412th AMXS offers better, more productive approach to fitness|
Posted 3/24/2010 Updated 3/26/2010
by Lt. Col. Steve Grotjohn
412th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron
3/24/2010 - EDWARDS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- The Air Force's new Fitness Instruction, AFI 36-2905, takes effect July 1.
Test failures are projected to increase, due in no small part to the 1.5-mile run. This is a result of both the new component minimum and its increased contribution to the overall score: 60 percent under the new instruction as opposed to 50 percent under the old.
Unfortunately, most units' physical training leaders and individuals will respond with more frequent and longer distance runs during regular physical training sessions. This practice is a mistake.
The reason many struggle with the run is not because they have not been running enough, but rather because they are not fit, despite the hours spent in the gym and on the track.
Frequent, high-mileage running will, eventually, decrease running times, but as a path to overall fitness, it is inefficient, increases the chance of repetitive-use injuries, and most importantly, doesn't address the root cause.
Fitness has many definitions, but in the context of the 1.5-mile run, can be described as the ability to perform effectively across the metabolic pathways of the human body, from the anaerobic to the aerobic, and all points in between.
This is where many fall short. They are told to perform "strength" work in the gym, which is squarely in the anaerobic pathway, meaning short duration, high-power effort with plenty of rest in between sets.
They are also led to believe that "cardio" work is to be done at a relatively slow to moderate pace. Emphasis is placed on a given pulse range, presumably in the aerobic pathway, or on a longer duration, oxygen-driven mode. This neglects the fact that many activities, require more than one pathway. The 1.5-mile run, not quite a sprint and certainly not a marathon, is one such activity.
Fortunately, there is a better way.
Members of the 412th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron put this idea to the test and proved it last fall. Three times each week for three months members of the squadron with PT scores below 80 became part of a program pitting conventional Air Force PT against an alternative approach that targeted the full range of metabolic pathways instead of each pathway individually.
A randomly selected portion of the target audience was instructed to perform standard cardio and strength protocols. My hypothesis boiled down to two parts; first, most individuals lack the necessary leg strength to do well in the run, and second, they have a low anaerobic threshold, or the point at which the body shifts from short duration activity and enters an endurance activity. Think of it as the "wall" that some "hit" within the first lap or two where their pace quickly slows while one engine runs out of steam and the other isn't ready to pick up the slack.
We attacked that problem by blending anaerobic and aerobic exercise in a varied schedule of high intensity workouts.
These workouts included combinations of sprints and runs, coupled with bodyweight exercises, including well known movements such as push-ups, crunches, and lunges with lesser used movements like planks, squats and burpees. While considered an "aerobic" event, the 1.5 mile run actually requires a minimum level of strength to perform well. Therefore lower body calisthenics were emphasized throughout the entire program, but especially in the first month to develop the required strength.
A word about squats: If done correctly, they are safe, better than machine-based, isolation movements such as curls and extensions, and are the best exercise currently missing from most PT sessions. If done incorrectly, i.e. knee bends, they can cause pain or aggravate existing conditions. Bottom line, if you don't know how to perform or instruct the correct squat technique, don't do the movement.
One of our sample workouts was a round of 50 push-ups, followed by 50 crunches, followed by 50 squats, then repeating the whole cycle twice more, without rest. These movements, very much in the anaerobic or strength realm, are executed at a pace that raises the anaerobic threshold and nets aerobic benefits. The next session might entail a 400-meter sprint followed by as many push-ups as possible, repeated four times without rest. The next session might be a one-mile time trial, and so on.
No two workouts in a given month were repeated and most occurred only once during the entire 90 days. Most workouts were over in 30 minutes, including warm-up, and some in as few as 10 minutes.
Most significantly, the group ran less than 1.5 miles per week on average, and that included the four mandatory wing and installation three-mile runs that occurred during the period.
Subtracting these long, slow formation runs, the typical week consisted of less than a mile of running; some weeks involved no running at all.
The results were surprising to the participants.
Both the control and experimental groups were given practice PT tests at the beginning and end of the program. The results: the program group trimmed an average of 2 minutes, 12 seconds off of their 1.5-mile run time, compared with just 28 seconds by the control group. The program group also raised their overall test score 14.2 points, compared with a 5.9 point increase by the control.
There were also modest improvements in the strength components of the test. They were only "modest" since many of the participants were already capable of maximizing push-ups or crunches prior to the program, therefore relative strength improvements did not equate to more test points like the faster run times did.
Overall, it was not a perfectly controlled experiment, but the results were substantial nonetheless.
Decreased run times and increased test scores are great for the individual and their career, but most importantly, these individuals became more fit. Instead of just being prepared for the components of the test (fit to test) they were prepared for a range of physical demands both foreseen and unforeseen (fit to fight).
It is challenging to plan diverse workouts using only a patch of ground and a stopwatch. On the other hand, it is "easy" to perform a couple sets of push-ups and crunches and run from the fitness center to the commissary and back. However, "easy" isn't getting the job done.
The good news is, there is a better, more effective approach that doesn't involve miles and miles, pounding the pavement..