Hiding Intensity

By Capt. Richard Kelley

In LEO/Mil

June 26, 2010

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Capt. Richard Kelley offers five WODs designed to for austere environments and participants who may need incentives to put effort into intense workouts.

The Air Force gets a bad reputation in terms of fitness in the military. A lot of this seems to stem from what some call the “Bike Test Days,” referring to a period when cycle ergometry was the primary means of measuring fitness in the Air Force. While those days are gone, and while fitness standards are slowly improving across the Air Force, the challenge I face as a physical training leader (PTL) is this: “How do you bring high-intensity, constantly varied functional fitness to the masses via our more traditional physical-training (PT) program?”

It’s important to note that, for the purposes of this article, the term “traditional” refers to the idea that simply doing several sets of push-ups and sit-ups and then running for a length of time is enough as a PT program. It should also be noted that this article represents my views and in no way represents the official views of the U.S. Air Force. Finally, when I write about the Air Force, I am referring to what I’ve seen in the mission-support world and what I’ve heard from others in maintenance and ops. I’m sure there are exceptions, especially with special-operations forces.

Of course, one option for bringing functional fitness to the Air Force would be abandoning the traditional program, opening a box on every base and making CrossFit the Air Force PT program. While some bases, such as Luke Air Force Base and Ramstein Air Base, have affiliates, the Air Force is a long way from officially adopting CrossFit as a fitness program. However, I’ve attempted to introduce CrossFit-style workouts and principles to medium-to-large groups of varying fitness levels with minimal equipment available. I’ve include five sample workouts I’ve designed with the intention of encouraging feedback and ideas from other military members and the CrossFit community as a whole.

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18 Comments on “Hiding Intensity ”


wrote …

Fantastic article! I'm an Air Force flight commander with 25-ish folks working for me in the OSS. About two months ago, we began to see PT test failures skyrocket. The squadron commander directed his flt/cc's to begin more focused (and intense) PT 3 days a week, and as an avid Crossfitter I was excited to try some things out (we just did 200m gonzos the other day). I experience the same problems with equipment, but have two ideas on strength training:
1) Emphasis it. They need to come in on their own and do squats/deadlift/presses, otherwise I'm not sure even 50% effectiveness can be achieved on the track/field.
2) Try to work small group strength. One day I split into groups of 6 and sequestered a squat rack in the weight room. We spent 15 minutes each going over squat form and letting them practice. Not as much of a workout but otherwise they'd never know how to do squats. "I never do squats" was a common comment.

I am anxious to try some of your ideas, though I can tell I need to be very organized. Do you have the workout printed or posted somewhere? They are quiet involved and I imagine folks would forget what comes next.

One more idea for a workout: team workouts. These have generated the best feedback for me so far.
Teams of 4, 5 rounds for time. Only 3 people working at once (other than the runs), the 'resting' person is planking. Individual numbers don't matter, only the team total of reps. Teams must also remain together during the runs.
50 Burpees
60 Situps
70 Box jumps (jumped/stepped onto the first bench of the bleachers, about 20" high)
Run 400m
* As an aside, I was on my own and did 20/30/40 of the events. If a team beat me, I'd buy lunch


wrote …

These workouts seem kind of long and sadistic. If this was how I was introduced to Crossfit, I don't think I would like it very much.


wrote …

Interesting...definitely on the right track! Have you attended a Level 1 certification? It is absolutely worth it, especially if you're leading PT sessions. You can do a lot for your airmen by teaching them proper form on all the lifts. PVC pipe is your friend and anyone who went to the Level 1 cert can attest to the fact that PVC can give you one heck of a workout too. In addition, it'll teach you about programming (If you look for the Level 1 guide here in the CFJ it'll explain programming too) CF workouts.

There are quite a few articles here and on the forum about DIY equipment. Pirouettes made out of PVC are extremely inexpensive to produce and provide capability for a ton of workouts. 50 lb bags of sand cost about 3 dollars each; throw one in a rucksack, old backpack, sandbags, etc. for a very inexpensive way to load the squat. You could argue that is actually more useful fitness for life. How often do we lift heavy bars? It's usually groceries, suitcases, boxes of books, etc. Your airmen can provide their own weight in the form of buddy carries, stretcher runs, etc.

