The U.S. Army is pilot-testing a new way to measure the fitness of soldiers and it looks a LOT like a CrossFit class. The six-event test measures functional fitness and has no adjustment for gender. They are Occupational Physical Assessment Test, or also known as OPAT.
According to a recent article in The Wall Street Journal, the proposed test known as the “Army Combat Readiness Test” (ACRT), seeks to “encourage more practical physical training and prevent injury in a force frequently deployed around the world. It also reflects a U.S. military where all combat jobs are now open to women: The proposed test would have one set of passing standards, with no adjustments for age or gender.”
Officials who manage the physical training of Army personnel have been concerned about the relative fitness of this fighting force for several years. “When you look at fitness, we’re having some challenges right now,” says Maj. Gen. Malcolm Frost, commanding general of the U.S. Army Center for Initial Military Training. Tens of thousands of soldiers aren’t deployable because of injuries, many caused by poor physical fitness.
The soldiers who belong to the elite forces of the U.S. military such as Navy SEALS and Army Green Berets have a long history with CrossFit training and apparently the physical instructors of the Army have been taking notice of this. It is not a stretch to say that anyone who endures a weekly CrossFit workout – man or woman – would pass this proposed fitness test.
The Current Test is Based on Aerobics
The current Army test got its impetus from the aerobics boom of the 1980’s. This was also a time when many “Cold-War” leaders felt that ground combat was obsolete.
Fitness experts note that this current test, which includes timed push-ups and sit-ups and a two-mile run, and is taken twice a year is only about 40 percent predictive of a soldier’s ability to complete tasks necessary for combat. The proposed ACRT test is about 80 percent predictive.
The article notes that in order to pass the current test, soldiers must score 60 points in each of three categories: push-ups, sit-ups and a timed two-mile run. The test awards points on a sliding scale based on a soldier’s age and gender (except in sit-ups, where the male and female standards are identical). For instance, a 22- to 26-year-old man must do 40 push-ups in two minutes to pass that event. A 22- to 26-year-old woman can pass with 17 push-ups.
The Proposed OPAT is Considerably More Challenging
The proposed test will require both genders to be functionally fit in order to pass. CrossFit athletes will certainly recognize these “events” from their WOD’s.
Event #1 - Dead Lift
Soldiers line up behind rows of barbells loaded with weights ranging from 125 pounds to 425 pounds. Each soldier picks one of the barbells and performs three dead lifts.
Event #2 – A Reverse Throw of a 10-pound Weight
This throw is measured for distance and seems awkward to some soldiers. However, it serves a purpose. It mimics a boosting move that’s “exactly how we get people into buildings,” says Col. Dale Snider in the Journal article. The 49-year-old has been deployed four times to combat zones.
Event #3 – A New Push-Up
The Army notes that the proposed new push-up requires lowering all the way to the ground and extending one’s arms in a T between repetitions. The T push-up is easier to monitor in testing, Army leaders say and is much more difficult to perform.
Event #4 – 250 Meter Shuttle with 90-Pound Sled and Kettlebells
This event, which every CrossFit trainer has included in his/her regimen at one time or another, requires the soldier to alternately sprint, dragging a 90-pound sled and carrying two 40-pound kettlebells. Many in the test have noted that this is one of the toughest as far a muscle fatigue.
Event #5 – The Leg Tuck
This leg tuck, the fifth event in the proposed test, requires lifting knees or thighs to elbows while hanging from a pull-up bar. The article noted that some soldiers struggled to do more than a handful of reps.
Event #6 – The Two-Mile Run
The proposed test ends with a timed two-mile run. This is the only event identical to one in the current test.
Functional Training is Coming…and Soon
According to the Occupational Physical Assessment Test, some of the fighting forces have gotten fat as the Army reports that about 17 percent of its soldiers are obese. This rate has risen (from 13 percent) from the previous year and is about half the overall obesity rate of all U.S. civilians. Clearly, the leaders of the Army feel these numbers are going the wrong way and they plan on doing something about this.
The report noted that change could come as soon as 2018. If adopted, the ACRT would complement or replace the current fitness test in the next few years. “The proposed test is part of a move toward a more comprehensive approach to training and maintaining the Army’s 1 million soldiers. It comes amid high demands on the Army world-wide, a shrinking pool of people eligible for military service and a shift in the civilian fitness industry (such as CrossFit) toward free-weight and functional training.”
Every regular participant of CrossFit training relishes the opportunity to push themselves past the usual physical limits of a typical workout regime. CrossFit training experts note that “anyone who comes back to the gym for the second or third WOD will likely be hooked on the adrenaline.” When this intensity is combined with the use of weights and gymnastics, there is always the potential for injury.
