Depending on which side of the fence you were on, the recent changes to the Individual Physical Proficiency Test either caused you much anguish or made you celebrate like Mario Gotze after scoring the winning goal for Germany in the World Cup finals.
Looking at my Social Media feed, there were people who were posting about the changes and using words like “Finally!” or “Now I don’t have to do Remedial Training!” As for the opposing camp, netizens were concerned about how making the test easier is inviting criticisms that soldiers in the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) are weak and pampered.
When I was still serving the nation more than two years ago, I felt that the IPPT was flawed and needed some tweaking. One of my pet peeves I had was that there was too much emphasis placed on running. I blame this on “the faster you ran, the fitter you are” culture in the SAF. The scoring system of the old IPPT system was proof of that.
For example, if you pass your standing broad jump, shuttle run, pull ups and sit ups stations but fail your 2.4 kilometres run, you fail the whole test. How does that make sense? If I can do 20 pull ups, jump 250 cm, finish my shuttle run in 8.45 seconds, do 50 sit ups but I fail my run because I did it in 15 minutes, does this mean that I’m unfit?
The old system cultivated a habit where soldiers who performed poorly in the 2.4 kilometres run would do the minimum effort required to pass in the rest of the stations in order to save energy for the run. This meant that there were no accurate readings on which soldiers actually has the strength, flexibility, speed and endurance.
Another bug bear I had was that as a combat-fit soldier who went in to the field almost every week in full combat gear, I realised performing well in IPPT doesn’t always translate in to performing well out in the field. Why? Again, because of the emphasis placed on running.
Physical Instructors were so obsessed with training soldiers who failed the 2.4k meters run, that 90% of the training consisted of running. In fact, every opportunity that SAF had, the commanders made the soldiers run. Oh, it’s Battalion Cohesion Day? Let’s go to East Coast Park to run. There’s a new Commanding Officer in the unit? Let’s welcome him by going for a run. You get my drift. There was a run for everything.
Running is beneficial and healthy, yes. But the truth is, endurance alone is not a good training to prepare soldiers for combat. Soldiers needs to have strength training to prepare them for the heavy loads that they will be carrying, flexibility to climb over objects and uphill/downhill, speed to sprint to take cover or attack during fire movements.
So does the new IPPT changes address these issues? Well, Yes and No.
As with everything in Singapore, the changes to the IPPT, which has been reduced to 3 stations (push ups, sit ups and 2.4 kilometres run) is not new or original. It is a watered down version of the United States Marine Corps (USMC) Physical Fitness Test (PFT), which consists of pull ups, sit ups and 5km run.
This watered down test is great for Operational Ready NSmen because it addresses the main grouse: It is easier to train for and pass because they are simply too busy with work.
However, this test still does not determine if soldiers in active duty is combat fit and neither does training for the test prepare the soldiers for being in the field.
The USMC has another test, called Combat Fitness Test (CFT), which has a 800 meters run, lifting a 13kg ammo box over their heads as many times as they can in 2 minutes and a 274 meters course where they have to perform 5 various tasks. This test has to be done in boots, camouflaged pants and t-shirt.
Here’s my suggestion: Implement the CFT for soldiers in active duty and use the PFT for NSmen. This will effectively kill three birds with one stone.
Firstly, it will prevent the IPPT from being a purely endurance test and encourage soldiers to train for strength, flexibility, speed and endurance. Secondly, NSmen who don’t train regularly because of work will not have a hard time passing the test. Which is SAF’s main purpose for changing the IPPT system in the first place. Lastly, both tests don’t include the dreaded pull ups anymore.
What do you think of my suggestions? Share with me in the comments section below.