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Chief Warrant Officer 2 Isaac Surratt with the 2nd Battalion, 502nd Aviation Regiment in Mannheim, Germany, performs a “VO2 max” test Thursday at the Heidelberg Wellness Center.

Chief Warrant Officer 2 Isaac Surratt with the 2nd Battalion, 502nd Aviation Regiment in Mannheim, Germany, performs a “VO2 max” test Thursday at the Heidelberg Wellness Center. (Steve Mraz / S&S)

Chief Warrant Officer 2 Isaac Surratt with the 2nd Battalion, 502nd Aviation Regiment in Mannheim, Germany, performs a “VO2 max” test Thursday at the Heidelberg Wellness Center.

Chief Warrant Officer 2 Isaac Surratt with the 2nd Battalion, 502nd Aviation Regiment in Mannheim, Germany, performs a “VO2 max” test Thursday at the Heidelberg Wellness Center. (Steve Mraz / S&S)

Stars and Stripes reporter Steve Mraz breathes into a device that determines his resting metabolic rate — the amount of calories his body burns at rest.

Stars and Stripes reporter Steve Mraz breathes into a device that determines his resting metabolic rate — the amount of calories his body burns at rest. (Steve Mraz / S&S)

A soldier performs a flexibility test Thursday in Mannheim, Germany.

A soldier performs a flexibility test Thursday in Mannheim, Germany. (Steve Mraz / S&S)

MANNHEIM, Germany — They stretched, ran, flexed and strained.

Now, they know what they need to do to get healthier, slimmer, faster and stronger.

Last Thursday, about 20 soldiers with the 2nd Battalion, 502nd Aviation Regiment in Mannheim had their fitness levels assessed by staff from the Heidelberg Wellness Center.

The soldiers’ endurance, flexibility, strength and body composition were measured during a series of tests administered by Heidelberg Wellness Center Director Todd Hoover and his staff, along with other testers from Heidelberg and Mannheim.

With an average age of about 32, soldiers from the aviation regiment aren’t young bucks by military standards. So unit leaders jumped at the opportunity to have their soldiers’ fitness levels measured.

“We have experienced guys who have been in the Army 15, 20 years,” said Master Sgt. Hollie Robinson, of the aviation regiment. “So for us, it was important for our overall health and to get a good assessment so we can better our lifestyles. We are bettering ourselves for the Army.”

The fitness test bridges the gap between what the Army Center for Health Promotion and Preventive Medicine-Europe does in its community health perspective and what is done for soldiers medically. The overall “Big Army” objective is that the Army has a healthy, fit force, Hoover said. Also, having troops in shape saves money and improves retention by reducing the number of troops who do not meet body weight or physical training test requirements.

“One reason is to reduce injury,” Hoover said. “Another is that we create a force that is able to mobilize when we need them.”

The test results will allow the unit to tailor its physical training program to improve problem areas.

“They can look at it and determine where they can best spend their energies when they’re doing unit PT,” Hoover said. “We can tell them for example, let’s say if flexibility in the unit is relatively low, then that’s an area they definitely — as a group — want to focus in on.

“The objective is we can do this as a unit and find out [the problems].”

Along with a unit fitness assessment, each soldier gets individual results that can be used to tailor a personal program.

Sgt. 1st Class Ricky Jackson, production control NCOIC of the regiment, did excellent on his oxygen volume test, in which a breathing mask was placed over his nose and mouth while jogging on a treadmill. It was the body composition test that got Jackson’s attention.

“I’ll tell you what, it will give you a pretty accurate account of where your fitness level is at — even when you think, you’re up high,” he said. “... My body fat, I was a little bit surprised with. You look in the mirror and think, ‘I’m pretty good.’ I was a little bit surprised at how much body fat I had.”

Soldiers who want to get a better run time on their PT test now know the specific heart rate they have to exercise at to improve cardiovascular endurance.

“I’ve been reading books all over the place — how to lose weight, how to improve my running,” Robinson said. “Now I come over here, take the test and they tell me, ‘Here’s what you need to do. Here’s your program. Here’s your eating program.’ No matter what, if you do this, this and this, you can achieve your goals.”

The Army Center for Health Promotion and Preventive Medicine-Europe wants to replicate fitness test abilities at wellness centers throughout Europe, and wellness centers in Stuttgart and Landstuhl are coming online with similar services, Hoover said.

He can run, but can he get a grip?

If I ever get in one of those “fight or flight” situations, I found out that choosing to haul butt is the right move for me.

This potentially life-saving information came my way after going through a fitness assessment recently at the Heidelberg Wellness Center.

The test results showed that my cardiovascular capacity is “excellent” but my muscular strength is “below average.”

Todd Hoover, director of the wellness center, affixed a “Top Gun”-like breathing mask around my nose and mouth and got me running on a treadmill to determine my “VO2 max.” Although it sounds like some sort of hair product my wife uses, the test determines how efficiently your body is able to use oxygen. As it turned out, I’m no Lance Armstrong but that I’m in “above average” cardio shape compared to the general population.

For the strength portion of the fitness test, I was ready to display my massive pecs, bis and tris on some sort of bench press-type test.

However, my dream of throwing up mass amounts of weight was shattered when Hoover handed me a device that measured my grip strength.

Grip strength?

I’m sure there’s some scientific explanation that says your grip strength is a reflection of your overall strength, but come on. How many guys do you see at the gym flexing their hands in the mirrors? How many grip strength contests do you see on ESPN?

If I sound bitter, it’s only because the test showed I have the grip-strength of an 82-year-old woman with osteoporosis. I guess it’s time for me to start crushing more skulls with my bare hands.

If that wasn’t enough, the next test had me yanking up on a handle attached to a chain that measured my back strength. Without getting in to the humiliating details, let’s just say I didn’t do so well.

Knowing from my fitness test (and several movies aired on TBS) that I can run but I can’t hide, I need to work on getting stronger. Hoover fixed me up with an individualized workout plan and diet — based on my test results — that will bulk me up and get me stronger. You can bet I’ll work some grip-strength exercises into the plan.

So the next time a “fight or flight” situation arises, I won’t have to solely rely on my cardio endurance. I’ll have impressive grip strength, which is more than enough to strike fear in the heart of any would-be foe.

— Steve Mraz


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