By Rose L. Thayer
Killeen Daily Herald
FORT HOOD — It’s hard to read a military-oriented magazine these days without finding a reference to CrossFit, a strength and conditioning exercise system based on functional movement.
The regimen has fans around the world, but U.S. service members remain particularly devoted — so much so that the Army commissioned a 2010 study on the efficacy of CrossFit, finding it to yield better results than traditional training. The Army also had to issue a mass message banning the “toe shoes” popular among CrossFitters from physical training earlier this year, after they began popping up in formation.
Military devotees cited CrossFit’s emphasis on functional fitness and variety as reasons for its success.
Lt. Col. Scott Gerber, commander of 3rd Squadron, 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, tested the CrossFit waters more than two years ago at Fort Hood after losing interest in his daily physical training.
“I woke up and thought, ‘If I run down Battalion Avenue one more time, I’ll just keep on going,'” he said.
Gerber decided to experiment with CrossFit, which already was gaining popularity in the military. He looked up the CrossFit workout of the day on its website and invited some fellow leaders to sweat along with him.
Gerber became an instant fan.
“We were lying on the gym floor sucking wind, thinking this might make pretty good (physical training),” he said.
Created in 1995 by Greg Glassman, each CrossFit daily workout challenges the entire body in high-intensity intervals. Workouts include real-life movements such as squats, weight lifting and sprinting, and last between 10 and 30 minutes.
A 2010 Department of the Army study on the efficacy of CrossFit in the military found it increased both work capacity and output by at least 20 percent among its 14 participants, on average, compared to traditional training.
In 2006, Glassman estimated that about 7,000 U.S. service members were using CrossFit regularly, according to the study, which found that number had grown exponentially since.
Gerber said senior Fort Hood leaders have supported units wishing to incorporate CrossFit into their fitness routines, even providing about $90,000 for CrossFit equipment now housed in the Applied Fitness Center.
III Corps and Fort Hood Command Sgt. Maj. Arthur J. Coleman Jr. said he embraced the workout because it prepares soldiers for the physical tasks required of them in combat.
“I see it as a very good thing,” he said. “It’s not a fad, it’s a way of life. … It tailors to what we do on the battlefield.
“I’ve done three combat tours, and I’ve yet to do a sit-up in combat,” he said, adding he incorporated CrossFit into his squadron’s physical training during its recent deployment to Iraq. “It’s a huge step in the right direction.”
Maj. Jim Kemter, Regimental Headquarters and Headquarters Troop, 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, said he instantly noticed improvements on his Army physical fitness test when he began CrossFit nearly three years ago.
“I did just (CrossFit) workouts and I maxed it,” he said. “I didn’t have any issues and I didn’t train doing pushups.”
Another CrossFit addition to the Applied Fitness Center is Centurion CrossFit Fort Hood, an independent, nonprofit organization operating on post at no cost to the installation. Sponsored in part by the CrossFit corporation, it is one of more than 58 similar organizations throughout the military.
“The goal of CrossFit is to be faster, stronger and able to do any task put before you,” said Capt. Dave Taylor, owner and operator of Centurion CrossFit and commander of Grim Troop, 2nd Squadron, 3rd Armored Cavalry. “It’s not for everybody, but as a soldier, I don’t think there’s a better training tool.”
Maj. Tad Gilbert, Regimental Headquarters and Headquarters Troop, 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, embraced CrossFit during the regiment’s last deployment at the advice of Kemter.
Since deploying to Iraq in August 2010, Gilbert has lost 65 pounds and 10 inches in his waistline. He credits his success to CrossFit and changing his diet.
“You use every piece of your body,” said Gilbert. “I started to feel different right from the beginning.”
Despite losing so much weight through CrossFit, Gilbert said he doesn’t think of it as a weight loss program.
“It’s to get fit. It’s to get your body moving in the right direction, get healthier and for anyone looking into it — do it whole heartedly. … If you do it that way, you’ll see amazing results,” he said.