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Canadian Air Force Exercise Plans for Physical Fitness

author image Lisa Mercer
In 1999, Lisa Mercer’s fitness, travel and skiing expertise inspired a writing career. Her books include "Open Your Heart with Winter Fitness" and "101 Women's Fitness Tips." Her articles have appeared in "Aspen Magazine," "HerSports," "32 Degrees," "Pregnancy Magazine" and "Wired." Mercer has a Bachelor of Arts in psychology from the City College of New York.
Canadian Air Force Exercise Plans for Physical Fitness
An athletic woman is practicing her pushups. Photo Credit aaron_belford/iStock/Getty Images

During the late 1950s, Dr. Bill Orban designed the Royal Canadian Air Force exercise plan. The program, also called the Five Basic Exercises, or 5BX, consisted of six progressive exercise charts, each containing five exercises. Orban believed that the exercises must be performed in the same order and that people should spend 11 minutes a day on the routine.


Orban was the first Canadian accepted into the University of California's physical education program. He earned his doctorate from the University of Illinois. In 1956, he returned to Canada and devised an exercise program for the Royal Canadian Air Force. At the time, many of the Canadian pilots were stationed in remote communities, which lacked any kind of recreation facilities. The Canadian government estimated that about one-third of the pilots were unfit for flying. Orban's program, which did not require any type of exercise equipment, benefited these RCAF members.


Orban developed his exercise theories while studying at the University of Illinois. 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. Orban decided that intensity was more important than endurance for cardiovascular fitness. 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 was archaic. He believed that his exercise program was only suitable for men, and therefore developed an "easier" program for women.

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The Exercises

Chart one exercises include toe touches, prone single leg lifts, bent knee pushups and running in place. Chart two progresses to straight-legged sit-ups, prone double leg lifts and straight-legged pushups. Chart three adds prone back extension exercises, which require you to lift your legs and your upper body at the same time, as well as squat exercises. The fourth chart features a standing upper torso circle, which requires you to bend forward and reach for one leg, pass through the center to the opposite leg and circle back up to the starting position. You add jumping jacks to your program when you reach the fifth chart, as well as the V-sit. Abdominal exercise that requires you to simultaneously lift your upper and lower body is on the sixth chart. Chart six also features deep knee bends.


Always check with your doctor before beginning a new exercise program. Some of the exercises featured in the Royal Canadian Air Force exercise plan may cause damage to people with sensitive knees. The deep knee bend is an example. Despite Orban's belief that 11 minutes of exercise is efficient; the Centers for Disease Control suggests that 20 to 30 minutes is optimal; and that significantly overweight people may require one hour of aerobic exercise, most days of the week.

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