FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. – First Lieutenant Brian Dudeck strolled around the track at Fryar Stadium July 13 with a small computer strapped to his back and a breathing mask covering his face as Fort Campbell Army Wellness Center staff watched, recorded data and monitored his breathing.
Within minutes, Dudeck’s relaxing walk turned to a gentle jog and before long, he burst into a full sprint, challenging himself to run as hard as he could. All the while, Doug Terza, lead health educator, AWC, urged him on, counting down the seconds left of the test.
First in the Army
Dudeck, assigned to 3rd Battalion, 187th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), is one of the first Soldiers in the U.S. Army to pilot this new, mobile technology that is designed to help Soldiers increase their performance. The K5 portable VO2 unit is a metabolic testing unit that allows Soldiers to measure how well their muscles use oxygen. The unit can be used to optimize performance and train for events.
VO2 max, or maximal oxygen consumption, is the maximum rate of oxygen consumption measured during exercise. The measurement of VO2 provides a quantitative value of an individual’s aerobic fitness level that can be used to compare training effects.
The U.S. Army Public Health Center partnered with Appalachian State University in North Carolina, to conduct this research.
“This is the absolute newest technology,” said Jheri Godfrey, director, AWC.
“It allows us to complete the testing outside and that’s the biggest selling point. When the Soldiers are training or deploying, they are in an outdoor setting, so this technology allows us to test their abilities in that environment.”
This testing is already available in an indoor setting at AWC, however the ability to take the test outdoors is invaluable, she said.
Godfrey said Fort Campbell was selected for the pilot because of the division’s high operations tempo. Also, Maj. Gen. Andrew Poppas, former commanding general of the 101st Abn. Div. and Fort Campbell, was supportive of the initiative because of the impact it could have on Soldier and mission readiness.
“This is providing Soldiers with advanced information and technology to really enhance and optimize their performance,” she said. “This allows us to stay current and tailor a training plan to the level that they need.”
AWC staff members cheered Dudeck on as he pushed through the final seconds of the test.
“It was definitely painful, just like any max effort,” he said. “With any test like this it’s always a battle between you and you.”
Developing the protocol
AWC and Screaming Eagle Soldiers are developing the testing protocol to be used by Army Wellness Centers throughout the Army. Soldiers who participate in the pilot commit to three appointments that are about an hour long. During one appointment, the Soldier will do a preliminary run of the test without any equipment on to allow him or her to become familiar with the track. At the second appointment, the Soldier will do the official run of the test with the machine strapped to him or her. Finally, at the third appointment, the Soldier will complete the similar test inside at the AWC lab.
The outdoor portion of the program takes place on the track at Fryar Stadium. The track is marked by cones that are equidistant from one another. The goal is for the Soldier to reach the cone within the allotted time allowed for that stage. As the test continues, the movement becomes more intense. Each stage lasts for three minutes.
For the first three minutes of the test, the Soldier will stand still so the K5 machine can collect data on their standing heart rate.
“In the first official movement stage, the Soldier has 30 seconds to get to each cone,” said April Thomas, health educator, AWC. “We are working on pacing. The Soldier is trying to maintain a certain speed between each cone.”
Dudeck finished his test at stage 6, closing the gap between the cones with 9 seconds, which is a 48-mile per hour pace.
“If that’s my base line, there’s some growth to be had, but I’m still happy with it,” he said. “My goal is to beat that time in a few months.”
During the testing, a face mask monitors the Soldier’s breathing.
“At the beginning of the test when the pace is a lot slower, you are taking nice, deep breaths in and out. Of course, as we get to the higher more intense stages the breaths in and breaths out don’t match anymore,” Thomas said. “We are trying to see what that looks like at the very end.”
After participants complete all their appointments, the results from the outdoor and indoor tests will be compared to determine how similar the VO2 levels are for each Soldier. This will validate the protocol AWC staff have developed, Godfrey said.
“It’s two totally different kinds of tests, testing the same thing,” Thomas said. “We are collecting data to see how we can use this equipment to improve the run times of the Soldiers. The ultimate end goal is to help Soldiers run more efficiently and improve their aerobic fitness overall.”
The results from this testing will help Soldiers train better, by helping them understand their heart rates, she said.
“They will know exactly where they need to get their heart rate so they are efficient and continue to improve,” Thomas said. “We can come out here and run all day, but if you don’t know the mechanisms that go with it, it’s hard to know if you are getting better. When you see your heart rate and speed improve, that’s a tangible way of knowing your training is working.”
AWC staff can use these test results to develop exercise prescriptions, tailored run plans and customized work outs to help Soldiers reach their fitness goals.
Dudeck said some Soldiers may struggle completing the testing with the equipment.
“Some Soldiers may care about the machine on your back, but it does closely resemble a CamelBak or kit you would wear in the military. It wasn’t too foreign, but it’s still added weight,” he said. “The way it was rigged up, I still had good mobility of my arms and everything.”
Sergeant Garrett Turner, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 2nd Battalion, 502nd Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Abn. Div., also hit the track July 13 to complete the outdoor testing.
“I felt like Iron Man out there trying to run,” he said laughing. “It was a little bit different than what I’m used to, but it was good. I’m happy and excited to see my results.”
During the preliminary round, Turner made it to stage 6, however during the official test he was setback to stage 5, 11 seconds between the cones.
“I’m super excited and humbled,” he said. “I’m so proud to be a part of this. All of these people out here are so professional. I’m grateful for this experience.”
Dudeck agreed it was thrilling to be on the cutting edge of technology.
“It’s pretty cool to pilot anything in the military,” he said. “Any time you get a chance to be part of the solution to some of the problems you see every day, it’s really a great opportunity.”
More Soldiers needed
About 15 more Screaming Eagle Soldiers are needed to participate in this testing phase. The goal is to have at least 40 Soldiers complete the testing by early August.
“The more Soldiers, the better. It gives us more statistical power,” Godfrey said. “This is our chance to do it first, develop those best practices and spread it to the other installations.”
To register for the testing, call 270-461-3451. To schedule a group for testing, leaders can call 270-412-1518 to coordinate with Godfrey directly.