By Airman 1st Class Regina Agoha
19th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
“Here we go,” he said. With about six to 15 people following behind, Jeff Vaughn, 19th Medical Group health and wellness flight chief and Vital 90 instructor/creator, leads his class on a half-mile run around the base gym. “OK, that was a good warm up, right?” he said with a smile as to hint that the pain was only beginning. His students enter the workout room with heavy breathing as they take a sip of water and continue on with the rest of their hour-long class.
At Little Rock Air Force Base, there are numerous ways to get in shape. There’s squadron physical training for military members. Both military and civilians can use the gym’s equipment or partake in the classes offered there, including Zumba. They can also run at the base track or for the most part, anywhere on base. However, there’s also a class located inside LRAFB’s gym called Vital 90, where anyone who has access to the base can come and work up a sweat for 60 minutes.
Vital 90 is a high intensity, group fitness program that builds strength and aerobic performance, but also improves an individual’s self-efficacy and self-esteem said Vaughn.
“At the time of creation,” Vaughn said, “the base needed a fitness improvement program that met the three criteria needed to see sustained fitness improvement in Airmen failing to meet standards: consistency (5 times per week), high intensity (tough workouts), and total fitness (aerobic and strength).”
In the fall of 2008, Vital 90, which was originally called Burn Hour because it was voluntary, was created. Vital 90 can be a commander-approved program when an Airman has failed their P.T. test. It can also be used as an alternative to squadron P.T. The “90” in Vital 90 means one has to participate in 90 sessions in order to complete the class.
Vital 90 is held five days a week, in the morning, Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 6:45 to 7:45 a.m., Tuesday and Thursday from 7 to 8 a.m. and in the afternoon from 3 to 4 p.m.
Since its origin, Vital 90 has added a nutritional briefing to the class and a few more instructors.
Diane Novotny, a vital 90 instructor, has been instructing since the beginning, four years ago.
“I love seeing people make progress,” she said. “If someone wants to make progress, they will. It’s great to see someone go from the score of 68 to 98. It’s exciting watching the progress every day.”
Vaughn said the significance of the class is in the lives it changes and the relationships it builds.
“The best part for me is watching someone transform,” said Vaughn. “So many people show up on day one and many are not happy to be there. Slowly you break down walls and watch the person get stronger physically and mentally until the defeated, mad person who showed on day one, is now the person befriending the new guy and helping someone else achieve. It’s the greatest feeling in the world.”
Both Vaughn and Novotny said no day in Vital 90 is the same. It constantly changes, which keeps the students guessing, anxious and excited.
“There is no such thing as a typical day at Vital 90,” said Novotny. “Each instructor has their own way of training. Some instructors like to use the bike as a warm up; some like to do stretching exercises as a warm up.”
“It depends on the instructor,” said Vaughn. “All the instructors have different qualities and specialties that result in a varied program daily. The thing we strive for is providing a great workout that was different from the workout yesterday and providing an opportunity to learn and grow. At the end of the day, Vital 90 is a super tough workout that participants can be proud they finished.”
Vital 90 student, Staff Sgt. Alex Hooper, noncommissioned officer in charge of Pest Management, said he was skeptical at first about the class but really enjoys it now.
“I had to enroll in Vital 90 because I failed the abdominal circumference part of the fitness test,” said Hooper. “My initial thoughts on Vital 90 wereopen, but wary. I have seen the Air Force go through a lot of fitness programs to rehabilitate failures. The bottom line is you have to want to pass for any program to work. The classes are a good workout. I enjoy some more than others. The instructors are knowledgeable and concerned about your general safety.”
Novotny, who’s 60, motivates those in the class is by doing the workouts herself.
“I don’t only teach it, I do it,” she said. “I also offer words of encouragement like, ‘What?… Are you going to let a grandma beat you?’” she laughed.
For those who can’t keep up however, the classes are designed for the instructors to also be able to demonstrate modified ways of doing the same workouts.
“The class also uses the scale method,” said Novotny, “meaning if someone has been in the class for months and can lift heavier weight, or run farther, adjustments can be made for those just starting.”
Not only does Vital 90 strive to improve the body physically with exercise, the class also offers educational tips on nutrition.
Jill Hinsley, Little Rock AFB Health and Wellness Center dietician said her contribution to the class is showing someone where to start if they are ready to make nutritional changes.
“Sometimes it’s just to have an accountability partner,” Hinsley said. “Nutrition education and counseling are the things I focus on. I can meet with someone every week or twice a month; it just depends on the person and where they are. The class’s goal is to try to get people off of their profiles instead of putting a bandage on it.”
Hinsley, who’s been a dietician for six years, said she loves helping people become healthier.
“The impact by building relationships is the best part of the job. The struggle of convincing people that nutrition does play a major role in physical performance is the hardest part of the job. You have to change your eating habits as well. Missing meals does not help with sports/fitness performance. You’re not only taking away from your lean body mass, you’re not providing your body fuel to perform the best. Processed food doesn’t help performance, so change the quality of your food intake as well as the quantity. And that fixes more than sports performance. It’s the model for healthy weight and disease prevention. Choose more fruits and vegetables and whole grains.”
Vaughn is very hopeful that Vital 90 will continue to grow and evolve.
“My biggest hope is sustainment,” he said. “For me it’s about more than helping someone pass their P.T. test, it’s about changing the person physically and mentally. It’s about providing confidence through hard work.”
For those people who need help with nutrition and fitness, but haven’t the motivation or courage to start, Novotny and Vaughn both offer encouraging words.
Novotny said, “There is no time like the present. Vital 90 is not about, ‘I failed a P.T. test’. We can help you get where you need/want to be if you put forth the effort.”
Vaughn said, “The first day/week is brutal. You will be sore and wonder why anyone would want to put themselves through such torture. However, stick with it over the next two to three months and you will transform your body and your mind into something you can be proud of. You will become physically and mentally tougher than you thought possible. Nothing worth doing is easy, if it were, everyone would do it; steel sharpens steel.”