Friday, April 8, 2011

A changing Army: Ditching sit-ups after 30 years


By CONNIE ARONSON

Soldiers can forget about sit-ups. For the first time in 30 years, the Army has updated its fitness testing to better prepare soldiers for the demands of combat. Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling, the general in charge of the Army's initial training, collaborated with a 16-member team to revise the Army's Physical Readiness and Combat tests. Going are the full sit-up test, and the two-minute push-up and two-mile run are being revised. Instead, the first test will expand from three to five events.

The full sit-up goes for several physiological and safety reasons: They don't do much to strengthen the core to translate to battle strength, and the full flex movement, the actual crunch part of the sit-up, puts an unhealthy strain on the back at its weakest point. The push-up pace increases to assess upper body endurance, and the run gets shortened to 1.5 miles to assess the anaerobic capacity needed for high-intensity bursts in the battlefield.

"This is about training smarter, not training more," Hertling said.

Added are a no-rest standing long jump and one-minute row to look at immediate fatigue and failure.

The outdated PT test "does not adequately measure components of strength, endurance and mobility," said Hertling, who holds a master's degree in exercise physiology. "The events have a low co-relation to the performance of warrior tasks and battle drills."

Combat veterans trying out the new tests say they are tough. For the Army Combat Readiness test, they are in full combat gear while carrying a rifle. They have to excel at sprints, move through hurdles and maneuver balance beams while holding heavy ammo tins, drag a 180-pound sled and run sprints.

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Specific gender and age standards, from under age 30 to 60, for the test scores will align with the American College of Sports Medicine and Cooper Institute to establish standards and a thorough review before the tests are approved.

"Soldiers like to be challenged," Hertling said. "This will definitely challenge them."

Training for the rest of us— bringing boot camp home

Most of us want to look and feel good and the only battle we face is aging well. But we can take elements of the new testing to inspire us to work a little harder in our workouts by going beyond where we thought we could, into the "somewhat hard" zone, even if it's only 30 seconds or a minute. High-intensity exercise toughens you up, writes Dr. John Ratey, author of "Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain."

"It's why we climb mountains and sign up for boot camp and Outward Bound trips," Ratey writes.

Studies show that adding a single spurt of sprinting for 30 seconds, on a bike for example, generates a sixfold increase in human growth hormone, the "fountain-of-youth" hormone. Remember, he writes, that by middle age these hormones dwindle to one-tenth what they were during childhood. The sprints and agility tests that the Army will practice build fast-twitch muscles, which add power to movement. For us mere mortals, these new muscle fibers enhance our metabolism and help us become better at burning fats and carbohydrates for up to four hours after training, as well as lowering blood pressure.

Keep the push-ups. Push-ups are a great full-body exercise, strengthening many muscles at once: abs, front of your legs, arms and back. According to the American College of Sports Medicine fitness test, a 40 to 49-year-old female or male performing more than 18 or19 push-ups, respectively, with the chin touching the floor and back straight, scores an "above average" rating. The tests are designed to help you develop a fitness program based on your results. The American College of Sports Medicine and Cooper Institute will also be involved in the Army's establishment of test standards.

Connie Aronson is a personal trainer at the Community YMCA in Ketchum.




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