CAMP CURTIS GUILD, Mass. – In a corner building of this 280-acre military facility, Massachusetts National Guard Soldiers are training as they fight, using the functional movement techniques of the popular CrossFit workouts to enhance Soldier readiness, improve physical fitness test scores, and… put a smile on their faces?
“This is the happiest group of Soldiers I’ve seen in the Guard!” said Army National Guard Sgt. Carmalina Rowe of the 272nd Chemical Company, as she smiled, caught her breath, and wiped the sweat from her brow.
The Soldiers may be all smiles now, but moments ago, they were grunting and sweating their way through a physically taxing workout, custom designed by Sgt. 1st Class Stephen Sharp, founder and head coach for Minuteman CrossFit.
Minuteman CrossFit is a gym and program Sharp started roughly four years ago as a way to bring the popular CrossFit training system to the Soldiers and Airmen of the Massachusetts National Guard. As a co-owner of a kettlebell/CrossFit gym in New Hampshire, he saw an opportunity to bring some new ideas to an Army physical training program he just didn’t find exciting.
“The old FM 21-20,” he said, “was outdated exercise science that the Army hadn’t got around to updating yet.” Sharp also wanted to use CrossFit to organize and motivate his troops. “Each Soldier pretty much did their own (physical training), whether it was using the old Nautilus equipment in the drill shed, running around the lake, or – more likely – check e-mail and drink coffee.”
Since its beginning, Sharp, who also serves as readiness noncommissioned officer for the 272nd Chemical Company, has grown Minuteman CrossFit to a gym that provides free morning workouts for Massachusetts National Guard members. The facility is stocked with CrossFit equipment: kettlebells, pullup bars, barbells, as well as a host of other fitness-enhancing equipment.
“The row machines were a big purchase for us last year,” Sharp said, pointing to a host of rowing machines set against the gym’s wall. “During the winter, with the icy conditions, you can’t do the sprint work outside. These help with metabolic conditioning.”
CrossFit can mean many different things, depending on whom you ask. To some, it’s a workout routine; others define it as a community. What is agreed upon is this: CrossFit workouts emphasize functional movements over isolation exercises. Also, to participate in CrossFit is to include CrossFit’s Workout of the Day (WOD), as well as any other strength and conditioning routine.
CrossFit workouts are gathering substantial popularity at military bases around the world. In fact, the increased prevalence of CrossFit prompted the Army to study the effects of the workouts to increase Soldier readiness and physical fitness. The Command and General Staff College’s 2010 CrossFit study found that CrossFit workouts did, in fact, increase physical fitness (as measured by APFT scores), and there were a host of other added benefits to the system.
Sharp hopes that the added benefits to his Soldiers include a decreased risk of injury while in the field. “When my Soldiers get in their suits and head down range, they are moving heavy stuff – be it patients or equipment,” he said. “These folks need to have a really high level of conditioning. I use this program to injury-proof our Soldiers.”
Rowe said she believes Sharp is succeeding. “If I have to climb out of a truck and lift a patient, these workouts prepare you for those unique movements because those are exactly the type of movements we train with,” she said. “We apply the ‘train as you fight’ mentality right here at the gym.”
“I see that these workouts really build Soldier readiness,” said 1st Lt. Greg Walsh, who regularly attends Minuteman CrossFit. “It helps to form a better team because you can’t do the team workouts by yourself – you have to rely on your teammates, and that’s something we have to do a lot in the National Guard, as well.”
”I didn’t plan on it ever being what it has become,” Sharp said. “The Soldiers and Airmen who come and participate everyday have made it into what it is.”
Location, schedule, and point of contact for Minuteman CrossFit can be found at www.minutemancrossfit.com.