Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Article on how to train up for your NAPFA / IPPT test

Almost everyone who had problems passing or doing well in IPPT, have one thing in common - they hardly train. Even if they do train, it is either done sporadically or without sufficient intensity or duration to have any significant impact on their physical fitness. Worse still, they often wait until the "last-minute" to make an attempt to train and then hope for the best.

Here, I intend to share some useful pointers and guidelines with you and everyone preparing for their IPPT. I will keep it simple, basic and practical. But, let's be realistic. It is not going to be a magic formula plucked out of nothing and which will make you fitter overnight. There is no short cut and no easy way out. Training will be stressful and, to some degree, painful. How long you will take to succeed will depend on what is your current state of physical fitness and how hard you are prepared to work. If you are at a "zero" fitness state, then it will take you longer to attain the required fitness level than if you are already exercising, albeit irregularly.

Before you embark on a fitness program, you must be prepared to invest time and make some sacrifices. You will need to train at least 3 times a week, up to 1 hour each time. Make sure you have the right gear, and, most importantly, a reasonably good pair of running shoes. If you are not sure what type of shoes to buy, just go to the nearest e-mart and purchase the SAF running shoes with your credits. You should also give yourself about 12 weeks to prepare for your IPPT.

Some Basic Principles
The key to fitness lies in the FIT formula. It is simply:

Frequency - How Often
Exercising 3-5 times is highly recommended. If you have a busy schedule, aim to maintain a regular program of exercise at least 3 times a week, alternating with one rest day in between workouts to give your body a chance to rest and recover.

Intensity - How Hard
Your heart rate will tell you how hard you have been exercising. You should exercise hard enough so that your heart rate stays within a certain target range. This is about 70-85% of your maximum heart rate (calculated from 220-your Age). For example, if you are 20 years old, your maximum heart rate is 220 - 20 = 200 beats per minute. If you want to keep your heart rate at 70% of its maximum, then your targeted heart rate should be 200 x 0.7 = 140 beats per minute. Take your heart rate immediately at the end of your run and you will know whether you have been exercising at the right effort level. The wrist or the neck is a good spot to feel the pulse.

Time or Duration - How Long
To be effective, you should exercise such that your heart rate stays in the target range for 20 to 30 minutes continuously. Ideally, an exercise session should consist of 3 segments: warm up (5-10 minutes), workout proper (20-30 minutes) and cooling down (5-10 minutes). The whole session will not last more than an hour. In the warm up, include light jogging and then stretch your muscles, especially the arm and shoulder, trunk and your thigh (both front and back) muscles. Warming up will help prepare your body for the vigorous exercise and reduce the risk of getting injured during the exercise. You should also stretch your muscles as you cool down after your run. This will ensure that your muscles remain flexible and gain more strength with time.

Be specific in your training
Let's face it. If you want to prepare for IPPT, you will have to train for IPPT. You can't be playing a sport or cycle all the time and then think you are ready for a good 2.4km time. Likewise, doing push-ups and chin ups are 2 different exercises altogether, even though both stresses the upper body. The bottom line is that, if your goal is IPPT, you must specifically train for IPPT.

Fitness Begins at Home
Before you get the wrong idea, I am not suggesting turning your precious home into a gym. Far from it, you don't really need anything else except investing in a portable doorway chin-up bar. A reasonable one costs no more than $20 and may have other domestic uses too, such as hanging up your clothes before putting them away in the closet. The point is, you don't have to get out of your home to exercise. Exercises such as sit ups, dips, back raises, step-ups and squat thrusts, etc; can be done in the comfort of your home. Best of all, you can do most of them while watching your favourite TV programs and you can also do it at any time of the day at your convenience. Such exercises can be done daily. Before you know it, you would have developed a fine set of abs (without even having to buy any of those commercial-ad equipment which you see on TV) and well-conditioned shoulders and thighs. All these without getting out of the house! If you are living in a high-rise apartment, use the staircase instead of the elevator. It is effective to build up strong legs and your heart and lungs too. I can go on and on but it is not necessary. With a little imagination and initiative, you should be able to come up with more exercises that you can do at home. And why not exercise at your workplace too?

