Challenge the Status Quo – An Amateurs’ Travail: From the Horse’s Mouth

"The study group was charged with the responsibility to prepare a training and assessment paradigm for the entire Indian Army and would impact the fitness of its human resource for the years to come. I considered myself to be the least likely person to be a part of this study group."

Challenge the Status Quo – An Amateurs’ Travail: From the Horse’s Mouth

Editor's Note: Like most other aspects of military culture and training, which was a continuation of what the Indian Army imbibed from the British, the entire physical training (PT) system that was in vogue post-Independence too, was a legacy of the British Army. The PT School located at Aldershot, United Kingdom was the mother institution, which articulated and promulgated all related training concerning fitness and recreational sports and was the alma mater of the Army Physical Training Corps (APTC).

Post-Independence, it was for the first time in 1968/1969 that, a review of the existing system obtaining in the Army was ordered at the behest of the then Chief of Army Staff (COAS), Field Marshal SHFJ Manekshaw. The review board in its report recommended that, there was no need to change as the existing system was adequate to meet the needs and requirements of the Indian Army. Thereafter, it was only in 1986 that, when General Krishnaswamy Sunderjee was the COAS that, a second review was ordered and included in its ambit a larger and inclusive scope with specific terms of reference.

This review of the existing PT system restricted itself to the recruit and trained soldiers table cards, Physical Proficiency Test (PPT) and Battle Physical Efficiency Test (BPET) only and mandated the formulation of a new training and assessment system to include programs for special areas, which exist in our hot and humid North East (NE) Regions, high altitude areas (HAA), deserts, the plains of Punjab and static and formation headquarters.

I have personally experienced and observed the earlier PT system from 1969-92 and the revised system from 1992-2008 while in service, and post retirement have been studying and researching the entire PT System followed by the Indian Army with a view to suggest objective changes to serve the best interests of the soldiers and the organisation, in the backdrop of the prevailing security environment and the invasion of technology and changes in war fighting which has impacted its very nature and understanding. Since it has now been almost three decades (1992-2021) since the revised PT System was adopted it is not surprising that, we are once again reviewing our existing system

While reviewing the existing system now or even subsequently, it will be most pertinent and relevant to know and understand the intricate processes and mechanics that went into reviewing and formulating the existing, nearly three decades old system. This will surely enable one to review the existing system most professionally and objectively only to recommend relevant and meaningful changes for the future.

The officer, who was profoundly and most intimately involved and instrumental in this meaningful and all-encompassing review of our earlier PT system, for five years during 1986-91 till its implementation in 1992 was Major Sarvesh Dangwal, who later commanded the Army Institute of Physical Training (AIPT) and superannuated on retirement from the office of Deputy Director General Military Training (DDGMT PT) on 30 June 2008.

Incidentally, he also won encomiums from the governing body of the Council International Sports Militaire (CISM) for the technical conduct of the World Military Games 2007 (Hyderabad and Mumbai). On my special and friendly request, he has narrated below for the benefit of posterity all that he could vividly recall and ink, to enable all concerned to comprehend the purpose and basis of review, the technicalities of formulating the existing system and the processes and mechanics of incorporating the existing system into the Army’s playbook, its training doctrine. The sine qua non of any training system is the earnestness with which it is implemented.

"The PT School located at Aldershot, UK was the mother institution, which articulated and promulgated all related training concerning fitness and recreational sports and was the alma mater of the APTC."
16th March 1936: Boxing training at the Army School of PT, Aldershot, UK, with bayonet fighting practice in the background. (Photo by Reg Speller/Fox Photos/Getty Images)


I considered myself to be the least likely of officers to be picked up by the then DDGMT (PT), for a task as technical, complex, and challenging as this was. I was inducted into the APTC on 5 Oct 1982 and had done just one complete tenure as a Physical Training Officer (PTO) in a training centre, before the study group was ordered by the General Staff (GS). It was not only startling but also scary to be able to rise to the responsibility reposed upon me and to be able to contribute to such a demand as would be placed upon me as a member.

