March 05, 2024

When recruits aren't fit to serve, is it the Army's fault or ours?

I've been thinking a lot about the way that we test and measure fitness and physical performance lately, as evidenced by my most recent blog on the NFL Combine. Furthermore, our H-FIT assessment is the first step for all of our private client members here at Apex Human Performance, and we test and measure a lot.

We measure as much as we can; everything from strength, to maximal oxygen consumption, to body composition, and more. We try to learn as much about you in order to make private training as effective and productive as possible. The reason for this is simple: it's always better to have some objective data backing you up. How do you know what you've improved, if you haven't measured it? This ensures the future success and effectiveness of your training. It makes the path ahead clear so that you know what to expect.

One of the issues with testing though is that someone could theoretically "train for the test." This is an issue with the NFL Combine and even in education. Performing well at the Combine isn't indicative of future performance on the football field, and standardized testing and GPA's don't actually predict success in later life. In these instances, training for the test might just get you by, but it won't prepare you for what you're actually training for.

It appears that this is a problem in the US Army, which is having trouble finding fit recruits. Of course, there it perhaps nothing in the world that can fully prepare someone for military service and life-and-death scenarios, and a lot can be said of the mental toughness and endurance that is necessary to serve--perhaps the most important aspect of fitness in the army. Simply put, you can be as strong and athletic as you want, but if your mind isn't right, you aren't fit for the army.

However, it is problematic when these days, people barely go outside for a run or a walk in the park. Sitting is the new smoking. Our posture today sucks and can cause health problems down the line. People don't spend as much of their free time staying active anymore, opting to stare at their TVs or their computers all day. As a species, we are certainly less fit overall.

But what about the other side of the equation? Is the Army doing enough to evaluate fitness in spite of the challenges mentioned above? The Army Physical Fitness Test (APFT) is still in use today. Active and reserve soldiers are required to "maintain their fitness" and take the test at least twice a year. However, the only three things that are tested in the APFT are push-ups, sit-ups, and a two-mile run. Are soldiers really maintaining their fitness and preparing for the demands of combat, or just getting good at these three exercises?

Testing with the outdated APFT makes it possible for those in the army to just train for the test. This is akin to taking a test on basic arithmetic on a regular basis in order to continue calling yourself a good mathematician. It's also like going to the DMV to renew your driver's license every few years so that you can legally drive, even if you haven't driven since your road test! (On a side note, the latter is probably very common here in NYC.)

Thus, it seems like both the Army and us are at fault for this; I can't argue that as a whole, we aren't fit to serve. I also think that there are better ways for the Army to evaluate fitness in the context of combat, and it looks like steps to improve this have already been taken.

In a few years, it looks the Army will have a completely new way to evaluate combat readiness. The latest test making the rounds in pilot programs is the Soldier Readiness Test (SRT). The SRT is a 23-minute test done while wearing full body armor that consists of tire flips, agility work, dummy drags, sand bag stacking, sand bag tosses, and a 1.5 mile run on rough terrain. Heck, it sounds a lot like a functional fitness circuit that a weekend warrior might be interested in trying every once in a while.

As you can see, there is a huge difference between the old APFT and the new SRT. The exercises that are tested in the latter are way more relevant to the skills required of a soldier, and it takes testing one step further by requiring full combat gear. I'd be way more confident evaluating whether someone is combat ready on the basis of the SRT than on the APFT.

It's a start, and it just goes to show you how testing should absolutely be relevant and specific to the physical demands of the sport or occupation. As members of the general population though, it certainly wouldn't hurt to get up and off our butts and get active more!


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