Studying the mind, body connection
By Michele Eaton, 88th Air Base Wing Public Affairs
/ Published October 10, 2014
WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio -- The obstacle course at Jarvis Gym, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, looks deceptively simple, and the Airmen testing on it make it look easy.
It's anything but easy, and the testing involves more than just their physical ability.
Air Force Research Laboratory's 711th Human Performance Wing is collaborating with NBA pro-trainer Ed Downs to research the connection between cognitive and physical ability and to find ways to help maximize the physical and mental performance of Airmen. Airmen participating in the research demonstrated how far they had come after eight weeks of the training Oct. 8 by running the obstacle course in five minutes or less.
Downs' program, Pro Training Endurance Response-time and Functioning, or Pro-Terf, operates under the concept that elite athleticism cannot exist without equally training cognitive ability. The 711 HPW is using Downs' program to study whether the Air Force is testing the right fitness metrics and whether training Airmen's cognitive ability in tandem with physical training will increase mission preparedness.
According to Downs, under the program, many participating Airmen went from being adequately healthy and fit to performing at the elite collegiate athlete level in eight weeks. The course, which has stations aptly named "Dodging Bullets," "Running through the Muck" and "Saving Private Ryan," also has stations that test perception and memory. Airmen must, for example, chase blinking colored lights at a sprint and memorize how many of each color they saw and recall those colors at the end of the course. All of this must occur in five minutes or less to pass.
The physical part of the course is no easy thing, either. Each Airman must pull a 150-pound dummy to safety ("Saving Private Ryan"), push a 65-pound sled over thick carpet for 30 yards ("Running through the Muck") and deliver full-on sprints at varying times throughout the course, among other tests.
"Mental and physical training should fit like hand in glove. You can't have one without the other," said 711 HPW researcher Dr. Mark Derriso, technical advisor, AFRL Warfighter Interface division. "My quest is to uncover the science between how cognitive and physical ability work together. That would be big."
When Downs first evaluated participating Airmen for the study, he said he was impressed by their health and fitness but thought more could be done to make them elite performers.
"For these guys, it's not just about being physically strong; it's about being mentally strong," he said. "My pro athletes are out there playing a game. These Airmen are out there trying to save lives."
"I've gotten leaner, stronger and more used to using my brain in the middle of training instead of going for a long run and just checking out," said study participant Capt. Brian Honett, 88th Air Base Wing chaplain.
"When you merge cognitive and physical training together - that's when you get a warrior," said Downs.