A basic component of the Physical Fitness and Physical Readiness Tests training involves muscular strength and endurance, but as with aerobic conditioning, Soldiers need to develop it over time, not just before their fitness tests. Whether training or in the field, muscular strength and endurance are essential components of overall fitness and injury prevention.
However, training to improve muscular strength is not the same as training for muscular endurance. Muscular strength is the amount of force that a muscle can produce with a single maximum effort. Muscular endurance is the ability to sustain a muscle contraction over a period of time, or to repeatedly contract a muscle over a period of time (for example, push-ups and sit-ups).
Learn how to use the FITT principle to develop a muscular fitness routine that will build both strength and endurance to prepare for the PFT/PRT and beyond.
FITT for muscular strength and endurance
As with aerobic conditioning, Soldiers can use the FITT principle to guide muscular fitness routine. Its components are frequency, intensity, type, and time, combined with progression.
Resistance training for muscular fitness — both strength and endurance — by the “whole-body” training approach should be performed two to three days a week with at least 48 hours of rest between training sessions. The “split-body” approach involves focusing on one set of muscle groups one day and a different set on another day. This allows you to do resistance training on consecutive days in a cyclical routine. For example, Soldiers might exercise upper-body muscles one day, followed by lower-body muscles the next, and core/back muscles the third day of the rotation.
When training for muscular strength, use a weight that’s about 65 to 90 percent of the one-repetition maximum. Those Soldiers who are new to weightlifting or haven’t lifted weights for a while should start at 60 percent. Experienced lifters who want to improve their muscular strength should aim for eight to 12 reps per set for 2 to 4 sets, with a two- to three-minute rest between sets.
To improve muscular endurance, perform 15 to 20 repetitions at no more than 50 percent of the 1RM, with a 2- to 3-minute rest between every one or two sets. A well-rounded muscular fitness program should include both strength and endurance training, but consider specific goals when deciding on an approach.
There are a lot of different types of resistance training workouts. Doing push-ups and sit-ups to prepare for the PFT/PRT is important, but other core exercises also can help build strength and endurance. When choosing the best exercises for a workout, first consider level of experience. If a Soldier is new to weight training, then he should rely on machine exercises because they require much less technique and time to learn. Those who have more experience and feel comfortable enough can use a combination of free weights and machines. These are ideal for building muscle mass. The next consideration is the amount of muscle involved in the motion: The more joints and the larger the muscle group, the better. For example, an exercise involving ankles, knees, and hips is better than one just involving the ankles.
The duration of a resistance-training workout can vary considerably. As for the tempo of each exercise, experiment with lifting a weight for a count of about two seconds, and lowering for a count of about three to four; take about twice as long to lower as to lift.
Once Soldiers can perform the maximum number of repetitions correctly and with relative ease, they should increase the amount of resistance by five to 10 percent. This applies to repetitions performed for both strength and endurance.
Minimize the risk of injuries by using proper form, exercising with a partner, and paying attention to signs of excessive fatigue and pain. Those new to strength training should consider working with a personal trainer who can teach the proper technique. Strength training will pay off not only for the PFT/PRT but also in the tasks Soldiers perform every day.
Next week, learn about training for the flexibility and mobility component of PFT/PRT training.