Interview with Marc Meeker, program manager for Navy Fitness


Q: How has the importance of fitness changed since you started working for Navy Fitness?

A: When I came on, the unique position I got with the Navy was to be a float fitness specialist. It was an infant position at the time. It was kind of like they were going to try a new thing to say, “We are going to let a civilian fitness person go out onboard a ship and run all the gyms and keep the equipment up and running,” things like that. Where before it was kind of a makeshift type of thing, where maybe a couple of the sailors took care of the equipment or maybe one person did a program here and there, so it was kind of disorganized. I mean they still did stuff, but it wasn’t anything on a structured basis. So what they wanted to do was hire these civilians to come on the ship and run the programs [to] make sure the gyms and the equipment were up and running all the time or ordering equipment for the facilities, designing facilities onboard ships and then also running the fitness programs onboard, which could entail anything from some sports programs all the way through doing fitness classes onboard the ship or in a hangar bay or whereever we’re at. And [they also would] assist with the command fitness leaders, getting the people ready for the physical readiness test that they take twice a year.

Fitness was starting to take on a lot more importance [when I started]. One thing they realized was that they needed to have a lot more structure. So rather than saying “Yeah, we do programs,” you could walk in and say, “Do you have a fitness calendar? What do you do this month? What classes are offered?” People started feeling a little bit better about what was available to them, rather than trying to make it up themselves.

The importance of it now as it’s come full circle, you have to maintain your fitness to stay in the Navy or you don’t go up for advancement anymore. So that becomes a bigger issue, too. So that’s why we have to have fitness professionals both shore side and out to sea to make sure things are properly running, things are available to our sailors to stay in shape and to also to enhance the questions that they have because most people just don’t know how to stay in shape. They have no clue, and you need somebody with an education or a background in fitness to provide that information to them. You would think that in today’s society, fitness being a priority, people would know, but really they still don’t. It’s just getting the information out to them. Now once they get that information, a lot of people take it and run with it, and you may never see them again; they’re fit the rest of their lives. But then the other people who are still not drinking from the Kool-Aid yet, it’s getting that information to them and saying ‘Hey, you do need to do this. It’s very important in your life, and not only does it affect you and your family, but [it also affects] everybody else.”

Some of the jobs [in the Navy] you think “Well, all I do is sit and stare at a radar screen all day, and I’m landing planes.” Well, that’s great, but still it’s the physical demands of sitting in that chair all day long and looking at a screen. If you’re not in shape, that’s going to affect that job, whether [or not] you think it physically affects you. It’s not like you are loading 1,000 pounds of whatever onto the ship, but just because you are sitting in a chair looking at a screen doesn’t mean [you] don’t have to be in shape because we all know mental and physical health play a big portion in how you do your job, not just being mentally alert, but physically alert. If you’re sitting there falling asleep because you are physically exhausted from doing that, because you’re out of shape, that’s not a good thing.

And then the other thing is, you never know when there’s going to be an emergency when you’re in the Navy because you might be out on a ship and—even though we hope that it never happens—the thing is, if there is an emergency that’s something—we would be attacked or whatever—you would need to get to your station or whatever your side duty is when an emergency situation happens. If you can’t run that distance and get there, or then, once you get there you are so out of breath you can’t be of any help to us in an emergency situation, that is a big thing, too. We want to make sure our sailors are ready in an emergency situation so that they could react to whatever they would be called into action [for], other than what their normal duty is.

Q: As obesity rates in the United States keep rising, is that being reflected [in the Navy]?

A: The thing that people have to remember, when you watch old war movies you always see everyone staying in shape. When you’re in the military [in movies] you have to be in shape. Well, that’s Hollywood magic, and it’s never been that way. There are always a few people who are out of shape and things like that because it reflects the general population of the world. When you are taking the population of the Navy, it comes directly from a chunk of the direct population of the United States.

Sure, you are going to deal with those problems because that is a direct reflection of what is going on in society right now. We always think of the Marines out training and doing things like that, and we always think of the people in the Army in tip-top, zero percent body fat guys going into battle. Well, unfortunately, you know not everybody can be that way because genetically they weren’t as blessed as well as somebody else or things like that, or they’ve had other issues.

