JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska –
For decades, the Army physical fitness program has been based on two things: passing the Army Physical Fitness Test and meeting height and weight standards.
If Soldiers struggled with either of those, their free time was spent on the treadmill at the gym or crash dieting to drop weight quickly before the next test. However, if they needed an extra push, their command team usually signed them up for a wellness camp, or as a lot of Soldiers have come to know it: “Fat Camp.”
Soldiers have more than likely heard the term before, which stems from a negative association with the camp that helps struggling Soldiers improve their physical wellness.
However, what some probably don’t realize is that this isn’t just for struggling Soldiers but for everyone at all levels. “Fat Camp” is no longer about losing weight; it’s about being totally healthy in all aspects of your life.
For two weeks, I voluntarily participated in the Alaska Army National Guard’s wellness camp held at Camp Carroll alongside seven other Soldiers looking to enhance their well-being.
This is something I have wanted to participate in since I was a brand-new Soldier, because like a lot of Soldiers, I was not born a natural athlete. After seeing my former team leader benefit from the program, I knew it would help me as well.
The Army is now focusing on a new fitness concept called Holistic Health and Fitness, or H2F. This total concept of wellness and fitness helps Soldiers maintain balance in all aspects of their life, which in turn will make them perform better.
The H2F concept is based on five pillars: mental, sleep, nutritional, physical, and spiritual readiness. Its goal is to prevent injuries with the Army Combat Fitness Test and to be the supporting blocks for it. Each chapter in the new Army Field Manual 7-22, Holistic Health and Fitness presents a different pillar with corresponding instructions.
Our course began with a diagnostic ACFT, something I dreaded since its announcement in 2018. It was not the score I wanted, but it was a good starting point for me to measure my progress and knowledge of the test. After the ACFT, we began daily classes on the five pillars of the H2F concept followed by a 90-minute workout. All instructors were experts in their field.
During the course, we learned things like how improving our sleep hygiene enhances our performance. There is currently an entire chapter on healthy sleep practices in FM 7-22, which far exceeds the content in previous versions of the manual.
We were also shown what a well-balanced diet looks like and how to use the food we eat to fuel our workouts. We calculated our individual basal metabolic rates, which tells us how much of each macronutrient to add to our diet to achieve our fitness goals. With the ACFT, it is absolutely necessary to be eating the right foods, otherwise injuries occur and standards are not met.
I really appreciated the camp coordinators bringing in experts like a sports psychologist, social workers from the Steven A. Cohen Military Family Clinic in Anchorage, a personal trainer, nutrition coach and civilian master resiliency trainers from across the Alaska Army National Guard. It was refreshing to hear advice and tips from professionals both inside and outside of our organization.
When it came to physical readiness training, it was not the average PT session. With each workout, we focused on different muscle groups and did exercises tailored to every component of the ACFT. More importantly, we focused on correct weight lifting techniques and form, something that can easily be overlooked without proper training. Our fitness coach also showed us effective ways to row, bike and even run using the Pose method, which is a systematic approach to running in order to reduce injury.
This is all information I never learned as a new Soldier and may not have learned at all without this camp.
More often than not, we as Guardsmen struggle with PT more than active duty Soldiers, because we don’t meet up every day and workout, thus not getting proper training on good weight lifting techniques and healthy running form.
As a Soldier with a chronic back injury, I was (and still am) especially worried about deadlifting and the cardio alternatives. This course gave me the tools to work efficiently in those areas, and I can now deadlift and row with confidence.
In my eight years as an Army Guardsman, I have seen a lot of changes in policy, doctrine, and practices; however, the best one I’ve seen so far is the change in the way we strengthen ourselves physically and mentally.
It has been a few weeks since the course ended, and the class still cheers each other on via group chat. One Soldier increased his ACFT score and passed height and weight with three percent less body fat. Another lost a significant amount of weight and feels so much more confident about herself and her performance as a Soldier.
I highly encourage Soldiers of all ranks, fitness levels and knowledge to attend a wellness camp because no matter what stage of your career you are in, you can learn something from a program like this. I am excited to pass this on to my Soldiers and to lead them to being healthier members of our fighting force. Being Army strong isn’t about just being physically strong anymore; it’s about being strong in all components of your life.