The study group was charged with the responsibility to prepare a training and assessment paradigm for the entire Indian Army and would impact the fitness of its human resource for the years to come. By any stretch of imagination, it was no mean task and I considered myself to be the least likely person to be a part of this study group, as I was woefully short of intimate subject knowledge, which was an imperative requirement to gainfully contribute to the General Staff Directive. I went beyond the initial apprehension and settled down with the choice exercised and was inherent in the trust which the DDG MT (PT) had shown in me and picked me up from an illustrious crop of colleagues in the APTC.

My service record is likely to have influenced my selection, but it was grossly inadequate for the task at hand only because I lacked the expertise and know-how of exercise physiology and its allied subjects. Therefore, when I reached Army School of Physical Training (ASPT); now rechristened as AIPT on temporary duty (TD) from the Grenadiers Regimental Centre, Jabalpur and met the Presiding Officer, apart from the initial exchanges with him, put down my request for time with the intent to do self-study and empower myself with the domain knowledge before I even put my pen to paper.

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Respect the Challenge Before Overcoming It

My tryst with self-educating myself commenced and I found myself with a book in hand, in my living space in the guest room of the Officer's Mess of the ASPT. The Officer's Physical Training Course (OPTC), which was my only gateway to permanently transfer into the APTC did not equip me with the level and quality of knowledge on exercise physiology and its allied subjects, which was fundamental to the requirement of a member comprising the study group.

The instructions imparted during the course were very rudimentary and did not come from someone who himself was knowledgeable on the subject at hand. The instructor's themselves lacked the depth of knowledge to be able to impart profound instructions to the students and I was a recipient of such learning only. My greatest concern was that the study group was tasked with a responsibility which was beyond the scope of mere amateurs, as I was and yet was the lynchpin of the same.

Even if I did not lack in my sincerity and industry towards the role assigned to me as a member, this could never compensate for my lack of knowledge about the subjects I was to deal with and question that which existed and was the basis of our PT regimen, which was in practice for the past four to five decades. This was a classic case of someone whose only criteria to be entrusted with such a responsibility was that he belonged to the APTC, the organisation which dealt with PT in the Indian Army.

I was weighed down by this thought only to further resolve to live up to the faith and trust reposed in my abilities by my seniors and not give up, and which was justifiable on all accounts. In pursuance of my resolve, I self-imposed a quarantine upon myself to study, read and make notes of that which was salient to my requirement. My routine was tailored to suit my purpose of remaining mentally agile, physically fit and having copious reserves of energy to immerse myself in my books.

I was fortunate to have the association of a sports medicine specialist who was co-located in ASPT and commanding a centre under the control of the Services Sports Control Board (SSCB), an armed forces unit. I found an incredibly good listener and friend in the Officer Commanding (OC) of the centre, who clarified my doubts and expounded certain facts for easier and better assimilation by me.

In between, when I went for my weekly meeting with the Presiding Officer of the study group, I prevailed upon him that if we did think about bringing any change in our existing system, it should be supported by conducting practical training and tests on recruits and trained soldiers and then subjecting the results thereof to a statistical evaluation to decide for or against the recommended change. This was unanimously agreed to by the group and hence we were clear in our minds that, unless we had physically not ascertained the need for a change and validated it by a statistical evaluation, nothing would change.

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What You Do is So Loud, That You Can't Hear What You Say

My understanding of the subject matter was getting clearer with every day of studying and cross referencing it with other books to permanently embed the principles sustaining the hypothesis or facts. Simultaneously, I was also going through the existing GS publications which dealt with basic and battle physical training and critically examining its contents against the latest developments and changes in the field of fitness training in contemporary times.

Although the principles of physiology remained unchanged and permanent, the structure, designing, proliferation of activities which were subsumed under the scope of fitness, prioritisation of the fitness component, motor ability training and time as a factor in training attracted my attention and interest.

