Bye to 5BX for Singapore Army servicemen, and hello to PX and fewer injuries

The change in exercise regimen is part of a recent review by the army to help soldiers train, sleep and eat better. PHOTO: MINDEF

SINGAPORE - For decades, Singapore Army soldiers have done five basic exercises- jumping jacks, the high jumper, crunches, push-ups and running - as part of their morning routine to warm up their bodies.

But no longer, as the 5BX ritual has been replaced with stretching and strengthening drills meant to improve mobility and flexibility, as well as reduce common injuries faced by soldiers in the knees, ankles and back.

The change in exercise regimen is part of a recent review by the army to help soldiers train, sleep and eat better.

In place of 5BX are Prehabilitation Exercises (PX), approved for army-wide use since April after a successful trial in the Officer Cadet School (OCS) in 2018 and 2019.

Now, mountain climbers, forward lunges, alternate arm and leg raises, among other exercises, will form the new standard.

About 90 per cent of army trainers and units are currently on board, with the rest to join by year's end, said Lieutenant-Colonel Chong Yi Tat in a virtual interview with reporters on Tuesday (Nov 23).

LTC Chong, 38, is head of training and development at the Centre of Excellence for Soldier Performance (CESP).

Founded in 2017, CESP forms part of the army's push towards using sports science, psychology and nutrition to improve soldier performance.

Army units have a choice of two exercise programmes for variety, one with 14 exercises and the other, 15.

Each exercise is to be done for 30 seconds with a slow tempo.

"Unlike high tempo and high intensity exercises that (the) army does to build physical fitness, PX focuses on form and controlled movement," said Ms Grace Heng, CESP head physiotherapist.

She also said PX allows for more flexibility than the 5BX regime.

Workouts can last for either 15 or 30 minutes at any time of the day, unlike 5BX, which is a single routine done right after waking up in the morning.

(From left) Ms Grace Heng, Lieutenant-Colonel Chong Yi Tat and Ms Rachel Leah Yeow are part of the Centre of Excellence for Soldier Performance. PHOTO: MINDEF

Although PX is less strenuous than 5BX, fitness is not compromised, stressed LTC Chong.

Fitness training remains embedded in the larger training system, with PX playing a complementary role.

Fitness test results were comparable between the control group and the test group at OCS.

Yet, injury rates fell from 6.3 per cent in the control group that still engaged in the 5BX to 2.6 per cent in the 1,100-strong test group.

"The lower rate of musculoskeletal injuries also translated to better performance during military training, such as mission exercises and live firing," said LTC Chong.

PX is one of three prongs under the army's Strong Body Regime, an initiative aimed at reducing the risk of injuries and enhancing soldier performance.

The other two prongs, also trialled at OCS, involve improved nutrition with snacks between meals and two hours' more rest time to promote recovery.

Ms Rachel Leah Yeow, a nutrition officer at CESP, said carbohydrate-rich snacks are given before soldiers engage in cardiovascular exercises while protein-rich snacks are provided after strength training.

"The intent (of) nutritional supplementation is to enhance soldier performance and recovery," said Ms Yeow, 29.

These snacks are recommended for soldiers undertaking at least two moderate or strenuous activities per day, in addition to existing guidelines that provide night snacks for servicemen training at night.

Two hours' more rest time on any day from Tuesday to Thursday is also recommended for units with three or more strenuous activities, such as field training, in a week - albeit not for reservists.

Explained LTC Chong: "Given the short training cycle of one to two weeks a year, the passive recovery would not need to be given for ICT (in-camp training)."

First Warrant Officer Arivalagan Kottamuthu, a platoon commander at the Basic Military Training Centre, called PX a good initiative to prevent injury.

Observed the 49-year-old, who has served for 30 years: "It (5BX) makes (servicemen) tired, whereas for PX, they feel refreshed and awake for upcoming activities."

Lance Corporal Abdul Hadziq Abdull Hamid, an infantry trooper at the 5th Battalion Singapore Infantry Regiment, said he finds PX has made strenuous route marches easier.

The 19-year-old added: " I find it easier now because PX actually starts up the body and stretches out the muscles to prevent muscle injury."

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.