If you are lucky enough, you will be in a squadron that has an organized Physical Training (PT) program. Not every squadron has the ability to gather together at a specified time of day, let alone multiple times in a week, but I truly those who have the opportunity are lucky. This sentiment isn’t shared by everyone, but as a commander you have the power to shape your PT program into an event that is beneficial for everyone. And the best way to enable that intent is to not make PT about PT.
First things first: physical fitness is the responsibility of the individual to maintain on a consistent basis. Being able to be tested on your physical fitness level is also a personal responsibility, in that you should be able to pass your Fitness Assessment (FA) at any point during the year. If there was a magical capability to have “One Day FA notifications”, where you would have 24 hours to prepare yourself to be tested, I would vote that program into existence now. My fitness regime is fairly consistent throughout the year: aim to work out five times a week, take two days of active recovery. Workouts are constantly varied at relatively high intensity against broad time and modal domains (yes, I am a CrossFitter. A Level 2 trainer that paid enough money to memorize this line). Within that framework, I am confident I can pass the FA at any given time throughout the year. No extra training, no binge dieting, nothing that serves as a change in behavior that will go away after the FA is completed. I maintain this regime consistently because I know this is my responsibility and I schedule my time accordingly. This #dadbod doesn’t take care of itself.
So if fitness is a personal responsibility, then why am I a fan of squadron PT that isn’t about PT? Because squadrons have the ability to become a closer team when they spend time together not focusing on their functional duties. Squadrons can have numerous work centers that may not have a day-to-day reason to work with each other. In a communications squadron, we have a COMSEC office that manages encryption devices for an entire base. We also have a Knowledgement Management section that manages SharePoint and the Privacy Act programs. We also have a Radio Shop that manages all radio frequency and expeditionary communications systems. Based on those definitions alone, how often do you think they work together? Hardly ever. That isn’t a knock on them, that is a reflection of reality and their assigned duties. There is also the necessity for leadership to put eyes on their personnel on a consistent basis to witness physical readiness. If you see someone struggling during the run portion of the warmup, there should be a follow-on conversation with his or her chain of command to ensure a plan is in place to get them the help they need. You don’t have to have a direct conversation with the Airman, but you could if you wanted to. The point being is that leadership can observe opportunities and provide assistance on an individual’s physical fitness before the pressure of taking an FA. Squadron PT isn’t the time to just watch a house burn itself down, but seek to stamp out fires before they get larger.
An easy way to bring them together is through squadron PT, because that workload applies to everyone in the squadron. This is a great quote that I use when I coach CrossFit classes: The barbell does not care about your rank. 225 pounds on a back squat is the same amount of weight for an Airman or a Lieutenant Colonel. Work is work, and at squadron PT we ALL have to put work in! Our various distinctions that define our roles and responsibilities go away during squadron PT, and we can use this focus to build a better team.
Fitness programs are inherent to every military formation, with our distinct cultures shaping how they are executed. Personally, I’m not a fan of how rigid most Army PT programs are run, but they have separate reasons that make sense for them. As Airmen, we probably have the most flexibility to create a program that is value-added and can take advantage of the distinct cultures within our respective squadrons. The following eight ideas are what I recommend to shape an effective squadron PT program. Apply the intent, not necessarily the exact application.
- Tell your squadron upfront that PT isn’t about PT – Emphasize that physical fitness is a personal responsibility. This levels the playing field for everyone and manages expectations that attending squadron PT should not be considered the singular solution to prepare for FAs.
- Squadron PT is a mandatory formation – Yes, mandatory for everyone. Personnel that demonstrates exceptional performance should earn a reward like a day off, but that performance doesn’t exempt them from squadron PT. If anything, they need to be seen as inspiration within the squadron that can serve others that are struggling. Their participation is for the benefit of their teammates, not themselves. And that can work when squadron PT isn’t about PT.
- Officers always lead from the front – If there is an organized formation used during warm-ups or during the workouts, officers need to be in front and facing the unit. I don’t care if they are in the top shape within the unit, but I do care that they are held accountable in front of the entire squadron to lead by example and put forth an honest effort in front of the men and women they are charged to lead.
- If you have a morale shirt, use that as your PT uniform – Squadron identify and branding are essential to a positive work environment. Also, our PT uniforms aren’t comfortable. Find modern materials when designing shirts. Offer up options for the bottom half of the uniform, but keep them similar in nature. Easy solution: “black or dark-colored bottoms., and keep the fit professional.”
- Find a mix of “influencer personalities” to serve as Physical Training Leaders (PTL) – For this, you can either pick PTLs that are inherently great public speakers, or those who you want to grow into becoming great public speakers. PTLs are a great additional duty to find personalities who exhibit or want to build effective leadership characteristics. These PTLs need to be able to talk with personnel within the unit to find a balance of what will be effective for the squadron and what will keep them from rioting against the PTLs. Squadron PT shouldn’t be a torture session, either physically or due to monotony, and the right PTLs can work together to find the right balance.
- Insist on well-organized PT sessions – Time is valuable, so make sure your PTLs aren’t wasting any. Set the expectations that they start on time and manage the entirety of the time allotted for PT. Warmup, Workout, and Cooldown, all deliberately thought out and run smoothly.
- Deliver Just-In-Time information – At the end of cooldown, use the opportunity of the large gathering to make in-person announcements. Some information is better relayed in person instead of email. You as commander don’t have to make all of the announcements, but you should have the last word.
- End the PT session with your squadron chant – If you don’t have a squadron chant that resonates with yourself and the team, you better make one! Using the squadron to signal the end of the PT session makes it clear that session is over. Don’t allow personnel to excuse themselves singularly. If you started PT together, you end PT together.
Squadron PT can be shaped to be a great teambuilding event that smoothly integrates into an effective battle rhythm and yields multiple levels of positive effects. If your program is boring and feels like just “going through the motions”, your team is missing out on these positive effects. Shape your PT program using the eight ideas above and employ a deliberate strategy that goes beyond physical fitness.