Because stories of mayhem tend to garner big TV ratings and internet clicks, the media – both mass and digital – have emphasized the physical dangers of CrossFit training, noting the potential for everything from minor muscles strains to permanent injuries from weight-lifting accidents. While no CrossFit athlete should ever be cavalier about injuries and should always follow directions of an authorized trainer, the physical benefits of this training far outweigh the danger.
In order to bring some clarity to the physical risks versus the rewards of CrossFit training, Dr. Rey Bosita, a spine surgeon at Texas Back Institute in the Dallas/Fort Worth area was asked to give his professional opinion about this issue. Dr. Bosita has lived through a WOD at a CrossFit gym (but just barely!) and his medical training and love of fitness makes him an excellent source on how to get fit without getting hurt!
CrossFit training is challenging and extremely intense, it takes every ounce of stamina one has just to complete the WOD, and yet millions of people plan their week around going to the gym. What makes this fitness program so popular?
“CrossFit training is new and it’s cool,” noted Dr. Bosita. “Exercise follows fashions and fads, similar to picking the hottest new cellphone. What makes CrossFit so popular is that it integrates training with endurance and emotion, simultaneously. “It will pull from weightlifting, running, some repetitive exercises and it also tries to make the experience fun.” Fitness experts describe CrossFit training as a “functional” training program. What does this mean?
“Let’s compare CrossFit with a traditional weightlifting program,” Bosita said. “When an athlete is doing a bench press, there are not many activities in the ‘real world’ that require someone to lie on his or her back and push up a set of weights. Functional exercise includes multiple muscle groups in the activity and integrates them in some kind of sport or other physical challenge.
“In CrossFit, there is a goal of exercising the entire body at the same time,” he said.
The Doctor Looks at the Advantages and Challenges of CrossFit
CrossFit includes a wide range of exercises and physical challenges including weights, medicine balls, kettlebells, gymnastics, running and others. Dr. Bosita explained the advantages and the potential problems of this type of workout for one’s back.
“The primary advantage is that this is a lot of fun,” he said. “In America, we need more people exercising and if this is one avenue that can get people interested in working out and taking care of themselves, I’m all for it!
“The potential challenge of CrossFit training is that it is easy to get caught up in the emotional energy of these gyms. It’s like going into a dance club at midnight. Celebrities are there and everybody’s in to it!
“My CrossFit patients who get hurt are not the ones who have been doing these exercises for some time,” Dr. Bosita said. “It’s the person who might have some fitness training background and they get overly enthusiastic and then hurt themselves in the first few weeks of a CrossFit program. When someone tries to push themselves a little too hard – forgetting that they are 40 and not 20 – they get hurt.”
How to Avoid Back Injuries in CrossFit
“Someone who is about to embark on a CrossFit training program has to prepare themselves for the program,” Dr. Bosita noted. “Before they set foot in a CrossFit gym, the person needs to be working on some strength training, some range of motion training and physical endurance training – not just for their back but for their entire body.
“When first starting CrossFit training, I believe they should start at one level lower than they think they should. Let’s say someone is a weekend athlete and they’ve been spending time working out two or three times a week. I would still suggest they start at a lower level in order to learn the routines and techniques of CrossFit. As with any other sports or workout, proper form will prevent injuries.
Dr. Bosita’s Personal (and Painful) Experience!
If Dr. Bosita sounds like a person who has had experience with CrossFit, there’s a good reason for this. He has and it was not pretty!
“It was probably one of the worst decisions I have made in my entire life,” he laughed. “I won a one-month CrossFit membership at a gym. Of course I went and I got caught up in the emotion and pushed myself a little too hard. I didn’t hurt myself badly, but for a couple of days after this, my back really hurt.
“I didn’t feel any pain at all when I was there, but afterward it was not pleasant. This is why I can offer this advice. I have personal experience that strongly suggests starting slow and getting into the rhythm is the best approach. Don’t just jump in and try to catch up with everybody!”
When should someone be concerned about back pain resulting from a CrossFit workout?
“If a person has pain after working out, the pain should be relieved after a couple of days, especially if the athlete takes ibuprofen, Tylenol or some other over-the-counter pain medicines,” Dr. Bosita noted. “However, if the pain persists and it doesn’t get better, especially if it goes down the legs or causes leg weakness, the person should see his or her physician or spine specialist and get this checked out.”Do you have any experience with injuries from CrossFit training? If so, how did you deal with them? Contact us and we will share with our readers.