The important aspects which emerged from my studious deliberations on fitness, essentially was regarding the priority which is given to the several components of a fit profile in a human being. Of all components therein, cardiorespiratory/aerobic, and anaerobic endurance is the cornerstone of fitness, irrespective of the environment one lives and works in. It comprises between 50% to 60% of any training programme which aspires to bring about harmonious development.

For a combat army and its soldiers, fitness implies the ability of the rank and file to be able to sustain the rigours of the several and varied demands made upon its human resource. Hence, the very nature of the profession of soldiering demands a long haul and recurring energy supply, which supports the other components of strength, speed, flexibility and the motor ability of balance, coordination and agility.

It was thus observed that this aspect was not adequately factored into the construct of our recruit and battle physical training tables, and hence, was flagged as a shortcoming. My deduction in this aspect was further strengthened by my practical observation of watching recruits being put through extra endurance training to take an endurance test, which validated their cardiorespiratory fitness. The Recruit Training Card (RTC) did not adequately prepare most of the recruits for the test, and hence, the training was not validated by the test per se.

There was an evident disconnect here between the training and testing. Hence, it warranted a relook into the priority, which was given to the aspect of cardiorespiratory fitness in the RTC as also merited an intimate examination of the erstwhile 2 miles (3.2 kms) test and its standards as a specific test for the intended component being assessed.

An extremely critical failing was observed, and which was the absence of any stretching or cooling down activity after the strengthening group was done with. It is important for the exercised and contracted muscles to be stretched and drawn to their original length for retaining body flexibility. Also, to be able to flush out body toxins and release these into the bloodstream and the respiratory system for re synthesis had been completely lost sight of.

Driving Tensions Away Through Stretching

"It was wrongly thought by some senior officers in the military hierarchy that, Yoga was a religious practice of the Hindus, and hence, co-opting it into our fitness training regimen would go against the grain of the Indian Army's secular outlook."
Yoga training is part of the PT curriculum for all cadets, recruits and combatants especially during ‘cooling down’ phase; File Photo

Stretching through Yoga, to relieve strained muscles and relax these was considered to be a panacea, and hence, it forced itself into the construct of the cooling down group. However, at that point in time it was wrongly thought by the PT aficionados and some senior officers in the military hierarchy that, Yoga was a religious practice of the Hindus, and hence, co-opting it into our fitness training regimen would go against the grain of the Indian Army's secular outlook towards its organisational philosophy.

Notwithstanding, we included Hatha Yoga poses but under the subterfuge of just calling these as stretches. We were being guilty of not standing up for our cultural form of exercise but then prudence dictated otherwise, and we were convinced that the introduction of Yoga into the Army was just a matter of time, because it was 'an idea whose time has come' and hence it couldn't be resisted by Armies.

Restructuring and Redesigning the RTC

Another aspect which emerged from my comparisons was the methodology, which was applied for the development of strength. The principle of repetitive overloading of a muscle group for bringing about a training effect and hence enhancing strength is a universal practice, whether it is load bearing or else done as resistance training. There was tremendous scope of introducing this in our experimental design of the RTC, by specifying the repetitions and sets of several free hand and equipment centric physical activities.

Also, the age-old adage of 'no pain, no gain' could not stand scrutiny in the light of the scientific understanding of strength training, which advocated work and rest intervals between two sets of similar activity. Therefore, a need was felt to structure our strength training activity in accordance with our alternate understanding of the same and optimize the training effect by specificity, repetitions, sets, rest between sets and variety.

When examining the construct of the RTC, it was my observation that the mobility group therein, which consisted of exercises for the shoulders, dorsal and lumbar regions and legs as also coordination, performed in a squad formation could be substituted with a running form activity to mobilise the glucose/glycogen and better warm up the body through blood circulating in the larger muscle groups of the body. Also, when drafting the experimental RTC this mobility group was to be replaced with the newly introduced warm up and endurance group, which balanced the table card with the endurance component in a commensurate proportion of its priority.

