The Army recently shifted its physical fitness focus from 50 years of disparate programming to a holistic view where fitness requires more than just a strong body–it demands quality nutrition, sleep, and mental and spiritual fitness. Combined, these five pillars form the U.S. Army Holistic Health and Fitness (H2F) System.
The H2F System represents a cultural shift and is the Army’s new primary investment in soldier readiness, optimal physical and non-physical performance, injury prevention, improved rehabilitation after injury, and increased overall effectiveness of the total Army. The system empowers and equips soldiers to take charge of their health, fitness and well-being in order to improve individual performance while preventing injury and chronic disease. Army leaders have made the H2F System one of the top priorities by funding people, equipment and facilities.
As the Army moves forward with H2F, leaders have been quick to realize change won’t be fast, easy or cheap, but it will be a worthwhile commitment. The first step in the process was to re-write the book on Army fitness. Titled “Field Manual (FM) 7-22 Holistic Health and Fitness,” the new doctrine—and the accompanying technical manuals—describe a total approach to soldier physical and non-physical health; everything a soldier needs to become “Army Strong.” The guides will be online by October 2020 and will be free to the public. Until then, a preview of some of the physical fitness materials are viewable at the new Army Combat Fitness Test website.
To give soldiers access to the most skilled professionals and the best training, the Army will dedicate the resources necessary to hire and train human performance personnel. This group of professionals, dubbed H2F Human Performance Teams (HPT), includes both military and civilian physical therapists, registered dietitians, occupational therapists, cognitive enhancement specialists, athletic trainers, and strength and conditioning coaches. Brief descriptions of the HPT roles are as follows:
The physical therapist (PT) is the expert in rehabilitating and reconditioning soldiers. They understand the cause of injury and, therefore, know how to train to mitigate it. This process involves evaluation, diagnosis and treatment in close proximity to where soldiers train.
The registered dietitian (RD) implements a comprehensive nutrition program with soldier health, performance and rehabilitation in mind. As the nutrition program director, they provide soldiers counsel in an individual or group setting. In this essential role, the RD translates the latest scientific evidence into practical and environment-specific nutrition readiness programs.
The occupational therapist (OT) provides unique and comprehensive occupational therapy services to maximize soldier performance and improve unit readiness. They train soldiers in cognitive performance and emotional growth to enhance interpersonal skills and increase unit cohesion. The OT will also empower soldiers to improve lifestyle habits, combat stress management and conduct other self-reflective problem-solving measures.
The cognitive enhancement specialist (CES) is an expert in helping soldiers think and analyze complex situations in their everyday life. The CES trains soldiers to understand mental barriers that arise due to stress. They assist soldiers in adapting positively to stressful situations, including combat. Advanced techniques these experts bring to the unit include breath control, emotional regulation, team cohesion, and cognitive learning strategies.
The certified athletic trainer (ATC) provides evaluation, diagnosis and treatment of acute musculoskeletal conditions before, during and after exercise in close proximity to where soldiers train. They understand proper body mechanics and efficient movement techniques in the training and field environment.
The strength and conditioning coach (SCC) develops, coordinates, executes and manages evidence-based strength and conditioning programs focused on unit mission and individual soldier tasks. Additionally, SCCs will counsel soldiers with physical limitations and provide their expertise to unit medical providers to develop programs for special populations, such as post-partum soldiers.
The H2F System introduces the Army’s first dedicated training facilities designed to optimize soldier health and physical fitness. Beginning in 2024, the Army plans to build more than 100 new training facilities on Army installations called Soldier Performance Readiness Centers or SPRC (pronounced “spark”). The SPRC, a 42,000-square-foot facility and home of the HPT, will be the primary location for the treatment, coaching and counseling of soldiers. Soldiers will rotate through the SPRC several times per week to receive individualized and periodized guidance.
Each facility will meet the H2F standard design and be familiar to the soldier, no matter their location. In reference to the design plan below, soldiers will begin training progressively through the SPRC, from preparation and warm up, to zones one through three where soldiers will perform exercises for strength, power, coordination, agility, balance, anaerobic conditioning and recovery. The administrative section of the facility houses classrooms, HPT offices and a rehabilitation space for soldiers.
