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Military Muscle’s ‘no excuses’ workout

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A fitness program, like anything else, works best when it is consistent and progressive.

In the real world of operational commitments and long periods of time without the applicable equipment or environment, the “picture-perfect program” may be hard to come by. But you can still keep up a pretty fair fitness regimen if you plan your workouts to squeeze maximum benefit out of each minute. Use what you have — tires, ropes, chains — even remote sites have at least a bar and weight plates.

First, choose the strength exercises that hit a majority of muscle groups.

Second, think in terms of maintaining — and perhaps increasing — work capacity and stamina.

Strength exercises

I have a trifecta of favorites that hit most muscle groups. Try for at least two sets of eight reps and rest two minutes between sets.

First up: “The King,” aka the dead lift.

No weights? You can do a close approximation with a heavy tire.

This lift engages more muscles than any other strength exercise. It has been the standard longer than any other and should be a focal point for any abbreviated fitness program. A ton of videos online show the proper technique. Burn into your brain three musts:

Keep your back neutral and head up.

Lift off with your legs, not your back (keep lifting with your legs until the bar is almost at the knees).

Keep the bar hugging your shins on both the way up and down.

The other two in the trifecta are the back squat and pullup/chin-up.

The back squat engages almost every part of the lower body and is excellent for keeping the large muscle groups up to par.

Three technique tips:

  • Put the bar across the shoulders, not the neck.
  • Keep your head up, which will help keep your back neutral.
  • Hinge forward slightly at the hips; don’t try to stay vertical with your trunk.

The pullup and chin-up engage a majority of the upper body muscles — especially the large lat muscles that act like a girdle to protect your back and spine.

Designing a workout

I favor designing a circuit or executing interval cardio, such as:

Circuit: Set up five stations and do 30 seconds to one minute at each station, with anywhere from three to five rounds. Pick from ball slams, sled pushes, tire pulls, box jumps, farmers’ carry (walk a distance holding heavy weights), kettlebell or dumbbell swings and pushups. This is not a sprint but rather a steady-pace grind, so keep going without any prolonged rest.

Interval cardio: You have options here.

Set two cones 25 meters apart and run back and forth for one minute at 80 percent effort, then rest one minute. Complete five rounds, rest and repeat.

Or try a 300-meter shuttle run — six complete trips of the same 25-meter cone course. Start a new 300 meters every two minutes and 30 seconds. For example, if it takes you one minute and 30 seconds to run the 300 meters, then you get one minute of rest before you start again. Aim for five rounds.

Have access to a rower? Try 10 rounds of rowing one minute hard with one minute easy.

Try this

Choose a weight that will be difficult but doable in the last round.

12 rounds of four push press every 30 seconds. Rest two minutes.

10 rounds of four squats every 30 seconds. Rest two minutes.

Eight rounds of four pullups or chin-ups every 30 seconds.

Workouts such as these, when planned and executed well, can give you what you need even if you don’t have a state-of-the-art gym or four workout days a week.

Bob Thomas is director of the Navy Wellness Center in Pensacola, Fla. Email him at jomof14@cox.net.

Retired Navy Cmdr. Bob Thomas

Retired Navy Cmdr. Bob Thomas has been our Military Muscle columnist since 2007. He’s the director of the Navy Wellness Center in Pensacola, Fla. He’s his base’s lead trainer, a wounded warrior program facilitator and the Navy nutrition counselor there. His special emphasis is on fitness for the military retired population.