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Cardiorespiratory Fitness

Cardiorespiratory (CR) fitness, sometimes called CR endurance, aerobic fitness, or aerobic capacity, is one of the five basic components of physical fitness. CR fitness is a condition in which the body's cardiovascular (circulatory) and respiratory systems function together, especially during exercise or work, to ensure that adequate oxygen is supplied to the working muscles to produce energy. CR fitness is needed for prolonged, rhythmic use of the body's large muscle groups. A high level of CR fitness permits continuous physical activity without a decline in performance and allows for rapid recovery following fatiguing physical activity.

Activities such as running, road marching, bicycling, swimming, cross-country skiing, rowing, stair climbing, and jumping rope place an extra demand on the cardiovascular and respiratory systems. During exercise, these systems attempt to supply oxygen to the working muscles. Most of this oxygen is used to produce energy for muscular contraction. Any activity that continuously uses large muscle groups for 20 minutes or longer taxes these systems. Because of this, a wide variety of training methods is used to improve cardiorespiratory endurance.

Physiology of Aerobic Training

Aerobic exercise uses oxygen to produce most of the body's energy needs. It also brings into play a fairly complex set of physiological events.
To provide enough energy-producing oxygen to the muscles, the following events occur:
  • Greater movement of air through the lungs.
  • Increased movement of oxygen from the lungs into the blood stream.
  • Increased delivery of oxygen-laden blood to the working muscles by the heart's accelerated pumping action.
  • Regulation of the blood vessel's size to distribute blood away from inactive tissue to working muscle.
  • Greater movement of oxygen from the blood into the muscle tissue.
  • Accelerated return of veinous blood to the heart.

Correctly performed aerobic exercise, overtime, causes positive changes in the body's CR system. These changes allow the heart and vascular systems to deliver more oxygen-rich blood to the working muscles during exercise. Also, those muscles regularly used during aerobic exercise undergo positive changes. By using more oxygen, these changes let the muscles make and use more energy during exercise and, as a result, the muscles can work longer and harder.

During maximum aerobic exercise, the trained person has an increased maximum oxygen consumption (O2max). He is better able to process oxygen and fuel and can therefore provide more energy to the working muscles.
O2max, also called aerobic capacity, is the most widely accepted single indicator of one's CR fitness level.

The best way to determine aerobic capacity is to measure it in the laboratory. It is much easier, however, to estimate maximum oxygen uptake by using other methods.

It is possible to determine a soldier's CR fitness level and get an accurate estimate of his aerobic capacity by using his APFT 2-mile-run time. (Appendix F explains how to do this.) Other tests - the bicycle, walk, and step tests - may also be used to estimate one's aerobic capacity and evaluate one's CR fitness level.

Aerobic exercise is the best types of activity for attaining and maintaining a low percentage of body fat.

In the presence of oxygen, muscle cells produce energy by breaking down carbohydrates and fats. In fact, fats are only used as an energy source when oxygen is present. Hence, aerobic exercise is the best type of activity for attaining and maintaining a low percentage of body fat.

A person's maximum aerobic capacity can be modified through physical training. To reach very high levels of aerobic fitness, one must train hard. The best way to improve CR fitness is to participate regularly in a demanding aerobic exercise program.
Many factors can negatively affect one's ability to perform well aerobically. These include the following:
  • Age.
  • Anemia.
  • Carbon monoxide from tobacco smoke or pollution.
  • High altitude (reduced oxygen pressure).
  • Illness (heart disease).
  • Obesity.
  • Sedentary life-style.

Any condition that reduces the body's ability to bring in, transport, or use oxygen reduces a person's ability to perform aerobically. Inactivity causes much of the decrease in physical fitness that occurs with increasing age. Some of this decrease in aerobic fitness can be slowed by taking part in a regular exercise program.

Certain medical conditions also impair the transport of oxygen. They include diseases of the lungs, which interfere with breathing, and disabling heart conditions. Another is severe blocking of the arteries which inhibits blood flow to the heart and skeletal muscles.

Smoking can lead to any or all of the above problems and can, in the long and short term, adversely affect one's ability to do aerobic exercise.

FITT Factors

As mentioned in Chapter 1, a person must integrate several factors into any successful fitness training program to improve his fitness level. These factors are summarized by the following words which form the acronym FITT. Frequency, Intensity, Time, and Type. They are described below as they pertain to cardiorespiratory fitness. A warm-up and cool-down should also be part of each workout. Information on warming up and cooling down is given in Chapters 1 and 4.


