Your Grandpa Could Kick Your Ass
By Nick Barringer MS, RD, CSSD, CSCS, (EIEIO)
Although we hear old timers refer to the “good old days,” most of us will agree that most things tend to get better as time goes on.
Since the 1940s, think about how much technology has advanced—we have cellphones, laptop computers, and space travel is old news. Athletics, just like technology, has advanced as well; especially when you consider the first 400lb bench press didn’t occur until 1950 and the average size of NFL linemen was 6’1 220 lbs.
Fast forward to present day and now you have mutants benching over 1,000 lbs and the average NFL lineman is a sidewalk-shattering 6’5 310 lbs. It is no secret that advances in nutrition and training have led to tremendous athletic progression since the 1940’s. That is why you are going to be shocked when I tell you that in terms of physical training, the Army of the 1940s in many ways are much more advanced than the Army of today.
I know you are thinking I have clearly lost my mind. Although you respect the Greatest Generation, you are thinking there is no way could they compare to the awesomeness that is currently flexing in the mirror. Put the “gun show” on safe, sit down, and I will explain to you why the Soldiers of your grandpa’s era could indeed kick your butt.
In order to better illustrate my point let’s look at the current Army Physical Fitness Test versus the APFT of 1946. The current APFT is pretty simple: 2 minutes of push-ups, 2 minutes of sit-ups, and a 2 mile run for time. There are no cutting and planting or explosive movements, which I think we all can agree would be more indicative of movements actually required for combat. Granted, an argument could be made that your PT should consist of other things besides the test; yet again most would admit that the majority of their PT experience consisted of push-ups, sit-ups, and a long slow run.
Now let’s look at the 1946 PT test: pull-ups, squat jumps, and push-ups until failure, 2 minutes of sit-ups, and a 300 yard shuttle run. Wow, we have some pushing AND pulling, some jumping, the sit-ups are the same except the technique (they utilized a straight leg while rotating the upper body touching right then left), and a 300 yard shuttle where you have to sprint 60 yards and plant and turn around cone 5 times. You have to admit, that is pretty dynamic stuff—especially when compared to the current APFT 67 years later.
But wait, it gets better. Now comes the scoring of the 1946 test. As a good reference we will use pull-ups. To receive 100 points required 20 pull-ups, to barely make the good category with 64 points required 10, and to be considered poor at 40 points required 6 pull-ups. Ok now honestly tell me how many of your guys and/or gals can do 6 pull-ups in your current organization? I have a hunch that there are even quite a few 11Bs out there currently not liking the answer to that question. The point is these old timers” were truly fit. If you ignore the pull-ups and just try the squat jumps to failure you will realize the fitness levels of these men were no joke. Better still, take a look at the 1946 FM21-20 and note how dynamic and encompassing the manual is covering everything from tumbling, swimming, and combative activities to posture training. In all fairness, you can see how some things like Army combatives have evolved thanks to gentlemen like Matt Larsen, but I still want to believe the helmet neck break on page 233 will work in combat…well it would in a Chuck Norris movie.
So here is the challenge; go out and give the 1946 PT test a try and report back how you do. Since misery loves company, if you can get your entire organization to do it, even better. When it is all said and done, look at your score and compare it to the 1946 standards and tell me then if grandpa couldn’t still kick your butt.