FORT CARSON, Colo. -- Staff Sgt. Ryan Chancellor grimaced as he lifted the 135 pounds on the bar. Repetition after repetition, he performed the dead lifts. After 20 reps, he dropped the weight and picked up the 35-pound kettle bell and began his 15 swings -- "American" style -- heaving the weight until it was over his head.
"Let's go," shouted Maj. Mark Ivezaj as he observed the Soldiers. Already out of breath, Chancellor set the kettle bell down and ran for the door to complete his 500-meter sprint. One round down, four more to go. Chancellor, a Soldier with 1st Battalion, 66th Armor Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, finished the workout in 18:24, collapsing on the floor of the gym, trying to catch his breath.
"It feels good," he said, still gasping for air. Vying for a place on Fort Carson's Best Ranger Team, Chancellor volunteered to take part in the training with Ivezaj, battalion executive officer, 2nd Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment, 4th BCT, 4th Inf. Div. New to Ivezaj's workout method, Chancellor said he hoped the new exercises would help him earn a spot on the team -- a chance he missed by 60 seconds last year. "In these workouts, you're pushing 100 percent of the time," he said. "In 18 minutes, I have the same feeling as if I had done a 50-minute workout." Three years ago, frustrated with the injuries Soldiers within his ranks were experiencing, Ivezaj, then a company commander for Company A, 3rd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, based at Fort Benning, Ga., researched workout programs to help his men train more effectively. Ivezaj read an article about Matt Wenning, a record-holding powerlifter from Ohio, and invited him to Georgia. "When I first saw him, he was bulky and muscular," he said. "We were lean and muscular. I didn't think this guy would be for us, but he showed us very quickly he was the right guy." Ivezaj said Wenning redesigned their gym, moving around equipment and introducing new methods for training, including weightlifting and cross-fit exercises. "He taught us 'functional fitness,'" Ivezaj said. "It gives us a base to strengthen parts of our bodies that we were seeing a lot of injuries -- knees and the lower back." Ivezaj brought this knowledge to Fort Carson, teaming with Col. James J. Mingus, 4th BCT commander, and implementing the Mountain Athlete Warrior, or MAW, program. "We want to train Soldiers like athletes," Ivezaj said. "We focus on the core and continue to punish (them) with workouts to prepare (them) for combat." Before introducing the MAW program, Ivezaj said numerous Soldiers within the brigade experienced injuries and were not able to deploy. Ivezaj worked with 4th BCT commanders to obtain kettlebells, bumper plates, pullup bars and other functional fitness equipment. Now, Ivezaj said each 4th BCT company has its own MAW gym, which were deployed with units during the brigade's deployment to Afghanistan in 2012. Since implementing the program, Ivezaj said the brigade has seen a dramatic drop in injuries. According to a fitness evaluation conducted by the Army Institute of Public Health, 45 percent of the non-deployable population suffered musculoskeltal injuries, with physical training exercises contributing to overuse and unnecessary injuries. Researchers evaluated 596 male Soldiers before they began MAW training and about six months later. According to survey results, 29 percent of Soldiers reported experiencing injuries before beginning MAW. After starting the regimen, that number dropped by 10 percent. Overuse injuries -- wear and tear on shoulders, backs and knees -- decreased by six percent. "We've been able to take the average Soldier and turn his (physical training) around," said Ivezaj, adding that the focus of MAW is on functional movements Soldiers perform throughout the day. "This is not just designed for guys in the Army now. MAW promotes health beyond the Army. It promotes health into latter years and retirement." Soldiers say they have noticed a difference since starting Ivezaj's regimen. "Five years ago we did situps, pushups and running," said Staff Sgt. Josh Rolfes, 2nd Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment, 4th BCT, 4th Inf. Div. "Doing those exercises was good for doing well on the [Army Physical Fitness Test] test." Rolfes, who is also taking part in the Best Ranger Team assessment, said he believes the MAW workouts will help maintain Soldiers' health and result in fewer injuries. "These exercises are great to deal with the rigors of the job," he said.