When it comes to staying in shape when you’re on deployment, everyone faces totally separate challenges.
Think about which branch you’re in, your specific role and where you’re stationed. All of these factors can uniquely contribute to how difficult your overall experience is going to be.
If you’re particularly lucky, you might be stationed somewhere with adequate fitness facilities. Drawn the short straw? You might find yourself in a scenario where you have to make the most of your surroundings.
Other factors that can impact your physical fitness will be the specific region you’re stationed in. If you’re in a warm climate – running can be a great way of keeping in shape but staying hydrated can be tricky. If you happen to find yourself deployed in a tourist friendly region the temptation to load up on junk food can also become very real too – especially if you find yourself bored.
Of course your job will play a role in this too – if you’re already exerting yourself physically all day in the blistering heat – the temptation to pick up the weights and do some exercise is practically non-existent. Of course, sitting at a chair in an office all day can actually zap your energy too – albeit for different reasons.
Your branch can also be a factor when it comes to how easily training will be. If you’re in the navy and you’re constantly in an enclosed space – running can be a little bit difficult. If you’re in the airforce – maybe not so much. Different branches also have different levels of expectations when it comes to how much and how often you’re working.
How To Stay In Shape On Deployment
There is a handful of key pieces of information and knowledge that you should take on board before you attempt to construct any kind of fitness regimen for yourself. You should know how to adequately use what you have at hand to assist you in your training. Knowledge of a reasonable amount of different calisthenic exercises won’t hurt either. You should also know the basics of HIIT. Once you have a solid grasp on these concepts you can look at constructing a reliable circuit training program that targets muscle groups effectively and gives you a solid full body workout. Some knowledge of running and where to run on camp will also help too.
All of this is addressed below so if you’re stuck on any of these points, keep reading.
Using Your Surroundings
Using your surroundings is one of the best things you can do. Obviously, if there’s a gym in your immediate vicinity, you should use it. But if you’re reading this article odds are there either isn’t one – or it’s of such a low quality/so cramped that you’re better off finding alternative solutions. Luckily, there’s plenty of stuff you’ll find around camp that can be used for a variety of different fitness regimen.
One particular favorite is the use of a lacon box (or equivalent). They’re practically indestructible, so you can use them for a pretty wide variety of exercises. You can perform box jumps on them. Utilize them for tricep dips provided you have an anchoring point for your legs. You can place your feet on top of them and perform decline push-ups. Just make sure it’s not in use first.
Benches, chairs and your own bed-frame are all great to perform a wide variety of exercises. Finding a location where you can do pull ups or chin ups without getting strange looks from strangers is always a plus too.
You could potentially considering utilizing resistance bands to allow you to get a workout in. Resistance bands allow you to perform a pretty wide variety of exercises and stretches. They also come in a variety of different “strengths” and designs for athletes of any level. I’d normally recommend grabbing a couple different ones so you can perform drop-sets and pyramid sets of alternating intensity. Resistance bands are also good for exercising your chest if you don’t have access to any weights to perform dumbbell fly’s or barbell bench presses.
The other obvious benefit to utilizing them is that they are incredibly easy to transport. Unless you have some seriously strict luggage requirements then you should expect to be able to bring a few of these with you.
I’m a particular fan of the SPRI resistance band series. They have a traditional design with a solid bar grip, they’re strong enough to take some serious abuse and they come in a wider variety of resistance levels. Just remember to find out what resistance ratings work best for you before you take them abroad. You don’t want to be stuck with something thats functionally useless for what you’re trying to accomplish.
You really can’t go wrong with calisthenic exercises. They are among the most fun to do, you can do them practically anywhere and they help ensure that you have a well balanced physique with rounded strength. Calisthenics are great for erasing muscular imbalances, for example.
Running is one of the best ways to help keep you fit and active when you’re stationed away. But before you sprint straight out the barrack doors there’s a few key things you’re going to have to consider.