Frequency refers to how often one exercises. It is related to the intensity and duration of the exercise session. Conditioning the CR system can best be accomplished by three adequately intense workouts per week. Soldiers should do these on alternate days. By building up gradually, soldiers can get even greater benefits from working out five times a week. However, leaders should recognize the need for recovery between hard exercise periods and should adjust the training intensity accordingly. They must also be aware of the danger of overtraining and recognize that the risk of injury increases as the intensity and duration of training increases.


Intensity is related to how hard one exercises. It represents the degree of effort with which one trains and is probably the single most important factor for improving performance. Unfortunately, it is the factor many units ignore.

Changes in CR fitness are directly related to how hard an aerobic exercise is performed. The more energy expended per unit of time, the greater the intensity of the exercise. Significant changes in CR fitness are brought about by sustaining training heart rates in the range of 60 to 90 percent of the heart ratereserve (HRR). Intensities of less than 60 percent HRR are generally inadequate to produce a training effect, and those that exceed 90 percent HRR can be dangerous.

Soldiers should gauge the intensity of their workouts for CR fitness by determining and exercising at their training heart rate (THR). Using the THR method lets them find and prescribe the correct level of intensity during CR exercise. By determining one's maximum heart rate, resting heart rate, and relative conditioning level, an appropriate THR or intensity can be prescribed.

One's ability to monitor the heart rate is the key to success in CR training. (Note: Ability-group running is better than unit running because unit running does not accommodate the individual soldier's THR. For example, some soldiers in a formation may be training at 50 percent HRR and others at 95 percent HRR. As a result, the unit run will be too intense for some and not intense enough for others.)

The heart rate during work or exercise is an excellent indicator of how much effort a person is exerting. Keeping track of the heart rate lets one gauge the intensity of the CR exercise being done. With this information, one can be sure that the intensity is enough to improve his CR fitness level.
Following are two methods for determining training heart rate (THR). The first method, percent maximum heart rate (% MHR), is simpler to use, while the second method, percent heart rate reserve (%HRR), is more accurate. Percent HRR is the recommended technique for determining THR.

Intensity is probably the single most important factor for improving performance.

Percent MHR Method

With this method, the THR is figured using the estimated maximal heart rate. A soldier determines his estimated maximum heart rate by subtracting his age from 220. Thus, a 20-year-old would have an estimated maximum heart rate (MHR) of 200 beats per minute (220 - 20 = 200).

By determining one's maximum heart rate, resting rate, and conditioning level, an appropriate THR can be prescribed.
To figure a THR that is 80 percent of the estimated MHR for a 20-year-old soldier in good physical condition, multiply 0.80 times the MHR of 200 beats per minute (BPM). This example is shown below.

% x MHR = THR


0.80 x 200 BPM = 160 BPM

When using the MHR method, one must compensate for its built-in weakness. A person using this method may exercise at an intensity which is not high enough to cause a training effect. To compensate for this, a person who is in poor shape should exercise at 70 percent of his MHR; if he is in relatively good shape, at 80 percent MHR; and, if he is in excellent shape, at 90 percent MHR.

Percent HRR Method

A more accurate way to calculate THR is the percent HRR method. The range from 60 to 90 percent HRR is the THR range in which people should exercise to improve their CR fitness levels. If a soldier knows his general level of CR fitness, he can determine which percentage of HRR is a good starting point for him. For example, if he is in excellent physical condition, he could start at 85 percent of his HRR; if he is in reasonably good shape, at 70 percent HRR; and, if he is in poor shape, at 60 percent HRR.

Most CR workouts should be conducted with the heart rate between 70 to 75 percent HRR to attain, or maintain, an adequate level of fitness. Soldiers who have reached a high level of fitness may derive more benefit from working at a higher percentage of HRR, particularly if they cannot find more than 20 minutes for CR exercise. Exercising at any lower percentage of HRR does not give the heart, muscles, and lungs an adequate training stimulus.

Before anyone begins aerobic training, he should know his THR (the heart rate at which he needs to exercise to get a training effect).
The example below shows how to figure the THR by using the resting heart rate reserve (HRR). A 20-year-old male soldier in reasonably good physical shape is the example.

Step 1: Determine the MHR by subtracting the soldier's age from 220.

220 - age = MHR

220 - 20 = 200 BPM

STEP 2: Determine the RHR in beats per minute (BPM) by counting the resting pulse for 30 seconds, and multiply the count by two. A shorter period can be used, but a 30-second count is more accurate. This count should be taken while the soldier is completely relaxed and rested. How to determine heart rate reserve (HRR) by subtracting the RHR from the estimated MHR. If the soldier's RHR IS 69 BPM, the HRR is calculated as shown here.


200 BPM - 69 BPM = 131 BPM

STEP 3: Calculate the THR based on 70 percent of HRR (a percentage based on a good level of CR fitness).

