News | Feb. 10, 2016

Winter Warrior Project motivates employees to get fit, eat healthy

By Beth Reece

Lynn Thompson is halfway into the workout Brandon Rudolph has custom designed for her when he demonstrates a “knee up” and tells her to copy him for 30 seconds.

“Thirty seconds is a long time,” she huffs, winded from intervals of jumping jacks, lunges and bench presses.

Rudolph smiles and silently nods. He knows she can do it. And she does.

Thompson, who works for Defense Logistics Agency Logistics Operations, is one of more than 200 employees taking part in the 12-week Winter Warrior Project. The fitness and nutrition challenge has attracted more participation than any other program held by the McNamara Headquarters Complex Fitness Center, said Beverly Williams of the HQC Morale, Welfare and Recreation Program.

Some need to lose weight; others already have a workout routine but want to be pushed. Whatever their reason for joining the challenge, HQC coaches say they can help.

“Our priority is to make them want to be here. A major factor for a lot of people is just getting to the gym to start with,” said Will Chappell, a coach and assistant program manager for the HQC Fitness Center.

The program began Jan. 11 with 46 five-member teams. Thompson, who spent 24 years meeting the Army’s strict weight and physical fitness standards, liked the idea of a structured program.

“It provided a framework to exercise and included guidance from a coach. That was important to me since I’ve been recovering from injuries to my shoulder and hip,” she said.

Teams are paired with a coach who leads weekly workout sessions. Seminars on topics like eating healthy on a budget and food tracking are also offered every two weeks to help participants build healthy habits. But before participants did a single sit up or slashed calories, coaches conducted weight and body-fat assessments to reveal the challenges that lay ahead.

“A lot of people were surprised by the numbers, especially for body-fat percentages. But knowing what we’re up against gave us a starting point for improvements and introducing healthy lifestyle changes,” added Coach Patricia Allen.

The groups are divided among six coaches, each with a unique mentoring style. Chappell is the Jillian Michaels type; he enjoys pushing his clients to muscle failure, but also tries to make sure they’re having a good time.

“I might motivate them by yelling at them, but I also laugh and carry on with them,” he said.

Allen describes her style as “positive and encouraging.” She tells clients that they’re stronger than they think they are. Rudolph adjusts his coaching methods to clients’ needs.

“I have one team that wants to be pushed to the limit, so I make it as hard as possible for them. If they’re grunting and groaning, then I know it’s a good thing. Then there are others who haven’t worked out for quite a while and need a gentler approach,” he said.

Despite their varying styles, each coach realizes that some clients need modified exercises or less intense activity. And part of keeping them in the gym means accommodating teams’ busy work schedules. When Thompson told Rudolph she would be out of town during their regular Tuesday workout, for example, he offered to train with her on Monday instead.

Rudolph said he and other coaches understand how easy it is to get into a rut of driving to work, sitting at a desk all day, then going home to a night on the couch with Netflix.

“We hope that after a certain amount of time, working out will become a routine and they’ll look forward to coming in and getting to know all the staff here,” he said.

Program such as the Winter Warrior Project are a key part of DLA’s goal to improve workforce resiliency, thereby increasing employees’ ability to deal with stress and adversity in and outside the workplace. For Thompson, the program is one of many that she says makes the agency a great employer.

“I feel very lucky that DLA affords employees opportunities such as the gym and a cafeteria that provides cooked food versus processed foods or fast foods like you find so much of elsewhere,” she said. “DLA takes a very comprehensive approach to employees’ quality of life, and I don’t think there’s an agency that can compete with DLA as far as having a cafeteria that is responsive to people’s needs, a gym and employees that are here to help us stay fit.”

Editor’s note: This is part one of a series covering DLA employees’ journey through the 12-week Winter Warrior Project, which ends April 8.