Beat the COVID blues with trench techniques

Written By Dr.Raghunathan V ( CEO, Academic, Author, Columnist)

World War II highlighted a novel challenge before the troopers: How to keep fit? For troopers who spent prolonged stretches in trenches or as prisoners of war, the matter of keeping physically fit in the confines of a 6×3 foot trench or a cubicle, when both space and time were at a steep premium, was indeed crucial.

Learning from the War of the previous decade, in the 1950s, the Royal Canadian Air Force commissioned a taskforce with the mandate of designing a holistic training routine for highest degree of physical fitness in least time and space for the soldiers. Initially, the regimen was geared toward RCAF pilots, a third of whom weren’t considered fit enough to fly the machines.

Bill Orban who was responsible for developing the routine figured that long durations of workouts didn’t necessarily translate to maximum or wholesome fitness. He developed a set of five fundamental workouts known as the 5BX for men; and XBX for women.

5BX is a 11-minutes a day regimen, comprising four sets of workouts to enhance flexibility and energy of muscle tissue, combined with six minutes of static jogging (or long brisk walk) as the cardio workout. The women’s XBX is a 12-minutes a day regimen, comprising five sets of workouts followed by six minutes of static jogging (or long brisk walk).

Each regimen (5BX and XBX) consists of six levels, with each level graded from D-, D, D+ to C-, C, C+, to B-, B, B+ to A-, A, A+. That makes it 72 stages in all (12 stages x 6 levels).

No matter what one’s physical fitness, one is recommended to start at the absolute bottom – namely bottom of Level 1 and work one’s way up. One maintains each level for about 4 to six days until one reaches the desired or recommended level of fitness based on age and fitness required etc. Thus it takes about a couple of months of regular exercises to clear each level. One hits one’s desired or recommended level on an average in about 6 to 8 months.

The workouts naturally requiring no gym facilities, equipment or song and dance could be undertaken on 6’x3’ area, expending eleven minutes a day.

In both 5BX and XBX, the exercises remain exactly the same throughout the regimen; but the number of each exercise that you do within the prescribed time (typically a minute) goes on increasing at each stage and level. For example, in 5BX, when starting at the bottom, it is stage D- of Level 1, one does 2 units of exercise 1, 3 of exercise 2, 4 of exercise 3 and 2 of exercise 4 within the prescribed time of a minute, followed by 100 steps of static jogging. One keeps this up for 4 to 6 days and then moves to level D. this level increases the number of exercises to 3, 4, 5, and 3 respectively for the four exercises followed by 145 steps of static jogging, and so on. The time remains the same, but the units go on increasing. It is important not to jump levels.

One progressively moves up the stages and levels until the suitable stage and level is reached depending on the desired level of fitness for one’s age. There’s one rider though; you ought not to skip a single day until you reach your level. Thereafter, even if you do the exercises 3 times a week, you would maintain the same level of fitness.

You will notice three benefits by the end of 6 months. Your tummy, if any, would have receded; your weight would have dropped around 5% to 10% of your body-weight (at average levels of exercises) and your stamina would be improved. Unlike crash-diets, these exercises have long-term effects and end up changing your way of life – biased in favour of exercises.

It was quickly realised that the issue confronted by the troopers were more or less the same as confronted by city dwellers — no space and no time for workouts. Around 1961, Penguin published the entire set of exercises with illustrations. Currently however, you can find them on line: Or just google 5BX or XBX. I recommend you to read the posts carefully before commencing the workouts.

I started using the programme round 1990 and have more or less kept up with the regimen since, except for some hiccups in between owing to my bad knees which prevent my static jogging or very brisk walks.

When I was the Chair of the Post Graduate Program at IIM, Ahmedabad in 1999-2001, I recommended the exercises to the graduate students at the Institute. Many of them ended up integrating the regimen into their life styles and have benefited immensely over the years. The exercises, when performed regularly would give you a sense of wellbeing, not to mention real good health and vigour.

For months, CORONA has loomed large in our lives, with many of us formally or informally confined inside our homes. Of course perhaps we are not as strapped for time as for space in these times. But the Canadian Royal Air Force workouts may yet be out best bet to keep fit! Do give it a try; today, not tomorrow. That’s what the book says!