We put time as a factor in training at premium and hence wanted to achieve the biggest bang for a buck by optimising it in the limited window of a daily period of 40 minutes in the RTC. We deliberately restrained ourselves from increasing the duration of a period, as the challenge we gave to ourselves was to achieve best results within the stipulated time and not bring about a cascading effect in the total available time for training in totality. Thus, we rearranged the groups comprising the RTC into three main ones, viz warm up, strengthening and cool down and specifically focused on developing and maintaining the desired fitness component by compressing time through specificity.

The idea was to focus on fitness exclusively rather than try to achieve a subsidiary advantage in drilling, marching and squad discipline. It was also felt that the manner of conduct of a PT period was too straitjacketed and hence required to become more akin to a more relaxed and informal coaching process which allowed limited and reasonable freedom to the trainees, with an intent to make it more fun rather than a stereotyped military class devoid of a relaxed atmosphere.

Trial Results: Control vs Experimental

Another issue which was likely to adversely impact the result of the training imparted to the experimental group was the deep rooted and ingrained habits of the Physical and Recreational Training (P&RT) instructors, who were only accustomed to what they had imbibed over the years in their methods of instruction. The experimental group was subject to training by the diehard Physical Training Instructor (PTI) and for him to transit into and understand the rationale and logic of the Experimental design and its conduct was severely handicapped.

The no pain-no gain ideology was difficult to erase from the instructors mindset, whereas the experimental design professed work and rest intervals in a given ratio of 2:1 so as to extract the optimal training effect. For strength training the concept of working a muscle group to its failure wherein it is unable to maintain the form of the activity and such other nuances were well beyond their theoretical understanding. They were ignorant about the ‘why’ part of a concept and hence often faltered as a matter of habit on the 'what' part when required to put it into practice.

Similarly, the PTI was not empowered enough to understand the concept of Training Heart Rate when engaging a trainee in a cyclic activity for developing and maintaining aerobic capacity. We were putting our hypothesis to test in an on 'job manner', wherein the subject population of the trainees was not kept isolated from any extraneous influences which was bound to compromise the results and mitigate the fidelity of the training effect.

Equally, a new and experimental design of training the outcome of which largely depended on the manner of its conduct and understanding of the theory behind the concept was a big dampener. We had to make do with whatever conditions prevailed and any thought of asking for time to address these concerns was straightaway rejected when examined in the backdrop of our proposal to practically try and test out any change before adopting it. We had initially decided to put to practice everything and rejected any thought of doing a theoretical exercise alone to pursue the purpose of the study Directive.

This required time, an unbelievably valuable and non-recurring resource. Moreover, when an earlier study Directive had been similarly ordered in 1968/69 it had submitted its report within a month and recommended a status quo. Therefore, when we were allowed time (12 months) to proceed in the manner as we wanted to, requesting for any additional time and conditions to proximate what could be described as ideal, was unlikely to happen and hence not pursued with the DGMT.

Without tinkering or else unnecessarily re-interpreting any established fitness principle, it was a conscious decision to prioritise our focus and functionally redesign our training pattern to meet the demands of our environment. Any fitness programme must essentially cater to the fitness components in such a manner as holistically addresses the understanding of what comprises an effective profile. Endurance takes the biggest slice of the cake at 60%, strength at 20%, speed at 10% and flexibility at 10%. The motor abilities of balance, agility and coordination are simultaneously worked upon while working on the components.

It was with this established postulate that we applied ourselves to work on a hypothesis which would be practically tested on ground for its efficacy and how it compared with the training effect induced by the already existing programme. Once we arrived at a consensus on our approach to the task at hand, the next logical step was to prepare an experimental programme for eight weeks duration for recruits under training in various regimental training centers across the length and breadth of the country.

I applied myself to the task in hand and did the needful. Our methodology to test and validate our hypothesis was to impart training to two similar platoons in the same week of training on the existing and experimental design of training. The platoon which was trained on the existing design was designated as the control group and the one trained on the experimental design as the experimental group.

However, it was felt that this was not the ideal method of validating the hypothesis as the recruits in the two different groups were exposed to exactly identical and similar physical activity in all other fields/subjects comprising the training syllabi for them. They were doing the same drill, endurance training (ET), obstacle training (OT), vaulting and agility (V&A), assault course and sports and games.

