Apr 9, 2018
A Helping Hand

The request made of Jonathan Lynch, CSCS*D, Director of Performance at the University of Maine, was unique but at the same time familiar. Could he help 20 men and women pass a physical fitness test they had not been able to conquer? And the stakes were high. This was their last chance to pass the test, which was required for their acceptance into the Army National Guard.

The appeal came from the head of the school’s ROTC program. After accepting, Lynch joined the Soldier Wellness Education and Training (SWEAT) project, a two-week program designed to assist the National Guard hopefuls in upgrading their strength, fitness, nutrition, and recovery. Lynch’s charge was to teach them about proper running mechanics, breathing techniques, and stress management.

His strategy was to present complex ideas as simply as possible and help participants better understand their physical deficiencies. He started with a 45-minute lecture on stress management, efficiency of movement, and perception of the environment. He also addressed proper breathing.

From there, Lynch put his words into action. “I asked who had tight hamstrings and most of the participants raised their hands,” he says. “I told them to do a hamstring stretch and make note of how far they could go and how it felt. Then we did a quick breathing exercise that relaxed the lower back and put the hamstrings in a better position. After that, they tried the stretch again and were amazed at how deep they got.”

Next, the soldiers went out to the school’s track for another 45-minute session. They were asked to apply what had been discussed about movement efficiency while they ran, with Lynch offering corrective cues on issues like knees angling in or hips tilting towards the ground.

“We did a series of basic exercises building up from a walk to a prance to a jog,” he says. “They could feel the difference in what they were used to doing compared to the more efficient way to move.

“These people weren’t lazy or out of shape, but they had been unsuccessful at the fitness test because of faulty movement patterns,” Lynch continues. “A lot of them had ankle, knee, or hip issues due to improper running mechanics. When I showed them how it feels to move and breathe the right way, it definitely made a difference.”

Although it was a contrast to how he trains NCAA Division I student-athletes, Lynch was happy to help the future service members. “It was really good to work with a population like that,” he says. “In athletics, winning is always one of the goals, but with the soldiers I got to focus on teaching movement and mechanics. All of it was meant to help them pass their fitness test-but it will also improve their long-term health.”

This article appeared in the April 2018 issue of Training & Conditioning.


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