Service Member Exercise

New Exercises Every Service Member Should be Doing

Background Information:

President Carter, in 1980, moved to require the formation of a physical fitness assessment for all military personnel from the Secretary of Defense. While there were already physical readiness programs  in place, the DoD found that none of the existing test could accurately report the fitness levels of soldiers. Therefore, the DoD mandated each branch form and implement a physical and body composition assessment[1].

Each assessment must evaluate: (The picture below depicts the branch assessments)

-aerobic capacity

-muscular strength

-muscular endurance


However, current research has shown that the physical assessments do not accurately simulate the needs or determine the success of a service member in operational/ battlefield requirements, also known as operational relevance. The same research has shown current testing regimes have increased the likelihood of knee, hip, low back injuries within the service member population, most correlated to the volume of running mileage accumulated within training.[2]To help increase the validity of testing, while minimizing injury rates, many branches have created initiatives and alternative testing.  For example, in 2008, the Marines developed the Combat Fitness Test (CFT) to better assess the readiness of a Marine. In addition to the Marines, the Army has begun to test two new assessments, the Army Physical Readiness Test (APRT) and Army Combat Readiness Test (ACRT). Both army assessments have not been formally implemented, only tested amongst army soldiers to find the most valid combination of tests.

USMC Combat Fitness Test:

-880yd run in boots and utilities

-ammo can lifts (using 30lb ammo cans)

– various maneuver drills under fire (i.e. casualty drag)


-60 yd shuttle run

– 1 minute rowing

-1 minute push ups

-standing long jump

-1.5 mile run

ACRT: (performed in full body armor)

-220lb tire flips

-an agility test

– 240 lb dummy drag

-sandbag stack

-sandbag toss

-1.5 mile run on unimproved terrain


While most of new assessments are still in the developmental stages, one can identify the changing trend within military physical fitness testing regimes. Original assessments heavily emphasized aerobic capacity (running) and muscular endurance (calisthenics). More current tests adhere to performance testing parameters put forth by the National Strength and Conditioning Association,which include anthropometrics, agility, max power and strength, sprint tests, muscular endurance, anaerobic capacity, and aerobic capacity.[3] To accommodate and succeed at the old and new requirements for testing, a service member should adapt the workouts/exercises below:

(These recommendations are built off the assumption that a service member is already adhering to a training regime)

  1. Reverse Tabatas

Running, rucking, or other long duration steady-state cardio has been the tried and true training regime for aerobic capacity within the military community. However, there are more efficient ways to train for the aerobic assessments. Joel Jamieson, one of the leading conditioning coaches in the world and author of 8 Weeks Out, has found that training anaerobic (5-30s) pathways for aerobic durations (2-30 mins) produces the same aerobic performance as running long distances.[4]

Normal Tabata training is 8 rounds of 20 seconds of work,followed by 10 seconds of rest. Reverse Tabata training is flipped, 8 rounds of 10 seconds of work followed by 20 seconds of rest. The utilization of Reverse Tabata training allows for  repeated sprint effort intensities for an aerobic time duration. Meaning, one’s body is able to perform at higher intensities for longer periods of time. This allows for more efficient training for the same desired result, without accumulating heavy running volume.

Practical application:

Reverse Tabata: Running Sprints

4 sets:

8 rounds, 10s sprinting, 20s walking

Rest 60 seconds between sets

  1. Sled drags/pushes

After analyzing the proposed assessments, a trend of weighted drags and sprint tests can be concluded. These assessments lend themselves to sled training.

To build general pulling strength, in addition to endurance, for the weighted drags one needs to incorporate heavy sled drags. In addition to test prep, the sled drags can be used for injury prevention and multiplane, lower body strength. This can be accomplished with forward, reverse, and lateral facing drags.

Practical Application:

5x 100m max effort sled drag (240lbs)

Rest 3 mins between sets


Max Weight for 100m (how much weight can one pull for 100m)

Rest 3 minutes between attempts,

When training for sprint capacity and technique, the utilization of sleds can be implemented. Sled pulls work on stride length and posterior chain development, while sled pushes train stride frequency and force production. Studies have shown that incorporating sled sprint training lowers sprint times by at least 2% more than training with bodyweight only.[5]

Practical Application:

6x 20m sled pull/ push (9-12% bodyweight on sled)

Rest 5 times the amount of time it took to complete the pull/push

  1. Loaded Carries

Many of the proposed change to the physical readiness tests include carrying heavy objects, in addition to performing the whole assessment in kit or body armour. The average kit can range between 40-60 lbs.[6] The incorporation of loaded carries (farmer’s cary, yoke, sandbag, weight vest) will aid in strengthening the core to maintain postural integrity when under additional load. Grip, shoulder, and posterior chain strength will also increase, all have been linked to decreasing the likelihood the previously discussed injuries.

Practical Application:

Choose any load variation (Farmer’s, Suitcase, Waiter’s, Yoke, Front Sandbag, etc)

8x50m for time

Rest 1 min between sets


8x 1 min (walk with load variation for a minute without dropping)

Rest 1 min between sets

  1. Upper/Lower body Plyometrics

Physical Readiness Assessments not only test for strength, but also power. While the olympic lifts (snatch/clean and jerk) have become increasingly popular to create a power stimulus. The use of traditional plyometric training can be implemented to create the same stimulus, as well as, enhance agility and sprint performance.

Upper body plyometrics can include weighted (med ball) tosses or throw variations. While lower body plyometrics can include standing vertical jumps, broad jumps, lateral hops, depth jump, etc. Implementing plyometrics into a program can be done in a variety of manners. For beginners, plyometrics should be competed at the beginning of a workout to limit fatigue and maximize power.

Practical Application:

3x10s Max Effort Chest Pass (against wall)

Rest 1 min between sets


4x 3 standing broad jump (try and hit same total distance each set)

Rest 2 mins between sets

[1] Hodgdon JA. A History of the U.S Navy Physical Readiness Program from 1976 to 1999 (Technical Document  N. 99-6F). San Diego, CA: Naval Health, 2000.

[2] Harman EA. Gutekunst DJ, Frykman PN, Sharp MA, Nindl BC, Alemany JA, Mello RP. Prediction of simulated battlefield physical performance from field-expedient tests. Mil Med 173; 36-41, 2008.

[3] Miller T, ed. NSCA’s Guide to Testing and Assessments. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics, 2012.

[4] Jamieson, J.Ultimate MMA conditioning. Kirkland, WA: Performance Sports, 2009.

[5] Lockie, R. . The Effects of Different Speed Training Protocols on Sprint … : The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research. 2012.

[6]  Harman EA. Gutekunst DJ, Frykman PN, Sharp MA, Nindl BC, Alemany JA, Mello RP. Prediction of simulated battlefield physical performance from field-expedient tests. Mil Med 173; 36-41, 2008.



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