Theory in Practice

"Endurance takes the biggest slice of the cake at 60%, strength at 20%, speed at 10% and flexibility at 10%. The motor abilities of balance, agility and coordination are simultaneously worked upon while working on the components."
Soldiers from the British Army's Royal Anglian Regiment and India's Rajputana Rifles breaking a sweat together as part of a joint military exercise; File Photo

Having decided and arrived at a logical conclusion on the phased manner of our approach to meet the requirements of the Directive, we applied our learning to the trained soldiers Battle Physical Training (BPT). Herein, we emphasised development of aerobic and anaerobic endurance by introducing low intensity long distance running, interval training and repetition training.

These methods are used by athletes to enhance their performance and hence it could very well be used by soldiers in their BPT. The most likely and accurate interpretation of endurance was understood as the body's ability to repeat an action again and again without losing its intensity and form.

When considering the design of training for special areas, static headquarters/formations and those above 50 years of age, such as mentioned in the Directive, the biggest challenge was in the aspect of continuity training which demanded intrinsic levels of psychological internalisation of the fitness habit. Each individual must realise that the physical activity he is required to undertake is for his own good and thereafter the organisation he serves in.

In its loose and misplaced understanding, fitness maintenance is considered to be a coercive activity which is associated with drudgery and hence invites a fundamental abhorrence towards it. When it is imposed under the threat of punitive action and is held as a structured activity sustained by group support, then it is carried out as a parade.

But when, owing to either the ambient temperature and weather conditions, nature of employment and deployment, terrain considerations and regional geography, it is not possible/feasible to conduct continuity training which enjoys group support or else is done as a part of a routine structured activity, then it is only internal motivation which interests an individual to exercise for fitness maintenance.

The Challenge of Continuity Training

To overcome the constraints of weather, temperature, and space we designed circuit training programs and for those in static headquarters and formations offered a bouquet of activities to choose from in keeping with individual aptitude, interest and availability of facility but ensuring that all the fitness components were adequately exercised in keeping with the weightage assigned to each for a balanced fitness profile.

Combat fitness demands all fitness components to be trained proportionately, however when unit/formation roles demand differently the emphasis can well shift from one to the other or else augmented accordingly. The HAA in the Northern and North Eastern areas of the Line of Actual Control (LAC) and the Line of Control (LOC) posed great challenges to the serving soldier and therefore it was the considered opinion of the Group that to live, work, discharge the assigned role and survive in these inhospitable areas was enough of a test of fitness and hence did not warrant anything additionally.

However, sports and games provided the much-wanted diversity, required to stem the drudgery of serving in such inhospitable environments. The hot and humid areas of the NE were a challenge, when one considers the monotony and associated boredom that engulfs one here. Moreover, the restriction to come out from one’s post in a largely insurgent infested region was a huge drawback to road running and walking for maintaining cardiorespiratory fitness.

The heart rate had to be pushed beyond its comfort zone to bring about a training effect. We considered weight training as a suitable alternative for all such posts and locations and all equipment and machines required as sector stores to minimise expenditure from the Annual Training Grant (ATG)/Sports Activity Grant (SAG)/Contingency Grant/Miscellaneous Grant/Or any other head.

This would break the routine of conventional BPT and induce interest which is steeped in the human nature of self-interest. We offered the bait of self-good to a soldier and made the organizational good a subsidiary requirement. However, it served our purpose because we achieved what our terminal goal is, a ‘Fit to fight Organization.’ The means to achieve it was inconsequential.

Fitness For the Goldies

The programme for the above 50 years category of personnel was essentially self-driven and monitored by the individual himself/herself. It was generous on the major joints of the lower limbs and therefore precluded any stress and impact generating activity for cardiovascular fitness. Strength conditioning for purposes of maintaining a military bearing and flexibility of the joints through stretching (Yoga) was made centric to their training design.

