COVID-19 News

Coaching app helps warfighters stay fit despite COVID-19 restrictions

Even when the gyms are closed, sailors and airmen have to stay fit, which can be a big challenge for all members of a unit—from reservists who may not be used to staying at a specific fitness level to those in Special Operations who need to maintain a high level of performance. The services are piloting a digital coaching tool to help service members stay in shape and help commanding officers monitor their fitness levels.

The Air Force is eight months into a proof-of-concept trial with CoachMePlus, an online health tracker and fitness coaching service that can work with other devices, or by itself, to help people reach fitness goals. Individuals can use the app to designate specific goals (or more generic ones) and the app then monitors their progress and offers feedback to improve performance, like a regular coach. It can also help trainers do their job more effectively and remotely but scaled across a large population, Part of the allure of the app for the Air Force—as well as the Navy—was was to help the service direct the attention of trainers to where it’s most needed, said Kevin Dawidowicz, co-founder of CoachMePlus.

“We’ve always had to work at a distance with some of our reservists; they only come in once a month. We had a need for more guided coaching assistance that could be done through technology,” Capt. Bobby Carbonell with the Air Force’s AFWERX office told Defense One.

Dawidowicz says social distancing guidelines have changed some of the patterns that he’s seeing in how airmen work out. Some are unsurprising: fewer weights, more body strength training and more cardio, like running. The version of the service that the military is using has enhanced data and security features, with some data whitelisting and no broadcasting of GPS data, for instance.

What seemed like a good idea last August, when the pilot effort originally kicked off, has become more useful now due to social distancing guidelines, Carbonell said.

Unlike some other fitness trackers, the service can be tailored to different populations under the same umbrella. It can incorporate nutrition and other data for a more complete picture and also integrate data from personal wearable fitness devices to provide a more complete and more predictive picture of individual health.

“We can scale this from a one-squad solution across the Air Force,” Carbonell said.

The Air Force is piloting the app at 10 locations, with 50 to 200 airmen per location. Their roles and job functions vary from reservists with desk jobs to elite Special Operations Forces Airmen. The Navy is currently in phase two of three in a pilot that will eventually include kiosks in naval facilities.

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