Ask Stew: How Do I Create a Military Training Plan That Works for Me?
Big changes do not occur overnight — especially in the military. Changes to fitness tests not only take time to develop and test, but also educate and implement across the force. When the new change also requires significant equipment, putting the change in place takes even longer. That is what many soldiers in the Army are now experiencing as the transition from the Army Physical Fitness Test (APFT) and the new Army Combat Fitness Test (ACFT).
Stew, I am a new Army soldier and looking to stay in shape for my job (Cannon Crewmember). Over the time I have been in we have taken the OPAT at basic, the APFT, and the ACFT. I like the lifting, carrying and throwing of the OPAT and ACFT more than the high reps of the APFT, but I am not sure what to focus on as we tend to do either one depending on the situation. Usually, it is equipment issues that determines what test we are going to do, or if we are in the field or deployed. Any recommendations on staying good at both the APFT and ACFT just in case I have to do one or the other with limited turn around time?
Sounds like you are in the right job if you like lifting heavy objects as the artillery MOS is challenging on strength and load bearing elements of fitness. My number one recommendation is now that you have made it to and through all the training, focus on being a ready team member in your MOS, not on the PT test in front of you. This is the third phase of tactical fitness (active duty). Job related fitness is most important and, for you, that is being able to move fast, lifting and carrying significant weight as a Cannon Crewmember. This means lifting, rucking and of course adding some running as you will be taking a two mile timed run, as that one will be here to stay.
My number two piece of advice is to focus on more strength-based training mixed with a few running and rucking cycles throughout the year. Some non-impact cardio is a good option, too, to give the knees and back a break from impact of running, rucking and carrying equipment. As the PT Test nears, you may want to focus on some of the specifics of whatever test you will be taking — hopefully, you will know well in advance. Even though you may focus on strength training, you can still warm up with calisthenics prior to lifting to stay PFT ready.
My third piece of advice is to have a high fitness standard so whatever PT test you take is just another workout or workday. The last thing you want to do it get out of the habit of training regularly and having to focus on a 2-3 weeks of fitness blitz prior to a PT test. That is one way to get injured either testing or on the job. I have a new system that helps you focus on both, the 4-2 Block Cycle.
This means four weeks of strength training mixed with running and/or rucking progressions, then a two-week block of PT Testing focus. In the two-week block, you do mainly calisthenics that you are tested in the APFT (push-ups, sit-ups, but add pull-ups and planks, etc.) and faster timed running workout intervals for the two-mile run. You can run through the 4-2 Block Cycle several times a year depending what you want to focus on. Some cycles we will do a 2-4 Block Cycle and flip the focus on more of a calisthenics and cardio base (four weeks).
Remember, the third phase of tactical fitness is all about maintenance, longevity, mobility and flexibility and stress mitigation for being able to handle the rigors and the stress of the active duty job for a career. This is both the physical as well as the mental stresses of the job. Learning how to train for the long term is critical to both your physical and mental wellbeing.
Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Visit his Fitness eBook store if you’re looking to start a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle. Send your fitness questions to email@example.com.
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