I just returned from my two-week USAF Annual Tour in San Antonio. I didn’t tell many people where I was going, or said I was off to Fiesta, which was great despite questionable weather.
San Antonio is a lot like Tucson – similar vibe, similar mix of people, great food, more water (humidity and a river), and great pace of life. Tucson’s mountains are prettier, and San Antonio has more grass. We have San Xavier del Bac, they have the Alamo. Great margaritas and salsa in both places. It’s an easy transition.
I also really like my USAF job, which I won’t explain too much except to tell you what I was doing for the last two weeks. The Air Force issued guidance last fall disallowing CrossFit and other “extreme conditioning program” group classes in their fitness centers. Never mind that the Army and Marines have fully embraced CrossFit, and that over 30 AF bases have programs, not to mention scads of people doing P90X videos in a group; the physiologists have spoken, and the service is risk-averse. I collected a bunch of data that showed minimal injury rates and loads of results. In the end, I am not sure whether my work succeeded or not, but I learned a few interesting tidbits along the way.
1. Strength and work capacity trump aerobic capacity any day.
I don’t run much anymore. I used to run 25 miles per week, more in marathon training season, and I ran 5k in about 23:30 on average. I won the Sports Day 5k (for females, anyway) in 22:46 with no special running training, against dedicated runners. I say this not to brag (yeah!) but to point out the value of strength for all-out efforts, and that run was definitely all-out.
2. Many people focus on the wrong metrics.
The Air Force exercise physiologists tend to obsess over VO2 max as the holy grail of fitness. VO2 max measures aerobic capacity. At DNA, we know that work capacity is a better measure of fitness than VO2 max, which is why our benchmarks include plenty of strength – 5RM, 3RM, 1RM, and fun times like the DNA Total and Dave’s 5-5-1 (5 min snatch test / 5 min double unders / 1 mile run. ) I also don’t buy morbidity as a metric for health outcomes, but that’s another discussion.
3. The Air Force has a long way to go to close the loop on nutrition and fitness.
People like their junk food, and food is usually tied with religion and culture. Some people are religious about their food. Therefore, the fitness people tiptoe around the idea of suggesting changes to dietary habits. They are going out of their way to put the healthy foods up front in the dining halls and make it easier for Airmen to choose the salad over the burger, but the burger is still definitely there, and I don’t get the impression that the courage is present to flat out tell people that if they eat better, they will feel and perform better, and the opposite too (if you eat like sh*t…) I’m not saying that the other services have nailed this one either, but it’s an area for improvement.
4. The power of the group dynamic is real, but you have to try it to understand it.
The service just dumped $2m on Fitness on Request, which is a kiosk system with videos and a virtual instructor, who can’t correct, coach, or cheer you on. I’m interested to see how well it works. In the hurry to spend expiring money, somehow the customer demand got lost, particularly the crescendo of voices who want the community of a hard group workout – not a machine. The truth is hard to quantify, as noted by Glassman; others have written about the motivation of CrossFit, but bottom line is that some activities are most fun in a group, and people like to be with other people, especially when sharing suffering. The intangible magic behind group training at DNA and thousands of CrossFit affiliates, as well as martial art centers, sports teams, and military training facilities, and law enforcement academies drives us beyond our perceived limits, making us stronger and more confident as we encourage our suffer-mates to their own victories. Nobody seems to have a clue how to include this powerful factor in a business case spreadsheet, but it’s the not-so-secret to creating a strong organization and should not be ignored.
5. It’s much more fun and easy to work your tail off when you’re immersed in a subject about which you are passionate.
6. Never take good equipment for granted.
I ripped my thumb on some nasty pull up bars, swung and snatched kettlebells with polished stainless handles, and attempted to clean a non-Olympic (non-spinning) bar, before I found some decent ones to lift. We’re spoiled by having all the nice toys in one playroom.
7. Recess is awesome.
In talking with lots of AF people who use CrossFit and similar programs daily, I realized that we all love recess, and that an hour in the gym is happy time (well, mostly). I figured this out a while back and it led to a career change, but it’s amusing to recognize how many people still love to go play with their friends, even if it involves a lot of effort.
Anyway, it’s good to be back. I missed the DNA crew and was ready for a break. We’ll see what comes out of my two weeks of fun; I just hope that the “chair force” moves further down the fitness road and embraces group strength training, realizing that it’s not “extreme” – it’s “essential” for great quality of life and overall fitness.