Now people do get into shape. But a lot of times when they come into the Navy or they’ve been in the Navy awhile or the military, just with age and everything like that they deal with the processes of age just like everyone else does. It’s harder to lose weight, it’s harder to stay in shape, so some people put on some weight and some people lose weight. It’s a direct snapshot of the United States’ society. So what’s going on in the U.S. population? The same thing that’s going on in the Navy population.

I wish I could say, “Yes, when you join the Navy, you become thin and in shape and the fat just melts off you because you signed on the line for Uncle Sam.” Well, it doesn’t, and that’s the thing. You have to make a commitment just like the average person in the civilian world would go to a health club everyday. It’s the same thing for a sailor. They have to come into our fitness centers to maintain their fitness on a daily basis.

Q: Does having more obese civilians, sailors and family members put more of a strain on Navy fitness?

A: We’ve started to realize more and more that our main duty is to take care of the sailor. That’s the number one thing: We are there for the sailor. But we are also realizing that we have to start tapping into the families. We have to start tapping into the Department of Defense (DOD) employees that work on our Navy bases, too, because again, it all comes down to the Navy family, and not meaning family as in direct relatives; we’re meaning the Navy family, meaning the Department of Defense employees, your family members, your spouses, your retirees and then your active-duty sailors. So it’s a big family that all kind of encapsulates and falls under, again, the priorities of a sailor, but we are starting to bring more programs that reach out to the families, meaning we are trying to have family-friendly areas where moms can bring their children and put them in a little area up front of where they are actually working out, so they can actually watch them instead of taking them to child care during the workout.

We are also doing family fitness hours where the family can bring in their children and things like that to exercise together with them. We used to have a stringent policy where no one under 14 was allowed to lift, or if they did, they would have to go through some certification and things like that. Now, we are starting to make some hours more specifically when these populations can come in. Rather than before it was like, “No, you can’t do that.” So we are reaching out a little bit more and opening up our programs, and we are still keeping them in control. We are not just opening up our doors and saying, “Come on in,” but we are doing programs that make things more available, and it’s amazing to see the family-friendly areas become a social club for people to come in. It’s where people meet, and they work out together, and their children are there playing with each other.

To make that available to them is a big thing, where normally if they didn’t have the babysitter or didn’t have somebody to watch the child, they couldn’t come work out. So that’s a huge increase that we are starting to see those little centers pop up here and there, and usually what we’ve done is either take a racquetball court or someone who had an older barn in a storage building or an area that they’ve converted into [a family-fitness space], and it’s about 800 square feet usually. So it’s definitely helped out a lot in the push of getting some people who normally couldn’t work out the opportunity to [work out].

Q: When was the Department of Navy Fitness, as we know it now, created?

A: They finally realized that there was going to be a change, say go back 30, 40 years ago, basically fitness in the Navy was sports. You’d go out and play softball, you’d play football, you’d play flag football or you’d play soccer or you’d play a sport; that was your fitness. And there were some gyms there at the time, you know a multi-station hidden back somewhere that they’d use or I’ve heard they turned old jail cells on these ships into makeshift gyms in the early days and things like that. The changes that I started seeing in the mid-1990s was that more people were getting into this fitness thing, meaning fitness [and] actual working out—physical fitness—rather than just playing sports to maintain your fitness. They knew they needed this transition, so about 1995 is where they kind of made that shift to develop an organization to kind of govern these new fitness centers that were coming about. No longer was it just a big open building with a gymnasium in it and that was it. Now we were starting to see these nice little fitness centers popping up with free weights and cardiovascular equipment and selectorized machines, and most of them had swimming pools starting to be attached to them and things like that, so it was becoming more the fitness center rather than just the sports type of atmosphere. That’s kind of where the shift was. Now, Navy fitness is fitness, aquatics and sports. It is not only sports anymore. It’s all three encapsulated into one, so Navy Fitness is like a big blanket term for all of those components of it. So that’s kind of where they started. In 1995, they made a big transition when they started creating a true office or a staff that would govern over, as far as policy, the running of these fitness centers.

