ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. --
Reserve Citizen Airman are going to be in the fight, in any environment and they will need comprehensive fitness to succeed. As the fitness and resilience program coordinator for Air Force Reserve Command, Jason Ham wants to spread the word about a valuable comprehensive fitness resource available at each of AFRC’s 10 host units.
“A lot of people don’t know we have exercise physiologists at each of our host bases and their services are available free of charge to military members, Defense Department civilians and family members,” Ham said during a recent interview at AFRC headquarters, Robins Air Force Base, Georgia.
Exercise physiologists are health professionals who specialize in physical exercise and how it contributes to all-around good health. They know the effects exercise has on all of the body’s various systems and can provide a course of exercises for either fitness or rehabilitation.
“All 10 of our exercise physiologists have graduate-level degrees in kinesiology and are board certified from the American College of Sports Medicine. They are the gold standard in the field and line up with the top people in the private sector,” Ham said. “Exercise physiologists are usually located at hospitals or at human performance settings like professional sports teams and their services usually cost quite a bit of money. We have them available for free to members of the Reserve team at all of our host units.”
Ham said that while the exercise physiologists manage the fitness assessment cells on their installations, they do much more than just conduct the fitness assessments for military members.
“They are not personal trainers,” he said. “They have the knowledge and skills to prevent injuries, to spot postural dysfunctions or biomechanical dysfunctions and they can remove some of the areas that tend to be a pitfall in an exercise program. They can help identify the best training option for an individual and then help tweak the program as it evolves, helping a person understand his or her body and response to physical training.”
Senior Airman Garri Johnson, who works for the 910th Mission Support Group at Youngstown Air Reserve Station, Ohio, had failed three Air Force fitness assessments when she was introduced to Matthew Gruse, Youngstown’s exercise physiologist. Failing a fourth fitness test would have put her in danger of being discharged from the Reserve.
Gruse conducted assessments on Johnson to establish a fitness baseline. The assessments included height, weight and abdominal circumference measurements, push-ups following a metronome rhythm, sit-ups without a toe-bar to establish core strength and overhead squats. The exercises are simple, but a trained eye observing movement mechanics helps identify trouble areas.
“We can figure out, biomechanically, the deficiencies a person has,” Gruse said. “If you want to set somebody up with a run program, you have to get down to the nitty gritty, because you can predict injuries.”
For example, Gruse said if a person’s arms fall forward during the overhead squat, he can predict the Airman has tight lats, the large back muscles that stretch to the sides, and is probably a little weaker in the core. Addressing those deficiencies can help improve overall fitness.
“The important part is when you start running and you don’t account for all these little deficiencies you have,” Gruse said. “They can compound.”
Once baseline assessments are complete, Gruse can point people in the right direction toward their fitness goals, recommending exercises and fitness programs.
“We’re trying to capture stuff like that and set them off,” he said. “We’re not necessarily writing the program for them. We’re giving them all the tools they need when they decide on a program.”
That’s just what Gruse did for Johnson. Following the program he helped her create, she scored a 93 on her last fitness assessment.
Johnson said now she won’t do anything fitness related without consulting with Gruse first.
“If I did it on my own, I’d be all over the place,” she said.
Gruse said he loves getting to play a role in transformation stories like Johnson’s.
“It’s fun watching the turnarounds, because people get so excited,” Gruse said. “They realize it takes hard work, but it’s really not as hard as you think it’s going to be. It’s just getting the consistency down.”
To Airmen who are struggling with fitness goals, Johnson offers some advice: “Don’t be afraid to ask.”
Ken Duhart, the exercise physiologist for the 94th Airlift Wing, Dobbins Air Reserve Base, Georgia, said finding the right exercise program can be especially challenging for Reservists, who might struggle with fitness due to a busy lifestyle balancing family, friends and civilian job responsibilities.
“Reservists, being part-time, don’t have as much time for training compared to active-duty military members,” he said. “I encourage lifestyle changes for Reservists and advise them to start fitness workouts at least 90 days prior to testing along with nutrition and test-specific training.
“Many people say they don’t have time for fitness. I tell people with the hours of time they spend on their phones, they can focus on spending only 30 minutes to an hour a day three times a week on fitness.”
Exercise is just one part of the equation when it comes to living a healthy lifestyle, Duhart said. Nutrition is another facet of healthy living that Duhart said is very important for overall success. He teaches a basic nutrition strategy centered on eating five small meals a day, eating more fruits, vegetables, nuts and proteins, drinking more water, and staying away from things like soft drinks.
“Members have to maintain a good lifestyle being part-time warriors,” he said. “You will have a better lifestyle if you utilize the resources and facilities we have here and keep it simple. We are here to help build resilient Airmen. Look beyond the test. Look to us for your lifestyle change. Mental health, physical health and overall well-being are important.”
(Eric M. White, 910th AW public affairs office, and Senior Airman Justin Clayvon, 94th AW public affairs office, contributed to this story.)