By Scott Prater | CSMNG Staff Writer
People hoping to improve their health typically look at the New Year as a great time to jumpstart a fitness routine. Health club memberships typically swell during the year’s first two months, while stationary bikes and elliptical machines tend to fly off the shelves.
By March, however, most resolvers have petered out.
“I think part of the fitness-resolution failure lies in the whole concept of the resolution itself,” said Glen Williams, Army Wellness Center director at Fort Carson. “Jan. 1 provides a perfect starting point for people who want to change things up and try to get fit. The trouble is, people make a fitness resolution without putting a whole lot of thought into the methodology behind it.”
Most people make that resolution to lose 10 pounds, for example. But, after three to four weeks of eating what they think are healthier foods and exercising three to four times a week, they’re left sore, hungry and exhausted. Meanwhile, the scale shows little results for their efforts.
To Williams, this sort of resolution represents a narrow view of what people are trying to accomplish. Alternatively, positive results usually require a change in mindset.
Instead of resolving to lose a certain amount of weight, people should think in terms of wanting to make better choices and being better informed in the long term.
“You can’t manage what you don’t measure,” he said. “So, it’s always good to know your numbers. That way you know what you can improve on.”
Health educators at Fort Carson’s Army Wellness Center typically test their clients for body-fat composition, maximum oxygen consumption (VO2) and metabolic rate. Williams said the AWC uses standardized tests that are particularly accurate, but that people who don’t have access to a military wellness center should be able to find similar, though probably not as accurate, testing equipment and guidance at their local gyms as well.
“When people first come into the Army Wellness Center, we show them their baseline [test results],” he said. “Even if someone was excellent in some category and poor in others, he or she would know their numbers. Then, every time they come in afterward, they’re looking to keep that number or improve upon it. And, that’s where we try to keep them in that maintenance phase.”
The maintenance plan is useful for those who are out of fitness shape and looking to improve their health and happiness, but it’s also helpful for those in relatively good physical condition looking to improve on their performance.
Sgt. Marcus Hatter, a technician in the 627th Hospital Center, for instance, started competing, in what’s known as sprint (shorter distance) triathlons a couple of year ago, but caught the competitive bug and wanted to begin racing in longer distance events up to full Ironman triathlons.
After training, competing and switching to a healthier diet, Hatter realized significant improvements. But, he learned he could perform better and improve faster if he used fitness testing services.
“We’ve been monitoring his progress using the body-fat composition test and the VO2 test,” said Sierra Faulk, health educator. “We test him about every six to eight weeks and he’s continually improving.”
That consistency has helped Hatter excel in the fitness world.
Since he began his new fitness regimen, he’s competed in multiple half marathons, a full marathon, a triathlon and a half-Ironman triathlon.
“A person can exercise and feel tired, but they don’t know if they’ve put in the proper intensity to reach their goal,” Glen said. “Whereas, we can judge that based on the testing and monitoring we do.”
Hatter said the first time he ran 5 miles as a soldier, he finished in roughly an hour.
“I thought it was a long run,” he said, thinking back. “But now, I can run 5 miles for breakfast and do another 5 in the afternoon. The progress has been incredible. I never thought I could do this. It’s all new to me.”
He now consistently runs 5 miles in about 37 minutes and recently completed a 10-mile race in 1 hour and 12 minutes
“Those are noticeable changes,” he said. “I feel great, especially training here at elevation. I felt that change when I went back to Ohio. My exertion level here is so much higher.”
Besides providing respiratory and metabolic rate monitoring, the AWC and health centers at many military bases also teach a number of health-related classes.
“When I first saw their promotional posters at the gym, I thought about visiting them,” Hatter said. “Then I learned they offered nutrition classes and body mass testing and metabolic rate tests. Now, I’ve gotten to the point where I need those objective measurements, where I can see my progress and it motivates me to keep getting faster.”
When friends and coworkers see him eating salads, fruits and vegetables at the dining facilities he often fields questions like, “Where do you get your protein?”
“It’s funny when you get to tell them that broccoli and beans contain plenty of protein,” he said. “I’m living proof that this type of fitness maintenance works. I’ve been dropping my run times and improving every month.”
Hatter tallied a body-fat index of 13 percent on his first test at AWC. In the past six months, he’s been as low as 7.8 percent and is maintaining at around 8 percent.
“That’s a huge jump, considering he’s already a pretty lean person,“ Faulk said. “To drop six more percent is significant in terms of the amount of work you have to do. He went from being moderately lean to being ultra lean.”
A lot of the change has come from nutrition. Hatter explained that he used to down burgers, fries and pizza following workouts, but now heads directly to the veggie bar at his local dining facility, which recently expanded its size and offerings of fruits, vegetables, beans, seeds and salads.
“This diet really helps in recovery, plus I know I’m treating my body right,” Hatter said. “Above all, having these objective tests help keep me accountable. And, that’s key for maintaining and improving.”