(% x HRR) + RHR = THR

(0.70X131 BPM)+69 BPM=160.7 BPM

As shown, the percentage (70 percent in this example) is converted to the decimal form (0.70) before it is multiplied by the HRR. The result is then added to the resting heart rate (RHR) to get the THR. Thus, the product obtained by multiplying 0.70 and 131 is 91.7. When 91.7 is added to the RHR of 69, a THR of 160.7 results. When the calculations produce a fraction of a heart beat, as in the example, the value is rounded off to the nearest whole number. In this case, 160.7 BPM is rounded off to give a THR of 161 BPM. In summary, a reasonably fit 20-year-old soldier with a resting heart rate of 69 BPM has a training heart rate goal of 161 BPM. To determine the RHR, or to see if one is within the THR during and right after exercise, place the tip of the third finger lightly over one of the carotid arteries in the neck. These arteries are located to the left and right of the Adam's apple. (See Figure 2-1A.) Another convenient spot from which to monitor the pulse is on the radial artery on the wrist just above the base of the thumb. (See Figure 2-lB.) Yet another way is to place the hand over the heart and count the number of heart beats. (See Figure 2-1 C.)
During aerobic exercise, the body will usually have reached a "Steady State" after five minutes of exercise, and the heart rate will have leveled off. At this time, and immediately after exercising, the soldier should monitor his heart rate.

He should count his pulse for 10 seconds, then multiply this by six to get his heart rate for one minute. This will let him determine if his training intensity is high enough to improve his CR fitness level.

For example, use the THR of 161 BPM figured above. During the 10-second period, the soldier should get a count of 27 beats (161/6= 26.83 or 27) if he is exercising at the right intensity. If his pulse rate is below the THR, he must exercise harder to increase his pulse to the THR. If his pulse is above the THR, he should normally exercise at a lower intensity to reduce the pulse rate to the prescribed THR. He should count as accurately as possible, since one missed beat during the 10-second count, multiplied by six, gives an error of six BPM.

A soldier who maintains his THR throughout a 20- to 30-minute exercise period is doing well and can expect improvement in his CR fitness level. He should check his exercise and post-exercise pulse rate at least once each workout. If he takes only one pulse check, he should do it five minutes into the workout.

Figure 2-2 is a chart that makes it easy to determine what a soldier's THR should be during a 10-second count. Using this figure, a soldier can easily find his own THR just by knowing his age and general fitness level. For example, a 40-year-old soldier with a low fitness level should, during aerobic exercise, have a THR of 23 beats in 10 seconds. He can determine this from the table by locating his age and then tracking upward until he reaches the percent HRR for his fitness level. Again, those with a low fitness level should work at about 60 percent HRR and those with a good fitness level at 70 percent HRR. Those with a high level of fitness may benefit most by training at 80 to 90 percent HRR.

Another way to gauge exercise intensity is "perceived exertion." This method relies on how difficult the exercise seems to be and is described in Appendix G.


Time, or duration, refers to how long one exercises. It is inversely related to intensity. The more intense the activity, the shorter the time needed to produce or maintain a training effect; the less intense the activity, the longer the required duration. To improve CR fitness, the soldier must train for at least 20 to 30 minutes at his THR.


Only aerobic exercises that require breathing in large volumes of air improve CR fitness. Worthwhile aerobic activities must involve the use of large muscle groups and must be rhythmic. They must also be of sufficient duration and intensity (60 to 90 percent HRR). Examples of primary and secondary exercises for improving CR fitness are as follows:
  • Running.
  • Rowing.
  • Jogging.
  • Skiing (cross-country).
  • Walking (vigorous).
  • Exercising to music.
  • Road marching.
  • Rope skipping.
  • Bicycling (stationary).
  • Swimming.
  • Bicycling (road/street).
  • Stair climbing.
  • SECONDARY (Done with partners or opponents of equal or greater ability.)

  • Racquetball (singles).
  • Basketball (full court).
  • Handball (singles).
  • Tennis (singles).

The primary exercises are more effective than the secondary exercises in producing positive changes in CR fitness.

The secondary activities may briefly elevate the heart rate but may not keep it elevated to the THR throughout the entire workout.

Every activity has its advantages and disadvantages. Trainers must weigh these and design programs that fit the unit's needs.

Every activity has its advantages and disadvantages. Trainers must design programs that fit the unit's needs.


Running enables the body to improve the transport of blood and oxygen to the working muscles and brings about positive changes in the muscles' ability to produce energy. Running fits well into any physical training program 'because a training effect can be attained with only three 20-minute workouts per week.

