The Cooper Institute

Founded in 1970 by the "Father of Aerobics"
Kenneth H. Cooper MD, MPH


New exercise leaders will bring group fitness into squadrons at March

by Megan Just
452 AMW Public Affairs

5/20/2011 - MARCH AIR RESERVE BASE, Calif. -- Two Cooper Institute instructors traveled to March last week to facilitate a four-day Military Exercise Leader course for 30 Airmen in squadrons across the base.

Staff Sgt. Jen Theurer, California Air National Guard 163rd Civil Engineering Squadron, watches Cooper Institute instructor Karyn Hughes, M.Ed. help Senior Master Sgt. Michael Kacsmaryk, 452nd Maintenance Operations Squadron, with his stretching technique during the four-day Military Exercise Leader course at March Air Reserve Base, Calif., May 10, 2011. The course is part of an ongoing effort to create a culture of fitness at the base. (U.S. Air Force photo/ Megan Just)

Like the Hap Arnold Club food transformation project, the formation of the March FITT organization and this year's 80-person Air Force Marathon team, the military exercise leader course is part of a continuing effort to bring a culture of fitness to March Air Reserve Base.

"We have physical fitness leaders in every squadron who are trained to administer the physical fitness test twice a year. But what we really need are enthusiastic, fit Airmen who are educated about exercise and nutrition who can champion fitness in their squadron the other 363 days a year," said Fourth Air Force's Lt. Col. Kris Kraiger, who organized the course, along with the 752nd Medical Squadron's Capt. Linda Baltes.

Squadron commanders nominated Airmen for the course who fit Colonel Kraiger's availability criteria and displayed a commitment to leading group exercise. Colonel Kraiger expects each graduate to work with their commander to set aside time for a group fitness session during each unit training assembly weekend.

"We're discovering the best way to train for Fit-to-Fight isn't necessarily to go out and run every day," he said. "We want to make it fun and build camaraderie. This is not an 'insanity' workout like P90X or Crossfit. It's a workout that can be performed by people at all fitness levels."

The Military Exercise Leader course is split between classroom time and hands-on training at the fitness center.

"This course teaches students how to implement safe and effective group exercise training. They're learning the basics of exercise science principles and teaching skills, as well as exercises and exercise modifications," said Cooper Institute instructor Sue Beckham, Ph.D. "Everything they are learning is tailored to meet specific training goals."

Beckham was impressed by the March students' engagement during the training.

"They are constantly asking questions," she said. "You can clearly tell they are planning on going back and implementing the group exercise training."

The Cooper Institute is the non-profit research and education branch of Cooper Aerobics, which were both founded by Dr. Kenneth Cooper, a former Air Force flight surgeon. Beckham said the Institute has had more than 600 publications in its 40 years. Cooper educators help translate this technical information into a practical format.

"We take the research from Cooper Institute and other peer reviewed journals and we go out and share that with exercise professionals and lay people so they can understand it," she said.

Col. Robert Stormes, 452nd Maintenance Group commander was among the students in last week's course.

"I believe in fitness and balance in our lives. No matter how hard we work, we have to make time to stay fit and take care of ourselves," he said.

With hours that are irregular because they are based on flying schedules, Colonel Stormes said picking a time to exercise as a group can be a challenge, but he hopes to find time at least once per UTA, as well as three times during the work week.

Senior Master Sgt. Michael Kacsmaryk, 452nd Maintenance Operations Squadron, has been in the Air Force and Air Force Reserve for 34 years. He recalls years past when Air Force fitness regulations "didn't have teeth." Now, he said, the Air Force is being more proactive with discipline.

While new Fit-to-Fight mentality has been engrained in younger Airmen from Basic Training on, Sergeant Kacsmaryk said it can be a struggle for those who have been around longer.

"They're going to have to adjust or they'll have to suffer the consequences," he said. "It's a win-win situation if they get fit, because they'll have more energy, increase their metabolism and blood flow, improve their self esteem and their better overall health will reduce their medical bills. They need to embrace the new
fitness culture."

Sergeant Kascmaryk is already the unit fitness program manager and physical fitness leader for his squadron, but he volunteered for the military exercise leader course because he'd like to help decrease the percentage of people with unsatisfactory fitness scores.

"I want to remotivate the people who have taken the program lightly or who have slipped in their fitness," he said.

Staff Sgt. Jen Theurer will soon be leading group fitness on UTA weekends for the California Air National Guard's 163rd Civil Engineering Squadron.

"When you work out together as a group, you feed off of everyone's energy," she said.

Sergeant Theurer's squadron is 80-Airmen strong, which is significantly more than the five-person group she practiced with during the course. But, she's not fazed by the challenge.

"You teach to the middle, then show them how to make the exercise simpler or harder," she said.

Staff Sgt. Brian Hicks, 452nd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, was a Soldier before joining the Air Force Reserve.

"In the Army, PT was taken more seriously and it was more intense," he said. "We'd PT every day, during work time. It was mandatory."

Although some of the jobs in the Air Force are not physically demanding, he said it is still important for all Airmen to be fit. Sometimes, he said, this requires individuals to take an honest look at themselves.

"We need to stop being so sensitive. We need to get real," he said. "If you're fat, you're fat. It's time to do something about it."

And when it's time to do something about it, Sergeant Hicks will be there to help. He is looking forward to sharing the information he learned from the course and implementing group workout sessions in his squadron.