Stick it to stress by sticking with fitness

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Erica Stewart
  • 30th Space Wing Public Affairs
Even though 47 percent of the Air Force is overweight, with 12 percent stepping over that critical line to becoming obese, it's interesting to some that the leading cause of fit test failure is not what people think.

"The main reason most Airmen fail the Air Force fit test is not because of a high body mass index, but because they cannot pass their mile and a half run," Lindsay Buckalew said.

"Aerobic fitness isn't what it is supposed to be," the exercise physiologist said. "You have to get people to be accountable for exercise, nutrition and behavioral patterns that contribute to the problem."

The tools to complete these goals are to build a strong aerobic base, build muscle and stick with it.

The first thing someone needs to do is build a strong aerobic base through a variety of exercises over time.

"The mistake that most people make concerning running or any aerobic exercise, is that they don't spend the proper amount of time building a strong base from which to work from," Mr. Buckalew said.

4 to 6 weeks of base building, which includes aerobic and anaerobic training, allows the muscle groups to adapt to the weight being put on them.

The correct way to build a strong base is to use cross training techniques.

"Unfortunately for those who don't like to run, you have to run to train your muscle groups and psychologically train your mind, to pass the Air Force fit test run," Mr. Buckalew said. "Don't stop there, you have to couple this training with leg strengthening exercises, interval running and another round of low-impact cardio in order to continue to improve your fitness level."

Interval training uses intervals that can consist of running, swimming, calisthenic exercises, or resistance training. Work intervals, which also include rest intervals, vary depending on the athletes mode of training or need.

Stew Smith, graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, a former Navy SEAL, and author of several fitness and self defense books, suggests a specific interval training plan for military personnel.

"There are some general formulas that can help you determine where you should be, but I personally like to use the following method of determining interval workout components that include distance, run and rest interval, repetitions, and time."

For the complete article and training schedule, go to,13190,Smith_081303,00.html.

After someone has built a strong aerobic base, next is to build muscle through leg strengthening exercises, a necessary part of anaerobic training.

One reason to strengthen the lower body is because of the jarring effect caused by running.

"Most people don't realize that running has 3 to 5 times the impact on the body then a low impact aerobic workout, like riding the exercise bike," Mr. Buckalew said. "Airmen are confused when they've spent the past few months on the exercise bike everyday for 30 minute sessions, and still fail their run."

According to the American Sports Medicine Institute, anaerobic training is shorter than aerobic training in duration (less than two minutes) and oxygen is not a limiting factor in performance. These energy sources involve the utilization of phosphagen and lactic acid by the athlete's muscles; and enable them to perform brief, near maximal muscular activity.

Unlike aerobic functions, anaerobic functions can be trained and improved. The more strength in the muscles means the more resistance to the effect of lactic acid build up--muscle pain.

"When muscles strain from 30 seconds to 2 minutes, they begin to rely on lactic acid--again, any activity beyond two minutes becomes aerobic training," Mr. Buckalew said. "And these energy systems are effectively developed using a training system that utilizes leg strengthening exercises."

An important fact to remember is that by lifting more weight coupled with fewer repetitions builds muscle, less weight and more repetitions improves endurance and cardiovascular health, Mr.Buckalew said.

Now that the body has a strong base and developed muscles, the key is to stick with the program. It's important not to get sidetracked and slack off, which may lead to injury, or feel afraid to begin a strength training program for lack of knowledge of equipment.

For Vandenberg personnel utilizing the fitness center, someone can give an orientation of the fitness equipment to ensure proper use.

Most Vandenberg fitness center employees were trained by Air Education and Training Command last year during a two week Services Physical Fitness Specialist Training and receive continuous training from Mr. Buckalew.

"You should get a program designed for your specific goals," he said.

Once a program is established, stick with it or start a fast journey on the road to a sports injury.

"One common mistake people make is to take time off from the gym and then step back into their regular workout," Mr. Buckalew said. "You're basically starting back at ground zero and increase the likelihood of a sport related injury."

In order to prevent an athletic hiatus, find a gym-buddy to be an accountability factor.

"I go to the gym at 5:30 every morning with my friend and I know that if I didn't have that person relying on me to be there, I would sleep in instead," Mr. Buckalew said.
Exercising on a regular basis not only affects you physically but also improved mental processes.

"You don't meet a person who has a positive mental attitude who doesn't exercise regularly," he said.

According to a study done at Arizona State University on the influence of exercise on mental health, there is now ample evidence that a definite relationship exists between exercise and improved mental health.

For the reduction of anxiety and depression, this is most evident.

"For these topics, there is now considerable evidence derived from over hundreds of studies with thousands of subjects to support the claim that exercise is related to a relief in symptoms of depression and anxiety."

For the full study, go to  

In addition to positive mental health benefits, Airmen can turn and run from the self-defeating behavior that causes them to fail their fit tests by building from a strong base, doing muscle strengthening exercises and sticking with it.

This article is the second in a four-part series on factors that contribute to a healthy, positive mental state.