Q: Would you say it’s become larger as time has gone by?

A: Definitely. Like I said before, it was all sports, so your ball fields were your major things, your gymnasium was your major thing, and that’s all you saw on a lot of bases. And then [there was] that transition where people started saying “hey, we want more. We want to work out. We want to get in shape. We want to do things like that rather than just playing a sport that not everybody was in to.” I mean it’s just evolved. Many centers have gotten bigger than what they were. Like I said, many of them went from those old gym, high school, selectorized pieces of equipment that were multi-station into kind of a full-blown center. So yes, the evolution has been tremendous, and with that comes more dollars to maintain it, so more dollars started coming into the program, too. Before, [we had to] mow the fields, make sure the courts weren’t warped out or needed to be re-varnished or whatever. And now, we are worrying about getting new rubber floors and new equipment every year, so with that you needed more money. So that’s where you needed some kind of organization to kind of govern how the things should be and what should be ordered and things like that.

Q: Have the war in Iraq and other conflicts overseas affected Navy Fitness?

A: I wouldn’t say they’ve affected it; we’ve just had to rethink how we get stuff to people because now there is a larger portion of deployed military. We have to figure out how we get things to them—our strength equipment and things like that. We have people who will order equipment through our department, and send things over. They go through Doug Butts, he’s in charge of our fleet side, and he helped put in the orders and send equipment over there and [he will] go through a regular company or whatever vendor they’ve chosen. [Navy Fitness will] get that equipment over there, and they’ll send it out to the area. We’ve tried to create the best atmosphere we can in the hostile environments that they’re in.

Now, do you still see some areas where all they have is what they make? Well, yes, there are some remote areas you just can’t get some stuff to—I’m not saying that we don’t try to do that. We put a lot of equipment over there for them to use, whether it be dumbbells or whether it be free weights or whether it be cardiovascular machines and things like that, and for us, we have some people on the ground, but it’s more on the ships that we like to make sure they’re up and running, too. You have deployed ships going out all the time, and we want to make sure those gyms are fully equipped and funded as far as getting parts out to them when they need to repair the equipment and things like that.

So I don’t think it’s hurt us at all with the war going on, like we’ve been affected as far as they’ve taken something away from us. I think it’s helped us to make sure we are helping the sailor. That’s what it has come down to. I wouldn’t say there’s been an “Oh my gosh, we’ve put more money into this.” We’ve got some money to help the sailor to make sure that when they’re over there that they have stuff to do in their free time. There’s not a lot of places they can go always being in a hostile environment like that, so when they have places to work out and things to do, it really helps their morale and helps the sailor feel better about themselves. It gives them that little bit of time away from what’s actually going on there, and definitely for us, to get them that equipment, that’s a big thing.

Q: You do a number of group exercise programs and other big-scale events on ships, correct?

A: Yes, it just depends on what’s going on. Like we’ve had Billy Blanks go out and do different classes for us when he’s come and helped us out, so we’ve developed some huge classes onboard some of the aircraft carriers on the flight deck. I think they had 200 or 300 people on top of one of the carriers working out at one time, which is a pretty cool event to see. But I mean it’s just having the people out there, the professionals out there, to organize those types of events. It’s nice that we are allowed to hire and find people out there in the field that are willing to go out on a ship for full deployment and work for the military. It’s kind of nice going outside of that environment of the health club and out into more of an industrialized [environment] because basically an aircraft carrier or a small ship is a floating factory. So that’s kind of a unique thing when they go out there and do that, and you live a little bit of a different lifestyle as far as being away from your family for a given amount of time, but it’s very rewarding, too, when you can touch that many people.

Q: How many fitness professionals are employed within Navy Fitness right now?

