Focus on fitness in the Air Force Reserve – includes related article

Cameron V. Miller

What do professional football players and combat-ready Air Force Reservists have in common? The answer is they both have to be fit to perform their mission. The Air Force has always recognized the value of investing in fitness facilities, equipment and programs; however, recent evaluations suggest that up to 70 percent of Air Force members may lead sedentary lifestyles. The key to improving these statistics is to educate military members that physical fitness is a positive health-enhancing factor indelibly linked to military readiness.

According to the chief of human resources and training for the Air Force Reserve Morale, Welfare, Recreation and Services Directorate (MWRS), Dick Sans, “While physical fitness is a commander’s program, it is the individual’s inherent responsibility to maintain a high level of fitness. In a world that runs off fast food, high stress and the couch-potato syndrome, we have to do a better job in educating military members about their own health, and in encouraging them to incorporate good fitness and nutritional practices into their lifestyles.”

Robert Bemis, director of MWRS, Headquarters Air Force Reserve, agrees. “We have made a commitment to fitness in the Reserve and it’s MWRS’ mission to make a fit combat ready force a reality.” During Desert Storm, it became clear once again that Air Force reservists were a vital part of our combat ready force and had to be as physically fit as active duty members. The rigorous schedules followed during combat in Southwest Asia started a renewed commitment throughout the Active and Reserve Air Force concerning physical fitness.

The Air Force Reserve is practicing what it preaches through a step-by-step approach to fitness education. It now has its own six-day intensive physical fitness assessment/exercise/nutrition training course. Why does the Reserve develop some of its own training courses versus using the Air Education Training Command (AETC) Schools? The answer is simple: Reservists have special needs. Reserve members have primary civilian jobs and commitments, and in many cases are unable to attend AETC schools because of their length. The Air Force Reserve feels that they need the six-day fitness course to conduct fitness assessments and develop fitness programs for members of their unit.

Military forces have a strong tradition for being physically fiL It is critical for accomplishing their mission. This is also being emphasized by civilian industry. Companies like 3M, Mesa, and Adolph Coors Company realize that there are significant benefits to having a physically fit and healthy work force. Benefits include increased productivity, less absenteeism and lower insurance rates, to name a few.

Developing an AFRES physical fitness course was a headquarters initiative to tie together three aspects of wellness: physical fitness assessment, exercise, and nutrition. Mark and Beth Woodard, two physiologists with the 939th Mission Support Squadron at Portland, assisted Dick Sans with the development of the course.

In the course, students are taught five methods to accurately assess a person’s fitness level. These include a body fat component, muscular endurance component, flexibility component, cardiovascular endurance component, and blood pressure component. The first two and 1/2 days of instruction incorporate training in anatomy, physiology, kinesiology, effects of training, fitness workout methods, training target heart rate formulas, circuit weight training, and nutrition. The goal is to train students to evaluate individual fitness levels, to help plan exercise regimes and to establish good nutritional habits. The course covers five major components–warm up/cool-down/stretching/flexibility, aerobics, strength with weights/ equipment, strength without weights/equipment, and nutrition. The focus is not only on teaching students why they need to know the basics to help others plan a good fitness lifestyle, but also on the how-to of obtaining good fitness. During the next three-and-one-half days, students apply what they’ve learned by conducting assessments and planning programs for each other.

The course is very intense. Thirty days prior to the beginning of class, we mail students their pre-course study materials. Upon arrival at Westover Air Reserve Base, where the class is held, students are expected to pass an entrance exam on basic fitness from the pre-course materials. In addition to the entrance exam, attendees take four other written tests and an applications test at the end of the course.

At present, we offer two classes per year with a maximum of 16 students per class. We plan to increase the number of classes per year to train the 1200 MWRS Reserve personnel who require fitness skill training. What do attendees have to say about the course? One student comments, ‘The professionalism and teaching technique made this difficult course both interesting and challenging. This course is definitely beneficial in this career field.” Another adds, “I was very impressed by this class, and would hope many more in my field would take it.” With comments like these it’s no wonder that at the present time there is a waiting list of more than 50 people for the next fitness course.