My ROTC battalion in college implemented CrossFit as our PT program while I was there and we had some of the problems you faced. If you'd like, drop me a message and we can bounce some ideas off one another.


replied to comment from David Johnson

I'll admit that some of the workouts are long, but as I explained in the article we're still transitioning from the older style of PT sessions to the shorter high intensity workouts. It's an up hill battle that's for sure.

As for being sadistic; well, that could be said about some Crossfit workouts as well.


replied to comment from Robert Silva

I would love to attend a Level 1 Cert, and hope to in the near future.

You're right about the DIY equipment of course. That has always been my plan for the next step, but building that much equipment costs money and storage space; both of which we don't have at the moment.


replied to comment from Jeff Burley

Thanks! You make a good point about the strength training.

In regards to how I organize the WOD: I make sure that I take the extra time necessary to really explain the WOD. The "why", is just as important as the "how" for the session. Some of the workouts require me to lead them through the entire session (FMP), and others, such as the Pace Tempo WOD, I print out and give to them to work through on their own.

I have quite a few more workouts if you're interested.


wrote …

I would suggest looking at militaryathlete.com he has a squad PT section on their for free which is pretty good. Another thing I do I is do the CF WOD like you are supposed to when you include the warmup and the WOD cooldown and skill work you get an about an hour of work. Besides the military way of doing PT isnt 40 minutes of non-stop work. This is an example of what I do with my soldiers

800m run
CFWU (modified) 3rds
10 squats
10 pushups
10 situps
10 pullups
10 supermans
10 Dips
Joint Mobility
Dynamic Stretching

For 10 minutes work on squat form.


Minimum 10 minutes of stretching PNF of possible.
5-10 minutes of foam rolling if equipment exist of purchase baseballs for the same thing.

With that kind of break down you will get your hour or so of working out. You will also start to grease the groove, and promote proper recovery techinques and form on the foundational movements. Obviously modify it to your equipment needs. After a while maybe about 3 weeks of going over the basic movements you go to the gym and start doing some 5x5s that is what I did. Hope this helps.


replied to comment from Richard Sattro

Richard S, not to take anything away from the WODs Richard K developed, but I like and use the approach you describe. A good CF WOD should be able to demolish the participants in 5-20 minutes with few exceptions - at least, that's my preference. That said, I have fewer participants, they all choose to come, and we have more gear options because we have fewer participants.

I really enjoy, and my athletes really enjoy, working the slow lifts and olympic lifts into the mix. I try to hit a slow lift one of every four days.

The skill work for oly movements is the warm up many days. In this respect, I benefitted from the Oly cert and training on the 9 progressions from the Lv II syllabus.

All that said, I'm looking forward to giving these WODs to my athletes, many of which wish for more volume. Paul


wrote …

Richard (Rich?), you've got some good workouts there - I like what I see for a unit PT program. I think team WODs are a great idea for this - most people will slack on themselves WAY before they slack on teammates.

I thought I recognized the barracks (dorms in the AF) in the first pic. I, too, was stationed at Tinker for about three and a half years.

"The Air Force gets a bad reputation in terms of fitness in the military. A lot of this seems to stem from what some call the “Bike Test Days,”"

I think it's more from just a general lack of physical fitness and apparent surplus of "fat bodies" in the Air Force. I was in during and after the bike test (hell, I even remember the five-event PFT and 1.5 miler) and the new "push, sit, run" test didn't seem to really change the climate of physical fitness for the Air Force if you ask me. Of course, the Army has their fair share as well. I think I can attest to this since I've spent time in both services. I'm sure the USMC and Navy do as well.

A career in the Air Force, save for CCTs, PJs and to a small extent pilots, serves little to punish those that lack physical fitness whereas in the Army, specifially the infantry or, more generally combat arms, poor physical performance can cost you your life or that of the guy next to you. I chose infantry there because they are the most prevalent and often the loudest when it comes to shit talking other services and branches therefor you hear them A LOT.