Some soldiers may need instruction to improve their running ability. The following style of running is desired. The head is erect with the body in a straight line or slightly bent forward at the waist. The elbows are bent so the forearms are relaxed and held loosely at waist level. The arms swing naturally from front to rear in straight lines. (Cross-body arm movements waste energy. The faster the run, the faster the arm action.) The toes point straight ahead, and the feet strike on the heel and push off at the big toe.

Besides learning running techniques, soldiers need information on ways to prevent running injuries. The most common injuries associated with PT in the Army result from running and occur to the feet, ankles, knees, and legs. Proper warm-up and cool-down, along with stretching exercises and wearing appropriate clothing and well-fitting running shoes, help prevent injuries. Important information on safety factors and common running injuries is presented in Chapter 13 and Appendix E.

Failure to allow recovery between hard bouts of running cannot only lead to overtraining, but can also be a major cause of injuries. A well-conditioned soldier can run five to six times a week. However, to do this safely, he should do two things: 1) gradually buildup to running that frequently; and, 2) vary the intensity and/or duration of the running sessions to allow recovery between them.


Traditionally, soldiers have run in unit formations at a pace prescribed by the PT leader. Commanders have used unit runs to improve unit cohesion and fitness levels. Unfortunately, too many soldiers are not challenged enough by the intensity or duration of the unit run, and they do not receive a training benefit. For example, take a company that runs at a nine-minute-per-mile pace for two miles. Only soldiers who cannot run two miles in a time faster than 18 minutes will receive a significant training effect. Therefore, in terms of conditioning, most soldiers who can pass the 2-mile-run test are wasting their time and losing the chance to train hard to excel. Ability group running (AGR) is the best way to provide enough intensity so each soldier can improve his own level of CR fitness.

AGR lets soldiers train in groups of near-equal ability. Each group runs at a pace intense enough to produce a training effect for that group and each soldier in it. Leaders should program these runs for specific lengths of time, not miles to be run. This procedure lets more-fit groups run a greater distance than the less-fit groups in the same time period thus enabling every soldier to improve.

The best way to assign soldiers to ability groups is to make a list, in order, of the unit's most recent APFT 2-mile-run times. The number of groups depends on the unit size, number of leaders available to conduct the runs, and range of 2-mile-run times. A company-sized unit broken down into four to six ability groups, each with a leader, is best for aerobic training, For activities like circuits, strength training, and competitive events, smaller groups are easier to work with than one large group.

Because people progress at different rates, soldiers should move to faster groups when they are ready. To help them train at their THR and enhance their confidence, those who have a hard time keeping up with a group should be placed in a slower group. As the unit's fitness level progresses, so should the intensity at which each group exercises. Good leadership will prevent a constant shifting of soldiers between groups due to lack of effort.

AGR is best conducted at the right intensity at least three times a week. As explained, the CR system should not be exercised "hard" on consecutive days. If AGR is used on hard CR-training days, unit runs at lower intensities are good for recovery days. Using this rotation, soldiers can gain the desired benefits of both unit and ability-group runs. The problem comes when units have a limited number of days for PT and there is not enough time for both. In this case, unit runs should seldom, if ever, be used and should be recognized for what they are--runs to build unit cohesion.

Leaders can use additional methods to achieve both goals. The unit can begin in formation and divide into ability groups at a predetermined release point. The run can also begin with soldiers divided into ability groups which join at a link-up point. Alternately, ability groups can be started over the same route in a stagger, with the slowest group first. Link-ups occur as each faster group overtakes slower groups.

With imagination and planning, AGR will result in more effective training workouts for each soldier. The argument that ability-group running detracts from unit cohesion is invalid. Good leadership and training in all areas promote unit cohesion and team spirit; training that emphasizes form over substance does not.


Interval training also works the cardiorespiratory system. It is an advanced form of exercise training which helps a person significantly improve his fitness level in a relatively short time and increase his running speed.

In interval training, a soldier exercises by running at a pace that is slightly faster than his race pace for short periods of time. This may be faster than the pace he wants to maintain during the next APFT 2-mile run. He does this repeatedly with periods of recovery placed between periods of fast running. In this way, the energy systems used are allowed to recover, and the exerciser can do more fast-paced running in a given workout than if he ran continuously without resting. This type of intermittent training can also be used with activities such as cycling, swimming, bicycling, rowing, and road marching.

The following example illustrates how the proper work-interval times and recovery times can be calculated for interval training so that it can be used to improve a soldier's 2-mile-run performance.

