Staff Sgt. Matthew Driggers, fleet readiness center senior enlisted advisor with Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 773, Marine Aircraft Group 49, executes a pushup during Martial Arts Instructor Course 1-20 in 2019.

Staff Sgt. Matthew Driggers, fleet readiness center senior enlisted advisor with Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 773, Marine Aircraft Group 49, executes a pushup during Martial Arts Instructor Course 1-20 in 2019. Pfc. Colby Bundy / U.S. Marine Corps

The Air Force and Navy Are Testing This App to Stay Fit Amid Social Distancing

A biometric data app is helping the services monitor the health of sailors and airmen stuck at home.

Even when the gyms are closed, sailors and airmen have to stay fit, which can be a big challenge both for reservists who may not be used to staying at a specific fitness level to joint tactical air controllers with Air Force Special Operations. 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 was to help the service direct the attention of trainers to where it's most needed, said Kevin Dawidowicz, co-founder of CoachMePlus. “We scale the outreach of the current staff exercise physiologists that already exist in the military. [They can] use this improve their reach and productivity.”

The same is true for the Navy. “If we’re letting sailors self-select for workouts, nutrition and other data and then rise the risk people to the top of the list, you’ve reduced the amount of effort it takes for the human performance practitioners to actually work with the staff,” he said. 

Dawidowicz says that the social distancing guidelines have changed some of the workout patterns that he’s seeing in how airmen work out. Some are unsurprising: fewer weights, more body strength training and more cardio, like running. It's the sort of data that’s increasingly sensitive, especially when it comes to soldiers. 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.

Capt. Bobby Carbonell with the Air Force’s AFWERX office told Defense One, “There is a pretty direct comparison between our special warfare airmen and professional athletes.”

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, said Carbonell. “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,” 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 like FitBits to provide a better and more predictive picture of individual health. “We can scale this from a one-squad solution across the Air Force,” he 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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