As a Unit Fitness Program Manager during my Air Force days, I too attempted to implement Crossfit into the unit PT program with little success. Somehow I had sold the civ guy who ran our HAWC on Crossfit and he was willing to give me half of a gym and all the equipment (newly purchased) I recommended to have a "crossfit" gym (no afiliation - just a gym geared towards general physical preparedness, wink, wink. Richard, you might want to hit them up on that again - he was going to dedicate half of the "multi-purpose room"). Unfortunately, getting my 300-some-odd squadron mates to actively participate in high intensity, short duration workouts proved much more dificult. A good friend of mine helping me with the program came up with some great WOD type workouts that were well suited to large groups so implementaion wasn't a problem - it was participation. And the worst part about it was that none of the leadership (squadron commander and vice - both LTCs, the DOs - MAJs, the chief - an E9, or most of the E7s and up), supported, encouraged or endorsed it. It's not that they didn't agree with it - they gave their praises to me and my cohorts behind closed doors, but they couldn't push something on the mates that they themselves didn't participate in. In two different squadrons I saw this; absolutely zero participation by the leadership in the unit fitness program that they signed off on. And hell, if the CO doesn't have to go, then why should I right? There were policies put in place directing attendance and every week I would show up to the staff meeting with dismal numbers that recieved nothing more than a raised ebrow, some mumbling and the same old excuses from the flight commanders.

The bottom line is attitude. In my opinion, laziness when it comes to physical fitness, is where the reputation stems from. You can implement the most amazing unit fitness program ever concocted, but until you've got all the mates in it throwing down like most of us do daily in our boxes, it's worthless. And until your leadership gets on board in a real, tangible way, not just with paper and hollow words, the mates aren't going to. Win your leadership; convince them to be in there everyday letting it all hang out and you'll have a succesful unit fitness program.


wrote …

Great article and thanks for sharing the WODs. Have you kept track of PT test performance for the folks you're taking through these workouts?

This post isn't directly related to the article, just hoping some Air Force CrossFitters will see it.

I am currently stationed at Elmendorf AFB where we are lucky enough to have a Colonol who is an avid CrossFitter. He used discretionary money to start a small box in an old hanger and we are working on becoming an affiliate. Most bases aren't this lucky and I know there are a lot of CrossFitters out there in the Air Force crushing WODs in the corner of the base gym getting told not to drop weights, bring rings in, do handstand push ups or move weights closer to the one broken rower and explaining for the 100th time that no, this is not P90X. It's easy to complain about the lack of support and understanding CrossFit faces in the Air Force but it doesn't do us any good. We need to work together to share knowledge, ideas and experience to help CrossFit grow in the Air Force. The goal should be a CrossFit gym on every Air Force base. How cool would it be to PCS to a new base and the first thing you do is find the CrossFit gym and throw down on the WOD? Lets make it happen.

How can we do this? Spread knowledge, get rid of misconceptions(a few ideas on this below). Ask for money(its the Air Force, we have a shit load of it). Ask for space. Ask for equipment. Be persistant and patient. Positively represent CrossFit. Don't exclusively workout at your local box. If we avoid working out on base how will we ever be able to demonstrate that their is a problem? Plus we shouldn't have to pay for something that should be provided for us(imagine the outcry if a base didn't have a gym at all). Invite friends to the gym to try a WOD(properly scaled of course). Keep it simple when exlaining CrossFit to people, start talking about "constantly varying, functional movements executed at high intensity" and watch their eyes glaze over. I have found that "It's a fun and intense workout that will get your body ready for anything and you won't ever have trouble passing your PT test again" works a lot better. If you're a PTL start having your unit CrossFit just like this article talks about. Finally and most importantly lets work to foster a community of CrossFitters at every base.

Here at Elmendorf I have found three attitudes towards CrossFit which I am hoping to overcome and guessing are not unique to Elmo.

The first is that CrossFit is something only "hardcore" athletes and super fit individuals can do. Most people easily grasp the concept of universal scalability. Explaining how a WOD can be accomplished with kipping, jumping or band assist pull ups helps drive this point home and gives them a great example of scaling a difficult and for many an intimidating movement.