Temperature and humidity is something you’ll have to keep in mind. Running is fine – even running in 104 degree heat is okay, but you’re going to have to seriously focus on staying hydrated. Heat exhaustion and severe dehydration are not fun experiences for anyone. So if you are planning on running and the weather conditions are particularly warm, make sure you bring a water bottle. If you don’t feel like bringing a water bottle, at least have a route planned out that will allow you to stop for water. If you’re running on camp, you could consider integrating the mess hall in as an integral part of your run.
Another thing you’re going to have to be conscious of on deployment is the current restrictions. Going a run within or around the perimeter of your base? Make sure you know your direct and indirect fire actions (Your actions in the event of direct or indirect fire.) These may dictate that you always have to have your body armor (or PPE) within a specific distance of you. In some instances, you may even be forced to carry your body armor with you at all times. Please be conscious of these restrictions. They are in place for your safety and they should be respected not just to avoid the threat of disciplinary action but also to ensure your life is not in immediate danger.
Most camps will allow you to run in some form of another somewhere. If they don’t, there’s nothing stopping you running on the spot.
High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)
High intensity interval training is a mode of training that can be utilized to greatly increase the amount of calories burned per exercise. The underlying concept of HIIT is relatively simple. You combine periods of high intensity with periods of low intensity and alternate between them. This is a little bit different to other conventional forms of training which generally consist of alternating between periods of rest and moderate intensity. Naturally, this can make workouts a little bit more intense – but it also means that you get a lot more out of the exercises you’re doing.
The categorization for an “intense” period of exercise seems to be this: if your heart rate is at about 80% of its maximum capacity, you’re undertaking some form of intense activity. It’s obviously difficult to practically judge this, but you can utilise a heart rate monitor of some kind to get a rough idea of how you’re doing. When people train HIIT they try to maintain this 80% capacity for up to 5 minutes and then they potentially drop down to training at 50% capacity for a similar amount of time before returning to 80%.
Looking for a practical example without worrying too much about heart rate? you could alternate between running and jogging continuously – spending 5 minutes running and 5 minutes jogging – until you reach a set target distance.
HIIT as a principle of exercise isn’t just restricted to cardio, though. You can apply this exact same methodology to a range of other forms of exercise, including circuit training.
What exactly is circuit training? Odds are you likely have a rough idea, but how would you specifically define it? Circuit training consists of picking a handful of key exercises and executing them one after the other, back to back, with no (or few) breaks in between.
You then repeat this to varying degrees, a common amount of ‘sets’ for circuit training is about three.
Sometimes you’ll take a break in-between circuits – other times with no break. It all boils down to the intensity of the circuit and what your current level of fitness is at.
As a general rule, when selecting exercises to implement in to a circuit training regime – people tend to strive to include EVERY muscle group in the exercise. This means you can get a reliable full body workout in one session and you don’t need to go off and train other muscle groups.
One of the major benefits of circuit training is that allows you to combine a wide range of calisthenic exercises at varying levels of intensity. This means that no only do you get the opportunity to build a little bit of muscle – you also work on your overall stamina alongside your muscular endurance.
Apart from being a great way of staying in shape and helping build cardiovascular health – circuit training is also really useful for breaking up the monotony of training muscle groups in isolation. As fun as lifting weights is – doing the same routine every time you train can get boring.
Warm Up Circuit
It’s always important to get warmed up before any level of moderate exercise. So you’re going to want to implement some sort of basic warm up circuit before proceeding. Warming up is the process of performing less intense variations of the activities you plan on doing for a brief period time to allow your body to adjust. This gets blood pumping around your body nice and early which can lessen your chances of injury or strain.
It’s important to emulate the movements and activities that you’re going to be doing in workout to come. If you’re planning on training exclusively upper body before a workout – you probably shouldn’t warm up by doing cardio. Vice versa – you probably should warm up for a run by lifting weights really quickly. Give your body time to adjust to what you’re actually going to be doing.
My advice is simply to take your preferred circuit routine, cut the reps in half and give yourself a few breathers between exercises. This will allow blood to flow to the correct places and put you in a position where you’re ready to start training.
