WASHINGTON, DC — With no end in sight for the war in Iraq, manufacturers are reporting that sales of fitness equipment to the military are up as the government works to maintain troop fitness and morale.

Currently, about 138,000 troops are in Iraq, but more troops will be in the country soon to provide security for Iraq's election in January. Keeping the troops in Iraq and on aircraft carriers fit requires that thousands of pieces of fitness equipment be placed in military facilities across the world. U.S. fitness equipment manufacturers are stepping up to the plate to ensure the military has the equipment that it needs.

Iron Grip has received so many orders for equipment from the military that the company is on pace to sell more equipment to more military fitness facilities this year than last year, said Michael Rojas of Iron Grip. In 2003, the company, whose military business is facilitated through Life Fitness, shipped to about 375 facilities, but Rojas expects a considerable increase for 2004. Just since this summer Iron Grip has sent 15 orders to Iraq and five to Afghanistan for large facilities, he said.

“Demand is substantial, and the needs are immediate,” Rojas said. “It's an indication that there's a big, full-scale push to provide the military with facilities that are at least on a level that is the same [as in America].”

Rojas has also seen increased business on military vessels, on bases in the United States and in other countries where troops are located. He's equipped fitness facilities on a large number of navy ships and aircraft carriers, such as the USS Abraham Lincoln and the USS Reagan, and has done work on fitness facilities for the Pentagon and the FBI.

A strong “buy American policy” has helped fuel purchases by the military of equipment made by navy ships and aircraft carriers, such as the USS Abraham Lincoln and the USS Reagan, and has done work on fitness facilities for the Pentagon and the FBI. A strong “buy American policy” has helped fuel purchases by the military of equipment made by U.S. fitness equipment manufacturers, said Rojas, although the government has not mandated that equipment be manufactured in the United States.

Bob Sikora, who represents MedX/Core Fitness and Woodway USA treadmills, has sold 75 treadmills and a few pieces of core equipment for facilities in Iraq, but due to confidentiality agreements he doesn't know where in Iraq they were placed.

While a lot of money is going to equipment for soldiers in Iraq, Sikora also has done work for the Marines in Hawaii, the FBI, the CIA and the naval submarine base in Kings Bay, GA. Most of the sales are for new equipment. He recently sold several rowers to military facilities in Turkey and Guam, who found the compact rowers worked better for them because they required less room and they cost less than larger pieces of equipment, he said.

Regardless of the equipment's size, the machines play an important part in keeping the troops strong, said Wayne Westcott, fitness director at the South Shore YMCA in Quincy, MA. He has worked with the military and has written fitness-training manuals for them. His research shows that boot camp type calisthenics are not as effective as high-intensity strength training.

“We have to go to something else that actually works better than the boot camp, and not the repetitive nature that causes injuries and burns you out psychologically,” Westcott said.

By using weights, troops can get a better workout in a shorter amount of time, he said. With push-ups and sit-ups an individual only has his or her body weight as resistance, which means the exerciser must increase repetitions to gain strength and endurance. When exercisers use weights, they get big benefits with just one repetition, Westcott's research showed.

“Everything works in proportion,” he said. “When you increase your strength, you'll automatically increase the number of chin-ups and push-ups you can do — even if you didn't train with those exercises.”

Besides keeping the troops in good physical condition, the exercise and fitness equipment helps keep morale up, said Sikora.

“Physical fitness is a big thing for [the troops] — it's an outlet to their stress,” he said. “Over there you have mostly young guys…War is hell. I've been in war and I know what it's like. I don't know if these guys were ready.”

To keep spirits high, the military has been purchasing some customized equipment, such as equipment personalized with base names and other designs, Rojas said.

Even with these morale-boosting efforts, just getting the equipment to the troops can be a challenge. Sikora has heard of dumbbells and other equipment being blown up in convoys. Despite the challenges, equipment manufacturers continue doing their part for the troops, Rojas said, and that support is not likely to end until the troops are home.