Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Changes to Basic Training

On the bus this morning, I read this AP story about how the physical training part of basic training has changed recently to focus more on "core fitness."

The article explains:

Adapting to battlefield experience in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Army is revamping its basic training regimen for the first time in three decades by nixing five-mile runs and bayonet drills in favor of zigzag sprints and honing core muscles.

Trainers hope the switch will better prepare soldiers physically for the pace of combat, with its sudden dashes and rolling gun battles. They also want to toughen recruits who are often more familiar with Facebook than fistfights.

The exercises are part of the first major overhaul in Army basic fitness training since men and women began training together in 1980, said Frank Palhoska, head of the Army's Fitness School at Fort Jackson, which has worked several years on overhauling the service's fitness regime.

The new plan is being expanded this month at the Army's four other basic training installations - Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., Fort Sill, Okla., Fort Benning, Ga., and Fort Knox, Ky.

"We don't run five miles in combat, but you run across the street every day," Palhoska said, adding, "I'm not training long-distance runners. I'm training warriors" who must shuttle back and forth across a back alley.

Drill sergeants with combat experience in the current wars are credited with urging the Army to change training, in particular to build up core muscle strength to walk patrols with heavy packs and body armor or to haul a buddy out of a burning vehicle.

I don't know much about basic training so I wanted to ask all of you: what do you think about this?


  1. When I first read the term "core fitness" in your post, Lil, I thought about yoga core exercises like "plank" pose, "Superman", etc.

    Kind of a funny visual in this setting, for some reason....

  2. Ok, let me start by saying that I've never been to basic training. But I've been to Officer Candidates School (albeit for a different service), which is close enough.

    I'm not going to criticize what is obviously intended as a combat-focused change, but I will say this: basic training isn't really training. It's screening, and it's molding, and it's about transitioning civilians into soldiers. Appreciating that a significant chunk of the kids coming through are going to end up downrange, and accepting that it's a positive change to focus the service more directly on the primacy of combat skills (for what it's worth, the Marine Corps has been doing this forever), the five-mile runs you do as a recruit are about building mental strength and demonstrating commitment more than developing the endurance necessary for combat patrols.

    This sort of change would be more welcome, I think, if we were talking about unit physical training in infantry battalions. Recruit training is not combat training -- it's military assimilation. But I guess you can never start too soon.

  3. Gulliver's post is right on the money. I went to basic training in 2008 and it is not about training soldiers to combat readiness. Some of the guys and girls going through that program have never so much as exerted themselves in their entire lives. Getting them to suck it up for 5-8 miles is more about seeing if they have the intestinal fortitude to hack it in the Army generally.

    That having been said, I think that the general push towards more combat oriented training (sprints, crossfit, core training etc.) is a good thing. I don't think there are too many people left in the Army who would argue that the Army Physical Fitness Test (APFT) is an adequate indicator of one's 'combat fitness'. Nor will training solely for the APFT result in soldiers who are necessarily prepared for the rigors of combat (I have to admit here that I haven't been to combat so take that for what its worth). I am currently a senior cadet in ROTC and we have to train our younger cadets to the APFT standard. The result is a crap load of push ups, sit ups and running (here I think we do a little better with intervals, sprints and long runs etc.). While their APFT scores have improved dramatically, I am almost 100% assured that the vast majority of my cadets couldn't hack a serious ruck march and would pass out if they were forced to conduct field operations in 'full battle rattle' (in ROTC land you chill out in an ammo vest and maybe a kevlar 90% of the time). Obviously ROTC is similar to basic training in that we aren't training them up to combat capability, but you get the general idea.

    I think that if the thrust is towards more combat oriented physical fitness the target needs to be the APFT, not reforming basic training PT curriculum. Seems pretty common sense to me, but if you alter the standard to which the whole Army trains, everything else should pretty much fall in line.

  4. I meant to include this with the last post, but feel free to check out these links for an example of where I think the Army should be moving in terms of PT:



    Ironically enough I just requested the 'maxing the APFT' plan from the first site for my cadets... fail.

  5. I think that if the thrust is towards more combat oriented physical fitness the target needs to be the APFT, not reforming basic training PT curriculum. Seems pretty common sense to me, but if you alter the standard to which the whole Army trains, everything else should pretty much fall in line.

    I feel you here, and it's going to be tough to avoid "teaching to the test," whatever the test consists of, but is "combat fitness" what the PFT should really be about? Or is it more about demonstrating... physical fitness?

    The Marine Corps makes a big deal out of the idea that every Marine is first a rifleman, basically trained in combat skills. Though this is changing to some extent in the modern era, I'm not sure the Army aspires to the same standard. The change is probably welcome, considering the way that soldiers and Marines of all MOSes and skill sets have been involved to some extent in hostilities in Iraq and Afghanistan.

