Why This New Approach to Remedial PT Actually Works

Plebes carry modified telephone poles during Sea Trials at the U.S. Naval Academy.
Plebes assigned to the Tigers of Company 11 lift and carry modified telephone poles during the log PT station of Sea Trials at the U.S. Naval Academy, Annapolis, Maryland, May 18, 2010. The Sea Trials event is the capstone training evolution for the Naval Academy freshman class. (Defense Department photo)

If you have ever been involved as a remedial PT instructor or participant, you may have a few stories of success and achievement. However, you are more than likely to have witnessed perennial fitness mission failures and frustration with PT programming from all levels. 

I recently have witnessed a new approach to remedial PT training. Actually, from my observations, remedial PT at the U.S. Naval Academy has lost much of its negative stigma. The first thing they did was change the name. No one wants to join a "remedial workout."

For those who fail the physical fitness test performed twice a year in the military, remedial training is something you do not want to do, but now have to. Remedial PT has always been a sort of PT prison, no matter where you go in the military. Working out in a way that doesn't fit your schedule and in a method that may be effective but not your style -- and continuing to do so until you have a passing grade on the fitness test -- can take months, depending upon your current fitness level. The combination of a good coach and willing participants is critical to the mission success of these programs. 

The two types can be difficult to find.

The Problem

The problem is that many people strive for the minimum standards on fitness tests. A borderline pass/fail should not be anyone's goal. If you have a bad day (like we all do), you easily could be on the failing end of that fitness test. 

Now, after failing, you get to work out with someone else in charge of your passing the next fitness test. Now you are on their time. The 5 a.m. wakeup calls for remedial PT sessions have begun. The problem is that no one wants to be there.

Here are some of the problems with this scenario:

1. Failure to Understand the Physical Mission

In the military, you have a likelihood of being placed in harm's way. Your fitness level may be the difference between life and death for you, your teammates or a victim you are trying to save. Yes, fitness means that much in the military.

2. Not Knowing How to Train Properly

Most people who fail the fitness test simply do not know how to train effectively. More times than not, education is the answer. With the right coaching, most people will surpass the minimum standards easily and be on the road to maxing any fitness test.

3. Not Having a Strategy

One thing you can learn is how to take a fitness test. Some simple hand placements for push-ups, pacing drills for running and sit-ups can fix a PFT failure in 24 hours.

The Solution

Instead of being reactive and placing a negative stigma on exercise, how about reversing course like the Naval Academy has done? The Naval Academy physical education department has created a remedial program but calls it the Brigade Training Team (BTT). 

If you fail the PFT, you have to be there; it's mandatory. However, it is open to everyone. The BTT meets at 5:45 a.m. Monday through Friday and creates workouts that build strength and endurance for the PT test, as well as overall health and wellness. 

Techniques and strategies also are taught to improve scores. Sports psychologists, physiologists from the human performance department and guest PTers attend regularly to assist the Navy SEAL senior chief, who created the program. It is now common to have military members who have not failed the PFT join in on the workouts. They become workout partners with those who have failed previously and are good role models of fitness. This is a proactive PT program that works.

Goals of the BTT

1. Strive for a more intermediate/advanced level of scoring on the fitness test.

This goal will help you get over the hump and never have an issue with failing the fitness test again, even on a bad day. With some consistency, you can be that group of military members who can pass the PFT on any given day with a minute's notice. I have always said: "You should be able to pass your fitness test the same way you pass a drug test." A surprise random PFT at zero dark thirty in the morning -- no problem. Let's roll. It really becomes a lifestyle change and a huge stress reliever to an already stressful workload. Making fitness a stress reliever, not a stress increaser, should be the goal of any remedial program.

2. A True Test to See If Your Remedial Programming Is Effective

If you have a solid remedial program, you may get some participants who are joining you for extra training to pass the biannual fitness test in the near future. A good program can be proactive. 

Most people who fail fitness tests do not know how to take fitness tests or do not know how to work out effectively to get to a passing level on running or calisthenics events. Along with strength, stamina and endurance training, teaching running techniques, pacing yourself, proper hand placement for push-ups and other exercise details has to be front and center of any good program. 

Taking people who fail fitness tests and making them smarter, fitter and less prone to injury is a delicate balance that the U.S. Naval Academy physical education and human performance departments have figured out. Bravo, Zulu.

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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 stew@stewsmith.com.

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