Building better Soldiers focus of gold medalist

Maj. Donald Bigham, deputy chief of the MCoE Human Dimension Integration Division, stands with his recent gold medals from the North American Powerlifting Federation Championship.

Maj. Donald Bigham, deputy chief of the MCoE Human Dimension Integration Division, stands with his recent gold medals from the North American Powerlifting Federation Championship.

By Gerald Williams, Bayonet & Saber /

A gold medalist powerlifter has returned to Fort Benning to assist Soldiers with performance enhancement on Fort Benning.

For the past two years, Maj. Donald Bigham, currently deputy chief of the Human Dimension Integration Division, previously worked as a head strength coach for the United States Army Physical Fitness School in Fort Jackson, South Carolina. He was responsible for changing their master fitness program to improve the physical abilities for Soldiers.

Bigham recently won a gold medal in the North American Powerlifting Federation World Championship in the Virgin Islands with 565 pounds in squats, 341 pounds in bench press and 625 pounds in the deadlift competitions.

“My goal is to set the tone here,” said Bigham. “I want to begin a performance-based program that builds upon strengthening the muscles. If someone were to ask what to do in case of valgus collapse, then I’d know that we’d have to strengthen the gluteus maximus with the external rotation of the femur. Knowing what muscle to strengthen and how to strengthen it is my expertise.”

According to Bigham, he will be responsible for hiring the right people in the future Army Wellness Center building.

Maj. Donald Bigham, deputy chief of the Human Dimension Integration Division, states that adding weight during a plank exercise helps to build core muscles.

Maj. Donald Bigham, deputy chief of the Human Dimension Integration Division, states that adding weight during a plank exercise helps to build core muscles.

“The other 33 installations of AWC’s are athletic trainers. They’re extensions of the hospital. We want to be able to provide a different resource for Soldiers to improve their abilities.”

Bigham said that his many years of experience have prepared him for educating Soldiers on how to correctly strengthen their body.

“I have a master’s degree in kinesiology and I’ve had over 20 years of experience with the Infantry community,” said Bigham. “I understand things, not just from a scientific standpoint, but from a combat standpoint in adverse terrain as well. I know how to lead Soldiers and I know how to be a Soldier. I was a private who worked up to a major, so I served in every capacity.”

Bigham stated that knowing how to effectively strengthen Soldiers’ bodies is key to advancing the Army.

“If a Soldier, for example, injures their knee, we usually give them a physical trainer to help get them back in the fight,” said Bigham. “But when they get back in the fight, how do they improve their performance so that when they put on their personal protective equipment, that can be as heavy as 100 pounds, they don’t carry the load in a way to welcome injury again?”

Maj. Donald Bigham, deputy chief of the MCoE Human Dimension Integration Division, demonstrates the correct way to perform squat exercises.

Maj. Donald Bigham, deputy chief of the MCoE Human Dimension Integration Division, demonstrates the correct way to perform squat exercises.

“The number one injury in the Army are musculoskeletal injuries,” said Bigham. “This is mostly because we don’t use precision with our movement patterns. I call Soldiers tactical athletes because what they learn as an athlete can be used tactically in the field. If a Soldier doesn’t know how to precisely move their body or handle physical stress correctly outside of training, then they won’t be able to precisely or correctly move their muscles when they’re out on missions.”

Bigham said that knowing how to properly do a squat could help a Soldier carry his load on the battlefield more effectively.

“Let’s say a Soldier is doing a squat and their knees are caving in toward each other as they do it,” said Bigham. “They may be performing the exercise to their liking, but when they carry their load on the field they are also in a squatting position. When that happens they actually make carrying the load harder for them because their knees are used to caving in from the squatting exercises they’ve performed.”

“I want to put Soldiers in the position for correctly performing tasks inside and outside the battlefield so that they won’t have any unnecessary stress and be prone to injury,” Bigham said.

Bigham explained that while the example may seem minor, it makes a big difference in developing a Soldier.

“Another problem I see with Soldiers is how they train by doing reps,” said Bigham. “Reps are good for endurance, but not as effective when you really want to strengthen muscles.”

Bigham used an example of doing situps in reps versus doing situps in reps with dumbbells. He said that while doing regular situps does help one’s body, adding extra weight strengthens their body more than just doing reps.

“There are three energy systems that we go through when we perform exercises: phostrogen, glycolysis and oxidative,” said Bigham. “Phostrogen and glycolysis help push out the most energy when we perform an exercise during the first zero to eight seconds. Army training tends to primarily focus on instruction within the oxidative state, which is responsible for endurance.”

“If I have a casualty and have to do a medevac, I’m not dragging a Soldier for three hours straight,” said Bigham. “I’m dragging him for 15, 30 or maybe 300 meters max, so I’m staying within the phostrogen or glycolysis system.”

Bigham stated he wants to help Fort Benning medical officers and athletic trainers create performance programs with these ideals in mind.

“My vision is to have strength coaches at every battalion level,” said Bigham. “I want Soldiers to have access to people who know how to strengthen their body and the correct way to do so.”

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