by Chris McCann
JBER Public Affairs
7/22/2011 - JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska -- "Routine is the enemy."
The physical challenges facing first responders and military service members are many and varied. A Sol- dier might be driving eight hours a day, every day - and suddenly is attacked and has to carry a 200-pound comrade to safety 300 meters away. Or climb a stone wall. Or any of countless challenging, full-body exertions that doing pushups and situps don't address.
The military is changing physical fitness tests to reflect this, but how does one best train for all the needed flexibility, strength and agility?
One option is CrossFit, a relatively new method of training. It can be done almost anywhere, with no specialized equipment - and it's attracting thousands of devotees among firefighters, service members, paramedics and, strangely enough, people who hate spending hours at the gym. On Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, civilians, Airmen, Soldiers and family members meet at Hangar 5 to get a thorough workout and then get out.
Air Force Staff Sgt. Allan Parra of the 773rd Logistics Readiness Squadron has been doing CrossFit for about two weeks, he said.
"My wife has been doing it for a year, so I started - I love it," Parra said. "I like the feeling of being fit. And it's fast; I don't want to be at the gym for hours."
The cornerstone of CrossFit is the "Workout of the Day" - most groups will post a WOD in the gym. In most cases, the object of the game is to do it as fast as possible, so since people work out at different times, they will write their time on a whiteboard. Some workouts take as little as five minutes.
Air Force Col. William Routt, former commander of the 3rd Operations Group, started Arctic Crossfit on JBER and trained regularly at Hangar 5.
"CrossFit is about constantly varied functional movements, done at high intensity," he explained. "It specializes in not specializing. (The WOD) is like having a drum of bingo balls - until you take one out, you never know what the workout will be. You draw, and sometimes you say, 'Oh, I hate that one!' but you do it."
An average workout combines cardiovascular fitness, weightlifting, gymnastics and stretching. Medicine balls - 10- to 20-pound leather balls - are often thrown at a 10-foot-high target as "wall ball." They can be used instead of barbells for dead lifts or other lifts, either to vary the workout or as a way to scale down for someone less fit.
"Everything is tailorable," Routt said. "Some people say 'When I get in better shape, I'll try CrossFit,' but you can do it right now. It's scaled to ability and strength."
He gave the example of handstand pushups; a staple of CrossFit, the movement combines balance and flexibility with strength. But hardly anyone can do one without plenty of practice. At least at first, feet can be elevated on a box or a wall.
Rachel Canning, an Army spouse, is a certified CrossFit trainer who helps out on JBER. She said she has been doing CrossFit for about two and a half years.
"It's always different, and it's always challenging," Canning said. "Sometimes your workout is 20 minutes and sometimes it's five. And the community is so awesome - they're welcoming wherever you go in the world."
"The biggest draw for me was the quick workout," said Air Force Capt. Peter Wingerter of the 962nd Airborne Air Control Squadron. "This isn't having to spend two hours at the gym every day - most workouts are 20 minutes or less, five times a week."
Wingerter said he always did well on his physical fitness tests, but CrossFit has had other benefits too.
"My knees aren't hurting as bad as they used to. My back is feeling better," he said.
1st Sgt. Marcus McClain of Company A, 425th Brigade Special Troops Battalion, is also a trainer.
"These are functional movements with real-world applications," he said. "You can do them anywhere, anytime - on a Forward Operating Base, in training, in garrison."
When Routt came to JBER, he discovered there was no good place to do CrossFit (most gyms frown on the dropping of barbells, jumping on things and dragging of tractor tires), but he found an opportunity in Hangar 5.
"I got permission to spend money on some basic equipment," Routt said, crediting the Mission Support Group commander, Air Force Col. Ed Thomas.
Just before he left JBER for Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla., the group received new equipment - jump ropes, climbing ropes, rowing machines and some other things to make the workouts more pleasant.
"We had some word of mouth publicity, and now we have more than 100 people doing CrossFit here regularly and we're hoping for more," Routt said.
The equipment is wonderful, but CrossFit "equipment" can be simple - and may be easier to find in deployed environments.
The main CrossFit website - Crossfit.com - even has ideas for do-it-yourself CrossFit types. For example, the medicine balls can be spendy to buy new. But an old basketball, cut open and filled with sand, then duct-taped shut, makes a perfectly good "medicine ball."
For those who want to get involved - or even try it out - Hangar 5 is always open.
There are plenty of resources online, from workouts people have invented to video tutorials on proper movement, Canning said.
Working with a trainer or at least someone who has been doing CrossFit for a while is important at first, however. There are basic movements that form the foundations, and form is critical to prevent injury and accidents.
"It's good to get in with a class," said Canning.
Arctic CrossFit maintains a Facebook page at facebook.com/pages/Arctic-CrossFit and a website at www.hitechgym.com/ArcticCrossFit. The pages list upcoming events like fundamentals classes, group workouts and the WOD.
Routt started doing CrossFit while he was at Ramstein Air Base in Germany, he said, with a group of Airmen who took fitness seriously.
"I saw the variety and the benefits for me - I was 43 when I started. I'll be 46 soon; this is how I stay in shape and defy age," Routt said.
"It hurts to leave," Routt said. He said he's not sure whether Tyndall has a CrossFit group.
"If they don't, they will soon," he said.