With a large, diverse unit, it can take some thorough planning and creativity to provide a workout that is challenging, safe, timely, and well executed.
|Ramstein AF PTLs learning functional fitness concepts during Total Fit PTL training|
Some things to consider:
Our Unit is 100+ members and any number between 35 and 70 might show--if twice as many as you expect show you may have equipment availability issues. Have a fall back plan.
Large groups are more difficult quality control for complex movements--especially if you are the only person leading/coaching the session. Most movements can be simplified (e.g. make squats "box squats" to reduce the amount of quality control and cueing needed per person for each movment). If you plan to introduce a new and semi-complex movement such as a kettlebell swing, it is very important to make sure that any other exercises done that day are very simple (pushups, situps, burpees, running, step ups, etc.), or were previously instructed very thoroughly, so that the majority of attention can be devoted to the new movement. It is also very worthwhile to enlist the help of other competent physical training leaders when available. Ratios of training leaders to participants will vary based on the skill level of the trainer, the experience of the trainees, and the complexity of the workout of the day.
One of the biggest mistakes military PTLs make is to regularly participate in the workout. Granted, there ARE some workouts that are simple enough that you can participate. And if you are working with a small sized/highly skilled group (say 4 or 5 relatively up to speed members) you can get your hands dirty. With a large unit however, it is simply impossible to be effective at coaching others if your nose is in the mudd doing pushups. It's important to get out amongst the unit, motivate, and cue-in members on their form. This results in improved fitness with less injuries for your members.
Equipment availability is a concern. Our gym is not set up with enough barbells to run 70 people through a weightlifting session. Bodyweight movements are great for large groups because little/no additional equipment is needed and they can be modified to higher or lower fitness levels (incline, decline, partial, plyometric, etc.). There are some great benefits to adding resistance and learning control of external objects though. Some equipment can be found/made, also a smart circuit can be created so that members can rotate through and recieve the benefits of external resistance.
In a large group, there are mixed ability levels. Levels of conditioning and fitness experience, age, movitation, and prior-existing injuries can vary greatly. My unit is a medical unit. We have 18 year old Airmen, 50+ year old Colonels/LTCs, battle ready medics, pregnant members, knee braces, and everything in between. It's helpful to have a toolbox full of modifications for each and every exercise. Be prepared to modify the intensity or the range of motion or to substitute an entire different movement based on abilities and pain with movement.
If it's not a motivating workout, people will sandbag it. This is a tough one. People are motivated by different things. Unfit individuals may give up if they feel overwhelmed, overfit individuals may hold back if they feel the workout is not hard enough--"saving energy for their 'real workout' after unit PT". And some people sandbag perhaps just because they don't like to work. Creating workouts that allow each member to push themselves at their own pace is smart. Not everyone should run the same distance or do the same number of pushups every time. Also, changing up the scheme/goal of a workout between time priority (you have a set time, do as many reps, rounds, or work within that time), task priority (do x amount or roundsand reps as fast as you can), occasional team/partner workouts, and various other makeups can be useful in tapping in to the different ways in which each person is motivated.
Here's the workout I put together for our Squadron:
I was able to reserve a fitness center with some equipment, including a 9 rowers, 16 Dynamax medicine balls, those green and pink aerobics steps, a few kettlebells, cones, and tons of floor matts. I planned for ~50 members of mixed fitness levels. The Squadron only meets once per month for group PT, the training leader rotates, and new members come and go frequently. So I have to assume that conditioning is perhaps not at the high intensity level I would like for them, I also have to assume every movement they learn is new.
Before the anaerobic effort, the Squadron was formed into 6 lines and ran in hears through a dynamic warmup starting with light jogs and shuffles and moving to more complex patterns such as hip add/abduction and tiger crawls. Members were given the opportunity to get themselves water before moving on to the anaerobic circuit (10-15 minutes).
There are 7 stations, members complete 3 rounds, spending 45 seconds at each of the 7 stations, each round. The goal is to complete as many reps as possible at each station.
1) Wallballs - A "butt target" was placed at approcimate hip-parallel height behind each ball. This gives them feedback on their depth and makes it easier for a beginner to think about "sitting back with their hips", then driving from their heels versus starting the movement by throwing their knees forward--greatly reducing the amount of attention needed to be paid to each member. Squat down and touch ball with butt, then accelerate up through heels and utilize power from hips to help throw the ball to a 8 ft (for those 66" or shorter) or 10 ft (taller than 66") target. Wallball weights varied from 10# to 20#.
2) Situps - Simple enough. Start the rep by touching ground over your head, then begin curling up until you touch you toes. Members were instructed NOT to ancor their feet--forcing the abs to do the work and lessening the contribution of the legs and hip flexors. Poor-fit members were instructed to perform a hollow-rock-like movement to get to the situp position if they were unable to complete any more strict situps. Ab-Mats would be great ... we don't have them.
3) Rowing - goal is to generate max calories during the 45 sec. Only strap in one foot--greatly improves transition speed each round.
4) Pushups--full range of motion. If full range of motion is not obtained, then member drops to knees and continues to do pushups. If knee pushups are also exhausted, member will hold a plank at the top of the pushup position.
5) Box Jumps/Box Step Ups--Boxes, benches, and aerobic steps were set at various heights from 8" to 24" to accomodate varying comfort/athleticism. Members with prior knee isues were instructed to step down from each rep.
6) Suicide Sprint--Sprint 10 yd, and return to start, immediatley turn and sprint 20 yd, then return, then immediately turn and sprint to 30 yd and back. Members were instructed to only complete one suicide spint focusing on quality output--looking for a sprint not a jog. Time remaining after completing the sprint was awarded as rest. It pays to be fast.
7) Rest and Stretch - This station was added more or less at the last minute to accomodate for slightly more members than planned. Otherwise, everyone would have rested at the same time after completing all 6 stations.
|4-D graphic representation of PT layout. Careful not to cut yourself on the sharpness.|
Every 45 seconds, at the command of the PTL, the members moved on to the next station and began working immediately (generally by the time they got to the next station they had already burned 10-15 of their 45 seconds in transit--built in rest).
Circuit time: 15 minutes, 45 seconds. When you factor in that 1 of the 7 stations was rest, and lets say 10 seconds was spent in transition betwen each station ... you could estimate that 10 minutes and 30 seconds were actually spent in anaerobic effort.
The majority of "coaching" focus was devoted to the wallballs station and the rowing station with occasional passes by the other areas.
After the anaerobic circuit, ~7 minutes was spent in coached stretching per the request of the commander.
Total time: ~40 minutes plus setup and cleanup
Result: everyone sweat, nobody got hurt, and the new Squadron Commander said something along the line of "the was different, but F-ck that was a good workout ... damn." Then was dissapointed when he found out I was PCSing and asked if I could leave some resources with the other PTLs to keep this type of program going after I leave.