Exercise program designed specifically for Reservists

ROBINS AFB, Georgia -- When I joined the Air Force Reserve, I was prepared to perform my duties, wear the uniform and even keep my hair short. However, I was not ready for the new fitness test. Reality hit me when my squadron superintendent reminded me that, “Oh, by the way, you will be testing this spring.”

I had not run in 14 years, had just turned 40 and had not exercised regularly in a year. And, unlike our active-duty counterparts, I, like most Reservists, did not have an allotted time for exercise during work.

Not to be deterred, I decided to use the fitness test as a way of initiating an exercise program with the goal of safely upgrading my fitness level. The program I developed is specifically designed for a Reservist and takes about an hour and a half per week.

While this program is ideal for upgrading your fitness level prior to the test, a general conditioning program is a better option for a long-term fitness program.

Due to the intense nature of this program, it might not be suitable for people with arthritis, heart problems, diabetes or other chronic medical conditions. Prior to starting any exercise program, consult your primary care manager or specialist.

Program overview: Because the run and waist girth portion of the fitness test combine for a possible 80 points, this plan calls for running three times a week for 15 to 20 minutes at a time. Strength training takes place twice a week, preferably with two days in between each workout. The sample schedule calls for running Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays with strength training on Tuesdays and Fridays, but it can be altered to meet your needs.

Pretest: The Saturday before implementing the program, perform a baseline assessment. Before getting out of bed, determine your beginning resting pulse rate. Training will lower your heart rate. Before 10 a.m., establish a baseline weight and waist girth. Then, do as many push-ups and sit-ups as possible in one minute each with a two-minute rest interval in between. Take a five-minute break, perform a warm-up lap and then time yourself in the 1.5-mile run.

Running program: One of the most efficient ways to improve your running velocity is to utilize an interval-training regimen where you alternate faster running with slow recovery jogs in between. This is the way many middle distance runners train.

The pace for the short bouts of faster running is one that feels moderately hard or a little faster than your 1.5-mile run pretest pace. It is critical that you maintain the short rest intervals so temper your intensity until you get comfortable with a pace that allows you to complete each workout.

A sample run would include a four- to five-minute warm-up of easy jogging followed by six intervals of 30 seconds at a moderately hard pace with 30 seconds of very easy jogging in between. A four- to five-minute jogging cool-down would immediately ensue. The total time of interval running would be six minutes and with the warm-up and cool-down, you could complete the workout in less than 20 minutes.

This interval workout would be performed on Mondays and Fridays and should never be done on consecutive days. The Wednesday workout consists of an easy 15- to 20-minute jog. Early in week seven, run a one-mile time trial. This trial allows you to assess your new fitness level, which helps determine your best pacing for the real test. Add 10 to 15 seconds to your mile time and this is the pace that you might sustain for the full distance. Divide your projected 1.5-mile time by six and you have an established pace for each lap.

Strength program: These segments can be combined with your running routine or done independently. Perform all the repetitions slowly to build more strength and reduce the risk of injury. Simply follow the exercise grid and incorporate the stretching exercises during the rest intervals. All stretching exercises should be held for 30 seconds.

During weeks one through three, for the first set of push-ups and sit-ups, perform one-half of your pre-test maximum. During weeks four through six, for the first set of push-ups and sit-ups, perform three-fourths of your pre-test maximum. Two days before your test, perform one set of push-ups followed by sit-ups with a two-minute rest in between. Perform them with good form as fast as you can in 30 seconds. This trial will allow you to gauge your effort on test day.

Personal results: I was happy to notice an improvement in my fitness level after just one month. Even though running, push-ups and sit-ups can aggravate the lower back, I noticed less lower back soreness as well as increased overall flexibility. After nine weeks:

-- my time in the 1.5-mile run went from 13:30 to 10:28;
-- the number of push-ups I could do in one minute went from 21 to 45;
-- the number of sit-ups I could do in one minute went from 40 to 55;
-- my waist measurement went from 32.5 inches to 31 inches;
-- my weight went from 159 pounds to 156 pounds; and
-- my resting heart rate went from 58 to 46. 

Remember that factors such as altitude, heat, cold, humidity and wind can make a difference in your training pace. As a result, perceived effort is often more important than focusing on a specific training pace. Never run in a thunderstorm. Also, unless you have severe ankle problems or an unsteady gait, running on grass, trails or asphalt is preferable to concrete.

If you dislike running or have a physical limitation, you can substitute bicycling or swimming for the running workouts, but remember that training is activity specific. So, while your fitness level will improve, you probably won’t be able to run as fast as if you ran every workout.

(Major Benjamin is an individual mobilization augmentee assigned to the 72nd Medical Group, Tinker Air Force Base, Okla. He is also a staff psychiatrist at the Oklahoma City Veterans Affairs Medical Center and a clinical assistant professor with the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center. He was a graduate assistant track and cross-country coach and has a master’s degree in exercise science.)

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