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Fit in my 40s: Canada’s Air Force fitness drills are a retro, noisy tonic

The Royal Canadian Air Force Fitness Plans were first published in the early 60s, devised to bring about maximum fitness in the minimum amount of time, and to be done indoors. You can find a video guide on YouTube, one filmed in 1959; it might look charmingly old-school but, trust me, this workout is timeless. I have a long-term fascination with it, going back to the 90s, when I went out with a guy whose dad had undertaken the programme at home. He made so much noise that the neighbour threatened to take them to court, saying (the neighbour, not the dad): “The judge will certainly find for me, since I’m a lawyer.” (The guy’s mum was so incensed that she had retrained in middle age as a lawyer, and by the time I met her she was incredibly successful, the Harrison Ford of the legal world.) So I know that these exercises are extremely noisy, and that great things can come of them, if only tangentially.

The 5BX (Five Basic Exercises) Plan makes suggestions for when to undertake this 11-minute routine: before breakfast; “late morning or afternoon, at your place of employment” (this is surely a joke: you should never undertake these at work, unless you’re the boss, and can make everyone do them with you); or shortly before you go to bed. Really though, the only time you can do them is mid-morning, when everyone else is out.

They are extremely simple: two minutes touching your toes, going back up to a back bend, touching your toes again. You should be able to do that 30 times, if you’re between 45 and 49 (fewer if you’re younger or older; Canadians seem to class the late 40s as peak fitness. This may be related to the demographics of their air force). This is such a Carry On film move that I can’t believe there’s any point to it. Yet it maintains flexibility, which prevents injury, which keeps you exercising, so you could say this has the most point.

Exercise two entails lying on your back, feet apart, then sitting up to a vertical position. Do that 22 more times, and this should only last a minute. Unless you do this already for other reasons – maybe your remote is on a high shelf at the end of your sofa – you’ll feel it for ages.

Exercise three is what they call an aeroplane in yoga: lying on your stomach, then lifting your chest and legs, 33 times in a minute. Four is a straight press-up, but done properly – no keeping your knees on the floor.

But when does the noise start? Right now! Exercise five, running on the spot for five minutes, doing 10 jumps every 75 steps. The jumps, I am more or less convinced, are there to keep you counting your steps, which distracts you from how hard and existentially pointless it is to run on the spot. All that energy spent, no distance covered: it’s like eating cottage cheese or learning Welsh.

This is my favourite home workout by far, because of the time limit. I could happily spend 11 minutes just staring out of a window, and so could never find a solid reason to put it off.

What I learned

You are supposed to supplement the five basic exercises with a half-mile run or two-mile walk, as often as you can. A dog would come in handy here.

Source: TheGuardian