Prior to joining the Navy, my approach to fitness was much like the average gym rat; I modeled it after what I read in the various bodybuilding periodicals. My workouts mostly consisted of 4-6 sets of a bunch of exercises followed by some time on the treadmill or exercise bike. If I was feeling really adventurous, I’d even jog through my neighborhood! I did a lot of work on machines and a lot of isolation movements. When I enlisted in the Navy, I knew that I had to find a new approach to training. After doing a bit of research and talking with other people who were already in the military, I decided to ditch the bodybuilding mentality, quit training in the gym, and totally change the way I trained.
I replaced my weight training with high volumes of bodyweight calisthenics, running, and swimming. I began training in the local park or in the desert hills of my nearby hometown of Ridgecrest, California. I found working outdoors when it’s hot and it’s just you and a few friends forces you to focus on what you’re doing and put more quality time into training. In the typical gym, it’s too easy to get distracted by other people and the comforts of the modern weight machines, temperature controlled environment, and music that take away from the total focus that I believe you should have on training if you’re serious about it.
My new workouts consisted of circuit style training including sit ups, pull ups, push ups, air squats, lunges, dips, sprints, and plyometrics with little or no rest. I’d also take some long runs on the trails in the surrounding hills and find a hill then sprint up and down for time. I found that this combination of bodyweight training circuits and sprints had several benefits: I had more endurance and I could move faster. Even the long runs (which I started doing much less of), became easier; I was running them faster and my lungs seemed to work much more efficiently. Like most people, a big concern I had when I switched to this style of training was the loss of the muscle mass I had spent so much time to build. To my surprise, this didn’t happen. I didn’t gain any weight but I didn’t lose weight and I got leaner, meaning that I was building muscle and burning fat. I also didn’t lose strength and gained a lot of endurance.
When I reported to basic training, my new training methods paid off. I was one of the strongest trainees, and where others struggled through the long PT sessions, I found them to be easy. On my first ship I was introduced to kettlebells and instantly added them to my training. Once I began training with the kettlebell, I instantly found improvement in my cardiovascular endurance and speed. The kettlebell is a great tool for building a powerful back and legs while building speed and endurance. Luckily I was stationed on one of the few ships that had kettlebells and once I outgrew those I just bought my own and brought them on deployment. Our ship had a huge hangar bay with steep, long ramps leading down to the vehicle storage in the bottom of the ship and up to the flight deck which my buddies and I took full advantage of. We also had a few large spare truck tires onboard which were great for flipping and served as a perfect jump box.
On my second ship, I was given the opportunity to become a Search and Rescue Swimmer and gladly accepted. I got accepted to Search and Rescue Swimmer School and started one week after reporting on board the ship. All of the training I had been doing prepared me for the school. I had much more endurance than the other candidates, and even though I was not a great swimmer without fins, when we put them on I had built enough leg strength that I was the fastest swimmer in my class. While a lot of people do very little leg training besides jogging, my training had a lot of focus on leg speed and strength-endurance.
The nature of the workouts I had done were great for mental preparation as well. The quick, high intensity workouts with little rest placed a mental stress that was similar to the kind of things found in military training and real life situations. Upon graduating from the swim school, I was excited to be able to apply my passion for fitness for something meaningful; I began taking my fitness more seriously since people’s lives now depended on my ability to perform. I continued using the same tools and training the same way, but I added more strength oriented stuff, focusing heavily on the squat, deadlift, and overhead press. As my performance in these lifts increased, my performance in the conditioning workouts improved noticeably as well.
As military members, fitness is not just about looking good. Success can depend upon it, and in the worst case scenarios, even life can depend on it. It is not just about how long you can run on the treadmill or how much you can curl. It is ultimately about whether you are prepared or not. Since we can’t know what we must be prepared for necessarily, the only thing to do is prepare for everything. The only way to do this is to do a variety of movements that use the whole body in a variety of ways and work as hard as you can every time you enter your training area, whether that be the gym, track, beach, or mountain. Switching up routines and learning new things are some of the best things that you can do to prepare yourself. Don’t get caught in the mundane, boring , unproductive workouts that everybody else is doing, and don’t be afraid to let your lungs heave and muscles burn.
These are a few workouts I used while I was in the Navy:
Unconventional Workout 1 (for time):
A1: KB Swings - 1 x 500
A2: Push Ups - 1 x 250
Split reps of A1 & A2 as needed.
Unconventional Workout 2 (for time):
A1: Ramp Sprint - 5 x 1
A2: Box Jumps - 5 x 10
A3: Pull Ups - 5 x 10
A4: Squats - 5 x 10
Rest 1 min b/t circuits.
Unconventional Workout 3 (for max reps):
A1: Tire Flips - 3 x 1 min
A2: Decline Push Ups - 3 x 1 min
A3: Sit Ups - 3 x 1 min
(Rest 1 min b/t circuits)
Unconventional Workout 4 (for time):
A1: Sprint - 4 x 150m
A2: Jump Rope Double-Unders - 4 x 21
A3: Tire Flips - 4 x 6
Rest 1 min b/t circuits.
Unconventional Workout 5 (Pyramid):
A1: Pull ups - 1
A2: Push ups - 2
A3: Squats - 3
B1: Pull Ups - 2
B2: Push Ups - 4
B3: Squats - 6
... repeat up to 10 pullups, 20 pushups, 30 squats, etc.
Unconventional Workout 6 (max rounds)
A: Ramp Sprint - 1 x 20 minutes
Sprint, jog down ramp, repeat with no rest.
This article was featured in the June/July 2011 Issue of the My Mad Methods Magazine. "A Workout Evolution: The PT of a Navy Veteran" was written by Aaron Wolf. Learn more about the My Mad Methods Magazine by Clicking Here
Aaron Wolf is CrossFit level 1 certified and runs most of the workouts out of his garage. Aaron has been doing CrossFit type workouts for about 3 years now, but would like to take his ambitions up a notch and has a goal of opening an affiliate during the summer of 2011. Currently, after 5 years serving in the US Navy as an IT and search-and-rescue swimmer, he is a full-time student working on his bachelor’s degree in kinesiology. Find out more
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