The work-interval time (the speed at which a soldier should run each 440-yard lap) depends on his actual race pace for one mile. If a soldier's actual 1-mile-race time is not known, it can be estimated from his last APFT by taking one half of his 2-mile-run time. Using a 2-mile-run time of 16:00 minutes as an example, the pace for an interval training workout is calculated as follows:
Step 1. Determine (or estimate) the actual 1-mile-race pace. The soldier's 2-mile-run time is 16:00 minutes, and his estimated pace for 1 mile is one half of this or 8:00 minutes.

Step 2. Using the time from Step 1, determine the time it took to run 440 yards by dividing the 1-mile-race pace by four. (8:00 minutes/4 = 2:00 minutes per 440 yards.)

Step 3. Subtract one to four seconds from the 440-yard time in Step 2 to find the time each 440-yard lap should be run during an interval training session. (2:00 minutes - 1 to 4 seconds = 1:59 to 1:56.)

Thus, each 440-yard lap should be run in 1 minute, 56 seconds to 1 minute, 59 seconds during interval training based on the soldier's 16:00, 2- mile run time. Recovery periods, twice the length of the work-interval periods. These recovery periods, therefore, will be 3 minutes, 52 seconds long (1:56 + 1:56 = 3:52).

Using the work-interval time for each 440-yard lap from Step 3, the soldier can run six to eight repetitions of 440 yards at a pace of 1 minute, 56 seconds (1:56) for each 440-yard run. This can be done on a 440-yard track (about 400 meters) as follows:
1. Run six to eight 440-yard repetitions with each interval run at a 1:56 pace.

2. Follow each 440-yard run done in 1 minute, 56 seconds by an easy jog of 440 yards for recovery. Each 440-yard jog should take twice as much time as the work interval (that is, 3:52). For each second of work, there are two seconds of recovery. Thus, the work-to-rest ratio is 1:2.

To help determine the correct time intervals for a wide range of fitness levels, refer to Table 2-1. It shows common 1-mile times and the corresponding 440-yard times.

Monitoring the heart-rate response during interval training is not as important as making sure that the work intervals are run at the proper speed. Because of the intense nature of interval training, during the work interval the heart rate will generally climb to 85 or 90 percent of HRR. During the recovery interval, the heart rate usually falls to around 120 to 140 beats per minute. Because the heart rate is not the major concern during interval training, monitoring THR and using it as a training guide is not necessary.

As the soldier becomes more conditioned, his recovery is quicker. As a result, he should either shorten the recovery interval (jogging time) or run the work interval a few seconds faster.

After a soldier has reached a good CR fitness level using the THR method, he should be ready for interval training. As with any other new training method, interval training should be introduced into his training program gradually and progressively. At first, he should do it once a week. If he responds well, he may do it twice a week at the most, with at least one recovery day in between. He may also do recovery workouts of easy jogging on off days. It is recommended that interval training be done two times a week only during the last several weeks before an APFT. Also, he should rest the few days before the test by doing no, or very easy, running.

As with any workout, soldiers should start interval workouts with a warm-up and end them with a cool-down.


In Fartlek training, another type of CR training sometimes called speed play, the soldier varies the intensity (speed) of the running during the workout. Instead of running at a constant speed, he starts with very slow jogging. When ready, he runs hard for a few minutes until he feels the need to slow down. At this time he recovers by jogging at an easy pace. This process of alternating fast and recovery running (both of varying distances) gives the same results as interval training. However, neither the running nor recovery interval is timed, and the running is not done on a track. For these reasons, many runners prefer Fartlek training to interval training.

In Fartlek training, the soldier varies the intensity (speed) of the running throughout the workout.


This type of running, which includes both sprinting and paced running, improves CR endurance and conditions the legs. It consists of 40- to 50-yard sprints at near-maximum effort. This type of running is best done by squads and sections. Each squad leader places the squad in an evenly-spaced, single-file line on a track or a smooth, flat course. During a continuous 2- to 3-mile run of moderate intensity, the squad leader, running in the last position, sprints to the front of the line and becomes the leader. When he reaches the front, he resumes the moderate pace of the whole squad. After he reaches the front, the next soldier, who is now at the rear, immediately sprints to the front. The rest of the soldiers continue to run at a moderate pace. This pattern of sprinting by the last person continues until each soldier has resumed his original position in line. This pattern of sprinting and running is repeated several times during the run. The distance run and number of sprints performed should increase as the soldiers' conditioning improves.


Cross-country running conditions the leg muscles and develops CR endurance. It consists of running a certain distance on a course laid out across fields, over hills, through woods, or on any other irregular terrain. It can be used as both a physical conditioning activity and a competitive event. The object is to cover the distance in the shortest time.

The unit is divided into ability groups using 2-mile-run times. Each group starts its run at the same time. This lets the better-conditioned groups run farther and helps ensure that they receive an adequate training stimulus.

