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The 5BX (Five Basic Exercises) Plan is an exercise program developed for the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) by Bill Orban in the late 1950s, first published in 1961.[1] The plan was developed for men; a corresponding program was developed for women under the name XBX (Ten Basic Exercises).

The 5BX plan[edit]

The 5BX Plan is composed of six charts arranged in increasing order of difficulty. Each chart is composed of five exercises that are performed within eleven minutes. The first four exercises are calisthenics and the last is an aerobic exercise. As the individual progresses within the system, the number of each type of exercise that must be performed increases and the difficulty of each exercise increases.


Throughout the charts and levels, the five exercises are the same, but more difficult variations are introduced:

  1. Stretching
  2. Sit-up
  3. Back extension
  4. Push-up
  5. Running in place

A walk or run may be substituted for the final exercise; the distances to be covered and the time to be taken are also specified in the plan.


The RCAF asked Orban to develop a fitness program for their pilots, a third of whom were not considered fit to fly at the time. The plan was innovative in two respects. Firstly, it did not require access to specialized equipment. Many RCAF pilots were located in remote bases in northern Canada, with no access to gymnasium facilities, so it was important to offer a means of keeping fit without their use. Secondly, the plan only required that eleven minutes be spent on the exercises per day.

While performing research in Illinois, Orban had noticed that, when testing oxygen intake, long periods of exercise did not necessarily lead to significant improvement. This led him to the conclusion that the intensity of exercise was more important to improving fitness than the amount of time spent on it. This aspect of the plan drew a negative reaction from others in the field but the 5BX program proved its worth in the three years of testing that the RCAF performed before releasing the program.[2]

Twenty-three million copies of the 5BX booklet were sold to the public. It became popular around the world and was translated into thirteen languages. Orban, creating the program as a public servant, received no additional income from the success of the plan.[3]

The exercises are no longer performed by the service as of 2008, and are considered unnecessarily hazardous in part because they are unsupervised. Many exercise physiologists[who?] consider the sit-up in the higher levels to be capable of causing spinal injury, and, therefore, unsuitable for an unsupervised program (the sit-up exercise can be replaced with the more modern crunch). Children under the age of 17 were at risk of heart failure and lung weakness due to the intensity of the exercises and therefore were not required or advised to demonstrate the 5BX for any public school.[citation needed]

John Walker's book The Hacker's Diet contains a simplified version, that is claimed to be suitable for everyone.[4] The original 5BX programme has also been updated by three Australian fitness trainers under the title Goodbye Couch![5] Len Deighton's novel Only When I Larf contains a reference to the 5BX program.

Celebrity practitioners of the program have included Helen Mirren, the late George Burns,[6] and royals, Prince Philip, Charles, and William (and his wife Kate).[7]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The Royal Canadian Air Force 5Bx program for men (1st ed.). Royal Canadian Air Force. 1961. 
  2. ^ 5BX Plan for Physical Fitness (PDF) (3rd ed.). Royal Canadian Air Force. 1975. Retrieved October 16, 2017. 
  3. ^ "An interview with Bill Orban". Ottawa Citizen. July 15, 2002. Archived from the original on January 20, 2013. Retrieved October 16, 2017. 
  4. ^ "The fitness ladder". The Hacker's Diet. November 2005. Retrieved October 16, 2017. 
  5. ^ "Our program". Goodbye Couch!. Archived from the original on January 21, 2013. Retrieved October 16, 2017. 
  6. ^ Woods, Judith (July 24, 2014). "How to look like a Dame in just a few minutes". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved October 16, 2017. 
  7. ^ "The secret of how stressed Kate Middleton is coping without Prince William". Now!. March 11, 2012. Retrieved November 6, 2016. 

External links[edit]