The second is that CrossFit is only an anaerobic workout. This misconception is not as common and is slightly harder to deal with. For some people the deadlift is anaerobic strength training and can never be anything else. Even after discussing the time domain unique to CrossFit WODs they still don't understand. Unfortunatley one of the civilians at the Health and Wellness Center on base is of this opinion. For these types of hard headed individuals(idiots) the best approach is to invite them to watch a WOD. Hopefully witnessing a WOD will change their mind.

Third are what I call the CrossFit haters. Dangerous, silly, ineffective - just a few of their reasons for hating CrossFit. Patience and kindness is really all we have to fight against these people. I have gotten in heated arguments supporting CrossFit only to realize later that I accomplished nothing more than further polarizing their beliefs. It's difficult not to tell these people to fuck-off but thats the last thing we should do. Understand their issue, work to overcome them slowly and as with everyone else invite them for a WOD. Of course, at the end of the day CrossFit isn't for everyone.

There is also the issue that the Air Force won't officially back CrossFit because the ACSM doesn't. So far I have not heard of any unit PTLs being told not to take folks through CrossFit workouts. However, if leadership says don't do CrossFit we had all better stop CrossFitting. Instead just do some random and varying functional movements, execute them at high intensity and call it "Group PT."

A few questions for the Air Force CrossFit community:
Does anyone have any good data of PT test scores before and after CrossFit? Does anyone have any good injury numbers or stats of CrossFit versus normal PT and intramural sports? Any heart rate charts comparing WODs and normal PT (the HAWC folks put a lot of stock in their heart rate monitors). I am hoping to combine efforts and make/collect some Air Force related data that will easily demonstrate the advantages of CrossFit. Would love to have a snappy power point presentation eventually.


Jeff Barnett wrote …

I second Richard's recommendation of a timeline of work. That's similar to how we run clases at my box:

WOD discussion
skill work (usually part of the warmup)

Fills about an hour, so your troops would be active for the same customary amount of time. I think the length of your example WODs may necessarily prevent high intensity. Just my .02. As always, bringing constantly varied functional movement to those who haven't experienced it is both very challenging and rewarding. Kudos on fighting the good fight.


wrote …

Richard, good stuff, though they are metcon heavy. Here are some ideas I have used in the same environment to incorporate strength with minimal equipment:

-Ranger or Fire team pushups: four people lay in a square (head to toe) with each persons feet on the back of another. Do a simultaneous pushup.
-Line pushups: Everyone lays head to toe. Put your head between the feet of the person in front of you, his/her feet on the backs of your shoulders. Do a simultaneous pushup, then the last person moves to the head of the line. Do another pushup.
-1 Arm Pushup
-Pistols. Use a partner for balance and scaling. Standing on a bench will eliminate holding the non-working leg up.
-Tire flips: Check your CE folks and see if they have any worn out tires they would donate.
-Log flips, end-over-end strong man style. Most base facilities folks have a couple laying out back.
-Slosh pipes: CE might chip in for those also.
-HSPU and variations
-Push/Pull a car around the parking lot as a team.
-Buddy carries, Fireman's or piggy-back.

I would also suggest a few minutes of PNF at the end. Very valuable and will also to suck up some time to keep the hounds at bay. You might also check out Ross Enamait's Never Gymless for more BW stuff. He put together a very CF like program with BW only.


wrote …

We're experiencing the same here at Edwards AFB. My commander and I are both XFitters and drank the koolaid. Unfortunately, getting senior level aid in setting up a box is daunting, as you've stated. We did a bit of a test however, and used xfit methodology with our folks who scored 80 and below. We compared that with a control group who did the traditional PT you've stated. The control group gained 5.9 points, while the group who adhered to Xfit methodology gained 14.2 points. Being 80 and below group, all of them weren't motivated for high-intensity workouts, but they achieved remarkable results. Most of our workouts were programed for 20min or less. See the article here: http://www.edwards.af.mil/news/story.asp?id=123196506 For further support, I've implimented it within my aircraft maintenance unit and within 3 months or so have gotten all of my folks to pass their PT test with only 3 failures and their results are improving all the time. I would like to get your email and start dialogue with you on the subject, also I have a few others who are Capt types like us that have started a few Xfit gyms at other bases that we should include... if we get enough of us together maybe we can start a grass roots movement. I'm the only Byrem at Edwards AFB, look me up in the global if you're interested.


wrote …

Great stuff Richard. Here's a couple that worked out pretty well for our Command PT.

