Author Topic: Happy birthday RCAF! Now get moving!  (Read 2568 times)

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Happy birthday RCAF! Now get moving!
« on: April 02, 2012, 06:21:25 PM »
Happy birthday RCAF!  Now get moving!

Mar. 30, 2012
By Holly Bridges

Dr. Bill Orban, RCAF fitness consultant in the 1950s and creator of the world-famous 5BX Plan. Credit: University of Saskatchwan.

Everything old is new again, at least where health and fitness in the Royal Canadian Air Force is concerned. As the RCAF turns 88 on April 1, the organization is introducing a new healthy lifestyle course to encourage members to become healthier, more physically active and therefore more operationally effective. The course may remind many Air Force members and Canadians at large of another RCAF fitness program called the 5BX Plan (Five Basic Exercises), first developed by the RCAF in the 1950s. Today, we pay tribute to the man behind the 5BX Plan, Dr. Bill Orban, often called “Canada’s original fitness pioneer”.

Dr. Bill Orban lived a life of many firsts. Born in Regina, Sask., in 1922, he was the first Canadian to attend the physical education program at the University of California, a member of the first graduating class in physical education at McGill University in Montreal and the father of a ground-breaking military fitness program that even inspired Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, to get moving. It was called the 5BX Plan.

The physical and recreation branch of the RCAF asked Dr. Orban to join their ranks as a civilian consultant in the mid-1950s after discovering that many of its pilots were unfit to fly. Using his doctorate in physiology and a fascination with athletics and the human body, Dr. Orban began researching exercise to determine why long, sustained periods of exercise such as running, were not increasing the overall fitness levels of the individuals he tested or observed. He then began to wonder if intensity, not duration, was the key.

"I was his guinea pig," Bill Orban, Jr., told The Ottawa Citizen in 2002. "I had to run on this treadmill, to the point of exhaustion, so dad could measure my oxygen intake. We did it in the evenings and weekends, when everyone else in the lab had gone."

The covers of the 5BX and XBX Plans, created by RCAF fitness consultant, Dr. Bill Orban.
Photo Credit: DND.

The end result of the research was the 5BX Plan, based on exercising 15 minutes a day, three days a week, and repeating the same five exercises – stretching, sit-ups, back extensions, push-ups and running in place. It could be done anywhere, without equipment.

“We’d been thinking about this for a long time in the Air Force,” said Wing Commander J.K. Tett during a CBC Radio interview on Aug. 16, 1961. “After three years of research and experimentation, we came up with this 5BX program, the minimum number of exercises that will give you an all-around physical development.”

The 5BX Plan became an instant hit, not only among military members at installations in Canada and overseas, but among everyday citizens who wanted to trim their waistlines. Canadians were soon buying 5BX Plan booklets at corner stores and book shops for 35 cents apiece, a phenomenon that soon spread worldwide. Eventually, the 5BX Plan sold 23 million copies in 12 different languages and eventually expanded to include the XBX [10BX]Plan, which was the women’s version.

The 5BX Plan is even featured on American Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong’s Livestrong website. “Orban was ahead of his time in his belief that enhancing your overall lifestyle is essential for fitness. He suggests substituting the stairs for the elevator and walking instead of taking transportation. While many of his ideas were progressive, his attitudes about women’s fitness were archaic. He believed that his exercise program was only suitable for men, and therefore developed an ‘easier’ program for women,” wrote Lisa Mercer.

Still, the 5BX Plan is still going strong some 60 years after its inception, not so much as a bona fide work-out program, but as an example of what can be achieved when the human body applies consistent, sustained periods of physical activity. At the time of his death, Dr. Orban was working on a mathematic formula to determine how fit a frail person might become, whether they were bedridden or ambulatory. “I believe I finally have it,” he told The Citizen.

Dr. Orban died on Oct. 18, 2003, before the research could be developed further. But his legacy continues to live on through the ever-popular 5BX and XBX programs.