NEWS | Jan. 11, 2011

CrossFit program set to kick-start New Year’s resolutions

By Staff Sgt. Daniel Bowles Joint Base Charleston Public Affairs

Ringing in the New Year with resolve, two fitness-crazed master sergeants are hoping to kick-start an exercise revolution on Joint Base Charleston.

Their New Year's baby is CrossFit, an explosive new arrival to help incinerate holiday malnutrition damage and much more.

Master Sgts. Steven Hart, 628th Communications Squadron first sergeant, and Scott Levesque, 628 CS unit fitness program manager, have tag-teamed the new initiative to offer what has garnered a 60 percent "excellent" pass rate for physical training scores in their squadron to the entire installation.

Although somewhat similar to any run-of-the-mill cross-training program mixing strength and endurance training, CrossFit goes leaps and bounds beyond others, they said. What's different are the results.

"I increased my PT score by 15 percent this year," said Sergeant Hart. "I maxed out my run time, and I hadn't run for two months prior to the test! When I did run, it wasn't for more than 1,600 meters - mostly 400 meter sprints - and my most recent PT test score was 100 percent."

One of the key aspects of the program is the semi-competitive atmosphere which pushes people to succeed, Sergeant Hart said. At the same time they have the flexibility to go at their own pace when needed. The combination results in a program which helps to identify weaknesses and offers plenty of opportunities to improve on them.

"I used to be a marathoner, and the feeling of euphoria and runner's high you have after completing something like that is unbelievable ... Let me tell you, CrossFit blows that out of the water!" he said. "When you get done with a workout and you look at yourself and say, 'I just dead lifted 300 pounds that many times,' or 'I just ran that with a 25-pound vest on' ... it gets addictive to say the least."

With all that euphoria spinning around Sergeant Hart's head, he is still an advocate of staying grounded in the basics of physical fitness.

The CrossFit program is no magic bullet, he said.

"You can't go out and eat cheeseburgers and french fries on this program and still expect to get those results," he said.

More so, the program is geared to enable serious participants to reach the next level of their physical fitness - making a bulldozer-like assault on the common-place "plateau" syndrome.

"You never know what you are going to get with this program. One day you might come in and run a 5K. Another you might be doing wall balls with dead lifts," said Sergeant Hart.

It's a completely unpredictable approach - "just like life," said his counterpart, Sergeant Levesque.

"In life, you never know what is going to happen," he said. "One day your wife or girlfriend might call you and ask you to pick up 20 bags of potting soil. What's that going to weigh? Like 30 pounds each? How are you going to feel when that's done? Are you going to throw your back out?"

Sergeant Hart, even as a prior marathoner, agreed. He said that CrossFit is what broke him out of his own fitness mindset and mold.

"There was no way that I could have done the things I'm doing now when I started," he said. "Take this for example," pointing at a two foot-tall wooden box sitting against the wall. "I couldn't have jumped up and down from that thing. I didn't realize it, but the tendons in my legs were just so conformed to one range of motion."

The sergeants said not only do the benefits of CrossFit reach past the confines of the gymnasium; they extend beyond the gates of JB CHS as well.

"There are seven CrossFit gyms in the Charleston area alone. And that's all they do - just CrossFit," said Sergeant Hart. "We know a guy who went from 360 pounds to 210."

Poor physical fitness is not an option in the military. One way or another, the scales will tip - for the better or worse of a member's military career. Having been on a medical profile himself and needing physical fitness improvement, Sergeant Levesque is well aware of that fact.

"Sergeant Hart had been trying to get me to do CrossFit for a while, but I wasn't really into the idea," he said. "I think the biggest hurdles for me were thinking that I wasn't ready. You might go online and see a workout with 50 pull-ups and think, 'I can't do that!' It's intimidating."

All that changed after Sergeant Levesque took a practice PT test and saw he was far off the mark from where he wanted to be. It was the motivation he needed to try something radically different, he said, and the investment in CrossFit paid off in a big way.

His PT test score ramped up 13 percent after two months on CrossFit.

"No one could change my fitness but me," said Sergeant Levesque. "My friends can't make my score go up. My commander can't make my score go up. Only I can make my score go up."

Eventually, the craze also caught on throughout the entire squadron. As the 628 CS unit fitness program manager, Sergeant Levesque said he has seen the statistics across the squadron take on a dramatic upward trend.

"We have something around a seven percent average increase in test scores overall," he said. And all that was accomplished without the use of any weights, Sergeant Hart added.

"The dedication and hard work put in by the Airmen in our squadron has really paid off. Sergeant Hart and I didn't change the people in the squadron, just what they were doing to get in shape and stay in shape," Sergeant Levesque continued. "Currently, we have a 95 percent pass rate, and half of our failures are individuals that just arrived to the unit. I'm also optimistic that number will change for the better."

The Joint Base Charleston CrossFit program is envisioned to build on those documented successes by making the benefits available to the entire base.

The launch pad for the program resides in the Globemaster gym at the Fitness and Sports Center on the Air Base. Reaching from floor to ceiling, a privacy divide separates the CrossFit area from the rest of the basketball court. It's their turf, and their rules - but all in the interest of safety.

A staple of the fitness program is to execute it in the safest possible environment, and the area is restricted from use unless a certified instructor is present to guide the workout.

Individuals attending for the first time will receive a training class - followed by two weeks of coaching to get up to speed. Participation will be limited to active-duty members at first with sessions lasting approximately 30 minutes, including warm-up and cool down.

With the new CrossFit program expected to launch in the latter part of January, the two enthusiasts are hoping their "if you build it they will come" concept will grow. As more instructors become available, classes are planned for all personnel.

The ultimate goal is to hold three to four classes a day, according to base fitness staff. Eventually, tiered classes are envisioned to accommodate beginner, intermediate and advanced participants.

The two master sergeants said they are on the lookout for any other certified instructors looking to contribute to the new program, and there is also a need for able-bodied coaches. Initial coach tryouts were held Jan. 5.

The class schedule and sign-up sheet are expected to be available at the Fitness and Sports Center front desk by the end of the month.

To speak with a fitness center representative regarding CrossFit, call 963-3347.