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CrossFit and FM 21-20 by Capt. Matt McKee - CrossFit Journal

CrossFit and FM 21-20

By Capt. Matt McKee

In LEO/Mil

June 07, 2010

PDF Article

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.

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24 Comments on “CrossFit and FM 21-20”


wrote …

Can't wait to read. Even though I'm getting out soon I am always looking for ways to try and help our unit. PT has become something of a joke because all we do is run LSD.


wrote …

Very detailed Matt! I hope that you are able to reach out to more installations, other than ours, and get them moving better.


wrote …

Awesome article Matt - this should be required reading across the entire Army!

We will miss you,



wrote …

I agree with Donald, this is something that should have been addressed a while ago; preferably while I was still in. I had a lot of people in my chain of command that were opposed to CrossFit, no matter what I said or what results I showed, and most unfortunately what the soldiers would have liked. Hopefully more Army personnel in the right positions will come across this.


wrote …

Interesting article. Just this last month FM 21-20 was revised and is now called Training Circular (TC) 3-22.20, Army Physical Readiness Training. It will be interesting to watch PT evolve (or not) as a result of the new manual.


wrote …

This great article made me subscribe. I also left a copy outside my office for people to read while they wait.


wrote …

Great article, I distro'd it out to my fellow company grades.

I was especially interested in the table comparing the FM 21-20 Components of Fitness vs. CrossFit's 10 Physical Skills. This is great ammunition for supporting a unit level CrossFit program.

My unit is very fortunate in that our commander fully supports CrossFit and sent a few of us to Level 1 Certs. As a testament to the program, we had 3 APFT failures pass their APFT after 4 weeks of 3/week CrossFit programming.

(Also, we found out that a 21.8 pound carton of MRE's is an awesome tool for strength training.)

Thanks to Matt and CrossFit for this article.


wrote …

FM 21-20 has been replaced by TC 3-22.20 Army Physical Readiness Training. The new maunal eliminates the old aerobic focused PT and incorporates a very crossfit like set of exercises and planning guidance.

A good portion of the manual also discusses how to scale the workouts to bring new Soldiers up to the required physical readiness standards as well as Soldiers that may need to reset following injuries or long deployments.

Worth reading. Gives a lot of flexibility to unit commanders in designing their program.


wrote …

I would argue that TC 3-22.20 is a slight improvement at best. It attempts to incorporate some of the RAW program but fails to address a great many of the shortcomings of standard Army PT. It attempts to be more combat focused but still has a huge section on using globo gym equipment.

The real issue in the Army isn't that the PT/PRT manual is that bad, it's that Soldiers don't employ most of what is says. They train for the test and the test does not reflect a capacity that is effective on the battlefield. Leaders need to train for the battlefield and let the test take care of itself.

An improvement? Yes. The best physical preparation for combat? No. CrossFit is by far the best physical preparation for combat. After 9 combat deployments and numerous different conditioning programs over a 20+ year career, CrossFit is without doubt, the most effective conditioning program I have encountered. This has been proven again and again in real life.



wrote …

Don- hope all is well, ran into some of your AWG buddies in AFG....

I agree with what Don says, but with a twist. It isn't the Soldiers, more its the leaders.

Three examples: First, over here in Afghanistan, our unit is part of the surge and we are expanding a smaller FOB. I have been trying since late march to get a single - ONE - pull-up bar put up. No pull-up bar, but we have two cigar smoking area gazebos up. Good use of lumber. (We have some finally being built!)

Second, this one really speaks to my point: prior to deploying I was in the gym at Drum doing some 20 min AMRAP in which I was using a barbell and a kettlebell. I had on my Chuck's in the standard Army PT uniform. In the middle of my workout, I had someone come over and interupt me and tell me I was supposed to be wearing socks. I pulled my earpiece out (I was listening to music) and asked what he said. After hearing again, I pulled down the corner of my Chuck's to show this guy I had on socks. "Well, your socks are too low." No I insisted, they went above my ankle bone. So I asked this guy who he was, and he told me he was First Sergeant hum-in-e-huh, so I introduced myself. Since he had wasted my time and broke my WOD up, I told him:

Know what bothers me, 1SG? Is that you were so worried about my socks, and making a correction on me, that you walked past all these fat-ass Soldiers leaning on machines jibba-jabbering away. My socks should be the least of your concerns. So how about this 1SG, you go around and have all these sloths stop leaning on the machines and talking about whatever it is they are talking about and have them start training.

People are so worried about being uncomfortable that PT, in practice, isn't PT - it isn't training to meet the physical and mental stressors of combat.

Third (and I'll shut-up), I talked with over fifty people on starting CrossFit while on this deployment (which I love doing). What bothers me is I hear "I really want to get in shape on this deployment."

I usually respond with a remark down the lines of "Good thing we didn't have to fight for our lives yet," or "yeah, it's nice of the Taliban to let us get in shape BEFORE we get in a fight, huh?" or "maybe we should have thought about preparing for combat before deploying, huh?"

Wholeheartedly agree with Don - CrossFit remains unmatched.

Dave Maxwell


wrote …


You I are the ones who will change this - us and every other Army officer, NCO and Soldier who gets exposed to CF and gives a damn about preparing their fellow Soldiers for combat as best they can.

If we keep exposing everyone we can to CF; eventually the force will be overwhelming and those not doing it will be mocked and peer pressured into accepting it. It's inevitable. Every time we train a unit, get Soldiers Level 1 certified or introduce someone to CF, we create an exponential return on the investment.