The speed and distance can be increased gradually as the soldiers' conditioning improves. At first, the distance should be one mile or less, depending on the terrain and fitness level. It should then be gradually increased to four miles. Cross-country runs have several advantages: they provide variety in physical fitness training, and they can accommodate large numbers of soldiers. Interest can be stimulated by competitive runs after soldiers attain a reasonable level of fitness. These runs may also be combined with other activities such as compass work (orienteering).

Cross-country runs can accommodate large numbers of soldiers.

Road Marches

The road or foot march is one of the best ways to improve and maintain fitness. Road marches are classified as either administrative or tactical, and they can be conducted in garrison or in the field. Soldiers must be able to move quickly, carry a load (rucksack) of equipment, and be physically able to perform their missions after extended marching.


Road marches are an excellent aerobic activity. They also help develop endurance in the muscles of the lower body when soldiers carry a heavy load. Road marches offer several benefits when used as part of a fitness program. They are easy to organize, and large numbers of soldiers can participate. In addition, when done in an intelligent, systematic, and progressive manner, they produce relatively few injuries. Many soldier-related skills can be integrated into road marches. They can also help troops acclimatize to new environments. They help train leaders to develop skills in planning, preparation, and supervision and let leaders make first-hand observations of the soldiers' physical stamina. Because road marches are excellent fitness-training activities, commanders should make them a regular part of their unit's PT program.

Road marches help troops acclimatize to new environments.


The four types of road marches - day, limited visibility, forced, and shuttle - are described below. For more information on marches, see FM 21-18.

Day Marches

Day marches, which fit easily into the daily training plan, are most conducive to developing physical fitness. They are characterized by dispersed formations and ease of control and reconnaissance.

Limited Visibility Marches

Limited visibility marches require more detailed planning and supervision and are harder to control than day marches. Because they move more slowly and are in tighter formations, soldiers may not exercise hard enough to obtain a conditioning effect. Limited visibility marches do have some advantages, however. They protect soldiers from the heat of the day, challenge the ability of NCOs and officers to control their soldiers, and provide secrecy and surprise in tactical situations.

Forced Marches

Forced marches require more than the normal effort in speed and exertion. Although they are excellent conditioners, they may leave soldiers too fatigued to do other required training tasks.

Soldiers should receive advance notice before going on a march, to help morale and give them time to prepare.

Shuttle Marches

Shuttle marches alternate riding and marching, usually because there are not enough vehicles to carry the entire unit. These marches may be modified and used as fitness activities. A shuttle march can be planned to move troops of various fitness levels from one point to another, with all soldiers arriving at about the same time. Soldiers who have high fitness levels can generally march for longer stretches than those who are less fit.

Any plan to conduct a road march to improve physical fitness should consider the following:
  • Load to be carried.
  • Discipline and supervision.
  • Distance to be marched.
  • Route reconnaissance.
  • Time allotted for movement.
  • Water stops.
  • Present level of fitness.
  • Rest stops.
  • Intensity of the march.
  • Provisions for injuries.
  • Terrain and weather conditions.
  • Safety precautions.

Soldiers should usually receive advance notice before going on a march. This helps morale and gives them time to prepare. The leader should choose an experienced soldier as a pacesetter to lead the march. The pacesetter should carry the same load as the other soldiers and should be of medium height to ensure normal strides. The normal stride for a foot march, according to FM 21-18, is 30 inches. This stride, and a cadence of 106 steps per minute, results in a speed of 4.8 kilometers per hour (kph). When a 10-minute rest is taken each hour, a net speed of 4 kph results.

The pacesetter should keep in mind that ground slope and footing affect stride length. For example, the length decreases when soldiers march up hills or down steep slopes. Normal stride and cadence are maintained easily on moderate, gently rolling terrain unless the footing is muddy, slippery, or rough.

Personal hygiene is important in preventing unnecessary injuries. Before the march, soldiers should cut their toenails short and square them off, wash and dry their feet, and lightly apply foot powder. They should wear clean, dry socks that fit well and have no holes. Each soldier should take one or more extra pair of socks depending on the length of the march. Soldiers who have had problems with blisters should apply a thin coating of petroleum jelly over susceptible areas. Leaders should check soldiers' boots before the march to make sure that they fit well, are broken in and in good repair, with heels that are even and not worn down.

During halts soldiers should lie down and elevate their feet. If time permits, they should massage their feet, apply powder, and change socks. Stretching for a few minutes before resuming the march may relieve cramps and soreness and help prepare the muscles to continue exercising. To help prevent lower back strain, soldiers should help each other reposition the rucksacks and other loads following rest stops. Soldiers can relieve swollen feet by slightly loosening the laces across their arches.