Training facility infrastructure is essential to the success of the H2F System. As for equipment, each of the SPRCs requires 50 rack systems, 50 accessory training stations, 40 non-motorized ergometric machines, an indoor turf field and various strength and conditioning equipment.
The U.S. Army, as a total force, is over one million soldiers strong with about half in the active duty Army and the other half in the Army National Guard and the Army Reserve. The Army is therefore approaching how it provides H2F assets and facilities to soldiers in two ways. One approach is for soldiers with easy access to Army installations and infrastructure; the other is for soldiers who are located in remote areas. Each approach will be different but will provide the same support with different tools.
Addressing the Gap
Vital to the success of this program is the ability to train the “other half” of the Army, those who do not work on or near an Army installation. This population includes soldiers in the Army National Guard, Army Reserve, soldiers with unique assignments (such as recruiters), new recruits waiting to ship to Army Basic Combat Training and recruits in the Armed Services Delayed Entry Program. This is a population of about 600,000 personnel who need access to the equipment, facilities and types of experts in the HPT within the SPRC.
This is where the health club industry comes in. The Army believes much of this need can be met at health clubs and gyms. The Army is looking at numerous possible approaches to partnership—everything from an expansion of the Department of Defense YMCA program, to adaptation of a Silver Sneakers model, to individual state contracts, to university and secondary school teaming. The Army National Guard currently has 16 pilot programs in various states. The Army Reserve launched two pilots this summer. The fitness industry would benefit from maintaining awareness of the growing partnership potential with the Army through current and future programs.
Under the current program for active duty soldiers, memberships are nationally negotiated, and soldiers utilize commercial fitness facilities at no cost to the soldier. Soldiers are required to visit their respective facility for a set number of days per month or their free access is revoked. However, there are some concerns about facility utilization as it pertains to availability and accessibility of health and fitness clubs. Rural and remote areas of the nation are less likely to have available and accessible fitness facilities. Even in locations where fitness facilities are in abundance, many new recruits from underserved populations may lack the resources (e.g., transportation) required to access the facilities.
Soldier access to a fitness facility is just part of the equation. In order to improve individual behaviors and lifestyle choices, the principles of H2F (physical fitness, quality sleep, adequate and appropriate nutrition, and mental and spiritual wellness) must extend from the workplace to the home. That said, not only does the Army aim to improve the health and fitness of soldiers but also of their families—which may include the soldiers of tomorrow. Fitness is best achieved in a team or group setting; thus, for soldiers among the Army’s “other half,” having workout partners from their unit or family will greatly assist in maintaining a high level of fitness program participation.
Join The Team
As the SPRC facilities are being built, the Army will hire Human Performance Team personnel to include federal employees and contractors. Individuals who are interested in becoming a member of the Army’s Holistic Health and Fitness System or have ideas/interest in partnering with the Army on “remote soldier” fitness efforts, are encouraged to contact the Army with inquiries.
The U.S. Army Center for Initial Military Training (USACIMT) at Fort Eustis, Virginia, is the Army’s designated lead for the H2F System. It has a small team of professionals who are responsible for writing the doctrine to support the program and are leading the establishment of the H2F System across the entire Army. They are responsible for instruction, designing the SPRCs, staffing and equipment, as well as coordination for all national level programs. For more information on how your organization can partner with our efforts, contact the director of CIMT Research and Analysis (G2): Mr. Michael S. McGurk, [email protected] and the director of H2F, COL Kevin A. Bigelman, at [email protected], or write to our general email box at [email protected].
The Army National Guard effort, in close partnership with USACIMT, is led out of the Army National Guard Bureau in Washington DC, as well as each State and Territory National Guard. Contact Captain Ryan Short at [email protected].
The Army Reserve lead is out of the US Army Reserve Command Headquarters at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and consists of multiple regional headquarters across the country. The Army Reserve Point of Contact is Lieutenant Colonel Cindi Gold. Reach her at [email protected].
(3D rendering courtesy U.S. Army.) A 3D rendering of a turf area at an SPRC.
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