A: Well, when we’re talking about just employed people in our housing and gyms and stuff like that, we’re talking all positions so about 3,000 people maybe [Navy Fitness] wide. But now our certified professionals, we only have a few, not as many as [3,000] because not everybody is 100 percent certified because for a lot of the positions in our gym you don’t have to be. If you’re a person who works on equipment, not necessarily do you have to be certified in fitness, you’ll be certified in fixing the equipment, so not everybody’s that. We’d love to get more certified people because that gives us our credibility. And that’s difficult because in the fitness market there are a lot of options. If you want to be a personal trainer, you can work either in town or work in the military or different things like that. So it’s really the competition to get good people that is very difficult. And I’m sure that’s what a lot of health clubs deal with is finding good people on a regular basis and keeping them there and that they don’t move on to their own business or they find a better opportunity. So, about 3,000 [Navy Fitness employees]. Is it an adequate number? Well, no. We always need more certified professionals who are willing to come in and work with the military. And that’s the big thing, just getting those certified people because that gives us our credibility, and that’s really what helps us out.

Q: What qualifications are you looking for and how do you go about finding those quality people?

A: We can do it two ways. We can have the person who goes to college and gets a degree and gets a nationally recognized certification—whether it be NSCA [National Sports & Conditioning Association], ACSM [American College of Sports Medicine], ACE [American Council on Exercise] or any one of the kind of bigger ones that are nationally recognized. We do accept other ones. Those individuals usually apply for our fitness director jobs or our fitness coordinator jobs. Those are our top-tier kind of people. We also have what are called fitness specialists and fitness assistants who are more of our personal trainers and lower-level entry positions. These are people who might not have the four-year degree, but they have the fitness certification or they have the training somewhere and have the experience to back it up. You know, they’ve been in fitness for 20 years, and they have experience, and they’ve proven that. So in those positions, people can come in and work towards a degree, too. Say they want to come in and work towards a degree, and then they can move up in positions, too. We like to move people up that have been in the system, too. So if someone comes in as a fitness assistant, which is kind of a bottom tier of our fitness strata, that person can work their way up through training and stuff that we do for them, and we also try to do individual development plans with them when they get hired with us, so on a yearly basis, they are required to take so much training and things like that to improve their levels, whether it be attend conferences, attend clinics or just sending them to work on the computer a little bit more to develop different spreadsheets and stuff like that for fitness training. So that’s kind of our strata as far as coming in.

And we have other positions. We have custodial workers, we have our field maintenance people who take care of our ball fields and things like that, and we have our facilities coordinator who takes care of our buildings. And then we also have part-time staff, too. So we are always looking for the person who has some type of certification from a respectable organization and go on from there because that’s really where the credibility comes in. With so many certifications out there now, you really have to look at some of them and [make sure] it wasn’t just a one-day or an online thing that you sent your money in and got a certification. We really want to have the decent ones there.

Q: What is required of Navy Fitness professionals in their jobs both stationed abroad and at home?

A: When you walk into our facilities, you probably wouldn’t notice anything different than if you were to walk into a Bally or a 24 Hour Fitness or something like that. It looks the same. It has a front check-in counter, we have locker rooms, we have people passing out towels in the front, we have people checking in by scanning their cards or keeping track of who’s coming into the gym, and you have your full-fledged regular fitness center on a base and everything like that. Now are some better than others? Sure, just like out in the private sector, some are better than others, some are newer, some are older.

As far as our professionals, and the biggest thing is that, in the mornings, a lot of the commands PT [physical train], and a lot of times, we assist with those command PTs, and our fitness professionals may be coming in anywhere from 4 a.m. doing PT to 8 a.m. and somewhere in there they are PTing a big command. So they would be coming in and doing a full-scale large group exercise in an exercise room or outside. I’ve seen people do classes on beaches. I’ve seen people do classes on big ball fields where they get up on a stage, and they actually do a class for 100 to 150 people, depending on how big the command is. So it varies there, but that is an integral part sometimes of the mornings of our fitness staff that are out there actually running our PT programs for our sailors.

Then throughout the rest of the day and a lot of times in the mornings, you’ll see a lot of our retirees come into our gyms, and that’s when you have people who are working with personal trainers. Then, in the noontime rush between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m., you have a few groups come in, and they do group PT again, or you have individuals come in for personal training and things like that. There are administrative duties throughout the whole day where [fitness professionals] are going out and making sure all the machines are working and things like that. Then in the late afternoon, we get another big rush between 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. where the sailors are getting off work and are coming in. There are not as many command PTs at that time; that’s usually where a lot of our intramural programs kick in, so our sports coordinators are a little more active during that time as far as developing that. Sometimes around noontime, they have intramural noontime hours, and sometimes our sports coordinators will do things like over 35-year-old basketball leagues or intramural basketball in general or flag football or whatever season it is for the sports. And then it’s the same thing for the night.

