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Fitness experts: Start training now

By Staff Sgt. C. Todd Lopez

WASHINGTON (Aug. 28, 2003) -- Air Force fitness experts say airmen must begin preparations now if they want to pass the new fitness evaluations in January.

"They need to start training today for year-round fitness to meet mission readiness. They must include running, push-ups and crunches into their program," said Sylvia Goff, an exercise physiologist at the Bolling Air Force Base, D.C., health and wellness center.

The new Air Force fitness evaluation program, which will replace the cycle ergometry test for most airmen, involves running, push-ups, crunches and a measurement of body composition.

Goff said the new fitness standard may cause concern for airmen who have not been to the gym for some time, or who may have never gone.

"There are several concerns," Goff said. "Some are afraid that they will not be able to meet the … standard because many don't exercise on a regular basis. Others are concerned about injury they may receive from running."

Tammy DeCoux, the program manager for the Air Force Services Agency’s fitness and sports office, said airmen do not need to be concerned about the safety of running -- if they do it correctly.

"Running is not an inherently dangerous activity," DeCoux said. "A running program should be entered into slowly at first, with increasing progression of intensity and duration as conditioning occurs. Mild injuries caused by running are often due to things such as inadequate warm up, cool down or stretching; improper technique; poor running shoes; and over-training."

Shin splints, a common ailment associated with new runners, is an inflammation of the tibia. Symptoms include pain in the front portion of the lower leg. DeCoux said the injury is caused by overuse and the shock from running on hard surfaces.

"The harder the running surface, the greater the shock," she said.

Treatment includes rest and ice, if needed, DeCoux said. Prevention involves varying your running surface, proper stretching, proper shoes and conditioning.

Airmen who are completely unfamiliar with physical training and conditioning, or with proper diet and weight-loss techniques, can find help on base. Local health and wellness centers, as well as fitness centers, can play a key part in helping airmen prepare their bodies for the demands of the new fitness standards, said DeCoux.

"It is the role of the (health and wellness centers) to develop fitness programs for both individuals and for units," DeCoux said. "Base fitness centers can provide … the equipment and guidance needed to carry out those fitness programs. Additionally, we have fitness experts in the centers to help individuals train, one-on-one."

Goff said wellness centers also offer programs on nutrition, healthy eating, sensible weight loss, tobacco cessation, remedial strength and aerobic training.

For airmen who want to start preparing for the running portion of the fitness evaluation, Goff recommends combining walking and running.

"Alternate running and walking until you are able to sustain a run," she said. "Some will be able to sustain the run a lot sooner than others. Once you can sustain the run, you want to increase your speed by no more than 10 percent per week."

People who have been sedentary for an extended period of time or those who have health risk factors should obtain a physician's clearance before beginning an exercise program of any kind, she said.