MFT assess flexibility
(Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

Even at an intelligence-focused installation like Fort Meade, physical fitness is a top priority.

To keep service members in shape, officials from Kimbrough Ambulatory Care Center conducted the "Master Fitness Trainer Skills Extension" symposium on Tuesday at McGill Training Center.

About 50 people attended the four-hour training, most of whom are master fitness trainers in the Army, or certified Soldiers tasked with assessing the fitness of members within their units. Certified active-duty personnel from the Air Force attended as well.

Participants performed and assessed different exercise routines on each other and took in several presentations.

"MFT is an additional identifier in the Army for folks," said Maj. Marc Skinner of Kimbrough. "[The program] is designed to be a bug in the ears of commanders regarding how physical readiness training is happening in the unit."

According to a press release from Kimbrough, Fort Meade has the highest percentage of Soldiers on a musculoskeletal profile greater than 90 days in the entire Army.

Earning this designation means that a Soldier has a chronic or acute physical ailment that has persisted for at least 90 days.

An acute ailment is typically caused by a recent contact injury such as a sports injury, Skinner said. Chronic conditions are more subtle and can persist for much longer. Chronic ailments are often preceded by an acute injury.

"We mostly see lower back pain, then knee [issues]," Skinner said. "Lower back pain is almost always chronic by the time they seek help."

Shoulder, ankle and hamstring issues are also common.

Training the Trainers

Catching these ailments early and reconfiguring exercise routines to avoid further injury was one of the primary goals of the symposium, Skinner said.

For some master fitness trainers, the symposium demonstrated to them how important their own physical fitness is.

"Even myself as a master fitness trainer, I'm not as flexible as I would like to be," said Staff Sgt. Jake Fritzsche of the 704th Military Intelligence Brigade. "I can only imagine the Soldiers within my unit, the type of training that they're going to need me to design to get them in rhythm and prevent injuries and increase their performance."

"It was kind of a wake-up call."

Master Sgt. Sabrina Tagudar of the Defense Threat Reduction Agency said it's easy to overlook more inconspicuous red flags that can lead to injuries.

"When folks see the [Army Combat Fitness Test], they sometimes want to jump into the fight without knowing the proper forms, postures and starting positions [for certain exercises]," Tagudar said. "It's as easy as feet coming off the ground when doing a squat or deadlift. That can injure you or lead to injuries."

Sgt. 1st Class Alberto Maynez of DRTA noted that the training is a good assessment for new trainers.

"It's a good identifier to look at the common issues," Maynez said. "Something like this is good for everybody to have in the back of their mind, so when they see something irregular, they can identify it."

Starting at the Top

As Staff Sgt. Matthew Corbitt of Kimbrough pointed out, the physical fitness of an entire unit suffers if those in charge of assessing it aren't aware of the warning signs.

"It's good for our guys on the ground to see their own movement faults and put them on display," Corbitt said. "If they're the standard as far as fitness training goes, what does the rest of the unit look like?

"I think that was made painfully clear for some, and that's what our intent was -- to demonstrate what kind of movements create and stuff create, or potentially create musculoskeletal injuries. I think that was exactly what we were looking for. It's what I saw and what I expected."

The symposium was the first in-person event at Fort Meade to address training deficiencies, Skinner said, but Army leadership has been discussing ways to improve physical fitness for some time.

For instance, in the future, fitness experts from outside the Army, such as strength and conditioning coaches, could be invited to educate trainers on more refined aspects of physical training.

After leaving the symposium, Skinner said, trainers should be assessing the Soldiers in their units.

"They should be going into their formations and conducting [assessments] within their units to try to identify folks who aren't moving well," Skinner said.

"Capturing folks that score [low] doesn't really require medical intervention.

"They're just going to try to improve things and reassess things every six to eight weeks or so."