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NEWS | June 26, 2020

No gym needed to improve fitness

By Maj. Thomas Piernicky 4th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary)

Maintaining physical fitness is an individual requirement for every service member. Training the body to be prepared for the rigors of combat takes dedication, motivation, and a fitness training plan that pushes your body to be tougher, faster and develop greater endurance. Traditionally, having access to gyms and company organized physical training helped Soldiers meet these goals by providing weights, cardio equipment, and workout programs.

When the COVID-19 pandemic started rapidly spreading across the world earlier this year, many public places including fitness centers, shut down to slow the spread of the virus. Army leadership published guidance promoting social distancing, the wear of personal protective equipment such as face masks and gloves, and reducing the number of personnel that can muster in groups. Moreover, this meant radical changes to how Soldiers execute physical training.

For the Soldiers of the Hood Mobilization Brigade, young leaders like Sgt. Isaac Morris stepped up to ensure his team members could still conduct challenging workouts while observing the protective guidelines established by Army leadership.

“The training program I developed was based off the needs of the Soldiers, which was more cardio, high-intensity workouts and endurance,” said Morris. “We spaced out and made sure we were more than six feet apart. Any equipment we used, we wiped it down with Clorox wipes.”

The HMB is composed of mobilized U.S. Army Reserve Soldiers from the 211th Regional Support Group based out of Corpus Christi, Texas. After taking on the HMB mission in March 2020, Morris and his fellow Soldiers started meeting at the Fort Hood stadium around 6 p.m. on weekdays to conduct physical training. With the gyms closed, Morris took initiative to develop workout routines that relied less on equipment and more on body weight and calisthenic based, High-Intensity Interval Training workouts.

“The biggest challenge I think is just getting people to buy into the workout program,” said Morris. “People were discouraged because of the social distancing and the gyms being closed. A lot of people are not receptive to workouts that don’t require a gym, so you had to get them motivated.”

The Soldiers that participated in Morris’ workout sessions could feel a difference right away and this improved motivation.

“It was really challenging at first,” said Spc. Cristian Zaragoza, a supply clerk with the HMB, who works at the Fort Hood Deployment Readiness Center. “After a while of doing PT every day, you get used to it, but it would always get harder and harder, but it got you better.”

While Morris and his group met after work to conduct PT, other members of the HMB took time during the duty day to participate in exercise challenges. The Soldiers working in the HMB personnel shop would gather in their office at pre-arranged times to improve their fitness.

“We looked up some 30-day challenges, doubled them and completed two since COVID started,” said Sgt. 1st Class Robyn Champion, the non-commissioned officer in charge of the HMB personnel shop. “The first month we did the ab challenge, and it actually increased all of our sit up numbers by quite a bit. Then we did the squat and leg challenge that we are completing this month.”

Champion and her team do not plan to stop once this month’s challenge is over.

“The main goal is to stay in shape while the gyms aren’t open and keep doing challenges,” said Champion.

Fitness goals can help Soldiers focus on areas they want to improve. For Morris and his team, they are using these workouts to prepare for the Army Combat Fitness Test.

“There were a couple things we incorporated in to get ready for the ACFT,” said Morris. “We had to work out with more body weight. We did the leg tuck and you have to engage your core a little more. We did shuttle sprints and those help with your quadricep muscles in your legs.”

Repetitive workout sessions can become boring and lose participant interest. Morris had to be creative to keep the sessions from getting stale.

“We had to get real creative because I ran out of workouts,” said Morris. “I did have to do a little more research to learn more exercises and keep everyone happy and onboard.”

Morris has a history of fitness coaching and has previously worked with elderly people, children, as well as athletes. He is studying to get his personal training certification and uses that knowledge to develop the workout sessions for his team.

“He helped me go back to my fundamentals, to go beyond my limits,” said Sgt. Edwin Salgado, a light wheel mechanic with the HMB. “To push harder than I ever thought, physically and mentally at the same time.”

Salgado said he was using the time on this mobilization to improve his PT score, and Morris’ workouts have helped him produce measurable results. On his most recent PT test, Salgado scored a 298 out of 300 possible points. Results like this turn into motivation to keep striving for more.

“It is mentally challenging because at the end of the day, you are already tired from work,” said Salgado. “We got a group and we motivated each other. It helped burn that extra energy so you can push farther than you thought.”

Morris has noticed a difference in his own performance since starting the group sessions.

“I have been able to recover a lot more quickly,” said Morris. “I have been able to understand my own body, learn different things, and I have been more mobile by stretching more.”

As the summer heat increased, Morris and his team had to cease the afternoon sessions to prevent potential heat injuries. Despite this, many still consult Morris to help them develop workout routines to continue to improve their performance.

“Fitness is a gift that we have,” said Morris. “I feel that everybody should be engaged in some type of fitness, even if you are not living the healthiest type of lifestyle. Staying engaged in fitness or health is key to happiness.”