Priority #1 - Sleep
Maximize gains by sleeping 7-8 hours per night. Sleep is the most important variable in the fitness equation; the other two pillars of fitness (exercise and nutrition) actually sit on the foundation of good sleep habits. Both your cognitive and physical performance decrease dramatically when you sleep less than 7 hours per night.
Priority #2 - Nutrition
You will never experience the increase in performance you’re looking for if your two primary food groups are Monster energy drinks and bean burritos from the Shoppette. If you’re unsure what good nutrition looks like and your duty station employs a nutritionist, make an appointment now. If your duty station has an Army Wellness Center, make an appointment now! The resources available to you as a Soldier would cost a considerable amount of money outside of the Army. Leverage these assets to help you dominate the ACFT.
Priority #3 - Be Active
You should spend some time between scheduled training sessions working to recover actively. A light jog or bike after a heavy training session can go a long way towards preventing excessive soreness and speeding muscle recovery. A light warm up and some static stretching on your scheduled “off-days” is another great method to ensure you recover well.
Recovery is likely the most overlooked aspect of well-planned training -- especially in the military. Unit culture and optempo play a large role in this, but there is also a critical knowledge gap when it comes to understanding recovery. If you’ve looked at the General Adaptation Syndrome already, you know that your body reacts to physical training much like it does to any other stressor -- an initial performance decrement. What we consider an increase in performance is simply an increase in your body’s resistance to the stimulus that caused the initial stress. This increased resistance to stress occurs optimally when we give the body a genuine opportunity to recover. If you continue to stress the system (poor sleep, poor nutrition, more exercise, other external stressors), you will handicap your body’s efforts to improve.
Finding the right balance between training hard and recovering well can be a challenge; however, if your priority is improving your physical performance, and you simply choose to train harder without taking a look at improving other stressful habits (e.g. sleeping less than 7 hours per night, drinking alcohol excessively), you’ve chosen... poorly. On a non-related note, if you don’t get the Indiana Jones reference, stop what you’re doing and AMRAP all three of the original Indiana Jones movies as quickly as possible.