    But really, it comes down to this: do combat support troops need to be demonstrating fitness for combat, or merely demonstrating general health and fitness? (And perhaps an even more important question from a personnel perspective is how many soldiers you'll have falling below the cut line if you somehow adjust the standards upward. Sucks to have to look at it like this, but you're gonna lose numbers if you make your PT test harder, just like the Marine Corps would lose officer candidates if you suddenly had to run a 275 to get in instead of a 225.)

  6. I'm in favor of the Army revamping physical fitness standards, but I think Gulliver's right about basic training standards being kept what they are. In combat, our number one injury outside of blasts exposure and vehicle rollovers was damaged lower backs from the frequent patrolling and constantly wearing the IBA. SOF has already taking this leap for things like yoga and cross-fit on steroids aka militaryathelete.com, and I think we should follow suit in the line.

  7. It would be interesting if the tests were changed because of a secular push from *outside* the military, such as CrossFit, as opposed to a push from "inside" the military that just happens to coincide with the rise of CrossFit. All this occurs within the context of CrossFit's fairly close military affiliation (e.g., "Hero" workouts).

    Similarly, I don't know the state or history of the Army Combatives Program, but it'd interesting whether it has changed in conjunction with the rise of MMA and (perhaps) the "fall" of more "traditional" martial arts, and if so, whether such a change led or lagged the rise of MMA.


  8. Agree with Gulliver. Regarding combatives, I think there is a push to move away from grappling and more toward striking. My question is, how do you train that with any degree of proficiency? Punch each other in the face?

  9. I don't know how you train for that* per se, but is the point of learning combatives, and pugil stick fighting, their real-world practical utility, or the inculcation of martial spirit?

    * "That" being striking in re: Schmedlap's post.


  10. More the former than the latter. We already have a pack mentality and esprit de corps, which takes care of most of the "martial spirit" stuff when you fight in groups. We have canine teeth. We don't have samurai swords growing out our asses. The wolfpack mentality is a more natural fit.

  11. Jimmie is right on the money.

    First off, military athlete is amazing, but they charge for their training sessions (which used to be free). I don't know why you linked to that site if the information is for the most part no longer there.

    All the training that takes place in ROTC is based around centrally improving one's ability to do sit ups, push ups, and a 2 mile run. I've done MMA training for years, and while running, push ups, and sit ups all have their place, they should in no way be the central part of any sensible fitness program.

    While I don't have combat experience to back up my claims, I believe this is more or less "common sense" knowledge. Sit ups will not help me if I have to kill a man, and being able to do 80 push ups won't either. I need to be able to ruck long distances, run fast as lightning shit for 20-400 meters with weight on me (probably many times), and be strong as a devil to either carry a buddy (with his gear on) or to perform various tasks that require great physical strength.

    And while we are on this topic, the Army's combatives program is a fucking joke. It is essentially jiu jitsu. Brazillian jiu jitsu is great when combined with Muay Thai, boxing, and wrestling. But if you're only a jiu jitsu fighter, well, just watch some recent UFCs and see how well pure jiu jitsu fighters do. More importantly, the Marines had it right when they wrote in their FM quite a long while ago that you should always AVOID taking fights to the ground. It just takes one buddy of your enemy to run over and stomp your head to mulch with his boot heel.

    -Deus Ex

  12. "Agree with Gulliver. Regarding combatives, I think there is a push to move away from grappling and more toward striking. My question is, how do you train that with any degree of proficiency? Punch each other in the face?"


    As a guy who has trained in combat sports for many years, one of the fundamental ways to improve in striking is to, yes, punch each other in the face. With gloves on, hand wraps, while wearing head gear, and at 60% to 90% (tops) strength. You balance sparring with other aspects, such as striking heavy bags, conditioning, and also striking Thai pads/focus mitts (which are held by your training partner or instructor).

    Without sparring a person will never develop into a better fighter. This is why sports like Karate and Tae Kwon Do are so goddamned stupid. They don't put on full gear and spar enough. Can you guys name a single legitimate Tae Kwon Do or Karate fighter in international mixed martial arts? And if you say Lyoto Machida, I will laugh in your face.

    The point is that MMA training, if the Army was smart enough to adopt it, would result in top levels of fitness, combined with guys who could beat the dog piss out of an enemy in hand to hand combat. I'm not saying let's remove other key areas of training, but to make combatives a more intelligently run and less limited program.

    -Deus Ex

  13. Hopefully my last point on this issue:

    Crossfit (the basic vanilla kind) is fucking stupid.

    Sealfit and Military Athelete are far better versions of crossfit.

