LDS fitness trainer helps missionaries become more fit

Oct 15, 2013

As numbers of LDS missionaries have increased from approximately 58,000 to close to 75,000 this year, so have opportunities for innovative missionary exercise.

To structure and optimize missionary service, many guidelines are provided including the instruction to exercise at least 30 minutes a day before performing proselytizing duties.

"Every morning they want us to do at least 20 minutes of cardiovascular exercise to get our heart going and 10 minutes of strength on three days of the week and 10 minutes of stretching the other three days of the week," said Austin Wheelwright, a recently returned LDS missionary.

While missionaries are at the missionary training center, some exercise facilities and sports equipment are available, however, once the missionaries enter the field no such facilities are required to be provided.

"When I first started out my mission, I started on a bike, and when I was on a bike, I saw that my health increased, that I gained muscle weight," said Wheelwright, "but then I was given a car because we had a larger area and we still were able to ride bikes but we didn’t get around to it as often, so I lost that weight again. Overall I’d say physically speaking I was definitely a lot more fit before my mission.”

Bicycles, as a main form of transportation are sometimes provided, but not to every missionary or area of service.

Josh Jackson, a member of the LDS Church working as a personal trainer in California in 2008 was asked by missionaries to help create a fitness routine that would help them exercise without equipment.

“They started asking me for tips and advice and I started writing small workouts for them on paper and then I continued writing more extensive workouts, 2-3 week long regiments, and then that just inspired me after seeing the success, to put something in to where it would last the whole 2 years for the mission,” said Jackson.

Jackson is now the creator and Chief Innovation Officer of LDS Missionary Fitness, a company which has produced a 2-year workout made especially for missionaries. The fitness program Jackson developed is a calisthenics workout program, or a fitness routine that uses one’s body weight to exercise and is developed for the constraints of a missionary schedule.

"What we found in doing all the research was that it takes 30 minutes for the body to secrete the endorphins, so I wanted to utilize that time; I wanted the missionaries to utilize that time," said Jackson.

Along with time constraints, Jackson also saw the need to develop a program that could fit the facilities and equipment constraints on missionaries.

“Everyone is exposed to different conditions while on their mission: some people are exposed to great diets, some people are exposed to poor diets, some people have access to a bicycle, some people are in cars. But what it does for those at a disadvantage physically, it gives them an opportunity to neutralize the damaging effects that they sacrifice," said Jackson.

LDS Missionary Fitness plans to apply the same principles in a Sister-missionary specific and senior-couple specific workout.

Although serving for two years is a sacrifice, Jackson sees the time on a mission as a unique opportunity to grow in all areas, including fitness.

“What’s really interesting about this time frame in their life is this is the time for their peak growth, this is where they can grow mentally, spiritually, physically," said Jackson.  "So this small window of opportunity, if taken full advantage of, they can come in the best physique of their life they can come home more mature, spiritually edified, mentally sharp. It’s not just a loss, it’s not just a sacrifice, this is a time where they can come home having gained more.”

Men in the LDS Church are encouraged to serve 2-year missions beginning at age 18 and women have the opportunity to serve for 18 months beginning at age 19.

Taylor Halversen is a senior at Utah State University, majoring in Communication Studies and Liberal Arts. She's from Sandy, Utah and is interested in discovering new and random things to try and attempting to live life wholly and healthily. She loves music and climbing anything from trees to mountains.