09082010pt.gifWe all know Americans are literally too big for our britches these days.

We hear and see it all the time. We are too heavy and it is affecting our health.

We eat too much processed food and not enough fresh. We eat restaurant and fast-food meals too often and the portions are too big. We sit at computer screens and TV sets too long and move our bodies too little. What is even worse is that our children are following our examples, and we are setting our own precious jewels up for a lifetime of weight-related problems, including social and health issues.

It breaks this mother’s heart to see school age children who actually waddle because they cannot get their thighs together for all the fat.

But who would have thunk it about Army recruits?

For the first time, the Army acknowledges that chubby, less-thanfit recruits are an issue, and in true military style, they are on it.

The Army screens out potential recruits who are obese or absolutely unfit, but they have other plans for those who still hold military promise but who have had too many burgers and fries, have played too many video games and have been offered too few school athletic activities.

Faced with the reality of potential recruits who fail their physicals because of weight — up a flabbergasting 70 percent between 1995 and 2008, and an official report by retired brass entitled Too Fat to Fight, our Army has a plan.

It is a new PT for a new recruit, one who has grown up with the less-thannutritious diet and sedentary activities of today and without the weight bearing work of past American generations. The New York Times reports that because an increasing number of young recruits were getting injured in traditional basic training PT, up alarmingly since just 2002, the Army has come up with a new PT program for its recruits, one heavier on stretching, core strengthening and balance and lighter on individual exercises like multiple sit-ups and the traditional long runs.

In other words, it looks more like yoga and Pilates and less like your daddy’s basic training workout.

Lt. General Mark Hertling, who heads the Army’s basic training program, says that weight is a national problem that has affected the Army as it has the rest of our culture and that the percentage of recruits who fail their physicals has risen 70 percent over the last two decades. More women recruits fail than men.

The new PT program, almost 10 years in the making and now challenging some 145,000 recruits a year at the Army’s five basic-training posts, is an effort both to whip recruits into shape and to prepare them for the challenging realities of combat in terrain like that of Afghanistan.

So what are our Army recruits doing in PT if not a bazillion sit ups and interminable runs?

The two former gym teachers who developed the new PT program and who run the Army Physical Fitness School at Fort Jackson, S.C., looked at what soldiers actually do in their work like tossing grenades, dodging bullets and climbing, and designed exercises to develop those skills, including side twists, back bridges and rowing-like exercises.

It is a multi-week course that increases in diffi culty as it unfolds.

Says one of the developers, Frank Palkoska, “What we did in the morning had nothing to do with what we did the rest of the day.”

And lest you think the Army has gone soft, First Lt. Tameeka Hayes, who leads a platoon of new recruits at Fort Jackson, says “It’s more whole body. No one who has done this routine says we’ve made it easier.”

The program also has a mess-hall component involving color-coded food choices which translates into more fruits and vegetables and fewer fried chicken nuggets and sodas.

I have never been through Army recruit PT, but I have been doing yoga for the last decade, and can promise you, it is not for sissies. My longtime yoga master, a former paratrooper and martial arts master, is someone you would not want to meet in a dark alley unless he is on your team, and I am convinced that the ongoing and life-long challenges of yoga will help me with strength and balance as I age.

The new PT regimen is for recruits at this point, but indications are it will spread. Even though every unit’s commander is responsible for its exercise program and current commanders came up under the older system, the new policy has been distributed Army-wide, replacing a 1992 version. The idea is to keep all soldiers more fit, since evidence suggests many pack on the pounds during or immediately after deployments.

In other words, can you say “hooah” and “om” at the same time?

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