Tiger Woods inspired this particular topic. He’s a golf star, who, as he approaches his forties, is suddenly getting a lot of injuries. During his younger days, where it doesn’t seem to matter if you get hurt, he pushed through when he got hurt:

“I remember all the early years on tour when I used to run 30 miles a week and just push it, no matter how hurt I was. I would just go out there, still logging all the miles and do all the different things and still play tournament golf and I was winning, but I didn’t realise how much damage I was doing to my body at the time.”

The army does the same thing with its physical fitness program.

Army Physical Fitness Training

We had physical fitness, or PT, since the army likes to acronymize things, three times a week. So, Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. We worked out as an entire group, and you were expected to keep up.

The workout formation generally consisted of four parts:

  1. Stretches
  2. Calisthenics, which always included push ups and sit ups
  3. Run
  4. Cool-down stretches

Sometimes we’d vary it a little, and have a soccer or football game. The guys always wanted to do this after a rainfall so they could get muddy. Any women participating tended to stay by the goals so we didn’t get plowed over.

The stretches, for the most part, were your basic leg and back stretches that you might do today (if you go to the gym anyway).

The calisthenics consisted of a lot of jumping exercises. The one I absolutely despised was the side straddle hop, which is another name for a jumping jack. At one point, I injured myself (related to my flat feet), and every time my feet hit the ground with this exercise, it radiated up my feet. I keep hearing that impact exercises were supposed to be phased out because they were causing too many injuries, but all we did here were impact exercises.

There were also exercises that were “illegal,” meaning the Army now said you couldn’t do them any more because they had been determined to cause injuries. But I still remember one sergeant coming out and saying, “I’ve heard this is illegal, but I haven’t seen anything in writing, so I’m going to do it anyway.”

Then it was off on the run, always in formation with all the soldiers. We usually ran around the streets of Fort Lewis, competing with the cars driving by us.

Everything was done on the street, so you were doing calisthenics and running on the asphalt, and sometimes wet or snowy or hot asphalt. PT NEVER got canceled for anything.

But what if I get hurt?

In civilian life, if you injure yourself, you probably take some time off, or maybe you alter your exercise routine to rest the injury.

The army chides you for being a wimp (this is not the term they used; the terms were pretty offensive); that you weren’t trying hard enough; or you had someone yelling at you constantly, “Keep going! Don’t stop!” Not trying, not keeping going is seen as not pulling your weight, which is a huge offense in the army. You can do a lot of other stuff, and they’ll blow it off. But if you’re seen as not pulling your own weight, you can get labeled for it.

If you realize you’re injured while on a run, the best you can likely do is get back, and then go on sick call. From there, it’s up to the doctor to determine if you are actually injured (sick call is another story). If he does, then he gives you orders on what you can or can’t do, which might be no running for five days, or wear boots for five days (if you break a toe).

Once you get to the end of the time listed on the orders, then you either go back on Sick Call for an extension or you resume normal PT. In real life, you could ease back into the routine. Like do some light exercises on the injured area and see how it does. Not with the army. Once those orders expired, your expected to be magically healed and participate as normal.

The result was that we’d see a lot of the sergeants nearing retirement age, and they all had permanent orders saying they couldn’t do certain types of PT, like running. Knee injuries were very common. The problem is that, as you can see from Tiger Woods above, is that it only gets worse as you get older.

Why is it like this?

There’s a really great episode of Criminal Minds where this woman is left out in the woods and two guys hunt her. She hardly looks like any big threat and seems, to the guys, an easy target. She runs for her life and keeps pushing herself because stopping or giving up means she dies. And she meets these other people who end up in the run with her, and one by one, they die because they are less focused on survival. At the end, where the victims in the past have given up, she gets really angry and fights back, killing one of the men and injuring another (before the FBI shows up).

In the army, you want to be like that woman, pushing and pushing and still ready to fight even as the last of your energy is draining away. The army’s mission is war. So everything in the army is focused on preparing the soldier for war, sometimes at the expense of the soldier.