The Ability Group Run: U.S. Army Physical Fitness

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The Ability Group Run is a concept designed to improve the aerobic fitness of soldiers at varying levels of fitness.

Standard physical training doctrine recognizes that soldiers do not have identical fitness levels. The Army Physical Fitness Test (APFT) grading standards, for example, divide soldiers into five-year blocs of comparable standards. These groups start at 17-21, then move to 22-26, 27-31, 32-36, and so on. As a general rule, expected performance on the PT test in number of repetitions of pushups and situps and 2-mile time decreases as the soldier ages, although pushups and situps maximum score requirements are higher for the ages of 22-31 than 17-21.

The Army's understanding of inherent differences in physical abilities goes beyond the evalutions of scored performance exercises. Although lesser standards exist for females in two events of the APFT (the pushups and 2-mile run), the Army does not segregate PT by gender (this embodies the "train as you fight" ethos). During a run, however, the contrasting aerobic abilities of soldiers can range from 2-mile times of well under 12 minutes to as far as 20 minutes (while still maintaining a passing standard score). To facilitate each soldier's opportunity to get a decent workout, units often divide into ability groups, especially when in groups of 60 or more soldiers.

These Ability Group Runs (AGRs) are not delineated by gender, but by 2-mile performance time. A-group, for example, usually consists of soldiers that run the 2-mile in a time of 13 minutes or better. The number of soldiers available usually dictates the continuing time interval (1 minute, 1:30, 2 minutes, etc.) by which groups are organized. If ability groups were not utilized, then run formations would be extremely large and ungainly, and the individual that runs two miles in 11:49 would be forced to run at the slowest soldier's pace.

Utilized properly, an ability group gives the soldier an excellent opportunity to advance their aerobic fitness. It is also very motivating for the soldier to be able to move up from a slower run group to a faster one, as this lets the soldier know they are improving themselves and gives them an opportunity to continue challenging themselves. Also, each ability group can easily tailor the length and tempo of their runs to best fit the speed of the ability group. Admittedly, soldiers occasionally abuse the ability group run and drop into a slower group so they can be lazy, but the AGR is an excellent tool to improve aerobic fitness in an environment where soldiers come in all shapes and sizes.