaller bits of discipline down here, and they teach it every morning, then it just bleeds over to the Army. It’s a bad thing.

“Precision is key because it reduces injuries as well. People know the exercises because they’ve probably seen them on YouTube or whatever. But to do them precisely as prescribed makes a big difference. You’ll have people say, ‘Whoa, I never did it like that before and now, I can feel it in a different manner,’ because targeting muscles at a different angle is a world apart.”

Stephen Van Camp, the PRD’s deputy director, agreed — actually doing the exercises is believing.

“At face value, you look at the PRT book, you look at the exercises, you think, ‘Well, that doesn’t look very hard. You’re only doing five repetitions of each exercise to start out with. You’re only doing this. You’re only doing that,’” he said. “Well, if you do it precisely and you progress the way the program says to the harder things and you have that integration of Soldier skills into what you’re doing, it’s a very difficult program. But people say, ‘Well how does this help me for the PT test?’ Well, if you’re getting stronger and you’re doing a lot of speed work, that’s going to transfer over very well and the PT test takes care of itself.

“Everybody looks at: ‘What am I accountable for? I’m accountable for pushups, situps and running twice a year,’” Van Camp said. “OK, our studies show that we’re going to have fewer injuries and those test scores are going to be as good or go up with this kind of training.

“We still have timed sets of pushups. When I did the total count in the [Initial Entry Training] environment of what PRT offers in pushup-type activities — trunk-flexion-type activities — and for the situp and speed running, it far outweighed what we had done in traditional PT in the past,” he said. “So the PT scores are not going to suffer. … When we have a student for four weeks, who actually lives the PRT, they become somewhat of a converted zealot.”

Kane said, “I think the biggest thing for NCOs to remember is to just follow the principles of precision, progression and integration, and just to take the slow ramp — that moderate ramp — to success. Everything’s in the manual; it’s so user-friendly. And don’t try to get crazy. My theory has always been since I worked here that until I can do 10 repetitions of Climbing Drill 2 to standard without a spot, then I don’t have any business doing anything else.”

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