    In regular crossfit, there is no intelligent cycle behind the lifting, little distance running, no sprints to speak of, etc. etc. etc.

    Military Athlete and Sealfit are far more in line with what combat arms soldiers need to be doing. A mix of core work, absolute strength, rucking, running, sprints, durability, and endurance work.

    I just wish that bloody site was still free.

    -Deus Ex

  14. I kind of wonder about the new curriculum. Based on a lot of what I'm hearing about from Afghanistan, there are a lot of foot patrols being conducted at 6000' above sea level (or higher). Shouldn't these troops be increasing their VO2 and building endurance? Why would we cut back on long-distance running and road marches, then?

    It's kind of a moot point, though. Troops coming out of basic don't even have to pass their APFT. And those that have come out of basic with passing scores, well, I question the drill sergeant's integrity. I find it difficult to believe that between AIT and arrival at their first unit that troops' suddenly start running a 35-minute 2-mile run.

    It's damned near impossible to chapter out overweight or out-of-shape troops today. I haven't seen a soldier in our brigade chaptered for obesity or APFT failure in 2-3 years. This is how you wind up with troops like this:


  15. Deus Ex,

    Exactly. How practical is that on an Army installation where the gym is always packed and/or for an Infantry unit that has no white space on the training calendar? There was a LOT of emphasis on "combatives" (largely jiu-jitsu) and even for that there isn't much proficiency (and not a whole lot of practicality considering guys grapple without gear that they will wear in combat).

    To attain any level of proficiency, you need to train at about the frequency that you train for proficiency in reflexive fire - and we don't even train to an acceptable level of proficiency on reflexive fire (or most other types of marksmanship, imo).

    WARNING! Spoiler alert to anyone with UFC DVDs in their Netflix queue!

    And if you say Lyoto Machida, I will laugh in your face.

    Why? Is he some kind of a slouch? First-round knock-out victories over Thiago Silva and Rashad Evans? I just watched UFC 104 and I wasn't overly impressed, but Shogun looks to be back in his old form so I don't hold that against Machida. Don't tell me about any outcomes in UFC 105 or later.

    ... if the Army was smart enough...


    ... to adopt it, would result in top levels of fitness, combined with guys who could beat the dog piss out of an enemy in hand to hand combat.

    How many times have Soldiers needed to engage in H2H in Iraq or Afghanistan since 2001? I say that level of proficiency might be appropriate for units that operate in small teams, far from the nearest friendly unit, particularly those in plain clothes. For PFC Tentpeg, it's just a temptation to start a fight at the club and get his ass kicked.

  16. Schmedlap, just some quick thoughts on what you said:

    I fully understand that in all likelihood a soldier will never engage in hand to hand combat with an enemy. I remember reading a while back that around than 1% of soldiers ever do. But training in hand to hand combat (in an intelligent, challenging fashion) builds teamwork, confidence, and high levels of endurance. That much cannot be denied. I think that focusing purely on jiu jitsu is an ineffective waste of time.

    On Lyoto Machida, he is far from a slouch. The guy is easily in the top 10 pound for pound fighters list. And everyone *cough* Joe Rogan *cough* talks about his karate background and how he is a karate fighter. Yet even a brief look at his current training gym (hint: jiu jitsu, boxing, and muay thai, without even a dash of karate) and his current striking patterns indicates a style that is far from anything in the karate world. Sure, the influence is there. But that's like calling Chuck Liddel a karate fighter. It's the height of absurdity.

    Btw, Schmedlap, check out www.kimjudas.blogspot.com and thank me later. No need for netflicks. Watch all the UFC/k1/whatever fights there. That site has never let me down.

    -Deus Ex

  17. I guess I would just add that I don't think we have any evidence that MMA style fighting is of use to a guy wearing 80 pounds of gear, with body armor. Teamwork, confidence, and endurance - I guess. But it seems there are other ways to do that which have greater relevance to the battlefield. Not that I'm opposed to any type of training that has some application and is conducted properly.

    Thanks for the video link. Now I will get no work done at all. On the plus side, many videos seem to be illegal and, thus, have been removed, so that should allow me to hopefully peel myself away from the screen at some point.

  18. I think, this is a good choice to improve one's core muscles for them to be able to carry their own weight for a longer duration. Constant training is essential, just like how I handle my Aikido training, even though I have a tight schedule and need to go on my scheduled teeth whitening (Fort Lauderdale) treatment. Also, it is inevitable for combatants to get hurt, so it is better for them to be prepared for the worst, like how my friend powered through the whole match, though he got some of his teeth knocked off, but recovered afterward when we went to the sedation dentistry (Fort Lauderdale) clinic after the match.

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