So PT is more active in the morning, so more of our group fitness is done more in the morning, and as it gets later in the day, we have more individual personal training, where our sports people kick in more towards noontime and the late afternoon.

Now, when you are out to sea with a ship, you could be at a 24-hour day operation because the ship is alive 24 hours a day—it doesn’t shut down. It’s not like you go to work at 9 a.m. and get off at 5 p.m., and the ship is kind of quiet after that. No, it’s pretty much an active ship at all times, and it never stops. So you could be getting up at 5 a.m., doing a PT group, and then going around and checking all your machines around the ship and making sure they’re all up and running and things like that on a daily basis. You could be developing programs, or doing group exercise programs anytime during the day. You could run some at noon, you could run some in the afternoon and some in the early evenings, and you’d be teaching class, so you’d be having a how-to-lift properly type of class at 8 p.m. at night. You could also be doing a Power Point presentation or doing special events, too, as a fitness person.

Like when I was out to sea (Editor’s note: Meeker served as fitness director on USS Carl Vinson while at sea for a six-month deployment in 2001.), I held the Strongest Man Competition at 7 p.m. at night, and it went to like 10 p.m., so it was kind of a neat thing to do onboard. And on the sports side, we held a boxing smoker (Editor's note: a smoker is a boxing tournament), so you could be setting up that at 7 p.m. and then not be done with that until like 1 a.m. or 2 a.m. if you are having a bunch of fights that night.

So as far as the out-to-sea person, I would love to say that there is a set schedule, but there really isn’t. Some days you’ll get up in the morning and go do your job all day, and you’ll look outside the blast doors there—they are open at night—and you’ll be sitting there at night going, “Man, I never looked outside today,” because you are just so busy onboard the ship doing things for fitness. When you are on deployment, it’s kind of weird because you are not taking on an environment of having other outside entities of “I’ve gotta go to the store,” or “I’ve gotta go do this,” but when you are on the ship, that’s it. You seem like you thrust yourself into your job a little bit more because that’s the main emphasis, and you enjoy doing it. It really is so rewarding. You may not hear it on a daily basis, but the biggest thing I heard at the end of a cruise was that the people really thanked me for just having the equipment up and running. Because that’s probably the most important thing, if that equipment isn’t up and running, that means a sailor can’t work out. So if you have one, two, three, four or however many pieces down, well that’s how many sailors didn’t get to work out that day, and you think over a 24-hour period that could be 25, 100, who knows how many sailors who could have possibly worked out, but since that piece of equipment was down, no one got a workout. That is so critical to have that.

Q: How long was your deployment?

A: It was a full six months. It was kind of a unique thing to be out there right when September 11th happened. When I initially took the job, [I thought] “When was the last time the U.S. went to war?” [That was back] in 1991, so I was like “OK, we’re OK. I feel pretty safe going out there,” and sure enough I ended up being…and I mean the thing a lot of people shy away from, they think, you’re working for the military and you’re going out to sea, but you’re probably more safe on that ship than anywhere else in the world. I think a lot of people—when they are making their decisions to possibly apply for a job with the fleet—think it’s kind of dangerous. It really isn’t. I felt more safe on that ship than I did anywhere else probably at that time.

Q: Are most deployments six months?

A: Most of them are six months. Do some of them last longer? Yes. The Abraham Lincoln did one after I went out for [about] 10 months, but those were right at the beginning [of the Iraq war] when we were doing some really heavy air strikes and things like that. Now, it’s pretty much back on a regular schedule. Six months is usually the thing. Now you do have workups and things like that that also go on. So you get a feel for being out to sea before you go out and actually do the deployment.

Q: You’ll know if you’re seasick or not?

A: You’ll find out right away. They do have pills for that, and they take care of it pretty well.

