Fitness program motivates service members in Afghanistan
By Capt. Mike Barth
CAMP SABALU-HARRISON, Afghanistan — “Get some!” screams a fit Sailor in high socks and Converse All Stars as her training partner grunts through lifting an absurd amount of weight above his head for what seems like the 500th repetition of the morning. He slams the weight to the ground in triumph and doubles over catching his breath, knees shaking, chest heaving, but with a huge smile on his face.
Crossfit has swept through Camp Sabalu-Harrison like a wildfire, igniting the fuse of fitness in a large group of committed service members here who are looking for a new way to test their limits and improve their physical fitness.
Camp Sabalu-Harrison is a small camp on the outskirts of Bagram Airfield where an estimated 2,000 service members live and work. Due to the location of the camp and limited availability of gym equipment, the service members banded together in early February 2012, to establish an area where they could hold Crossfit classes. The small group of 15 members, with limited equipment and one class a day, has grown to four classes a day, a social media page, and a complete indoor/outdoor Crossfit gym.
Crossfit seems to inspire deep emotion from its supporters, as well as some staunch naysayers. Critics of the program claim that the exercises are only for the super-athletic and would not be the type of fitness they are comfortable doing, but local supporters say otherwise.
“Anybody can do Crossfit,” said Master Sgt. Robert A. Thiele, noncommissioned officer in charge of the intelligence section of Task Force Protector. “There are workouts designed for kids all the way up to senior citizens, and elite athletes.”
Crossfit’s workout of the day, or WOD, is designed to push the participant to work harder each day either by increasing the weight, or reducing the time in which their WOD is completed. While the format requires participants to push themselves, it also allows and encourages them to make smart decisions in the choice of weights or speed at which the exercises are completed. During each group session, Crossfit mentors readily assist those that are new to the program. They help with the participants form and movement techniques, and act as a source of encouragement by shouting and pumping the group up with positive enforcement.
“There are such a wide variety of workouts, like Olympic lifting, gymnastics, strength training, and cardio that you can excel in one event that a stronger partner may struggle in,” said Capt. Kevin M. Hartford, intelligence officer, Task Force Protector. “Because of the diversity, everyone can do Crossfit.”
Proponents say the biggest misconception about Crossfit is that it will not help service members reach their fitness goals or maximize their score during physical fitness tests, or PT tests.
“I’ve lost about 10 pounds and my PT test went up from 202 to 255 in five months,” said Sgt. Dustin J. Majors, intelligence analyst, Task Force Protector. “I’ve done my best on pushups and sit-ups ever since I’ve been in the Army.”
The high intensity WODs often last less than half an hour and combine both cardio and strength training in one workout. This type of physical training assists service members preparing for their PT test by raising their endurance, cardiovascular strength and mental toughness.
“I never really saw the gains in terms of improving my overall PT score and run times in my physical fitness prior to Crossfit,” said Hartford. “In the past year, I’ve dropped over a minute off my run and scored my first perfect score on a [Army] PT test.”
Some would-be Crossfitters may never attempt the workout due to intimidation. They may see a group doing the exercises, grunting, climbing ropes, running with a barbell, or doing box jumps and not have the confidence in themselves to do the exercises, so they disregard Crossfit before they ever give it a try.
According to Thiele, the Crossfit mentors are aware that first timers are wary of the exercises. Instructional classes are taught to new members enabling them to learn the more complex moves, and adjust their techniques allowing the new member to work out safely to receive the highest gains from their efforts.
Crossfit groups thrive on gains of personal records, called PRs. This means that the person doing the exercises has placed the fastest time, most repetitions for a certain block of time, or heaviest lift that they have ever completed. These PRs are then compared among others in the group as a means of friendly competition and inspiration.
“The work outs are set up in a way that every type of athlete can gain from the exercises,” said Hartford. “Regardless of age, sex or athletic ability, Crossfit will give you the explosive strength and endurance needed during military training.”
Service members at Sabalu-Harriso now seem addicted to the Crossfit routine. Instead of talking about work during their meals, they talk about their workouts, and then talk about their workouts at work, and mumble “one more rep, WOD, and no more burpees,” in their sleep.
Crossfit Sabalu-Harrison offers a strenuous workout, camaraderie, and a proposed life style of alternative health and fitness for the service members who have the courage to overcome their objections and spend twenty minutes working out as hard as they possibly can.