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Marine Corps seeks new way to look at PT

By Lance Cpl. Regina N. Ortiz | | December 15, 2006

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Adapting and overcoming is part of the Marine lifestyle. Changes in the type of combat operations Marines take part in, including terrain, environment, gear and foot traveling distances, has called for a change in physical training throughout the Marine Corps.

A Concept for Functional Fitness, a document describing a new approach to physical training that will prepare Marines physically and mentally for today’s combat operations, was approved by the deputy commandant for Combat Development and Integration, Lt. Gen. James F. Amos.

The concept was announced in MARADMIN 579/06 Dec. 7, in an attempt to provoke a debate on the most effective approach to refocus Marines’ physical fitness with combat readiness.

The concept describes Marines as “combat athletes,” comparing the way sports athletes train for the season to the way Marines train for the varying rigors of combat. Though, the difference between the two ideas is broad, and combat isn’t a game, the principles are similar even though the differences are extreme. There is no time limit in combat, the rules fluctuate, there are no time-outs or half-times, and it cannot be called off in case of bad weather or lack of players. But just as sports athletes need to be ready for game day, a Marine’s body and mind must be trained and prepared for physical stresses on the battlefield.

In today’s combat operations, Marines are required to wear body armor and equipment in temperatures around 120 degrees, while patrolling urban environments, often crossing obstacles, while lifting, pulling, throwing, moving and running, in some instances under fire. While endurance will always be a vital skill for Marines to have, the more common type of running seen in combat is short and fast while carrying heavy loads, rather than long endurance runs.

The current Marine Corps physical fitness program does not adequately prepare Marines for combat, over-emphasizing aerobic training and pays little attention to strength training, according to the document. This type of conditioning doesn’t build “general physical preparedness,” a term used in the program concept to describe a balance in overall physical fitness. Combat demands core strength, endurance, speed and coordination, according to the document.

Marines are required to take a physical fitness test twice a year that includes a 3-mile run, crunches and pull-ups, or for females, the flexed-arm hang. Although Marine Corps Order 6100.12 states that units should not be training for those three events alone, and that their physical conditioning program should consist of combat conditioning, health, fitness and unit cohesion, many Marines focus on the PFT’s requirements only. This creates an imbalance in the Marine’s physical fitness, according to the concept.

Included in this concept is the idea of “specific physical preparedness,” a term used to describe the preparation of a Marine in his or her military occupational specialty or individual mission. It guides commanders to physically train Marines in their specific task in an overall mission.

The concept also envisions a change in the way injuries are prevented and cared for. By strengthening the muscles and joints and increasing bone density through exercises, injuries can be avoided when put under the physical stress and demands of combat. The foreseen functional fitness program will have an educational aspect of biomechanics and how to avoid injures by using proper techniques in various exercises.

The program aims to shorten the extent of passive recovery, when a Marine refrains from any type of physical activity due to an injury, and speed forward to active recovery, where a Marine can continue training, working around the injury. Recovery from an injury should be a time when new physical skills are learned. The Marine will heal faster and be stronger in the long run, according to the concept.

The concept of a functional fitness program includes other tests, along with the standard PFT to test baseline fitness. Commanders are guided to develop physical training tests to learn how effective their own fitness program is.

The program concept also involves units to assign fitness coordinators throughout their sections to be a specialist in the program and fitness in general. Experienced noncommissioned officers and staff noncommissioned officers will be called on to receive specialized training in the program at a training center to be a commander’s principal advisor on functional fitness, according to the document.

This is a concept aimed to provide physical training more relevant to what today’s units experience in combat. The program has not been made the official fitness guidance, but released by Headquarters Marine Corps Combat Development and Integration to present a new concept on fitness.

For more information on the Concept of Functional Fitness, log on to their Web site, http://www.mcwl.usmc.mil/concepts/home.cfm.

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