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High-intensity training keeps Airman fit to fight

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Arielle Vasquez
  • 36th Wing Public Affairs
(This feature is part of the "Through Airmen's Eyes" series. These stories focus on a single Airman, highlighting their Air Force story.)

Almost every day after work he shows up at his home away from home. People working on pull-ups, power lifts and handstands are all comforting sight for 1st Lt. Alex Johnson, a deployed member from Minot Air Force Base, N.D.

He jumps right into his routine checking his demanding workout schedule between numerous exercises during his functional fitness regimen.

The athletically built Indiana native was always involved in various sports throughout his high school and college days, but wasn't familiar with functional fitness. It wasn't until one of his friends told him about it three years ago that Johnson started doing more research on the workouts involved.

"I realized a lot of what was involved in these workouts was what I had already been doing, and lined up with the way I liked to train," Johnson said. "I remember just after ten minutes of my first workout, I was on my back dead tired and I told myself, 'I'm never doing this again.' A couple days passed and I decided to try it again. It reminded me of when I would push myself like I did when I was on sports teams."

Shortly after getting involved in this alternative workout culture, Johnson and a close friend and training partner entered their first competition in the fall of 2012. While Johnson didn't win the competition, he remembers becoming hooked to pushing his limits and competing against other athletes. His newfound interest would take him on road trips to various competitions to prove his mettle.

The same way he pushed his limits in the world of functional fitness, Johnson also worked hard to achieve his lifelong goal of joining the military. From the age of 6, he knew he wanted to join the Air Force, and dreamt of flying one day. He is now an electronic warfare officer assigned to the 23rd Expeditionary Bomb Squadron, where he flies on a B-52 Stratofortress, and defends the aircraft from air and surface-based threats.

"There is a similar brotherhood you find in a fitness team, the way there is that bond formed when working with people in the military," Johnson said.

Johnson explained he likes the aspect of wingmanship he has come to know in the Air Force, but admitted he was missing the physical competitiveness of being part of a sports team like he was in the past.

"For me, doing these workouts is something I really enjoy," Johnson said. "What I like the most is being able to push myself. I consider myself a competitive exerciser. I've done things I didn't think I could do like walking on my hands or gymnastic-type movements. There's always something else you can improve on."

Since arriving on island only two months ago, Johnson has already participated in the Marianas Trench Throwdown, a two-day CrossFit competition that tested contenders' fitness. He took first place in the competition, which was held earlier this month in Tamuning, Guam.

"It was a fun experience," he said with a smile. "I treat competitions just like another training day, but at the same time, placing first lets me know I'm on track. It gave me a good feeling to know I'm training the right way."

Especially on his first deployment, the opportunity to participate in a local competition as well as keep up with his fitness routine has given him an escape to zone out and take his mind away from work, he said.

"A lot of the workouts help prepare for the unknown and unknowable," Johnson shared. "That's why I think it's so popular in the military because you never know what you're going to face out in the battlefield, or even just walking down the street. If you can be somewhat good at a little bit of everything, then at least you have a better chance at facing different challenges life throws at you."

Johnson said there are times he questions why he does such a challenging workout almost every day, but there is a constant reminder in the back of his mind that it is all about pushing himself to be better, which keeps him going.

"The cool thing about it is that the workout is designed to be scaled," he said. "When I'm older I see myself doing this, but just not at the same intensity level I am at now. It's all about staying in shape and being the best you."

He adds that what motivates him is the chance to compete in the regionals, a fitness competition for top performers, held in different parts of the world.

Being able to stay in shape and doing something he loves, as well as helping others, who have come to Johnson for workout and diet tips, is all a part of the rewarding experience for him.

"Before talking with Lieutenant Johnson, I had never heard of this type of workout, and I have been inspired to work harder in the gym and take my fitness and diet more seriously," said Capt. Steven O'Farrell, 23rd EBS B-52 weapons system officer. "I see that he is more than willing to take time to discuss different techniques and diets with anyone who is interested.  In the short time that he has been here, he has helped multiple people in our squadron with their fitness."

While Johnson knows there are many who are uncertain of this alternative workout, he believes people would enjoy it more than they think they would.

"Anybody who may have a curiosity in the workout should just try it," Johnson advises. "You don't have to be incredibly strong or in great shape to do it. Anytime is a great time to start."