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Experts Q&A: Is the new Army PRT system more conducive to your physical health?

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Q. Is the new Army PRT system more conducive to your physical health than the old PT system. Which is more effective in the long run?

A. When comparing the new Army Physical Readiness Training in FM 7-22 to physical training in FM 21-20, I compare the long-term benefits of the two systems. When I think of what is conducive to physical health, I think in terms of “what does your body need to thrive throughout its physical lifespan?”

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FM 21-20 was based on accepted exercise principles of the day and focused on passing the Army Physical Fitness Test (APFT). The APFT is a three- to four-event test that is many things but it is not a good indicator of your physical health, physical readiness or physical resilience.

FM 21-20 and the APFT focus on straight-line, linear movements with a strong bias toward cardiovascular fitness, not a strategy for overall physical health.  Cardiovascular training — or endurance training, as Master Fitness Trainers would say — lacks strength, speed and technique, all things the PRT focuses on.

PRT is reverse-engineered from the physical components of combat to bring to light the necessity to train beyond the Army Physical Fitness Test.

PRT established a high foundational fitness standard that can be replicated and taught anywhere. It focuses on joint mobility (rotational exercises, lateral and vertical movements) and then brings technique to primary strength movements such as the dead lift and squat.

I hear people tell me that PRT is just not tough enough. I respond by asking how their last kettlebell training strength circuit went, how many days per week they are performing Climbing Drill 2 or Guerrilla Drills in full kit? Most often, the answer is that they’ve done the warmup and cool-down but haven’t bothered with the meat of the workout. So, of course, it’s not enough.

Speed work should also be on the schedule at least once per week because the APFT is, after all, a race. If we only run long and slow, we will never get better at running short and quick. Running long increases injury risk, so PRT emphasizes what it takes to run better: speed for time and strength for endurance.

Your body needs joint mobility to address strength, strength to address endurance, and technique to teach proper movement.

PRT delivers this training in a standardized, prescribed manner that may be adapted to the mission of different units and individual fitness levels. This promotes a system of physical readiness known and understood across the Army. It gives me, as a physical therapist, a benchmark for my patients to hit after injury or surgery.

Once I discharge you, your unit-level PRT expert (the Master Fitness Trainer) can then work with your command to build the strength and endurance needed to avoid re-injury.

This, and the other reasons listed above, certainly makes the PRT more conducive to your overall physical health than the old physical training system.

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Army Maj. Charles Blake is a physical therapist in the Army, stationed at Fort Bliss, Texas. His most notable assignments were serving as the brigade surgeon at Training and Doctrine Command and with 3rd Special Forces Group as part of a multidisciplinary team of strength and conditioning coaches, nutritionist and sports psychologist. He is a Pose Method Master Coach and is co-writing Army doctrine on running for physical training and injury prevention.

Sara Davidson

Sara Davidson is an ultrarunner and contributor to PT365. She's run 7 marathons and 32 ultramarathons -- including her first 100-miler. This fall she is training for the Marine Corps Marathon using our PT365 Run Plan. Reach her at sdavidson@gannett.com .