June 07, 2010
Capt. Matt McKee offers an in-depth, comprehensive evaluation of the U.S. Army physical-fitness training manual in hopes of finding out how CrossFit can help the Army produce fitter soldiers.
Throughout my time in the Army, I have seen the Army’s physical-fitness training program from several perspectives. I have seen it as a follower, as a leader and as someone responsible for its implementation. I can only describe my experience with the Army’s program as frustrating. I have found that the vast majority of self-motivated leaders and soldiers have to substantially supplement their unit’s physical training with additional workouts to stay at a high level of complete fitness. Too many soldiers and leaders come out of their daily morning physical training complaining of “wasted time.”
An Army special-forces team exposed me to CrossFit during my first deployment to Iraq in 2005. However, it was not until I was a commander of a cavalry troop (about 135 men) and responsible for the unit physical-fitness program that I had the understanding of CrossFit and the authority to make substantial changes. I drew heavily on CrossFit for my unit’s physical-training program, and while we had successes and difficulties, I am convinced from our experience that the Army can use CrossFit to evolve its physical fitness-training program.
Before I began my research for this article, I blamed the field manual for Army physical-fitness training, FM 21-20, for the problems with the program. However, while I believe FM 21-20 (which has not been updated since 1992) is responsible for many of the problems, there is a broader range of culpability for the weaknesses in our program. CrossFit and FM 21-20 are more similar than I thought in theoretical foundation but are remarkably different in practice due to problems with the manual as well as internal issues we in the Army need to resolve.
I have tried to cut my own inroads for CrossFit into the Army. My first step was to change my own unit’s program and convince my own soldiers about the efficacy of CrossFit. My second step was the development of a plan to purchase equipment, build obstacle courses, construct combative pits, expand room to run/ruck-march, and change policy at Fort Hood to make fitness more functional. I developed the plan at the request of the III Corps and Fort Hood commander and command sergeant major. Unfortunately, the plan was not implemented. What follows is the third step I have taken to encourage, inspire and request change to how we approach fitness in the Army. CrossFit works and speaks for itself. However, I hope this article is able to make an impact and help evolve the Army’s physical-fitness training program.