Here again a bouquet of activities and choices were inbuilt in the program. For desert regions, other than what was available for soldiers in BPT, a series of breathing (Pranayam) techniques were recommended. The Shitkari, and Shitali and Kapalbhati were useful during hot days and cold nights.

Analysing PPT & BPET

"Next, we examined the tests in both PPT and BPET. While the former essentially gauges the preferred level of fitness for any person, in any walk of life, the latter is specific to the Army in its designated role of war fighting."
Officer Cadets performing rope climbing as part of their BPET; File Photo

It was our observation through study that there existed a lack of specificity in the test used to evaluate/assess a particular fitness component or else a motor ability. The 300 meters shuttle test which was there for testing agility was ill placed and was done away with. Instead, it was replaced by a more specific five meters line touch test. The earlier jump and reach and standing broad jump tests had more to do with explosive power of the lower limbs and which was an endowed ability.

It really was not an effective test to gauge a base level of fitness for which the PPT was designed. Also, the sit-ups test was substituted by the bent knee abdominal crunches test. The former did not isolate the rectus abdominis muscles required for core stability and also adversely affected the dorsal/back muscles and could cause chronic back pain. Whereas, by bending the legs one was able to eliminate the iliopsoas muscle which otherwise assisted in the sit-ups and specifically target the rectus abdominis muscles.

Generally speaking, we had tentatively worked out most of everything that was required of us by the terms of the Directive, in so far as the 'why' and 'what', the training part was concerned. So, that brought us to the second major requirement of the study, and which was the assessment tests.

What existed then was the common PPT for all personnel but in the BPET there were different standards for those in the Arms and Services. This was difficult to understand and the only explanation which emerged was that the Arms were required to do more vigorous work in comparison to the Services. Our contention in this was that both were trained on a similar design and hence there was no reason for having easier standards for one and not the other.

Therefore, we removed the distinction in the standards of the test. It was extremely difficult for any of us to accept that, the APTC being a Service enjoyed the benefit of easier standards, whereas it should be right in the forefront in this regard. We also examined the different standards in the endurance test for varying altitudes and streamlined these to correlate with the understanding of high altitude as it obtains in the Army.

We also applied our mind to the different age groups, and which were far too many for taking the test and accordingly calibrated these with the physiological deterioration which takes place in human performance with growing age. The age groups thus became fewer. Next, we examined the tests per se in both PPT and BPET. While the former essentially gauges the preferred level of fitness for any person (male), in any walk of life, the latter is specific to the Army in its designated role of war fighting and associated activities.

The DGMT Presentation

After, exactly a year from the date of the issue of the Directive, the study group made a presentation to the DGMT at the Army Headquarters (AHQ). As there was lack of clarity on the outcome of the trials and the results were nebulous, which was held to confirm the hypothesis, the Presiding Officer of the study group requested for more time to conduct the trials after addressing the shortcomings which were observed in the first instance.

The request was acceded to and another year was allowed before the study group report was submitted to the directorate. As mentioned earlier somewhere, the major weakness was in the running and conduct of the experimental programme. Therefore, a capsule for the designated PTIs was held and their doubts ironed out and the theory part of the concepts explained and taught. After the training capsule it was felt that the instructors were now better trained to conduct the experimental tables. We now had about 5,000 recruits and another 2,000 trained soldiers who were subjected to these trials for three months.

After the training, tests were conducted for both the control and experimental groups, results were recorded in a specially prepared folder, collated, examined, and then graphically plotted on a graph. The pre-and post-training results of both groups were separately compared for improvement and then compared between groups and plotted. These results were also statistically analysed to determine the significance of improvement and then further tabulated in a matrix to make inferences. A comparison and significant significance of improvement was evident in the experimental tables and this validated and confirmed the hypothesis. The experimental tables were more effective and brought about better training effects.

In the BPET, the two miles and 10 miles tests were the biggest losers as they did not stand scientific scrutiny and presented a huge scope for improvement. The mainstay of fitness is one's cardiorespiratory/cardiovascular health and performance. In our understanding, the one component which was deserving of maximum attention and effort while profiling military fitness was our cardiorespiratory/cardiovascular health also known as endurance.

