Europe-based troops to test new Army fitness program
By MARK PATTON | STARS AND STRIPES Published: February 15, 2011
WIESBADEN, Germany — Soldiers in Europe might not be the latest blue-chip football prospects, but this week some troops are trying out a pilot fitness program similar to a Division-I athletic program.
Four 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team units have been selected for a trial run of Mission Essential Fitness, in which soldiers rotate through high-intensity quick workouts created to strengthen muscles used in everyday movements.
Too often, soldiers lift weights trying to get big, but with no real plan, said Doug Briggs, program developer and director of human performance at Fort Bliss, Texas.
“For the average soldier, that’s not at all what they need,” he said.
Dan Gasparino, IMCOM-Europe recreation program manager, said Briggs’ fitness plan echoes a college football team’s conditioning. Generally speaking, an offensive lineman has a different fitness plan than a wide receiver.
“The object is to train them to do the types of things they would do downrange ... running two miles may not help a tanker prepare for deployment,” Gasparino said.
For example, an artilleryman — who loads rounds into a Howitzer, among other things — would work in a rotational setting using dumbbells or kettle balls while standing and performing a side-to-side movement to strengthen oblique muscles.
An infantryman’s exercises would include plyometrics, which incorporate hops, jumps and bounding movements. These would be used to replicate leaping across ditches and jumping to grab walls and pull themselves over. Agility work would allow for faster, more accurate foot movements.
Briggs’ program falls in line with a new physical training doctrine that the Army published in August, emphasizing strength, endurance and mobility instead of focusing only on running, sit-ups and push-ups.
The program has already seen success at Fort Bliss, where some units incorporated it into their routine physical fitness training, and 173rd representatives and fitness center personnel in Bamberg and Schweinfurt, Germany, and Vicenza, Italy, are learning the different aspects of the training program this week. In turn, they will teach soldiers the new PT routine starting Monday.
About 350 soldiers will participate in the pilot program, which concludes at the end of May.
Master Sgt. Matt Michelson, one of the 173rd soldiers responsible for implementing the program in the brigade, said Mission Essential Fitness looks promising.
“The Army says train as you fight, but if the physical fitness program isn’t catered to that then you’re not moving forward in that principle,” Michelson said.
Mission Essential Fitness is designed to be adaptable to any location without much equipment. Soldiers can run the exercises using objects ranging from ammunition canisters to logs.
Before the training begins in earnest in Europe next week, the participating soldiers will undergo testing on such things as agility, speed, strength, weight and heart rate before they start the program. They will be retested at the end of the program, with U.S. Army Europe leaders being briefed on the three-month effort soon afterwards.
USAREUR and IMCOM-Europe officials will then determine the viability of the program and decide whether to expand it across Europe.
The new PT program might also benefit the soldiers when the long-rumored new Army fitness test comes online.
Pilot testing starts March 1, according to Kelly Schloesser, spokeswoman for U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command.
The testing will take place at seven to 10 locations and run though the summer before the final recommendation is submitted, Schloesser said Friday.
For more information, e-mail Briggs at: Douglas.Briggs1@us.army.mil
A group of 3rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division soldiers conduct group Mission Essential Fitness training outside at Fort Bliss, Texas, in December. Some Europe-based soldiers are taking part in a pilot program to test the training, which is tailored to the individual soldier´s needs.
David Poe/U.S. Army