In the U.S. Army’s culture of fitness, evolution has required revolution. Scrapping the run-heavy playbook of yesteryear, the physical readiness division (PRD) has combined old-school training tactics with a touch of cutting-edge exercise science to crank out brigades of physically fit, battle-ready soldiers.
Save for the epic tale of Phidippides running 25 miles to Athens to report the Greek victory over the Persians in the Battle of Marathon, you’d be hard pressed to find such tales of requisite endurance in combat. In contrast, today’s conflicts are usually marked by shorter skirmishes in myriad settings, where dashes to cover, climbing over walls, negotiating uncertain terrain, and hurdling barriers are invaluable job skills. These predominantly anaerobic tasks call for specific, structured training that stands in stark contrast to your grandfather’s run-happy military.
The U.S. Army has taken the lead in developing a training curriculum based on what they call warrior tasks and battle drills, or WTBD, universally crucial skills for combat success and survival.
Frank Palkoska, the division chief for the Army’s Physical Readiness Division (PRD) at Fort Jackson, SC, is the co-author of FM 7-22, the service-wide field manual for prepping soldiers for the physical rigors of war. He believes that Physical Readiness Training (PRT)—which includes jumps, sprints, and more functional exercises—will not only reduce the incidence of injuries with a largely unfit recruiting population but will also produce a leaner, fitter fighting force that provides an instant upgrade to U.S. national security.
“There’s no question this type of training makes us safer,” Palkoska says. “Since the 1980s, we’ve had this three-event test that measures performance in running, push-ups, and sit-ups. Well, people have a tendency to train toward the test—not to train for mission. We had created an overemphasis on sustained running and muscular endurance. But most programs ignored speed, power, and stability.”
Not anymore. Soldiers in today’s Army—all the way from recruit level to Special Operations—are being held to a higher standard, one more closely associated with the regimens of elite athletes than boot-clad GIs.