The heart, lungs and the vascular (arteries, veins and capillaries) System is the fount of all other components and its health and fitness dictate their potential for development and improvement.

"The 5 Km test came up as a suitable alternative, quite akin to the 5,000 meters run on a track. It has an 80% aerobic and 20% anaerobic component. Then there were other tests which were modified for specificity and retained."
Endurance’; a critical fitness factor, developed in cadets through long distance runs; File Photo

The two miles test stood the scrutiny of being picked up as an endurance test but the standards which existed made it more speed endurance oriented. The test was more anaerobic than what is desirable (60% aerobic and 40% anaerobic) and hence lost out to keep its place. The long-haul aerobic pathway is preferred. The other, 10 miles test though qualified itself to be considered appropriate but its logistics and availability of space to conduct the same was posing difficulties and hence had made itself redundant in units/formations.

It was probably being held in the Army Pre-Commission Training (PCT) establishments and RTC. The study group was therefore looking for a specific and manageable test to assess the endurance component. The five kilometers (5 Km) test came up as a suitable alternative, quite akin to the 5,000 meters run on a track. It has an 80% aerobic and 20% anaerobic component. Then there were other tests which were modified for specificity and retained.

Thumbs Up

Armed with a positive report validating our hypothesis, followed a spate of presentations in the AHQ and culminated with the then Vice Chief of Army Staff (VCOAS) Lieutenant General Mahajan. I was personally disappointed with the then DGMT Lt Gen Ved Airy, Mahavir Chakra (MVC) who was the Commanding Officer (CO) 3 Grenadiers in the Battle of Jarpal in the Western Sector in 1971, wherein Colonel Hoshiar Singh was awarded a Param Vir Chakra (PVC); who turned down our proposal of providing weight training equipment and machines as sector stores to identified posts in the NE.

What is the Price We Put to Fitness?

As I had served as a PTO in the Grenadiers Regimental Centre when Lt Gen Ved Airy was the Commandant, we knew each other well at a personal level. My requests in this regard (weight training equipment) though agreed to in principle was turned down owing to budgetary constraints but with a caveat that it could be considered on a case-to-case basis subsequently.

Also, it was at his insistence that we sent our RTC and BPT revised programme and the New PP and BPE tests to various training centers and units for further trials, before seeking the approval of the then COAS, General SFJ Rodrigues for implementation in the Army. After three months of the trials as mentioned above, we received incredibly positive feedback from all Centre Commandants and COs.

Two of these units to which the new tests had been sent were 1st and 9 Para Commandos (Now Para Special Forces) and who hailed these as very challenging yet specific and relevant to validate fitness components and motor abilities in an individual. The element of aerobic component in the RTC and BPT and the way it was progressively incorporated into the training design was welcomed by everyone without exception.

Incorporating The Revised PT System

"The study group was satisfied with its approach to fulfill the requirements spelled out in the Directive and the final noting sheet was prepared for approval by the COAS."
AIPT as the Alma Mater of APTC is mandated with institutional training to train the trainers, who in turn are entrusted to impart training at Unit level; File Photo

The study group was satisfied with its approach to fulfill the requirements spelled out in the Directive and the final noting sheet was prepared for approval by the COAS. The DGMT got the requisite nod from Gen Rodrigues with a remark "I hope it does not create ripples in the environment." Thankfully, none got created only because we labored with facts and dressed these in truth. Subsequent to this, drafts of everything were submitted to the Army Training Command (ARTRAC) for publication and distribution.

Simultaneously, capsule courses for P&RT instructors and Master’s at Arms were held and conducted at ASPT to acquaint, educate and familiarise them with the revised regimen and tests. There were many critics of the entire endeavor and comprised primarily of die hard, dyed in the wool officers who considered themselves the ultimate authority on PT/Fitness Training.

