In order to become a military fitness instructor – otherwise known as a Physical Training Instructor or PTI – in the British Army an individual needs to gain the required skills, fitness and experience. The individual must also demonstrate that they are fit enough, have the qualities of a non-commissioned officer (NCO) and have the aptitude to be an instructor.
The skills required to successfully pass the PTI course include leadership, comradeship, enthusiasm, respect, integrity and team spirit. The Army believes these skills will all come with the experience gained by working in arduous environments and within a team, in whichever part of the Army one may join first (this is a non-direct entry role).
By the end of the course an instructor will know how the body works, the principles of physical training and be able to conduct all types of fitness training and testing. They will also be entitled to wear the crossed swords badge on their uniform, which indicates that they are a qualified PTI.
Passing the PTI course is considered a major hurdle, but doing so then allows an individual to work as a PTI within their own unit, or to be posted as a PTI to a training establishment. Individuals will also gain qualifications that are recognised outside the Army, providing transferable skills for life after military service.
During the 2000s the British Army and the other Services conducted a number of ‘term and phrase’ rebranding exercises. In the context of this article, the UK military fitness community now utilises the term Physical Development (PD) as the overarching phrase for all things fitness.
In 1996 when I attended my first fitness course at the Army School of Physical Training (ASPT) – the British Army’s PTI Class Three Course (now All Arms Physical Training Instructor course) – I was one of 99 trainees (one did not turn up) wondering what we had let ourselves in for! Of the 99 trainees on the first day only two were women (one TA (now Army Reserve) soldier and one regular soldier).
Day one of the course consisted of entrance tests (also known as fitness or passing-in tests). Successful completion of which ‘confirmed’ my place on the course and this point also signalled that within the grounds of the PT school everyone had to run, and as a squad. Woe betide anyone who got caught walking (I believe press-ups till your eyes bleed was the phrase regarding a suitable punishment for this particular misdemeanour).
Monday mornings involved a general parade in the main gymnasium conducted by the RSM (Regimental Sergeant Major; a Warrant Officer Class One or WO1) to inspect aspirant instructors for their dress (appearance, cleanliness and the correct clothing). Indoor training shoes (plimsolls) had to be white (paint pen required), dapper blue shorts with creases front and rear, t-shirts pressed and creases in both arms, no wearing of watches, and finally hair cut and to regulation length and style! Inspections on other days and periods were conducted by your own section Royal Army Physical Training Instructor (RAPTC) instructor. Being in the Army individuals were expected to be smart and presentable as well as knowledgeable and proficient in their roles.
The course was very much designed to be progressive in terms of both theoretical and practical application using the EDIP method (explanation, demonstration, imitation and practice). For example, trainees were taught the theory of warm-ups, given a practical demonstration of a warm-up (trainees were the guinea pigs), trainees would then imitate and finally practice.
Although the course had its ‘fleeting moments of physical hardship’, of the 15 soldiers who started in our section, 15 passed.
An outline of the RAPTC and the ASPT can be found here.
3.0 Qualifications in Context
3.1 Pre 2012
During the 1990s the ASPT, located in Aldershot, offered three primary fitness instruction qualifications for soldiers and one fitness-related qualification for officers:
- Physical Training Instructor Class Three (PTI3): on successful completion of this six week basic course PTIs could instruct trained soldiers across a broad range of military fitness and sports activities at land establishments and on operations.
- Physical Training Instructor Class Two (PTI2): on successful completion of this eight week intermediate course PTIs could instruct recruit soldiers across a broad range of military fitness and sports activities at training establishments.
- Physical Training Instructor Class One (PTI1): on successful completion of this 30-week advanced course the soldier transfers to the Army Physical Training Corps (APTC) as a full instructor and can instruct recruit and trained soldiers across a broad range of military fitness and sports activities at land establishments, training establishments and on operations.
- Unit Fitness Training Officer (UFTO): A week long course designed to provide officers with an overview of their role and responsibilities as a UFTO. UFTOs do not instruct on fitness lessons, rather they can provide leadership, oversight and strategy/policy functions or act as a figurehead (it typically depends on a combination of the person fulfilling the role and the Commanding Officer’s intent).
In the early 2000s, the PTI3 and PTI2 courses were amalgamated into the 9-week, later 10-week, All Arms Physical Training Instructor (AA PTI) course.
3.2 Post 2012
- AA PTI Course: the AA PTI Course underwent a review in 2012 resulting in a reduction from 10 to 9 weeks (now down to 8 weeks). The Defence Instructional Techniques (Trainer) (DITT) course has been fully integrated throughout and the Health Trainer (see below) is now a pre-requisite prior to student attendance.