Q: As more women have entered the military and are in the Navy, has that affected fitness facilities at all?

A: Well, I mean you just have to make sure you have the facilities for women. I mean, that’s it. Every one of our fitness centers have a male and female locker room. Now are [the women’s locker rooms] as big? No, they are in proportion to the standardized sizes as far as the amount of women that would be using it. So the men’s locker rooms usually are a little bit bigger because there is more of a male population. But the same good facilities are in the women’s [locker rooms] because they made women’s locker rooms now. We also have family locker rooms now, too, in some of our facilities. So it’s catering not only to the female population but also understanding that people have families with children they want to bring along, too. But, no, there really hasn’t been any big hindrance to having more women in the Navy since they’ve come in. You have to have these facilities now and that was really about it.

What really took off with the female population [was that women] really prefer group exercise. So that is the bigger thing that got a good development. Rather than just being the spouses coming in, now we also had actual military members coming in [to classes] who were female. It’s really becoming so it’s an even mix of male and female in group exercise, so I really can’t even say that [now]. Maybe initially it was, but today when you walk in to some of our classes, you may see certain kinds of classes have a little more female population than male, but on some of our other ones like spinning and stuff like that, it’s a good, even mix. Step is even kind of becoming an even mix. You are still going to have in your heavy stretching and group exercise classes…I think there’s a larger female population [in those classes] but still, we are starting to see a lot of males come in, too, and realize the importance. And that’s the kind of mindset we want to try and get everybody out of: that this is not a female class; this is not a male class. We want to make sure this class is good for everybody, and that’s the whole thing about fitness, too. When you finally get somebody educated about fitness that there is no one thing that makes you in great shape…There’s a million great things that make you in great shape, and you just find what you like and try new things to keep it fresh so that you maintain it your whole life.

Q: You go to a lot of trade shows and conferences and check out the new trends. Do you always try to bring in new trends or do you feel them out and make sure they’re not too trendy?

A: Well, there are some trends that come up that we are like, “Whoa, we need to wait and see if this really takes off or if this is really safe.” There are just some things out there that we are not going to have in our gyms. You’re not going to have the pole dancing classes—that’s a little risqué—you know things like that. You have to remember, we are dealing with a population that has a little more say than your average Bally’s club that says, “This is what we offer, and that’s it. If you don’t like it, too bad, just don’t attend.” Ours gets a little more political because we are dealing with the U.S. government and things like that. So we have to watch for things that could potentially not sit right with somebody, and they could potentially go up the chain of command and say “Hey, I don’t like this. Why do we do it?” So we have to be a little more neutral in some our fitness endeavors that we try out. Another thing, too, is safety, and that’s a big thing, too, because we do have people directly in charge of safety. So that’s some other options, too, with some of the things we include in some of our classes or new machines we bring on board or different apparatuses that people try to sell us and things like that.

Q: Do you offer yoga, Pilates and dance-based classes? Are those fairly mainstream trends now?

A: Oh yes, yes. More than the general good ones, some of the big hot ones now are Body Pump. That’s really big right now. Spinning is really taking off, and what I’ve found with Spinning is that your instructor really makes the class. You can have kind of an average instructor and a few people will show up, but if you’ve got a great instructor, your class will be packed every time. I guess that’s the key for group exercise is that you know [to have] a good instructor for the class because people see that. If [participants] really enjoy your class, they are going to keep coming. And that’s one thing there as far as trends that I’ve noticed on base is that it all depends on the instructor because no matter how popular something is, it’s only as good as its instructor.

Q: Some of your fitness centers will also do some programming for sailors who have failed their fitness tests. Is that pretty consistent at all of the bases? They all have programs like that?