After marches, soldiers should again care for their feet, wash and dry socks, and dry their boots.


The four generalized programs described below can be used to improve the soldiers' load-carrying ability. Each program is based on a different number of days per week available for a PT program.

If only two days are available for PT, both should include exercises for improving CR fitness and muscular endurance and strength. Roughly equal emphasis should be given to each of these fitness components.

If there are only three days available for PT, they should be evenly dispersed throughout the week. Two of the days should stress the development of muscular endurance and strength for the whole body. Although all of the major muscle groups of the body should be trained, emphasis should be placed on the leg (hamstrings and quadriceps), hip (gluteal and hip flexors), low back (spinal erector), and abdominal (rectus abdominis) muscles. These two days should also include brief (2-mile) CR workouts of light to moderate intensity (65 to 75 percent HRR). On the one CR fitness day left, soldiers should take a long distance run (4 to 6 miles) at a moderate pace (70 percent HRR), an interval workout, or an aerobic circuit. They should also do some strength work of light volume and intensity. If four days are available, a road march should be added to the three-day program at least twice monthly. The speed, load, distance, and type of terrain should be varied.

If there are five days, leaders should devote two of them to muscular strength and endurance and two of them to CR fitness. One CR fitness day will use long distance runs; the other can stress more intense workouts including interval work, Fartlek running, or last-man-up running. At least two times per month, the remaining day should include a road march.

Leaders must train and march with their units as much as possible.

Soldiers can usually begin road-march training by carrying a total load equal to 20 percent of their body weight. This includes all clothing and equipment. However, the gender make-up and/or physical condition of a unit may require using a different starting load. Beginning distances should be between five and six miles, and the pace should be at 20 minutes per mile over flat terrain with a hard surface. Gradual increases should be made in speed, load, and distance until soldiers can do the anticipated, worst-case, mission-related scenarios without excessive difficulty or exhaustion. Units should take maintenance marches at least twice a month. Distances should vary from six to eight miles, with loads of 30 to 40 percent of body weight. The pace should be 15 to 20 minutes per mile.

Units should do maintenance marches at least twice a month.

A recent Army study showed that road-march training two times a month and four times a month produced similar improvements in road-marching performance. Thus, twice-monthly road marches appear to produce a favorable improvement in soldiers' abilities to road march if they are supported by a sound PT program (five days per week).

Commanders must establish realistic goals for road marching based on assigned missions. They should also allow newly assigned soldiers and those coming off extended profiles to gradually build up to the unit's fitness level before making them carry maximum loads. This can be done with ability groups.

Road marching should be integrated into all other training. Perhaps the best single way to improve load-carring capacity is to have a regular training program which systematically increases the load and distance. It must also let the soldier regularly practice carrying heavy loads over long distances.

As much as possible, leaders at all levels must train and march with their units. This participation enhances leaders' fitness levels and improves team spirit and confidence, both vital elements in accomplishing difficult and demanding road marches.

Alternate Forms of Aerobic Exercise

Some soldiers cannot run. In such cases, they may use other activities as supplements or alternatives. Swimming, bicycling, and cross-country skiing are all excellent endurance exercises and are good substitutes for running. Their drawback is that they require special equipment and facilities that are not always available. As with all exercise, soldiers should start slowly and progress gradually. Those who use non-running activities to such training may not improve running ability. To prepare a soldier for the APFT 2-mile run, there is no substitute for running.


Swimming is a good alternative to running. Some advantages of swimming include the following:

° Involvement of all the major muscle groups.

° Body position that enhances the blood's return to the heart.

° Partial support of body weight by the water, which minimizes lower body stress in overweight soldiers.

Swimming may be used to improve one's CR fitness level and to maintain and improve CR fitness during recovery from an injury. It is used to supplement running and develop upper body endurance and limited strength. The swimmer should start slowly with a restful stroke. After five minutes, he should stop to check his pulse, compare it with his THR and, if needed, adjust the intensity.

Compared with all the other modes of aerobic exercise presented in this manual (e.g., running, walking, cycling, cross-country skiing, rope jumping, etc.) in swimming alone, one's THR should be lower than while doing the other forms of aerobic exercise. This is because, in swimming, the heart does not beat as fast as when doing the other types of exercise at the same work rate. Thus, in order to effectively train the CR system during swimming, a soldier should set his THR about 10 bpm lower than while running. For example, a soldier whose THR while running is 150 bpm should have a THR of about 140 bpm while swimming. By modifying their THRs in this manner while swimming, soldiers will help to ensure that they are working at the proper intensity.