It was their observation that the Revised PT and Assessment System was more reminiscent of what is applicable for school children. However, we laid their reservations in the matter to rest by researched material and scientific facts which was undergirded by sports medicine and the positive feedback received from Centres and Units.

There was a massive fixation on the test standards, and which is extremely important. It follows in the line ahead…

We had compiled a huge amount of data with respect to the individual performance of the trainees who were put through the revised tests post their 90 days of training on the experimental programme. The trainees were in varied age groups and of diverse ethnicity, Regiments/Corps, Arm/Service, spread over different terrain but with similar physiological limitations and comprised recruits, soldiers, Non-Commissioned Officers (NCO), Junior Commissioned Officers (JCO) and few officers.

When these personnel took the PPT and BPET, their individual performance was recorded, tabulated, and plotted on a graph to see where the values lay. The densest cluster for the different age groups in quantifiable tests was picked up as our Satisfactory/Pass value.

Thereafter, the scatter pattern in the graph enabled us to determine the Good and Excellent standards. That which could not find a place in the densest plotting was marked as Fail. This was the best way of fixing standards and was premised on actuals rather than something which was theoretically determined and planted.

When we were looking for any similar record for the quantifiable values of tests in the existing battery of tests, there was none we could find or lay our hands on. The two-and 10-miles test standards were arbitrary and hence did not stand up to any scientific scrutiny when analysed for specificity and quality. One was too stiff and the other too easy to genuinely assess aerobic power, which is the salient way point of cardiorespiratory/cardiovascular fitness.

Interestingly, the Supervising Officer P&RT, SC approached the Presiding Officer of the Study Group with a direction from his Commander-in-Chief (C-in-C) that the two miles run as an endurance test in the BPET battery must remain and not be done and dusted with. We explained the reasoning behind our decision but in those days our understanding about performance, health and fitness was rather convoluted and did not enjoy the benefit of the scientific intricacies in matters of exercise physiology, which had become known through sports medicine and sciences.

Regarding the different standards for quantifiable tests, the group was divided in its view and felt that it should be just Pass and Fail. This served the purpose of validating training and fitness both. Anything over and above was considered to be a bonus and could be developed or cultivated on a need basis in formations/units. After all, at the cutting-edge level of the Army, fitness is the mandate of Commanders. Whereas the other considered view/opinion was that having Excellent and Good standards will act as a motivator to improve performance. Both viewpoints had their merits but finally the latter was adopted and exists.

The Last Word From a Veteran

Health, fitness and performance in the physical domain is often confused and mixed up. Our Health comes from the freedom from any organic disease, our fitness from our ability to withstand the demands of our environment and our performance is our ability to deliver. Therefore, a healthy person may not be fit, and a performer may not be either fit or healthy. The APTC at the organisational, institutional and formation levels is charged with the onerous responsibility of keeping the cutting-edge human resource of the Field Army ‘Fit to Fight and Fighting Fit’.

Therefore, it must be the responsibility of Commanders at all levels of Command, to trust and believe in what is provided by those who know what they say and do and for the trainers to understand the needs of the environment and tailor programs/regimen which is doable. ‘One size fits all’ is not a prescription that is advocated by the trainers, but it cannot be used as an alibi to scrimshank by individuals and wrested by Commanders from the Specialists, only because they think they understand everything.

The issue demands a mutual respect for each other’s turf and belief in a system, which has stood the test of time. The sum of the parts must be greater than the sum of its parts. APTC can value add, by providing to Commanders the optimal standards they expect from their soldiers, only because fitness sustains all forms of military training.

(Brig. Sarvesh D Dangwal, VSM commissioned from IMA in 1971. Born into battle with 4 Garhwal Rifles, saw action in Jhangar, Naushera Sector in the 1971 Indo-Pak War. Served in APTC for 25 years, was Comdt AIPT & DDGPT before retirement in 2008. Was instrumental in revision of entire system of PT and Testing of Army implemented in 1992 and obtaining till date. An avid reader and writer who freelances on diverse issues that impact civil society and especially those which concern the people of the hills of Uttarakhand.)

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