- PTI Class 1 Course: The PTI Class 1 course had an overhaul during 2012 which resulted in a change from 3 x 10 weeks (Senior, Intermediate and Junior terms) to 2 x 15 weeks (Senior and Junior terms). Course No.194 (May 2012) was the first course to experience the new two-part course format (Scarr, 2012).
- UFTO Course: the UFTO course was re-written in 2012 to conform to AGAI Volume 1 Chapter 7, updated documentation, PT policies and various reference materials.
- Endurance Training Leader (ETL) courses, typically conducted at Unit level.
The grapevine suggests that the AA PTI course may be further reduced to 8-weeks (this is now the case), with an uplift of section numbers and course instances, to be delivered in a staged format over the next few years to coincide with the drawdown of forces in Germany and the imminent closure of ASPT (Germany).
ABN 58/17, published in July 2017, informs us that the course duration is to change once again. The ABN also informs us that the Army is introducing a PTI logbook.
Army Reserve courses usually delivered by the Physical Training Warrant Officer (PT WO) within an Army Training Unit (ATU) include (Pitcairn, 2014):
- Army Reserve Basic PTI Course (typically two per year);
- Army Reserve Intermediate Modular Course (typically three per year);
- Army Reserve Advanced Modular Course (typically three per year); and
- Endurance Training Leader (ETL) Course (typically eight per year).
4.0 General Outline of the AA PTI Course
4.1 Pre-requisites for Attendance
There are a number of pre-requisites for students to fulfil prior to attendance on the AAPTI course, which include:
- All students are to be volunteers;
- Minimum rank of Lance Corporal (although senior Privates do attend);
- Qualified Health Trainer (see below);
- Within three months of the course start date they must have passed:
- The Annual Fitness Test (AFT) in accordance with MATT 2 (Fitness), carrying 25kg (not including weapon and water).
- The age and gender-free Physical Training Instructor Fitness Test.
- 50 press-ups in two minutes.
- 60 sit-ups in two minutes.
- 1.5m (2.4km) run within 9 minutes 30 seconds.
- The Military Swim Test (MST).
- All passes have to be formally recorded and declared on a candidate’s ‘Student Administrative Return.’
4.2 Health Trainer
The concept of Health Trainers was developed by the Department of Health in the late 2000s in order to address health inequalities. Health Trainers would either be paid or unpaid individuals within the NHS or as part of a third party partner organisation (in this case the British Army).
The British Army initially trained 450 of its PTIs as Health Trainers, the success of this initiative led to a further 2000 PTIs being trained as Health Trainers from April 2008. Since 2012, the Health Trainer qualification has been a pre-requisite prior to student attendance on the AA PTI course (Scarr, 2012).
Further information can be found in these documents:
- NHS Health Trainer Handbook (Department of Health, 2008)
- Competences for Health Trainers (Skills for Health, 2006)
- British Army Health Trainers (Department of Health, 2006, pages 9-12)
Since April 2011, Junior NCOs attending the AA PTI course have been accommodated in one of three accommodation blocks located as St Omer Barracks. The ASPT officially closed the gates to Hammersley Barracks on 28 March 2012 (Peters, 2012).
Two JNCO accommodation blocks have retained their original names (Maxwell and Wieler), with the third block named as the ‘Montgomery Block’, now giving the ASPT a total of 142 rooms, which are modern, state-of-the-art, single rooms with en-suite facilities. This allows students complete privacy to study without interruption from fellow students as was previously the case (no more open plan rooms and shared showers!).
The Officers’ and Sergeants’ mess accommodation is now located at Wavell Barracks.
Day one of the course consists of registration, clothing issue and four of the six entrance, or passing-in, tests. The six entrance tests are, typically, completed in the following order:
- Fitness Assessment:
- Two minutes of press-ups (maximal effort);
- Sit-up bleep test (maximum of eight minutes or 256 sit-ups of increasing speed);
- Heaves (maximal effort); and
- A 1.5 mile timed run, in under 9 minutes and 30 seconds (a scenic but circuitous perimeter route of the PT school or worse around the 400m track, running with 100 other people!).
- Military Swim Test (MST), usually on the Tuesday morning. This consists of jumping into the water, treading water for two minutes and swimming 100m, as well as getting out of the pool unaided. This is a straight pass or fail test.