Now go have a cigar!



wrote …

Great article, good to see some familiar names on here. I am printing this off now and using it as a part of my insurgency. Everybody take care- and keep converting the masses one pull-up at a time.

Camp Stone, Afghanistan


wrote …

Great article sir, I am printing out a copy for my own reading and forwarding the PDF to my commander. Interesting how I get see article on the same day I introduced CrossFit to my company for PT.


wrote …

Gentlemen -- thanks for the encouraging comments -- I have confidence that change can start at the grass-roots in this endeavor (but will eventually need top-down fiat). One of the things I tried to make clear in the article was that the largest weakness in the Army's physical fitness program is implementation (its not all doctrine) and we have a lot of self-inflicted wounds. I think James touched on it briefly, but we can improve not only in our approach to physical fitness, but our approach to health and wellness. Unlike many organizations, we have a captive audience that would greatly benefit from an improved health, wellness, and fitness program. A new FM will help us fix the problem, but its ultimately in the implementation by our leadership. I encourage you to spread the article, disagree, and continue the professional discussion. Because of this article's publishing in the CFJ, I am unable to put it in the Military Review or any other professional journal... so this is it. Keep up the good fight...



wrote …

Great article! Thanks!


wrote …

Matt, Great article that articulates the benefits that crossfit is providing the Army. I think it is important that people know that the Army is paying for Crossfit Level 1 Certifications not only during Intermediate Level Education at Ft. Leavenworth but also at many other installations. The physical benefits have been recognized by many general officers in our Army, and they are doing all that they can to spread Crossfit through their own grass roots type concept. The concept of training mid-level leaders is an effective method of changing culture over time. I have benefited by becoming a Level 1 trainer and do all that I can to spread the concept to everyone else I touch in the Army. Good luck and thanks for the article that I will use to spread the word to decision makers.


wrote …

I set this article outside the office yesterday and the first person to pick it up was a GO, he took it to his office so hopefully he enjoys it as much as we all do.


Mike McGee wrote …

Matt, have you gone over to talk to the guys at Centurion CrossFit or CrossFit LumberJack? They both implemented programs at Hood. I helped get the LumberJacks started, but PCS'd before I could see it come to be what it is today. Once CrossFit was implemented into the PT program, the unit's average skyrocketed. I wrote a paper which they published on the unit's website. If you want, you can take a look at it.

Here's the link: (wfs)

scroll down to you see the one named: If winning isn't everything why do they keep score. It's like the fourth from the bottom.

Good Luck!!


wrote …

Hey Matt,

I am hoping this is Matt McKee from VB. I was surprised, but glad to see your name in the CFJ. Great article, and even though your plan was not implemented, hopefully your encouragement will inspire others. If not, your results probably will:)

Hope all is well with you.

aka Valerie Thompson


wrote …

Matt--Great article...I'm glad to see someone wrote this. I am currently at the Navy ILE and I was going to ask the folks here if I could do an individual study on this very topic. It looks like you pretty much did all the work I was looking to do so I guess I will have to find something else. Maybe I can take a look at the Navy's manual since based on what I have seen here it doesn't look like they are making any grand strides either. I doubt it would go over very well coming from an Army guy though.

Dave--Great to see you are making friends up there at Drum. Awesome story, it makes me want to wear short socks and walk around an Army gym. I wish I had the time to give you the Vibram story from Arvin.

Don--Looks like I may be getting orders to go to Fort Hood next. Looking forward to training with the Centurians. I may do a drop in at the end of the month.



wrote …

This is really ironic...I joined a little bit (a lotta bit really) more fit than most in my company back in 07. Our drill sergeants were more concerned with scaling PT down to those who can't do one pull-up than making sure those of us who could knock out 15 at a time got a good workout as well. Our group runs were split up into "A","B", and "C" groups, but that was only for the runs. Otherwise all of our PT sessions were pretty easy (thats not including the times we got smoked!). Since then, I have always wanted a way to re-vamp the Army's PT program. Being just an E-4, I have always felt like my voice won't be heard by my superiors. However, after going through this article and reading all of your comments, I am pretty pumped and will present this to my platoon sergeant.


wrote …

Great article, Bro. You were the one that inspired me to get into Crossfit and now myself and all three of my kids have the Crossfit "bug." I don't know a better guidon bearer to lead the Crossfit Revolution than you. I just wish I had the nutrition discipline that you have.


wrote …

Awesome article...and a joy to read. Matt your passion for health and fitness are infectious. Take care.


wrote …

Great article. As an Army Veteran (1978-1992), I watched the APRT move from the functional applications of soldiering to what it has become. I still remember the Five Event APRT (Horizontal Ladder, Sit-Up, Run - Dodge & Jump, Inverted Crawl, 2-Mile Run) in Boots no less. Then, seemingly overnight we were in sneakers doing push-ups, sit-ups and a 2-mile run. My career in the fitness field began after I attended the Army Soldier Physical Fitness Academy in 1985 to become a Master Fitness Trainer. Still a Certified Personal Trainer and now CrossFit Level 1 Trainer, I truly believe CrossFit's Method can be put into practice in today's Army as you've indicated the almost mirrored principles. The big obstacle will be commercialization which has the civilian leadership and command structure in it's clinched fist. Just have a look at any issue of Government Recreation & Fitness and see the Globo Gym Industry at work. I did, however, e-mail the editor of GRF concerning the recent (last year or so) emphasis on Functional Fitness and the eery resemblance to CrossFit without any mention of Affiliate Boxes on military installations (like Ft. Hood, Benning, Meade, Pentagon). No Reply, Not Surprised.

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