How to Work Out Like a Soldier

I’ve been a contractor for five months in Afghanistan. When I workout at the gym I see the military men and women and I am inspired by the heroes. Here is what I have learned from watching them.

I’ve been a contractor for five months in Afghanistan and when I landed here, and headed to the gym, I expected the gyms to be really high tech. Since I’ve been assigned to train soldiers on a 1.2 million truck that emits radiation, I expect the gyms to have the same sci-fi feel. I travel from military base to base across the expanse of Afghanistan and I imagined I’d find some super high quality equipment, treadmills that you’d find on Star Trek and scales that would measure your body fat and tell you exactly what you needed to do to fix it.

I didn’t find that at all.

Don’t get me wrong. The gyms are good. You’ll find plenty of dumbbells and weights, some kettlebells (rare) and treadmills. Good elliptical machines along with a million bottles of water. It’s just basic. And at first I scoffed, but then I realized: simplicity works.

As I’ve been stumbling on the treadmill like a tranquilized bear trying to get some mileage, I’ve observed the habitat of the American military (Army, Navy, Air Force or Marines) – these heroes I see everyday. These are women and men who are far from home. I see them lug AK-45s across their chests day in and day out. They lack sleep and miss their families. And they serve our country never expecting a thank you, a handshake or a pat on the back.

And here they are hitting the gym. They are fulfilling their “PT” (physical training) requirement, but they hit the gym with passion and drive.

It was then I realized that the equipment doesn’t matter at all. It’s the heart and mind of the soldier that produces results. If you gave them two truck tires, a chin up bar and a bowling ball, they’d figure out a way to not only make it work, but to smoke whoever goes to the million-machine workout place that gives you a wheatgrass smoothie after your fifteen minutes of Pilates.

Here are some of my notes on their passion and drive and how they find and maintain it. These may help you get motivated to hit the gym and pursue fitness.

  • military base, workout on military base, afghanistan, ryan mcraeGo together. These soldiers have battle buddies that are committed to each other’s health. The stronger they both are, the better they are for survival. Find someone to go to the gym with. If someone’s is counting on you, you are more likely to go.
  • Write it down. There are these standard green notebooks soldiers carry around and record their workout. They take notes and jot down everything they do in the gym. Keep a journal of your workouts. I put mine on an Excel spreadsheet.
  • Be encouraging. I expected that soldiers would make snide comments if their buddy couldn’t do another pull up. By no means. They encourage instead of cajole. Be aware of the talk you not only give your workout buddy, but yourself. If you got up, and got to the gym, keep all your talk positive.
  • Have a Reason. These soldiers are in the gym for survival. They want to be able to endure the terrain and the challenges that are outside the wire of the base. Every workout has a purpose: Strong soldiers survive. Have a goal and a reason that you are working out. Prepping for the beach? Want to match your eHarmony data? If you know why you’re in the gym, you’ll stay longer.
  • military base, workout on military base, afghanistan, ryan mcraeSimple. Simple. Simple. These machines aren’t complex. These soldiers keep the workouts simple and varied. Pushups, burpees, sit ups and air squats are the main ingredients of their workouts. Keep your workouts simple. If you are spending more time looking up different routines than working out, that might be a problem.

I find no lack of inspiration in the gym. As I’m trying to increase my pace, and all the voices in my head join in the chorus of, “You’re a Hack, McRae! Go eat a doughnut!” I look at these soldiers and think, if they can be here, away from their families, I can run another quarter mile. If they can wake up at 0400 hours, go outside the base and look for insurgents, I can put down the fork. If these women and men, who are guarding our freedom, work fourteen-hour days and then head to the gym, I have no excuse whatsoever.

And well, neither do you.

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