Non-swimmers can run in waist-to chest-deep water, tread water, and do pool-side kicking for an excellent aerobic workout. They can also do calisthenics in the water. Together these activities combine walking and running with moderate resistance work for the upper body.

For injured soldiers, swimming and aerobic water-training are excellent for improving CR fitness without placing undue stress on injured weight-bearing parts of the body.

For swimming, a soldier should set his THR at about 10 beats per minute lower than when running.


Cycling is an excellent exercise for developing CR fitness. Soldiers can bicycle outdoors or on a stationary cycling machine indoors. Road cycling should be intense enough to allow the soldier to reach and maintain THR at least 30 minutes.

Cycling should be intense enough to let the soldier reach and maintain THR at least 30 minutes.

Soldiers can alter the cycling intensity by changing gears, adding hill work, and increasing velocity. Distance can also be increased to enhance CR fitness, but the distance covered is not as important as the amount of time spent training at THR. The intensity of a workout can be increased by increasing the resistance against the wheel or increasing the pedaling cadence (number of RPM). For interval training, the soldier can vary the speed and resistance and use periods of active recovery at low speed and/or low resistance.


Walking is another way to develop cardiorespiratory fitness. It is enjoyable, requires no equipment, and causes few injuries. However, unless walking is done for a long time at the correct intensity, it will not produce any significant CR conditioning.

Sedentary soldiers with a low degree of fitness should begin slowly with 12 minutes of walking at a comfortable pace. The heart rate should be monitored to determine the intensity. The soldier should walk at least four times a week and add two minutes each week to every workout until the duration reaches 45 to 60 minutes per workout. He can increase the intensity by adding hills or stairs.

As the walker's fitness increases, he should walk 45 to 60 minutes at a faster pace. A simple way to increase walking speed is to carry the arms the same way as in running. With this technique the soldier has a shorter arm swing and takes steps at a faster rate. Swinging the arms faster to increase the pace is a modified form of race walking (power walking) which allows for more upper-body work. This method may also be used during speed marches. After about three months, even the most unfit soldiers should reach a level of conditioning that lets them move into a running program.


Cross-country or Nordic skiing is another excellent alternative to the usual CR activities. It requires vigorous movement of the arms and legs which develops muscular and endurance and coordination. Some of the highest levels of aerobic fitness ever measured have been found in cross-country skiers.

Cross-country skiing requires vigorous movement of the arms and legs, developing muscular and CR endurance.

Although some regions lack snow, one form or another of cross-country skiing can be done almost anywhere--on country roads, golf courses, open fields, and in parks and forests.

Cross-country skiing is easy to learn. The action is similar to that used in brisk walking, and the intensity may be varied as in running. The work load is determined by the difficulty of terrain, the pace, and the frequency and duration of rest periods. Equipment is reasonably priced, with skis, boots, and poles often obtainable from the outdoor recreation services.


Rope skipping is also a good exercise for developing CR fitness. It requires little equipment, is easily learned, may be done almost anywhere, and is not affected by weather. Some runners use it as a substitute for running during bad weather.

A beginner should select a jump rope that, when doubled and stood on, reaches to the armpits. Weighted handles or ropes may be used by better-conditioned soldiers to improve upper body strength. Rope skippers should begin with five minutes of jumping rope and then monitor their heart rate. They should attain and maintain their THR to ensure a training effect, and the time spent jumping should be increased as the fitness level improves.

Rope jumping, however, may be stressful to the lower extremities and therefore should be limited to no more than three times a week. Soldiers should skip rope on a cushioned surface such as a mat or carpet and should wear cushioned shoes.


Handball and the racquet sports (tennis, squash, and racquetball) involve bursts of intense activity for short periods. They do not provide the same degree of aerobic training as exercises of longer duration done at lower intensities. However, these sports are good supplements and can provide excellent aerobic benefits depending on the skill of the players. If played vigorously each day, they may be an adequate substitute for low-level aerobic training. Because running increases endurance, it helps improve performance in racket sports, but the reverse is not necessarily true.


Aerobic exercise done to music is another excellent alternative to running. It is a motivating, challenging activity that combines exercise and rhythmic movements. There is no prerequisite skill, and it can be totally individualized to every fitness level by varying the frequency, intensity, and duration. One can move to various tempos while jogging or doing jumping jacks, hops, jumps, or many other calisthenics.

Workouts can be done in a small space by diverse groups of varying fitness levels. Heart rates should be taken during the conditioning phase to be sure the workout is sufficiently intense. If strengthening exercises are included, the workout addresses every component of fitness. Holding relatively light dumbbells during the work-out is one way to increase the intensity for the upper body and improve muscular endurance. Warm-up and cool-down stretches should be included in the aerobic workout.

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