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The Evolution of PT

or

The Next Event is The Heel Hook

 

J. D. Pendry

 

To get out of basic training in 1971, I had to pass a five-event physical fitness test.The maximum score possible on the test was 500 points.If I recall correctly, sticking to my method of zero research and reliance on my steel trap memory, to pass the test a soldier had to achieve 300 points by scoring at least 60 points in four of the five events.This was the Basic Physical Fitness Test (BPFT).The test events were the horizontal ladder, run dodge and jump, bent leg sit up, inverted crawl and the one-mile run.We did it in fatigues (thatís what we called them before BDUs) and combat boots.Just for the record, we didnít have hot-weather boots, boots with soft leather uppers and we couldnít wear jungle boots.Weather permitting, we removed our fatigue shirts and unbloused our trousers.

 

To get out of Advanced Individual Training (AIT), we had to pass a test consisting of the same events, except that the run was extended to two miles and we had to score a minimum of 60 points in each event.This was the Advanced Physical Fitness Test (APFT).†† In my AIT, in the 4th Combat Support Training Brigade at Fort Ord, California we did much less PT than we did in basic yet we had to score higher on the APFT than the BPFT.Army logic?

 

I recall NCOs telling us of the fitness test they used to take.This would be in the old Army that happened sometime before September 1971.††† Again, I conducted no research to validate the claims made by those NCOs.Such an act, doubting the word of an NCO or questioning the validity of his war stories, would have been akin to blasphemy in that Army.The events they spoke of were the high-crawl, the firemenís carry, the hand grenade throw and some others that Iíve forgotten.There was utility to those events.They were physical things that soldiers needed to be able to do well, although I donít know of what value they were to measure ones physical fitness.

 

Some events in the old five-event test also had some utility.The run dodge and jump, for example, was a great fitness test event for soldiers.To complete the event one had to sprint through a set of obstacles, which required him to change directions then leap across a ditch run through another set of obstacles reverse direction and do it again going the other way.Sprint, negotiate obstacles, and change direction Ė all good soldier stuff.The run was ok too.It did measure endurance. After that, it became tougher to justify events in your mind when you started to ask why.The inverted crawl, often referred to by soldiers as the perverted crawl, and the horizontal ladder or monkey bars are good examples.To perform the inverted crawl one did exactly as the name implied.He crawled, on hands and feet, with his belly button pointing skyward.The first half of the event he traveled feet first, donít recall the exact distance, but for some reason the number 30 sticks in my mind Ė maybe it was 30 meters (Iím sure some of you old timers can remember exactly.).The soldier then returned to the starting line head first, in other words traveling backwards and leading with his hands.This just wasnít an event for the uncoordinated or those with big butts.This event was generally the source of many colorful comments by the soldiers taking the test and comedic relief for those administering it.The horizontal ladder was another.Iím not too sure what it measured other than the thickness of the calluses on your hands and your ability to make u-turns.It was not a difficult event.Many used up much of their energy and time flailing, kicking and swinging.The short compact people with average coordination and upper body strength did well on the event.The heavy weights and the long and lanky had more trouble.The exact number of rungs to pass escapes me, but I do recall that it was nearly three lengths of the ladder to get the minimum score.This meant that you had to make at least two u-turns, which was the best opportunity to fall.If you fell on the first trip down the ladder, you could try it again during the same test.

 

The women never complained about this test.The reason they didnít is because they had their own test.Oddly enough, men never complained about that either.I donít recall all of their events, but here are some of them.They had to do the stationary run for a set amount of time, the female push up (which we now call the modified push up Ė knees on the ground), the sit up and the 30-meter shuttle run.Their sit up was more sensible than the male version and maybe even more difficult.No one held their feet and each time they came to the sit up position they had to wrap their arms around their knees.

 

We also had an inclement weather version of the test.One we took in the gym.It consisted of push-ups, sit ups, bend and reach, the squat thrust and the 30-meter shuttle run.There were others too, the Airborne PT test added pull ups and a tougher run time standard and the Special Forces/Ranger test added those and the swim event (which was done in fatigues) I believe.

 

To prepare us for our test in those days, PT consisted of the Army conditioning drills.There were three drills with 12 exercises each, commonly referred to as the daily dozen.Some of these exercises are still around today, the push up, knee bender and side-straddle hop for example.I donít know if the high-jumper is still around, but it was the reason for the most trouble I ever got into in Drill Sergeant School.My trouble came from an extreme loss of military bearing while one of my classmates was trying to teach the exercise to the rest of us.Somewhere between his description and demonstration of the slight jump taken on count one, and the vigorous leap while momentarily looking skyward which is taken on count three I lost it.To put it into a modification of todayís cyber vernacular, I was ROTGLMAO.There were some real gems for exercises during that time that someone discovered was doing us more harm than good.Some were the body twist, the squat thrust and the eight-count pushup (a combination squat thrust and pushup).If youíre too young to know what the squat thrust is just imagine starting at the position of attention and getting into and out of the push-up starting position in four counts at a moderate cadence.

 

Toward the end of this era of PT, someone determined that we were too fat as an Army so the weight control program entered the picture.Initially there was the pinch-test conducted by medical personnel to determine ones body-fat ratio.Then came the tape test you all know and love.Many of us spent a lot of time being pinched and taped.

 

Just before I left Drill Sergeant School, we participated in validating the new three-event test, which was about to become the new Army standard.Our uniform however, was still fatigues and boots.We all thought it was easier than the five-event test we had to pass to get into and graduate from Drill Sergeant School.Even our lone female student thought it was easier than her female test.

 

The three-event test started a whole new era for Army PT.We started wearing running shoes and sweat suits.I always wondered what the reaction from one of my Drill Sergeants would have been if he walked onto the PT field and saw a unit doing aerobics.Somehow I can visualize him spitting out some of his chew, hooking his thumbs in the pistol belt thatís around his waist, canting his head a little to the right and starting with, ďWhat theÖ.!ĒI suppose the days ofďAt Ease, shake it outĒ are long gone.We were original in my basic training company.Whenever the Drill Sergeant gave us that command we would sing for him, ďWe like it here, we like it here, you betcher ass we like it here. MORE PT DRILL SERGEANT, MORE PT!Ē

 

Now that Iím sitting back in retired life, doing my treadmill executive workouts Iím interested in the new proposed Army Physical Readiness Test (APRT).I can tell you, without taking it, that itís tougher than the current test.But, what is most pleasing to me is that theyíre bringing back the inverted crawl and the horizontal ladder and theyíre calling them the heel hook.