SINGAPORE: Many men struggle when it comes to keeping fit and staying active after completing National Service (NS).
This is especially so after we complete the reservist cycle and are no longer held to account by the dreaded Individual Physical Proficiency Test (IPPT) – a mandatory fitness test all operationally ready national service men (NSmen) must pass every year.
The struggle is even more real for our current batch of NSmen. After tighter COVID-19 measures were implemented under Phase 2 (Heightened Alert), the Singapore Armed Forces suspended IPPT from May 18 to Jun 27.
The Fitness Improvement Training (FIT) programme – which in April replaced remedial training for those who cannot pass IPPT – was likewise suspended.
READ: SAF defers NS in-camp training, suspends IPPT at FCCs and public locations in tightening of COVID-19 measures
These disruptions might have taken a hit on the motivation of NSmen to work out. It doesn’t help that many of us were trying to adapt to the new normal and hang on to our jobs. During such challenging times, personal fitness becomes much less of a priority.
A close friend of mine let himself go after learning his IPPT was waived due to the ongoing pandemic. The result was disastrous: He gained 2 to 3kg from celebrating the IPPT suspension with his like-minded friends.
Not to mention, he’ll have to work harder next year to get back into shape and pass his IPPT.
But even before COVID-19, it was a common lament among men that their six-packs transformed into a one-pack after their Operationally Ready Date. Why is it so hard to stay fit after NS?
THE RISE AND FALL OF AN NSMAN’S FITNESS
It was simple when we were in school. There were Physical Education lessons then, as well as a wide selection of sports co-curricular activities. We also expended our infinite reserves of energy playing soccer or catch during recess.
Fast forward to National Service, where most if not all of us were at our peak in terms of physical fitness. All the running and working out every single day in camp put us in tip-top shape.
You’ve probably heard a guy boast about how many chin-ups he could do in his glory days of serving the nation. And there are stories of young men who lost more than 10kg once they entered the army.
But it’s all downhill after NS. There’s still some motivation to at least maintain your fitness because of the annual IPPT. Doing well on it comes with cash rewards, which start at S$200, while failing means having to undergo extra training.
But for many, the carrot and stick of IPPT alone aren’t enough. Fitness takes a backseat since most of us lead sedentary lives. We spend most of our day in front of a screen, whether we’re working or relaxing.
READ: Commentary: Tired of staring at screens? Here’s how to avoid tech overload while stuck at home
There are also all the stresses we endure at work, school, or after we get married and become parents. In short, life takes over and suddenly, exercising falls to the bottom of our to-do list.
I typically started training for my IPPT about a month before my birthday. I just wanted to pass and avoid the dreaded remedial training, where you have to report to remote locations for several physical training sessions.
This spike in strenuous activity once a year probably didn’t do my body any favours. But I was lucky because I was naturally athletic, and all I had to do was buck up on my 2.4km run.
But not everyone can get up to speed as quickly. Let’s not forget it gets harder each year as our body deteriorates as we age.
TOWARDS A MORE HOLISTIC IPPT
But changes are afoot in making IPPT more painless, particularly for those who struggle to pass. As of April, those who can’t pass IPPT now have to complete the 10-session NS FIT programme, instead of going for up to 20 remedial training sessions. Training is also offered at 45 locations islandwide, up from the previous 13.
The Ministry of Defence said the programme “streamlines the annual fitness requirements for NSmen and further encourages them to maintain an active and healthy lifestyle”.
As of Jul 12, NSmen can even attend NS FIT sessions virtually.
I hate to take the “good old days” route here but NSmen nowadays really do have it easier than the older batches. In 2015, IPPT was modified to consist of just three stations (sit-ups, push-ups and 2.4km run) to help more NSmen pass.
It introduced flexibility – if you’re able to do more sit-ups and push-ups, you can go at a slower pace for your 2.4km run. Conversely, if you’re a good runner, you can take it easy at the static stations.
As someone who went through both formats, the new IPPT was a godsend because it was so much simpler and faster to complete. I used to be so winded from the static stations (which also included standing broad jump, shuttle run and chin-ups) that I could hardly keep up the pace to pass my 2.4km run.
Not to mention the fact that many NSmen failed their IPPT because of stations like standing broad jump, which really is more about technique than fitness levels. The dreaded chin-up station that many succumbed to was also scrapped.
STAYING FIT WITHOUT IPPT
If we really wish to stay fit and healthy for ourselves and our family, there is no need for an enforcement tool like IPPT. I’ve friends in their 50s who run and hit the gym daily. They do it simply because they want to.
Similarly, there are some NSmen who do not bother to train and simply accept remedial training as part and parcel of life every single year. But it might make more sense to put in the elbow grease to pass IPPT – after all, you wouldn’t know what your body’s capable of unless you tried.
For those struggling, focus your training on your stronger areas (for instance, sit-ups and push-ups) so you can make up for the difference for your weaker ones.
Most people, including NSmen, complain about the lack of time when it comes to exercising and staying fit. But working out doesn’t take much time. All you need is 10 to 12 minutes a day for two to three sessions a week.
No time to hit the gym? Try a home workout using the numerous videos available online. Mix it up a little and have a football or badminton game with your mates during the weekend. Playing with your kids is a form of exercise too.
At the end of the day, increased physical activity, paired with a healthy diet and quality sleep, will put you in good stead towards achieving a fitter and healthier you, with or without IPPT.
Gary Yang is a freelance writer and translator who is also known as Coach Gary by the kids he coaches at multi sports camps.