Wearable Technology is Transforming Military Lives

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By Archana Mehta

A partnership among four institutions is helping Indiana Army National Guardsmen succeed.

Wearable technology is so pervasive these days it’s getting to the point where people don’t even realize they’re wearing technology. More than simply a fashion statement, technology is transforming lives for the better. At its root, wearable technology can house and transmit data: important data about you as an individual. Once that data is analyzed, the implications and power of that data can be limitless.

The power of technology, coupled with innovation, can be transformative.

The power of technology, coupled with innovation, can be transformative. Just ask Nate Costa, President and Founder of FX Well, a company he says focuses on positively impacting people’s lives through “passion, technology, and constant evolution.” FX Well has developed a proprietary digital platform through which popular fitness applications, including Under Armour’s MapMyRun, can integrate. The platform stores all user data in one central place, making it easy for valuable data analysis.

For nearly two years, Costa’s team has been working with the Indiana Army National Guard to improve physical fitness scores and the overall health of its guardsmen. The team’s work, aptly called the Fit to Serve program, is a result of a partnership of FX Well, the USO, Anthem Inc., and Under Armour Freedom (the brand’s philanthropic initiative that supports those who serve our country).

The opportunity arose when Anthem asked the USO how it could best utilize $50,000 to support the Indiana National Guard. The USO, having previously worked with FX Well on a variety of health and fitness initiatives, recommended that Anthem collaborate with FX Well.

The initial concept was to give the soldiers Under Armour (UA) Bands — wearable fitness-tracking devices — to capture their activities. But Costa felt that simply providing wearable technology wasn’t enough. He wanted to dig deeper to understand the major challenges within the National Guard and what solutions FX Well could deliver. The company learned from the Indiana Army National Guard that only 28 percent of its guardsmen were passing the Army Physical Fitness Test (APFT), which consists of two minutes each of push-ups and sit-ups and a two-mile run. Guardsmen are required to take the APFT annually. Those who repeatedly fail the test can be involuntarily discharged.

Chad Ayinde, FX Well’s Director of Tactical Fitness and a former Master Fitness Instructor with the Indiana Army National Guard, says that unlike active duty, when a soldier is a soldier every minute of the day, guardsmen are called “citizen soldiers.” These individuals work regular civilian jobs or attend college and maintain their military training part time. Guardsmen often have many competing priorities and requirements as part of their service. Ayinde says recognizing the need for self-care, and that sometimes it needs to be on a soldier’s own time, is a new concept.

The FX Well team realized they could help address this issue using a combination of technology and one-on-one engagement. The resulting Fit to Serve program aims to help guardsmen create healthy habits and understand holistic wellness so more of them will pass the APFT.

Our goal is to not just teach each soldier how to get better for their test but to get better for life,” Costa says.

HOW IT WORKS

Since 2016, the FX Well team has coached four Fit to Serve groups. The program takes six months to complete and begins with the FX Well team spending four days on base working with each group of about 50 guardsmen who are at risk of not passing the APFT. It’s almost like a fitness boot camp where guardsmen learn about the UA Bands they’ll wear and how to use FX Well’s digital platform. They also learn about nutrition and self-care — something that doesn’t get enough attention in the military, according to Ayinde.

While on base, Fit to Serve trainers evaluate each participant and create a personalized, progressive exercise plan geared for passing the APFT. They also conduct personal training sessions with participants to work on form and help them understand the exercises in their training plan. After that, the trainers leave and work with each participant virtually for six months.

The virtual component is where all the technology comes into play.

Throughout the program, guardsmen are expected to communicate with their trainers once a week via email. They must log four workouts a week, sleep an average of seven hours per night, weigh in once a week, and participate in three challenges meant to help them build healthy habits and create a sense of community.

FX Well’s digital platform analyzes data from the UA Bands, so trainers can see via a dashboard each guardsman’s data, including hours slept, steps taken, and calories burned per day. Not only can trainers see the data, but they also can take action. The dashboard shows who is meeting their target goals and who isn’t. For example, a trainer might see that a certain guardsman slept less than seven hours per night a few nights in a row, which might impact the soldier’s workouts and nutrition. This human component allows the trainer to proactively reach out and engage with the guardsman and help the soldier through any challenges.

Data is an integral component to the success of this program. As FX Well’s Virtual Training Program Manager, Chris Ball, says, “Data equals awareness equals action. We give each guardsman a fitness program geared toward passing their test, and we will use any of these tools — text, our Facebook coaching group, email — as frequently as we need to based on what they’re tracking, or their lack of communication, to engage them more.”

EXPANDING THE FIT TO SERVE PROGRAM

According to Ayinde, the U.S. Army is going through a major culture change. “Soldiers from day one get this major negative feeling from physical fitness because of their experience with basic training,” he says. “When you do something wrong, you’re asked to crawl through sand pits and things along those lines.” But the mindset is shifting to physical training being enjoyable rather than a form of punishment, he says, and it’s trickling down to the National Guard.

Ayinde hopes the Fit to Serve program will further change the perception of fitness within the National Guard and inspire a fitness renaissance to help those in the military see fitness as an investment in themselves and their futures.

Costa says the program has been incredibly successful. While the majority of Indiana guardsmen were failing the APFT prior to the launch of Fit to Serve, FX Well’s work with the first three groups has resulted in an 80 percent passing rate among participants.

Not only are more guardsmen passing the APFT, but they’re improving their overall wellness, according to Costa. “Soldiers are eating better, they’re sleeping better, and they’re doing workouts on their own,” he says. “And it’s not just this one goal — the goal is also to be healthy humans. Our goal is to always positively impact people’s lives forever.”

In 2018, over 200 Indiana guardsmen will participate in the Fit to Serve program.
Costa hopes to expand and replicate the program’s success in other National Guard units around the U.S.

“There are a ton of people in the military that are just in really good shape. They probably don’t need us,” Ayinde says. “The people that really need us are these guys that aren’t passing their physical training tests and have a lot of struggles outside of work. And by targeting that group, giving them bands, and adding a human element to it, we can do a lot more.”


Archana Mehta is the Founder and CEO of AM Strategies, a marketing and communications firm based in Washington, D.C. She has spent the last 15 years helping companies with everything from marketing strategies to content development to product launches. In her “spare” time, she enjoys taking her toddler twins on adventures around the country.

Photography provided by FX Well.