Fitness University: separating fact from fiction
FMWR Fitness Coordinator Dena Taylor (left) shows Capt. Timothy Mitchell, a University of Fitness graduate, the proper form when doing captain's chair leg raises.

STUTTGART, Germany -- Ask 10 people how to get in shape or lose weight and you'll probably get 10 different answers, none of them completely valid.

It's one of the reasons why Dena Taylor created University of Fitness, an educational program focused on health and fitness.

While fitness and nutrition fads are spread by word of mouth, the Internet, DVDs and magazines, "it does not mean they are accurate," said Taylor, fitness coordinator for the U.S. Army Garrison Stuttgart Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation's sports and fitness program.

According to Taylor, many diets and over-the-counter fitness programs, while popular, can be dangerous.

"Don't buy into the hype. Just because something works for one person doesn't make it right for you," said Taylor, who is an exercise physiologist with a therapeutic background.

University of Fitness seeks to dispel fitness myths and arm students with scientific fitness principles that, if followed, improve physical fitness and athletic performance.

Taylor also seeks to address a laundry list of questions from fitness center customers about fitness, programming, nutrition and facilities, to include if the fitness centers offered towels or the locker rooms had hair dryers.

"There's a huge conglomerate of people who are not in the know, as opposed to those who are," she said.

Stacy Perez used to be one of the "nots."

Until Perez took University of Fitness, she was "scared of the gym."

"I was afraid I wouldn't belong. I didn't know what to do, what the appropriate attire was, what kind of shoes I needed ... I'm about as green as a person can be when it comes to the gym," Perez said.

In the class, Perez and 25 other students not only learned basic exercise science - they toured the Patch Fitness Center, learned how to calculate their target heart rates and caloric needs, tried out cardio and strength-training equipment, and sampled several group fitness classes.

"My favorite part of the class was the trip to the commissary," Perez said.

Taylor had arranged for the class to tour the Patch Commissary after hours and took the students up and down the aisles, teaching them how to read food labels with discerning eyes. "It changed how I eat," Perez said. "I'm getting away from chemicals and now use sea salt.

"But the best thing I learned was that the gym is a place where I feel comfortable. I do belong there."

While Julie Kochanski is no stranger to a gym, she is coming off of a prolonged hiatus. "It's probably been four years since I've worked out regularly," she said, adding that she'd gained a few pounds during that time.

Since graduating from the program in July, Kochanski now takes a weekly spin class, works out on the elliptical and weight machines, and does a lot of walking.

Her efforts are paying off. Kochanski has lost eight pounds.

"I'm not on a diet to lose weight, but on a diet to fuel myself," Kochanski said.

But she points out University of Fitness is not about weight management. "Everyone wasn't there to lose weight. This was a nutrition and health class. That's what I really got excited about," she said.

The key for her is portion control. "I grew up in a very large family who ate big," she said. Where she once used to make a huge pot of pasta, enough for seconds or thirds, "Now, I make smaller portions."

Kochanski has changed how she shops, as well. "I do a lot more label reading and I'm looking for the right things," she said.

Before the program, Kochanski said if a product had "100 calories" or "fiber" printed on the label, she would grab it. "Now, I'm reading everything so I know what's going on the table."

Seeing students such as Kochanski and Perez "get it" is Taylor's ultimate reward.

"Everybody comes with different expectations and at a different level. My goal is meet them where they are at and get them started on a lifelong journey toward health and fitness," Taylor said.

Armed with the facts, thanks to University of Fitness, Kochanski and Perez are headed in the right direction.

Page last updated Mon September 20th, 2010 at 10:36