Friday 12 September 2014

Trial to let NSmen train for IPPT closer to home; New, enhanced IPT gives NSmen more choices to get fit

By Jermyn Chow, The Straits Times, 11 Sep 2014

UNFIT citizen soldiers will no longer have to trek to far-flung corners of the island to train for their Individual Physical Proficiency Test (IPPT).

The solution is coming soon - to a park near them.

The Straits Times has learnt that from next week, the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) will bring fitness classes closer to the homes and workplaces of operationally ready national servicemen (NSmen).

As part of a four-month trial, training sessions will be held in the evenings at the Promontory @ Marina Bay, the Co-curricular Activity Branch in Bukit Timah, Bishan Park, Jurong Central Park and Punggol Park.

Earlier, the possibility of holding such sessions at commercial gyms had also been broached, but this has yet to be confirmed.

Currently, NSmen go for these IPPT Preparatory Training (IPT) classes at four army camps in areas such as Kranji and Bedok.

Confirming the new move, the Defence Ministry said NSmen will be able to sign up for and attend the sessions at the new venues from Thursday next week.

Juggling work, family and fitness obligations can be "very challenging", said Colonel Chua Boon Keat, who heads the National Service Affairs Department.

He told The Straits Times: "If (IPT) is closer to the home or workplace... you come and do your fitness, keep fit, spend very little time travelling back home and spend time with the family."

The IPT is a voluntary programme that puts those who fail their IPPT through 10 training sessions spread over nine months.

As part of the trial, the SAF has also introduced midday IPT sessions on weekdays which, for now, will be available only at the existing conditioning centres.

The new moves aim to give unfit NSmen the flexibility of picking from 20 time slots a week to train for their IPPT, up from 12.

Since the beginning of this month, the Defence Ministry has introduced other changes to make the IPT and remedial training more flexible and efficient.

One allows NSmen to choose their fitness regime from five different workouts including ball games, and possibly kick-boxing and mixed martial arts.

The duration of these sessions has been almost halved to 1hr 15min, while soldiers get to be coached in 30-man sessions instead of 50. Previously announced changes aimed at making the IPPT less painful for NSmen include a simpler three-station fitness test from next April.

NSman Yau Chee Ming, an engineer who shuttles between his job in Jurong Port Road and Clementi Road's Maju Camp for IPT sessions, said the new venues will save him 15 minutes per trip.

He plans to sign up for sessions in Jurong Central Park, which is the closest location to his home in Bukit Panjang. The 36-year-old said: "Work is already so hectic. If I can make fitness training less troublesome, I will be happier and motivated to train."

IPPT complaints heard, now it's up to NSmen
By Jermyn Chow, The Straits Times, 11 Sep 2014

THE complaints of operationally ready national servicemen (NSmen) have been heard.

Over the past four months, the SAF has taken strides towards addressing pet peeves about its physical training programme.

Training will become a lot more flexible so NSmen do not have to wreck their schedules to keep fit as they juggle their jobs, and family and NS commitments.

NSmen will also be empowered to take ownership of their health and fitness and have more leeway to decide how they want to keep fit.

The new philosophy is not to knock the stuffing out of NSmen but to create a feel-good factor by making things a little easier and more convenient.

The first of the radical changes was unveiled in May. It gives NSmen twice the timeframe to pass their Individual Physical Proficiency Test (IPPT) or clear remedial training.

In July, they were told that, from next April, they will take a simpler IPPT with just three stations, instead of the current five-component test.

Now, they have been given more say in where to train for the fitness test, with the IPPT Preparatory Training programme brought to more venues that are closer to where they work and live.

During the extra coaching sessions, NSmen will even get to choose from five different exercise options, including ball games and possibly even kick-boxing.

But the bigger question is whether NSmen will buy into this feel-good factor and respond by lacing up and pounding the pavement.

Colonel Ng Ying Thong, the army's assistant chief of general staff for training, thinks so.

He said that when someone gets to choose what to do, he will "put in maximum effort to do it".