Another fitness initiative was a joint project between the Reserve MWRS Directorate and the Reserve Professional Development Center Video Production Staff to produce an entertaining and informative fitness video. The video contains 32 minutes of basic fitness information and nutrition guidelines. It covers the same five subject areas as in the fitness, exercise and nutrition course and is intended to help individual members get started on some type of fitness regime, “The video is designed for people no matter what equipment they have access to. It trains them to build cardiovascular endurance and muscle strength with and without specific weight equipment,” remarks Sans. This summary training video has been sent to each Air Force Reserve unit and to Air Force Headquarters. “As far as we know, it’s the only video produced by the military that covers all five subject areas on wellness,” says Sans.

Both the video and the course are endorsed by Hammer Strength Corporation. Sans explains, “We wanted to make sure our course was on target and in line with current fitness education in the civilian world, so we asked Hammer Strength to consider endorsing our training course. They sent a national representative to the first course and certified it. In addition, they played an important part in developing the video.” The company also provided two representatives to coordinate the effort; Mr. Kim Wood, strength and conditioning coach for the Cincinnati Bengals and Dave Karstan, national sales manager and strength coach for Hammer Strength Corporation.

“We received permission to use Bengals’ footage which is featured at the beginning and end of the video. In addition, we used an All-Pro linebacker and All-Pro center from the Bengals for some of the workout shots,” comments Sans. There is a diverse group of people featured in the video, which not only includes the Bengals players, but also a policewoman who was selected policeperson of the year for Cincinnati, and the head strength coach for the Ohio football state champions from Oak Hills High School in Cincinnati. In addition, two active duty military personnel participated from Robins Air Force Base, where Air Force Reserve Headquarters is located.

In addition to the 448-page fitness course book and video, Sans has also developed a 72-page Working on Wellness book which is a summary of the basics from the fitness course. This book is designed to be used by all reservists and includes pictures, formulas and charts to help each individual reserve member develop his or her own fitness and nutrition program. “Our goal is to provide every reservist a copy of the book, which is a basic wellness book to assist members in getting fit,” states Sans.

Cycle Ergometry

When asked how the Air Force Reserve program fits in with the Air Force Cycle Ergometry fitness testing program, Sans declares, “The initiatives we’ve taken go hand in hand with the Air Force Cycle Ergometry program.” The Active Duty Air Force has been testing since October 1, 1992. The Reserve starts testing the beginning of fiscal year 1994; and Sans and his team are ready. They have already developed a two-and-a-half-day course on cycle ergometry. Again, it’s a shorter course designed to meet Reserve needs. They’ve also developed two videos. The first is an orientation video, to be used primarily at commanders’ calls.

“The video was designed to accomplish two things,” says Sans, “to motivate Reservists to get out and exercise, and to provide an idea of what the test is about; you know, cut the fear factor down.” Sans recounts the following experience. “Believe it or not, people are afraid of the test. I had one person, a runner in great shape, who was scared to death of the test. When he got on the bike his resting heart rate was 97! After talking to him a while and calming him down he tested out fine.”

The second video is a tester training video. The ergometry course trains the monitors and the monitors train the base testers. “We found that when the monitors went back to their bases there was a lack of standardization in teaching the correct testing steps. We simply took the cycle ergometry tester checklist and made a video. Our goal is to standardize testers’ abilities to conduct consistent tests command-wide. Conducting a standardized test by following the same procedures at all locations is important,” explains Sans.

For the future, Sans says they will continue to work to give all MWRS personnel in the Reserve a working knowledge of fitness and nutrition. He feels confident the focus on fitness will remain a high priority for the Air Force Reserve. We will continue to update the training course as new fitness/wellness information becomes available. Our philosophy is that fitness is critical to mission success. The Air Force Reserve is enthusiastically pursuing new initiatives to enhance the fitness capability of its personnel. If the energy and enthusiasm used to develop these initiatives are any indication, the reservists will be more than ready to perform their mission any place, any time. As Dick Sans says, ‘Faking time to be fit is important to them, their lives may depend on it.”


