By Sgt. Kevin Stabinsky
2nd Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division
FORWARD OPERATING BASE KALSU, Iraq – When not busy in their daily missions, 1st Lt. Charmain Lett and Sgt. Jennifer Alvery are most likely building better bodies.
Although pumping iron in the gym is typically associated with men, these two women are serving as an inspiration to other females in their units to reach their physical fitness potential.
"Lots of Soldiers come up to ask to work out with me," said Alvery, a member of the Top Flite security detail, 26th Brigade Support Battalion, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division.
Much of the pair's fame comes from photos of their accomplishments, like winning their respective weight classes in bench press competitions, which hang on the walls of the FOB Kalsu gym.
Their original motivation came from a desire to self-improve. Both said they were heavily involved in sports and working out enhanced their talents.
Lett, assistant supply and logistics officer and property book officer, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 2nd BCT, 3rd Inf. Div., said lifting helped her swimming. She earned an athletic scholarship to the University of Florida for her skill.
Avery said she began lifting in high school. "I had weightlifting as a regular class - weightlifting for athletes," said the Navarre, Fla., native. "You need strength in every sport. It helps tremendously."
A competitive lifter for the past seven years, Lett, from Pensacola, Fla., is aiming to gain an International Federation of Bodybuilding and Fitness card, allowing her to compete in professional bodybuilding and fitness events. She has already competed in one event and plans to compete again in the Show of Strength on Oct. 8 in Atlanta.
"I got into fitness from watching shows," said Lett, who took 2nd place overall in the women's heavyweight division in a June 2006 Southern Isles bodybuilding competition. She also credits her three older brothers and three older sisters, all athletes in their own right, for motivating her.
"You (women) don't need to be scared about bulking up," Alvery said. "Most people don't realize how hard those guys (in fitness magazines) work at it."
Lett agreed, stating much of a person's result tends to reflect their body type. Most people will never gain the large amounts of muscles seen on the covers of fitness magazines.
Body type excluded, they said all people can benefit from hitting the weights.
"I wish more women would get into weightlifting," Alvery said.
For those looking to slim down and tone up, weightlifting is very helpful, as muscle burns more calories than fat. By utilizing a system of light weights and high repetitions, Lett said a person can tone up. For her own toning, Lett uses a system of four sets of 15 - 20 repetitions.
Using light weights can also be beneficial as lifting weights that are too heavy can cause joint and muscle injuries, Lett said.
Alvery said a great way to learn how to use machines, weights and exercises is to find a mentor. She found a mentor in fellow 26th BSB Soldier Sgt. Chris Johnson, and in turn tries to mentor others who ask to work out with her.
Besides having someone to help you through lifting sessions and teach new exercises, a mentor can also serve as an accountability partner, Alvery said, motivating you to work out.
For both Lett and Avery, working out is an almost daily activity. Lett said she works out Monday through Saturday, twice a day, devoting two hours in the morning to lifting and another hour at night for cardio.
She normally focuses on one body part a day during weight lifting, utilizing supersets three times a day. A superset is when you work two opposing muscles back to back, such as biceps and triceps or quadriceps and hamstrings in order to better stimulate blood flow to the area and promote growth. Her cardio consists of running every other day, with alternate days divided into three 16-minute bursts on the treadmill, stationary bicycle and stepper machine.
Alvery exercises slightly less, training five times a week, with each training session averaging 90 minutes. Each session focuses on one muscle group - biceps and triceps; shoulders; chest; back; or legs – with abdominal and cardio mixed in.
Besides exercising her body, such sessions are also therapeutic for Alvery, "If I'm having a bad day or problems, my mind deals with it better when I work out."
Alvery said it's also a good way to improve one's physical fitness score.
"Any exercise you do helps with the PT test," Alvery said, even those not necessarily similar to the push-up and sit-up events. For example, Alvery said any exercise for arms also helps a Soldier do push-ups.
The two also agree that eating right is an important part of maintaining those skills. Alvery said Soldiers can eat well in theater despite limited food choices by following three pieces of advice: limiting food from the short-order line, adding a lot of color to one's plate with vegetables and fruit and maintaining portion control.
Although a tough order to fill, it is one that creates a recipe for healthy living and is well worth the investment, as both Alvery and Lett hope their accomplishments show.
"It is just part of being healthy," Alvery said.
This work, Female bodybuilders at Kalsu, by SGT Kevin Stabinsky, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.