- Combat Fitness Test (CFT) (aka Annual Fitness Test, AFT): a distance of eight miles over undulating terrain on the Aldershot training area carrying approximately 25kg (55lbs) in time of less than 1 hour 50 minutes. This test is conducted during the first week, usually on the Friday.
Successful completion of the first four entrance tests signals your ‘nominal’ place on the course. I remember one or two failing these tests, but it was ok as they were allowed a retest the very next morning – lucky them!
At the start of week 2 students are given a confirmed allocation to one of six training sections (approximately 15-20 students per section). Each section is led by a Royal Army Physical Training Corps Instructor (RAPTCI) who provides administration, instruction, advice, coaching and mentoring during the course.
4.5 Curriculum Overview
The AAPTI, in its current iteration, covers eight Training Objectives (TOs), which include:
- TO 1: Deliver Physical Training (PT);
- TO 2: Deliver Recreational Training (RT);
- TO 3: Conduct Physical Testing;
- TO 4: Design a PT Programme;
- TO 5: Implement Health and Safety Policy, in relation to PT and RT.
- TO 6: Gapped (due to Health Trainer now being a pre-requisite);
- TO 7: Conduct Job-related administrative task; and
- TO 8: Describe human anatomical components and exercise physiology.
These TOs are realised in the following examples:
- The principles of warm up, the aerobic curve and cool down.
- The principles of lifting and carrying, and pushing and pulling
- Motivating and communicating effectively with clients.
- A variety of individual and group teaching skills.
- How to respond to health and safety issues in a variety of fitness environments.
- How to programme safe and effective exercise for a range of clients, the health benefits of physical activity and the importance of healthy eating.
- Develop the skills and knowledge required to plan, prepare and conduct gym- and outdoor-based exercise programmes and sessions with apparently healthy adults; both individuals and groups, including:
- Circuit training (role, variations and circuit dose)
- Interval and fartlek training
- Speed training and running drills
- Strength training
- Skill training
- Endurance training
- Plyometrics training
- Multi-stage fitness test (MSFT)
- Develop the skills and knowledge required to plan, prepare and conduct outdoor-based military functional exercise programmes and sessions for groups, including:
- Basic Personal Fitness Assessment (BPFA)
- Basic Combat Fitness Test (BCFT)
- Advanced Combat Fitness Test 1 (ACFT1)
- Advanced Combat Fitness Test 2 (ACFT2)
- Military Swimming Test (MST)
- Combat Military Swimming Test (CMST)
- Logs, ash poles and medicine balls (indoors and outdoors)
- Obstacle course
- Command tasks
- Anatomy and Physiology including:
- The skeletal system (structure and function)
- The musculoskeletal system
- Postural and core stability
- The cardio-respiratory system (heart, circulatory and respiratory systems)
- The nervous and energy systems and their relation to exercise
- The effects of exercise
- Nutrition and diet
- Modules within the curriculum include:
- Health and safety: foot care specific
- Health and safety: general
- Risk assessment, accident management and accident reporting
- Safety of children and young people
- Heart rate monitors
- Water-based training
- Sports and team games (e.g. volleyball, basketball and football)
- Potted sports (athletic, military, gymkhana and physical training)
- Back pain and other injuries (delivered by qualified medical representatives from the Royal Army Medical Corps)
- Heat and cold injuries (delivered by qualified medical representatives from the Royal Army Medical Corps)
- Principles of good instruction and qualities of a good instructor
- Training domains, teaching styles and learning methods
- Induction training (CV, free and fixed equipment)
- CV training machines
- Methods of running training
- Gymnasium administration and booking facilities
- Lesson planning and preparation and lesson plan development
- Unit, individual and remedial training programmes
- Gymnasium agility demonstration and standing-in
- Battle PT (e.g. logs races), sports competitions and formats, and relay races
- Effective communication (verbal, non-verbal, effective listening & words of command)
- Reviewing training (observation, analysis, evaluation, feedback and planning for the future)
- Organisation of recreational training
- Personal development
- Note taking and study methods
4.6 Gymnastic Performance Tests
There were a number of gymnastic performance tests for PTIs to complete at three levels (basic, intermediate and advanced), designed to promote and assess an individual’s strength, stamina (endurance), skill, speed and suppleness (flexibility). From memory these tests, from across the three levels, included:
- Floor skills:
- Forward and backward rolls
- Handstand forward roll
- Dive rolls
- Two-handed cartwheel & one-handed cartwheel
- Balances, turns and leaps
- Round off
- Backward roll to handstand
- Handspring and/or headspring
- Press to handstand
- Vault skills:
- Through vaults
- Straddle vaults
- Long fly
- Beam skills:
- ½ cartwheel dismount
- Forward rolls (to straddle or standing)
- Gate vault
- Rope climb:
- Using hands and feet
- Hands only
4.7 Levels of Gymnastic Performance
- Basic level: All PTI3, PTI2 and PTI1 trainees were required to pass all of the basic level tests.