Impressive evidence continues to mount that good physical fitness pays significant dividends to both employees and employers. Skyrocketing health care costs alone are more than a threat to individuals and the companies that employ them. The National Association of Manufacturers has warned that health care costs alone could threaten the ability of the United States to compete in markets around the world.

Health care expenses now consume approximately 45 percent of business operation profits. Many employers have shifted more of the cost burden to their workers by increasing or starting deductibles and co-payments. Several companies have cut out or completely eliminated health coverage for workers. which in many cases has shifted the cost to government.

Today, approximately 15 million working people have no coverage. There is a perplexing and frightening trend. Some of the facts include:

* Primary health care costs–more than $600 billion in 1989, up 11 percent from 1988. By 1995 the estimate is one trillion dollars.

* Health care costs are rising at three times the inflation rate.

* Health care costs represent 11percent of this country’s total economic output, the largest of any industrialized nation.

* During 1989, health benefits cost the average company approximately$2,700 per employee.

* Chrysler estimates that health care costs add $’/00to the price of each of Its cars.

* Thirty percent of the American population is considered obese. Thirty percent smoke. Only 17 percent of Americans exercise three times a week or more.

Companies all over the United States are starting to realize that in order to be able to continue to compete in the marketplace, significant physical fitness support programs must be instituted for their employees. Companies like AT&T, Johnson and Johnson, Adolph Coors Co., Mesa and many other companies across the country are providing fitness programs for employees to include building fully equipped fitness Centers and providing employees scheduled Work time periods to enhance their physical fitness.

A Complete Fitness Package

As part of a complete fitness package, Mesa, one of the largest independent producers of oil and gas, has built a 30,000 square foot, $2.5 million on-site fitness center for all employees and dependents (12 years and older). However, the wellness program is much more than a health facility. A wide range of recreation and fitness programs such as volleyball, aerobics, medical profiles, fitness screening, educational classes, lectures and seminars, stress management, weight control and lower back care are available en a regular basis.

As a result of its program, Mesa estimates a yearly savings of $1.6 million in health care costs from energy industry norms. Participants in the program average fewer sick days than the average U.S, work force, e.g., (1989) 1.6 days for Mesa’s wellness program, 3.4 days for the U.S. workforce. One of the most creative components of Mesa’s wellness program is its incentive cash payments for keeping fit.

Employees can receive up to $700 annually for family participation, e.g., perfect attendance, regular exercise, not smoking.

In addition to reduced health care/ sick leave costs, there are also significant increases in productivity and decreases in employee turnover. An analysis of the Coors wellness program indicates a $1.4 million savings (typical case), $5 million (best case) in productivity; white turnover savings were $1.9 million (typical case), $5.8 million (best case) directly attributed to better physical fitness. Coors data indicates they expect a savings of $1,259 per at-risk participant (typical case), up to $2,302 (best case) per year. Using current data available, Coors estimates a cumulative net present value savings in year ten of their program of $31 million.

The program statistics for the Johnson and Johnson experience clearly indicate that people are concerned with poor health. Approximately 95 percent of J & J’s initial voluntary baseline health screening group responded by providing required information over the two-year screening period. The preliminary findings at one year indicated a more favorable change in health care of the participating group with respect to percentage above ideal weight, exercise, blood pressure, cigarette smoking, self-reported sick days and other characteristics. A second major finding was that the changes in exercise habits and physical fitness were well distributed throughout the work force. Changes occurred in young and old, married and single, white and non-white, and high and low socioeconomic groups. The study indicated that if health benefit costs alone are considered, the annual return on investment is approximately 30 percent.

Cycle Ergometry

Cycle ergometry is a system used to evaluate and individual’s cardiovascular fitness. It measures a person’s aerobic capacity in a submaximal test to determine endurance under a given workload using a stationary bike and heart monitor device. By measuring how much the subjects’s heart rate increases as a result of that work, one can estimate the efficiency of the person’s heart, lungs, and muscles. This submaximal test is designed to be safely administered without direct medical supervision and provides accurate results for the majority of people taking the test.

COPYRIGHT 1993 National Recreation and Park Association

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group

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