1950s and the Royal Canadian Air Force

According to an article published in the Washington Post on 31 March 1998, the Royal Canadian Air Force Workout inspired the fitness movement of the 1950s (Krucoff, 1998) and, as such, civilian boot camp workouts can be considered throw backs to 1950s military-style exercise.

During the late 1950s, Dr Bill Orban designed the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) exercise plan also called the Five Basic Exercises, or 5BX, and consisted of six progressive exercise charts, each containing five exercises.  Orban believed that the exercises should be performed in the same order and that people should spend eleven minutes a day on the routine.

At the same time many of the RCAFs pilots were stationed in remote communities, which lacked any kind of recreational facilities.  The Canadian government estimated that about one-third of its pilots were unfit for flying.  Orban’s programme, which did not require any type of exercise equipment, was devised for varying age groups and gender and was called the 5BX Plan for men and XBX Plan for women.  A US version was released in the early 1960s which combined the 5BX and XBX plans (Canadian Government, 1962).

Orban developed his exercise theories while studying at the University of Illinois, the first Canadian accepted into the University of California’s physical education programme.  He discovered that longer treadmill sessions did not improve his son’s oxygen uptake, and noted that even elite Olympic runner Jesse Owens did not improve his aerobic fitness level through extended workouts.

From this Orban concluded that intensity was the more important factor than endurance with regards to cardiovascular fitness.  Although ahead of his time in his belief that enhancing your overall lifestyle is essential for fitness, he believed that his programme was only suitable for men and subsequently developed an easier version for women.  However, he did argue that people should substitute the lift for the stairs and walking instead of taking transport; arguments made by the UK Government sixty years later!

Although Orban believed that eleven minutes of exercise was efficient, more recent research conducted by the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM, 2006) suggests that 20 minutes (vigorous intensity) or 30 minutes (moderate-intensity) is optimal, and the ACSM also suggests that significantly overweight people may require one hour of aerobic exercise most days of the week.


Krucoff, C. (1998) Back to Basic: “Boot Camp” Workouts Spur Trend Towards Classic Callisthenics. Available from World Wide Web: <http://pqasb.pqarchiver.com/washingtonpost/access/28333160.html?dids=28333160:28333160&FMT=ABS&FMTS=ABS:FT&date=Mar+31%2C+1998&author=Carol+Krucoff&pub=The+Washington+Post&edition=&startpage=Z.16&desc=Back+to+Basic%3B+%22Boot+Camp%22+Workouts+Spur+Trend+Toward+Classic+Calisthenics&gt; [Accessed: 10 November, 2012].

Canadian Government (1962) Royal Canadian Air Force Exercise Plans. Available from World Wide Web: http://archive.org/details/Royl_Canadian_Air_Force_Exercise_Plans_ [Accessed: 29 November, 2012].

ACSM (American College of Sports Medicine) (2006) ACSM’s Guidelines for Exercise Testing and Prescription. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Lippincott, Williams & Wilkins.


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.