The day after my unit arrived at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, to train for deployment to Iraq, we took an Army Fitness Test. Forty-two of the 110 soldiers in the unit failed the test. I volunteered be the sergeant in charge of getting those men and women in shape.
Our commander was a 25-year-old Lieutenant who scored nothing but maximum on the fitness test. He could see that pre-deployment training for the soldiers who failed was a medley of pizza, beer and video games. He lined up the forty-soldiers and introduced me as the remedial fitness training sergeant. One line in his introduction I will never forget: “Sergeant Gussman is older than every one of your mothers and he scores in top ten percent of the fitness test. You are even half his age and you all flunked.” He went on to remind them about their commitment to Army values, their enlistment and other ways in which they were utter failures.
Our company had fitness training every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 530am and ruck marches, the confidence course and other training on Sunday. Remedial fitness was at 7pm on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.
For the 90 minutes I had the out-of-shape group, they did aerobic exercise. They ran the track, ran on machines in the gym, used the stair stepper and other aerobic machines. Most of them flunked the run. Most of them were overweight. Even the ones who flunked the pushups and situps would be better if they lost weight so I my program was keep your out-of-shape soldiers moving and away from video games.
Which led me to discover another big difference between out-of-shape people and avid athletes. During the two months we were at Fort Sill, nearly every one of the soldiers who failed the fitness test came to me privately to tell me about a diet or a fitness plan they were sure was the key to getting in shape.
I listened to a couple of these, but by the third, I could see only faith in fast answers. They were the fitness equivalent of poor people that buy lottery tickets: they don’t want to do anything as boring as saving so they take whatever money they can scrape together and buy lottery tickets—and get more poor.
By the fifth one of these earnest conversations, I reminded the fat boy in front of me that he was half my age and he flunked a test I could pass. Shut up and get back on the track was my answer to his question of could he do his own program.
In contrast to the out-of-shape people who know the perfect exercise plan, the serious athletes I know are searching for a better plan. A bicyclist I know who wants to do an Ironman asked me if I had a coach. He wanted to know which Ironman plan I followed. This guy who had recently ridden more than 100 miles in six hours, can easily swim two miles in just over an hour, and did a marathon in under four hours was asking for training plans. And he was searching the web for coaches and training plans.
In one of the sad ironies of life, the only people who are sure about their training plan are the people who can’t live up to whatever low standard they set for themselves. The people already exercise 20 hours a week are the ones who are looking to make those hours more productive.