- Intermediate level: All PTI2 and PTI1 trainees were required to pass all of the intermediate level tests. PTI3 trainees could attempt these tests also.
- Advanced level: if memory serves correctly, PTI1 trainees were required to pass some tests and attempt others. PTI3 and PTI2 trainees could attempt these tests also.
4.8 Defence Instructional Techniques (Trainer) Course
Since 2012 the Defence Instructional Techniques (Trainer) (DITT) course has been fully integrated into the AA PTI course.
4.9 Flag Competition
Flag competitions are held every Friday morning. They include a variety of different activities ranging from athletics to battle PT. This is an opportunity to go up against other sections throughout the course to compete for pride but also for the flag of the RAPTC, which is presented to the winning section on the pass off parade.
5.0 Grading Structure
The grading structure for the PTI3 course I attended in 1996 is outlined in Table 1 below.
|Table 1: Grading structure|
|Basic Fitness Test (Male)|
|1.5 mile run||9mins||9mins 30||9mins 45||10mins|
|Abdominal Curl Conditioning Test||5mins+||4.30-4.59||3.30-4.29||3.00-3.29|
|Basic Fitness Test (Female)|
|1.5 mile run||9mins 45||10mins||10mins 30||11mins|
|Abdominal Curl Conditioning Test||5mins+||4.30-4.59||3.30-4.29||3.00-3.29|
|Army Unit Life Saver Award||Pass||Fail|
|Combat Agility Tests||Pass||Fail|
|Restrain and Arrest Module||Pass||Fail|
|Gymnastic Performance Tests||Pass||Fail|
|Inter Ser1-5||Inter Ser 1-3 + 2 from Ser 4 & 2 from Ser 5||Basic Ser 1-5|
5.1 Interpretation of Grade Structure
Table 2 provides the reader with an interpretation of the grading structure used above.
|Table 2: Interpretation of grade structure|
|A (Outstanding)||Passed all course requirements and awarded Crossed Swords badge. Qualified for employment in a Trained Soldiers’ unit under the supervision of an RAPTC instructor.|
|B (Very Good)|
|E (Failed to complete serials…)||Not entitled to wear Crossed Swords badge. May only be employed on the advice and under the direct supervision of an RAPTC instructor (may be reassessed and upgraded by an RAPTC Officer).|
6.0 ‘Pass Off’ Parade
The pass off parade consists of six displays, one display per section, to demonstrate the skills obtained throughout the AA PTI course. The audience will include family members of those who undertake the course as well as the Colonel Commandant of the RAPTC in attendance, and occasionally other specially invited guests. The parade concludes with the high horse display, performed by the permanent staff of the ASPT, newly qualified RAPTC instructors and the PTI class one course.
7.0 Qualifications Gained
Apart from gaining the general qualification of Physical Training Instructor Class Three, instructors also gained several other specialist qualifications and coaching modules:
- Specialist Qualifications:
- Endurance Training
- Strength Training
- Speed Training
- Skill Training
- Agility Training
- Survival Swimming
- Army Unit Life Saver Award
- Restraint and Arrest Techniques Module
- Potted Sports
- Minor Team Games
- National Coaching Foundation Level One Modules:
- Body in Action
- Planning and Practice
- Safety and Injury
Currently, successful students gain the AAPTI qualification which is valid for 5 years and can join the Register of Exercise Professionals (REPS) at own expense at Level 2 or 3 (dependent on experience).
8.0 Continual Professional Development
When I completed my PTI3 course in 1996, PTIs could instruct fitness sessions for up to five years before being obliged to attend a refresher course otherwise known as continual professional development (CPD). For those instructors attending an upgrade course (i.e. the PTI2 or PTI1) the ‘clock’ was reset. During my time as a military fitness instructor I attended one initial course, one upgrading course and three CPD courses.
AAPTI instructors are required to attend the AAPTI refresher course every five years to remain ‘in-date.’ It is the role of unit RAPTCIs and regional RAPTC inspection teams to ensure which instructors are ‘in-date’.