Having Problems with IPPT?
Some people seem to breeze through their IPPT with minimum training and effort. But, most of us need considerable physical preparation. Due to physiological differences among people, some will find certain stations harder to pass than others. Generally though, there really need not be any other modes of training in preparing for the IPPT other than practising the exercises themselves. In other words, all you need to do is to regularly do your sit ups, standing broad jumps, chin ups and 4x10m shuttle runs, followed by a timed 2.4km run at each training session. However, there are those who will have specific weaknesses and need extra help.

BA Recommended Recipe
The major problem areas in IPPT seem to be the 2.4km run and chin up tests. However, I will cover all 5 stations. The recommended exercises will be generally effective for improvements to be made. Make no mistake about it, it will depend on the current state of fitness of the individual, the commitment and effort put in training and the time available to prepare for IPPT.

If you are able to sit up a few repetitions without difficulty, all you will need to do is to practise sit ups regularly and increase the number of repetitions progressively till you are able to do the required number to pass the test. If you experience problems in even doing a few, you will need to build up your abdominal strength in your training.

Do crunches and leg raises. In addition, do sit-backs. It is actually a reverse of the sit up. From a sit up position, lower your upper body slowly to the halfway point and hold this position for a few moments. Most likely, vibrations in the muscles of the abdominal region will be felt with discomfort. Then let the upper body go all the way to the floor and rest for a while. Repeat the exercise several times.

This test requires good muscular power of the legs. In other words, in addition to building up strength, training to develop speed in executing the jump is equally important. To be effective, plyometric or hopping exercises must be done in addition to squats or leg press exercises.

Double-Leg Hops. Squat down and jump as far as possible. Immediately upon landing, jump forward again. Use quick, double-arm swings and keep the landings short. Do about 5 jumps in a row for each set, about 3-5 sets per training session. One precaution to take is to ensure that the knees are not less than 90 degrees bent in the landing position and prior to taking off.

Tuck Jumps. Do no more than 5 jumps in a fast, regular rhythm, about 3-5 sets. Possibly, try bringing your knees or the front of your thighs to touch your chest. . Stand upright with feet nearly together. Then jump upwards as high as possible.

This is the test that tends to give the most trouble. Often, the strength:body weight ratio is lop-sided. Individuals who are obese or with larger than normal body weight, will need to get rid of the excess weight in order to improve chin up performance. This can be achieved with aerobic exercise and proper dieting. Chin-ups must be practised regularly to achieve improvements. The prime movers in this exercise are the latissimus dorsi (commonly known as the "wings" or laterals) and biceps. The recommended weight training exercises are lats pulldown and bicep curls. The specific chin-up exercises are as prescribe below. Always begin with the most difficult one and work down to the easiest. As the bicep muscles are primarily involved in the chin up exercise, the underhand or supinated grasp (palming facing the body) is the stronger of the two handgrasps, the other being the pronated grip (palms facing away from the body).

Partner-Assisted. Assume chin-up position and perform as many correct chin-ups as possible until muscle fatigue. When you cannot perform any more correct chin-ups, get a partner to assist you up until a repetition is completed. Your partner will then let go and you will lower yourself down slowly at a four-count cadence. Repeat the procedure until you are unable to hold on to the bar or lower yourself in a controlled manner.

Chair or Step-Assisted. Stand on a stable stool, chair or bench and jump up until chin is above the bar. Bend your knees and lower yourself at a 4-count cadence. When the arms are fully extended, place your feet on the bench and repeat procedure until muscle failure or when you are unable to lower yourself in a controlled manner.

Behind the neck. Hang on to the bar with your hands further apart than the width of your shoulders. Pull yourself upwards till the base of your neck touches the bar. Repeat the exercise until muscle failure.