It is, however, not surprising that there are some, especially older soldiers who have endured tough sessions and instructors, who think that the SAF is lowering the bar to pander to its soldiers' sedentary lifestyles and expanding waistlines.

These critics point out that the changes are a step down a slippery slope towards an ill-disciplined military.

But if the road to a fitter army has been fraught with obstacles that have tripped soldiers up, preventing them from achieving their personal bests and demoralising them, then why not remove those hurdles?

After all, a commander who leads an army that is only half-fit and unmotivated hardly inspires confidence.

This is worse for a conscript military like the SAF, in which citizen soldiers form four-fifths of its total fighting strength.

But this group also makes up the bulk of IPPT failures.

The 2010 figures from the Ministry of Defence - the most recent available - showed that the test is failed by half of the 116,000 NSmen who take it every year.

Revamping the SAF's physical training system with the aim of toughening up soldiers is, therefore, doing right by Singaporeans, who expect a motivated and fighting-fit military to defend the nation.

But the armed forces can do only that much.

Maybe it is time for NSmen not to throw their hands up in despair, but to take greater responsibility for their fitness to improve their combat-readiness.

After all, their complaints have been heard.

'More efficient' IPT a hit among some NSmen
Even some who don't need training may sign up for it; new locations also big help
By Jermyn Chow, The Straits Times, 12 Sep 2014

SOME operationally-ready national servicemen like the latest changes to extra coaching classes for the Individual Physical Proficiency Test (IPPT) so much they may sign up for the training sessions even if they do not need them.

The revised IPPT Preparatory Training (IPT) programme offers shorter but more intensive workouts that focus better on individual weaknesses and made a difference in their physical fitness, said the citizen soldiers.

"With the more intensive routines, I can be gasping for air, but I feel my stamina is a lot better and my running has improved," said undergraduate Abdullah Zaidani, 23, who hopes the training will help him pass the 2.4km run this time.

Auditor Kenneth Lim, who has attended previous IPTs, said the more intensive revamped training programme is also "more efficient". The 31-year-old said: "You don't waste any time. Just book in, do a solid workout and go home."

Introduced in 2006, IPT is a voluntary fitness programme for NSmen who fail their IPPT. Before it was available, those who failed the IPPT would have to attend tougher remedial training in camp.

Remedial training is still offered but NSmen can also opt for the IPT's 10 training sessions spread over 12 months. Even those who pass the annual fitness test can sign up for IPT classes to keep fit.

Sessions are free but must be booked in advance on at least the same day.

Among the changes, which kicked in last week, NSmen can choose from five workouts, including metabolic circuit training, aerobics and football. The two-hour fitness sessions have been shortened to 1 hour and 15 minutes.

Civil servant Matthew Ong, who completed the IPT programme earlier this year, is thinking of signing up for more.

"It's a good and effective way to keep fit... you do focused, intensive drills, you have fitness instructors to guide you... it's like going to the gym," said the 26-year-old.

NSmen can also get fit in more convenient locations downtown and in residential areas, instead of only at army camps.

A four-month trial starting next Thursday will offer the new-look IPT after office hours at five locations: the Promontory @ Marina Bay, the Co-curricular Activity Branch in Bukit Timah, Bishan Park, Jurong Central Park and Punggol Park.

Engineer Robert Ou, who used to drive from his workplace in Orchard Road to his training session at Maju Camp in Clementi, and then home to Punggol, said he would most likely sign up for his next IPT class at Punggol Park.

This will cut his travel time by up to 30 minutes. "It becomes so much more convenient and less of a chore, making the experience a lot better."

The number of people who opt for the IPT programme has risen to 33,000 from fewer than 10,000 in 2010.

Colonel Chua Boon Keat, who heads the SAF's National Service Affairs Department, said the changes to IPT are aimed at getting NSmen to take greater responsibility for their fitness.

"We want them to stay healthy... we don't want them to give up and totally not come (for IPT) just because of the inconvenience they are facing."

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