For Time:
Run 3k-5k or 1.5-3 miles (whatever suits your needs)
Followed by:
100 yd Burpee Broad Jumps (or your name for them)
There will be stragglers on this one based on the run times, but it took about 45 minutes or so (Senior Navy Command).

One that was fun for everyone, and caused a good bit of soreness for many:
10 rounds of 100yd sprints (90 seconds rest starting when last person crosses the finish). Funny thing was, people went faster as the rounds went by due to the competition aspect.

And to everyone else, thanks for the suggestions. We all know how difficult it can be to get people motivated to do something they're really not interested in, and to work with large groups with minimal equipment.


wrote …

If you are trying to sell the Air Forceany military for that example I have a suggestion that works pretty well. I am in the Army so you may have to modify it. What I did was promote a PT test week to test all facets of fitness. Now it is key that you DONT SAY IT IS CROSSFIT! I will explain why in a minute here is the PT test (remeber you can to a standard not subtract)

Wed: Rest
Thu: Operator Ugly per military athlete (It is like what they for the NFL)
Fri: 12 Mile Road March (Some people sub a 5 mile run)

These tests are pretty good at determining all around fitness. They are by no means perfect but for our puposes they will work just fine. The APFT, and the USMC CFT are both official military PT tests so that is not crossfit and you have the added benefit of being able to compare yourself against the Marines. Operator Ugly only has the basic lifts, the most advanced one is the Deadlift. THe road march test long range endurance and in the infantry you just have to be able to do it.

Now what you do is make it a contest because when you do this again in 6 months your goal is to see who has IMPROVED the most from the first test. Whoever as a group made the most improvement will be what you will base your PT program off of. You will find that the default position will end up being CF workouts. You cant really train to these test like you could the APFT, so you can imagine what the different approaches look like. The key is dont sell crossfit, let the programs effictiveness prove it. Crossfit in some circles has a bad rap so donteven mention it until the second PT test. When that come up be prepared and sell the shit out of it with all of your new data points.

There are many ways to do it this is just one way that I found works.

On programming if you need some good WODs go on the boards and someone has a list of all of the bodyweight WOD. I would also suggest atleast 2 heavy lifts a week once your team has the form down.


replied to comment from Sloan Green

From the US Army CF community:
Three CGSC Level I trainers here did a study of the effectiveness of CF for US Army physical training. The research question was "Is CrossFit an
effective fitness program and does it match the U.S. Army’s physical training requirements?"
An excerpt from the Conclusions and Recommendations:
"In this study, after only six-weeks of training using the CrossFit program, on average the athletes increased their level of physical fitness by 20%. One athlete increased her level of fitness by 41%. Moreover, the athletes in this study experienced relatively equal increases across all of the four assessments
each of which required a different type of conditioning and skill set."

You may find the study useful. You may find it at http://cgsc.contentdm.oclc.org/cdm4/item_viewer.php?CISOROOT=/p124201coll2&CISOPTR=580, or write me at mark.e.monroe1@us.army.mil for a PDF copy.

I am one of the trainers at Iron Major Crossfit at Fort Leavenworth. I am one of several who brought CF to the Fort. We have a robust and growing community built on the very strategy you outline in your comment. Happy to help you in anyway I can. Write if you would like to discuss. Best of luck in all your endeavors


wrote …

Great article, couldn't agree with you more Captain Kelley! The Air Force needs a fitness solution that doesn't fit into its normal concept of PT. So much of my time has been wasted going to PT only to get a "real" workout in after the fact because most of our PTL's are told 2 mile runs and 60/60 pushups/situps are mandatory for PT.

Couldn't help but notice Tinker AFB in those pictures, and I could swear that looks like Captain Ashenbrenner in some of those pictures...


Michael Chase wrote …

Great article and great comments! Improvise and innovate! On top of the bodyweight exercises, there are lunges with ammoboxes filled with sand, farmer carries with cinder blocks, sledgehammers on tires, assisted pullups & handstands, crossfitfootball.com gassers. Your burpee-longjumps with bear crawls are great! Pull-in firehoses, etc.

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