A: I developed a 24 Weeks of Success program, which is a 24-week training program, because the testing timeframe for the sailor to take the command or the PRT, physical readiness test, which is a three-mile run, a two-minute curl up, a two-minute push-up test and then a body composition test, [is 24 weeks]. So what happens is, they take this test, and they compare themselves to a chart and that chart should tell them if they passed and how high they passed, up to superior or excellent [fitness ratings] all the way down to satisfactory or failing. And if they fail, they automatically go onto an FEP program or a Fitness Enhancement Program. This is where the command fitness leader would come to one of our Navy fitness professionals and say, “Hey, I need some help in developing one of these programs to train my group.” And one thing I did was a blueprint or a template to show our fitness professionals a consistent program that they could show [when sailors ask], “What’s 24 Weeks of Success?” which is six months in-between each testing period. That gives them a full six months worth of workouts to progress to specifically pass the run, the curl-ups, the push-ups and then also lower their body composition.

What’s been nice is Rota, Spain, a base over there, took our program and put it onto an Internet Explorer format onto a disk. So when you go through it, it’s kind of like looking at a Web page because now everything on the Internet is the way to go for most things, so you know more people are familiar with that, and they can go and print off their workouts on there, and they can read everything. It’s just like going through a Web page—you know, a fitness Web page. It’s kind of neat going from there since then people make their own programs. [The program is] just kind of the blueprint. Can you do the program as is? Sure, it’s going to get you in shape, and—unless you really had a lot of obstacles to overcome—you are probably going to pass your next PRT if you stick to this program. But now a lot of people came back and said, “Well, now it’s great. We got them in shape. Now, what do we do?” Well, that’s when I created a second one, which was a maintenance program. And that’s a 15-week program. Then there’s a third one now that just came out about a year and half ago that’s an advanced program. So it’s kind of like going full steam. If you want to start with the advanced program, basically you have a years’ worth of workouts on these discs, and I also came out with a recent one for Athletic Business (2007 trade show and conference) this past year. It’s a deployment one, so it’s more working with rubber bands and things like that that we are using for our band kits that are out there.

So a lot of different things help the sailor with that. Now are there some great regular fitness staff members out there doing some command fitness stuff out there that are not following this 24-week [program]? There are some other good programs out there, but we wanted to give a blueprint to show that we could hand it to the sailor and hand it to a fitness professional and say, “Here’s how a fitness program looks.” Because a lot of people, especially sailors, just don’t know how to train for an extended amount of time other than a couple weeks. [Sailors say], “Well, I’ve got two weeks to get into shape.” Well, we both know that that’s a little difficult to do. Especially if you have to lose 30 pounds—unless you start cutting off limbs and stuff like that or you’re not going to get the job done. Not many people want to sacrifice that just to pass a test. It just comes down to the point of how do they do it? And like I said, it just gives them a blueprint of how to run and some other unique things in the training program. It also gives them the split times to be able to run on a treadmill, so if they are out to sea, they can still run on a treadmill and get their workouts in. [There is] also a crosstrainer version and a bike version to maintain their fitness, too.

So there’s a lot of things out there that we give them, and we also have instructional videos and how to do the basic strength training equipment and things like that to get people back into shape because not everybody wants to go get into a program unless they are mandated to get into the program. And, like I said, unless you fail and are placed in the fitness enhancement program, you may be borderline, and you don’t have to go do this group thing, but you are still looking for the information to go do that, so that’s where the disk comes in to be able to do some of our videos and some of our books that we create, too.

A: Well, the biggest thing we are pushing is the whole family approach. And by family [I mean] the Navy family. We’re not just meaning your family as in spouses and things like that. We’re talking Department of Defense, civilians, spouses, retirees, the enlisted sailor and things like that because it comes out of the big mix. [What] not everybody thinks about is that it comes out of the Department of Defense budget, and healthcare costs are part of that. So if we have a healthier workforce entirely, that will mean that we will go ahead and cut those costs for healthcare dramatically if we can get that, which is an evolution. And not everybody still believes in that, and we still have issues that some people never go to see a doctor and are perfectly healthy, and other people are there every week. And that’s the biggest thing. We want to get to those people who are using the system and putting a lot of stress on it because of their health or their fitness. What we want to do is decrease that as much as we can to get down to the point where it’s only people going to the doctor who need it and using the healthcare system. I think that’s everywhere. I think that every business is looking at that now. It’s not just the Navy. I think it’s every business starting to say, “Hey, healthcare cost is an issue. How can we reduce it?” Well, one way is to get people healthy. I mean people are still going to get sick; it’s inevitable. I wish there was a perfect, healthy world out there that we could live in, but it’s getting people to buy into the fact that by keeping themselves in shape, it will affect them later as far as their dollar amount because with most programs you do pay some type of healthcare costs when you are doing that. You are investing money, plus the company, so the company is looking at it [and saying], “So how can we cut our costs?” But in the long term, too, it’s going to help the person with the actual costs.