The purpose and role of the AAPTI refresher course is to:
- Facilitate the transfer and dissemination of current best practice;
- Update instructors on current research and trends;
- Deliver updated and novel fitness testing and physical training modules;
- Assess and evaluate instructors on their instructional ability; and
- Assess and evaluate an instructor’s physical fitness through the PTIFT and AFT.
RAPTC instructors continue to have their own specialist internal and external CPD training and courses, usually known as a Study Period.
In hindsight, it is clear how these courses reflected the changing attitudes of the PD branch and the impact of changes and trends in the wider civilian fitness community. The impact of collaboration with some of the country’s leading sports science universities was also evident through the development and implementation of updated testing protocols and subsequent course design changes.
8.1 Further Courses
Upon successful completion of the AAPTI course, instructors can attend a number of other courses, for example:
- The Aerial Slide and Obstacle Course Supervisor Course;
- The Alternative Aerobic Assessment Trainer Course; and/or
- The RAPTC Selection Course.
8.2 Course Design
The ASPT evaluates its training delivery on a continual basis and is now (since 2012) fully responsible for all PT course design (CD), having sub-divided the previous dual role of both CD and TDT (Training Development Team) from HQ RAPTC. The ASPT training wing has responsibility for resourcing all PT courses.
9.0 Training Facilities
Since 2012 there have been a number of changes to the facilities at the ASPT, which include:
- Rearranged strength & conditioning facilities as well as relocating the Cardio-vascular room within Fox lines (since 2012);
- Fielder Centre had a massive upgrade in IT/AV facilities, which allows students direct access to the internet throughout the building (since 2012);
- Improvised PT now includes a mock Forward Operating Base (FOB) in which to demonstrate methods of how PT can be conducted in isolated conditions, with limited resources whilst on operations (since 2012); and
- An electronic information board erected near the entrance into camp to ensure all visitors and students are informed on critical information (much to the delight of the training team and the chagrin of students) (since 2013).
10.0 Differentiation between Military and Civilian Fitness Training
10.1 Military Differentiation: Instructor Physical Fitness Testing
Unlike our civilian brethren, military fitness instructors are tested across three rather than two general areas:
- Instructional ability;
- Theoretical knowledge; and
- Physical Development (PD or physical fitness in old money).
Physical fitness is the differentiator. Civilian fitness instructors are not tested on their physical fitness (in a course critical pass or fail capacity) during their initial or upgrading courses, as it is not considered an important element regarding instructing clients to achieve their fitness goals. However, it is generally pleasing to witness a fitness instructor who looks like they should actually be a fitness instructor, if you get my meaning.
Meanings aside, PTIs are soldiers first, and fitness instructors second (the British Army has a doctrine of soldier first, tradesman second). A major skill required by PTIs is leadership, but PTIs are not expected to lead from the rear. PTIs in the Army are expected to lead from the front (i.e. leadership by example) and be role models to non-fitness qualified soldiers, hence the more demanding physical standards expected of them (see Grading Structure above).
10.2 Civilian Differentiation: Client(s) Goals and Aspirations
A major difference between military and civilian fitness instructors, as alluded to above, is that civilian fitness instructors are not required to complete the training that their clients undertake. Also, a client’s fitness goals and aspirations are set by the client and not a higher formation (in this case the British Army).
For civilians, fitness training is optional in contrast to military physical training which is compulsory, although over the year’s soldiers and officers have developed a number of devious methods and excuses for avoiding physical training.
Finally, implicit for our civilian brethren is the critical aspect of customer service and care. Although care (of trainees and avoidance of injury) is implicit for PTIs, both commanders and PTIs have a very varied range of interpretation for the implementation and delivery of ‘customer service’ in the Army. Think of the 80-10-10 rule; 80% are average to good, 10% are very good, and 10% have areas for improvement.
11.0 PTIs: The Funny Side
If the reader wishes to read a brief, but rather amusing, article then go to: http://www.arrse.co.uk/wiki/PTI
ABN 58/17: Change of Duration to All-Arms Physical Training Instructor (PTI) qualification and Introduction of a PTI Logbook.
Peters, D. (2012) The Army School of Physical Training – Aldershot: Foreword. Mind, Body and Spirit: The Journal of the Royal Army Physical Training Corps. 2012, pp.85-87.
Pitcairn, K.D. (2014) Army Training Unit (London). Mind, Body and Spirit: The Journal of the Royal Army Physical Training Corps. 2014, pp.79.
Scarr, T.P. (2012) Headquarters Royal Army Physical Training Corps: SO2 Policy & Plans. Mind, Body and Spirit: The Journal of the Royal Army Physical Training Corps. 2012, pp.7.