Body-weight Circuit A
If you feel like you don’t have a great enough knowledge of anatomy to construct a reliable full body training program – that’s totally fine. We’ve thrown together some great exercises you can practice as a circuit in order to get a feel for what exercises to go for. Remember what we said about using your surroundings too? have a look around for some form of bar or flat surface to enable you to do some pulling exercises. This circuit will alternate between training push, pull and core muscles to ensure you can regenerate a little bit of energy between muscle groups to allow you to really hammer it home.
If you’re struggling with the intensity of the exercise, feel free to dial back the reps a little bit until you find a level that’s right for you. This workout also uses the principles of HIIT to ensure you’re alternating between intense and moderate exercise.
- 10 Push Ups
- 10 Burpees
- 5 Pull Ups
- 20 Jump Squats
- 20 Push Ups
- 10 Pull Ups
- 20 Burpees
- 10 Pull Ups
Cooling Down / Stretching
Cooling down is also important. This is the process of bringing your body back down to a regular heart rate and temperature after a workout. It’s important for recovery and allows you some time to readjust instead of sitting on the floor panting. Imitating your warm up circuit is a good way to go about doing this. Another common way of cooling down is through the use of stretches.
Stretching after workouts will also bring you the added benefit of assisting you in your muscle growth. To understand why you must first have some basic knowledge of human anatomy. Your muscle fibers aren’t just “glued” together. They don’t stay in the correct position or place through chance or luck. There’s actually an encasing of tissue dedicated to holding them in the proper place known as the fascia.
Performing adequate stretching exercises allows you to stretch the fascia of your muscles and ensure there is adequate room for growth. It’s as simple as that. There’s also some preliminary research out there that suggests regular stretching of muscle tissue allows it to grow back stronger over time.
If you’re planning on undertaking “deep stretching” exercises with the intention of enhancing recovery and growth then you should know a couple of things.
First of all, you should only really expect to get results out of this if your muscles are already pumped up from exercise. Try to aim to do these stretches right after training your muscles – there’s no point doing them after cardio.
Secondly, to really ensure the muscle is stretched, you should hold positions for longer than you probably would if you were just performing regular stretches for agility. Anywhere between 30 to 40 seconds is a solid metric for the length of a deep stretching exercise.
If you’re wanting to get in shape on deployment, nutrition is probably even more important than your training routine. You can have one of the most advanced training routines on the planet and it won’t matter if your body isn’t getting the resources it needs to build you back up. You’ll also gain or lose weight if you can’t quite get the balance right.
These are the units of energy that your body utilizes to keep things running. They’re largely consumed via the process of thermogenisis – the production of heat in your body. But they’re also consumed whenever you physically or mentally exert yourself. The greater the amount of exertion – the greater the amount of calories are burned.
When you consume a greater amount of calories than you expend in a day – you gain weight.
When you expel a greater amount of calories than you expend in a day – you lose weight.
This fact is non-negotiable. There is no health condition, magic pill or paranormal occurrence on the planet today that will allow your body to violate the basic laws of thermodynamics. For most adult men, the average daily calorie intake to maintain weight should be about 2500kcal. For most adult women, the average intake to maintain weight should be about 2000kcal. But this number will change slightly depending on a few factors. These factors include your current body weight (it takes more calories to keep you alive the bigger you are). They also include your level of activity during the day (more activity means more calories out).
Every macronutrient (protein, fat and carbohydrates) has a corresponding number of calories per gram.
Nutrition is another key aspect to getting in shape.
You can have one of the best training regimes on the planet. But if you have poor nutrition you’re going to struggle to make any progress. Where you’re actually deployed to can make a huge difference in how easy it is to manage your nutrition. If you’re lucky enough to be sent to a location that doubles as a tourist hot spot, you might find it tempting to load up on junk food, for example.
This is for a few key reasons. For starters, you need to meet a minimum level of protein intake per day to ensure your muscles are able repair themselves effectively enough for you to make any progress. This is because amino acids, which are the building blocks of protein, are used in the process of stitching your muscles back together after an exercise.