The Hang. Get into the chin-up starting position and hang on to the bar until it is no longer possible to continue gripping the bar. Time your hang as increasing "hanging" time is indicative of better grip strength and endurance.

Inclined Chin-up. In this exercise, the chin-up is done using a low bar set at about mid-chest level. Grip the bar and slide feet under the bar with body straight, arms and body forming a right angle. The weight should rest on the heels of the feet. Execute chin-up with a straight body until fatigue.

Flexed-Arm Hang
. Get into the chin-up position, i.e. with chin at or above bar. Hang on for as long as you can. Time your hang to monitor progress.

Repetitive agility runs over short distances will help to develop your speed, agility and co-ordination. You should concentrate on your acceleration and the way you change direction. With practice, you will develop the right technique, which will help you to clock better times. The same exercises that help you to leap further in the standing broad jump will also give your legs that extra burst of speed in the shuttle run.


To prepare for your 2.4km run, you should combine steady longer distance runs with interval training. What's interval training? You run a series of shorter distances at a faster pace, take twice the time of each run to recover by walking or jogging slowly, and then start another fast run again. Do 4-6 repetitions at each session. Physiologically, interval training will build up your body's ability to clear away the lactic acid that accumulates in your muscles during vigorous exercise. This means that you can run further and faster without getting muscle aches and fatigue prematurely. This is a very effective training method as it helps to build up speed-endurance, which will enable you to sustain a faster-pace continuous run over 2.4km. If you have not been exercising regularly or have laid off exercise for a considerable length of time, I would suggest you give yourself at least 12 weeks to progressively prepare for the test.

The suggested program has 3 levels to cater to the different individual's fitness needs. Select the appropriate program (A, B or C) to help you achieve the goal you want to set for yourself but be realistic. For example, if you are aiming to run the 2.4km in 12 minutes and below, then program B will probably be the more appropriate one for you to begin with. However, if you are doubtful, start with program C. If you improve quickly or find program C too easy, you should switch to program B. This way, you will allow your body to progress according to your potential and ability. But, do it gradually. Avoid doing too much too soon.

Advice for the Overweight and Obese
If you are overweight, you should lose some weight before starting on this training program. Otherwise, you run the risk of injuring your joints, especially your knees and ankles. Give yourself an additional 8 to 12 weeks to lose weight. Combine dieting with low-intensity aerobic exercise such as brisk walking. Start by walking briskly for 20 to 30 minutes continuously. The aim is to build up the body's tolerance and ability to sustain continuous aerobic exercise. Progress to walk-jog when you are able to brisk walk comfortably for 30 minutes continuously. Once you are able to slow jog continuously for at least 20 minutes, you can go on to the training program proper and start with program C.

Do You Need Weight Training?
Generally, no. Callisthenic exercises such as those described earlier, together with regular aerobic runs, will be sufficient for you to pass IPPT. However, if you have weak arms and legs, have not been exercising for a long while or want to achieve greater results, working out in a gym is a good way to improve quickly. For example, the lats pulldown exercise using weights is particularly useful to develop the specific muscles for chin-up improvement. While working out in the gym, bear in mind that strength is developed with the use of heavier weights performed with fewer repetitions (about 6-8 repetitions). Muscular endurance, on the other hand, is achieved with lighter weights but more repetitions (about 12-15).

A Lifetime Pursuit
So, you have finally cleared your hurdle. What next? It is not uncommon to see individuals reverting to a sedentary lifestyle and inactivity the moment they overcome IPPT. It is like getting a huge load off one's back. But, really, all the efforts to build up your fitness would be thoroughly wasted. You will then have to start all over again the next time the IPPT comes up. On the contrary, you should continue to maintain a regular physical exercise regime for as long as you are able to. The physical and health benefits you will reap will be worth the investment. You will not only be filled with a bigger zest for life but a happier and healthier person for it. Make Fitness a lifetime pursuit and IPPT your recipe to fitness.

If you have any doubts regarding your medical condition, consult a qualified doctor for advice immediately.

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