We need our sailors to be in shape. We need our sailors to be ready for duty. We need our sailors to be ready for, like I said, emergency situations, be able to do their jobs more efficiently and things like that. That’s the number one priority. But in the big picture, it does come down to healthcare costs, too, for a lot of us. So how much money does that civilian worker, how much does he put a strain on the system for being out of shape?

We just did a thing where we used to charge our DOD civilians [to use our fitness centers], too, but as an initiative to help out with this, [we] allow them free access to come in. It’s a nice thing to do to get people who may not have normally come in because they may not want to pay for a health club membership. Well, now that they have it accessible, they are like, “Well, OK. Now that we have it accessible, we might as well go.” It’s free, and that’s been a big one for us. Now have we seen a huge increase [in the number of people coming into those fitness centers]? Well, initially just like anything else, with the New Year’s resolutions, when something new comes around, people start coming in, but it’s leveled off. We’ve got a few more people back in that were working out before, and they really appreciate not having to pay anymore, and that’s a really nice little perk for being a DOD civilian, so that’s a nice thing.

As far as what you are going to probably see more of, the family-friendly areas, like I said, where you can bring your child and place them into these little play areas while the parent actually watches the child work out. You’re probably going to see a lot more family fitness areas, meaning true strength rooms. We’ve done a few little things in Norfolk (VA) and Kingsbay (GA) and some different areas, and we are starting to buy some new equipment where both mom and dad can work out with the kids with the same equipment at the same time, like circuit training, so the whole family is working out together. So, [we are] including everybody in fitness.

And our big thing now is pushing “exercise your options,” and finding out about things you can do to stay healthy whether it be nutrition, whether it be physical fitness, whether it be sports, whether it be swimming, whatever it is. We are trying to just get the sailor to start thinking about a healthy lifestyle. That’s the initial thing you have to get the sailor to start thinking about because when they start thinking healthy, they start thinking, “Well, do I need that candy bar? Do I need to have that extra beer?” They start thinking about the little extra things that maybe could help them in their fitness endeavors rather than just throwing caution to the wind, [saying] “I’m a young kid. I’m invincible.” Then, they turn 30 and think, “Wow, I really shouldn’t have done that when I was younger.” Where now they wake up 10 years later and say, “I’m out of shape. I’m overweight.” Now, they are working to get it off rather than just getting them early and when they’re younger and start doing those [healthy lifestyle behaviors] that will really help them out throughout their entire life.

We are always trying to improve our fitness centers, too. We are starting to get a few mil-cons, which are military construction. We are trying to improve our facilities, our older ones that have been around a while. The Navy is a very old organization, so we do have some buildings that are very old, too, and we are gradually getting some new facilities out there. The new ones that have been built recently have been just phenomenal. There’s some beautiful facilities in Sigonella, Italy, and Loma, CA. We have [some new ones in] Oceana (VA) and Norfolk (VA). Some of our newer ones are just excellent and beautiful, state-of-the-art facilities that rival probably some of the top commercial health clubs as far as space and equipment and things like that.

That’s another thing we are always striving for and the biggest [thing] beyond quality facilities is education, trying to get the information to our sailors on the importance of fitness and how we can reach them. And again, that comes from having a certified staff and consistent information given by our staff. That’s another thing that we want to try and promote a little more in the future because consistency in information is the key. Why should a sailor in Norfolk (VA) who moves to San Diego get two conflicting views on what fitness is? If you walk into any health club in America and you go to three trainers and interview all three of them, they’d each say a different thing on what they thought fitness was. That’s what we are trying to get away from. I think we are confusing too many people, and when you are dealing with this many people in a select population like the Navy, you want to make sure you have a consistent message. That’s the big thing.

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