Whenever you train a particular muscle, small tears in the muscle appear known as “micro-abrasions”. Your body then uses amino acids to effectively “over-repair” the muscle, this is partially why your muscles come back looking bigger and more full after you’ve spent a few months training consistently.
Your protein intake should be at least a gram per kilogram of body weight per day. Bodybuilders who aim to “bulk up” will consume up to 1.7 grams per kilogram of body weight a day. If you’re curious about how that converts to “freedom units” then that’s about 1 gram for every 2.2lbs you weigh.
Protein should provide you with around 4 calories per gram. So 20g of protein on its own should equate to around 80 calories. This makes it much easier to stay lean and still get a high protein intake. Protein is also super satiating, meaning that it leaves you feeling more “full” compared to other macronutrients such as carbohydrates and fat.
Protein isn’t the only nutrient you should be keeping an eye on, though.
Carbohydrates certainly have their place. Carbs are similar to protein in a sense. Protein is simply a chain of amino acids glued together to be digested and broken down. Carbohydrates are very much the same, but with sugars. This means they can provide you with a longer term, slower release of energy throughout the day. People react to carbohydrates differently, so you should get a feel for whether they “make” or “break” your ability to workout. Personally I find they leave me feeling slower and sluggish – if I’m training regularly I try to avoid carbohydrates unless absolutely necessary.
If you’re looking to gain weight and are planning on packing a lot of calories into one meal, carbs are the way to go. They’re great for bulking up and if obtaining size is something you struggle with you should look into consuming as much rice, pasta and other carbohydrate rich food groups as possible.
They have around about the same amount of calories per gram as protein, but they’re not as satiating and don’t aid as much in muscular regeneration.
If you’re looking to reduce the amount of carbohydrates in your diet, you can look into a ketogenic diet.
Fat is the most efficient source of energy out of all the macronutrients. It has about 8 calories per gram, making it around twice as efficient as protein and carbohydrates. It’s also pretty good for your testosterone levels, which are integral when it comes to the synthesis of protein and a whole host of other bodily functions.
There are for main types of dietary fats that you will encounter. There’s a bit of disinformation surrounding some of them thanks to a few years of some pretty negative media cycles.
Four Main Fat Groups
- Trans Fats
Saturated fats were previously thought to be correlated with heart disease. But more recent research has seriously called that into question. Rumors have also circulated questioning the validity of the initial research that suggested this. But we try to avoid speculation as much as possible here. You probably shouldn’t load up on exclusively saturated fats. But a mixture of saturated and unsaturated fats can work to achieve optimal testosterone levels, especially in men.
Monounsaturated fats appear to lower levels of LDL in the blood, which makes them a perfect counterbalance to saturated fats which appear to increase it.
Polyunsaturated fat can be split into omega-3 and omega-6 in the body. These are both critical for anyone living an active lifestyle. Omega-3 is known to have anti-inflammatory properties and is widely supplemented across the glove for its use in keeping joints healthy. Omega-6 was previously also thought to be unhealthy for heart health but further research has shown that this information also seems to be false.
Trans fats are the only real fats you should be actively look to avoid. They seem to be demonstrably related to heart disease. Nations around the world are working tirelessly to remove them from popular diets.
This is another huge factor in staying in shape when you’re abroad. Sleep is when the majority of the recovery processes happen within your body internally. Not only is it vital to healthy brain function, it’s also responsible for helping maintain your immune system. It also contributes towards muscular development and a healthy hormone profile. Disrupting any one of these processes will throw off your training. You’ll notice longer recovery times and an overall awful experience.
If the article hasn’t made it clear by now, there is a massive variety of options available. Anyone seeking to stay in shape whilst abroad has no excuses. Whether its performing calisthenics, bringing lightweight equipment with you or running. There are countless training opportunities out there. Just remember to keep a close eye on your nutrition. Also try your best to get some shuteye or you’ll be wasting your time.