I Admit It…I Forgot How to Workout

If you look at the picture below and can’t remember the last time you felt like that…this post is for you. The picture is a scene of pure exhaustion, of being tested well beyond your comfort zone, of giving more than you thought was possible. It’s discipline, passion, commitment, and courage, all in one moment.

(I hope) we have all been there before, maybe in Basic Training, or on a unit obstacle course, or during a short-lived flirt with CrossFit ten years ago. Combat arms schools test their students with exhaustive rites of passage to see if, somewhere down inside, they will have what it takes to survive the battlefield.

Leaders go through these trials, then as we become more senior we have the flexibility to avoid them. There are fewer and fewer people in a position to challenge us. The responsibility for pushing the limits shifts to the individual and what happens?…capability typically diminishes. We don’t continue the test and we get soft.

This is what happened to me.

CORONADO, Calif. (April 11, 2011) — Students from Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUD/s) Class 288 participate in log physical training (log PT) during the First Phase of training at Naval Amphibious Base Coronado. Log PT is one of many physically demanding evolutions and has remained a part of BUD/s throughout the history of SEAL training.
(U.S. Navy Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Kyle D. Gahlau/Released)

A Slow Leak

My physical fitness failure wasn’t in volume, it was in diversity. As I moved out of my company command years and into the staff purgatory that is the Major years, the office became my place of duty and the demands on my time tripled. Instead of taking two hour mornings for PT and setting my own daily schedule, I found that meetings bookended my workouts, which were getting shorter and shorter. With less flexibility, I defaulted to my comfort zone, running and push-ups.

And for a combat leader, simply running and doing push-ups is lazy.

Goodbye Comfort Zone

It happened that a couple of years ago my wife bought a DVD workout program. At some point in the midst of babies and PCSs, it got buried in a drawer and forgotten. Then one recent Saturday afternoon, I broke it out of the box and got started on a session, thinking I would sail through with ease. “How hard could it be?”

40 minutes later I was panting and sweating on my office floor, reduced to a withering pile of lactic acid. The video workout was full of high knees, squat jumps, lunges, kicking, and punching. It demanded explosive power, agility, balance, coordination, and…oh yeah, heart. I had only completed one of the 20 workouts in this series lasting six weeks, but that’s all it took for me to admit that I hadn’t been challenging myself like I should’ve.

After a couple of weeks of regular sessions, the results appeared. I felt noticeably more capable and physically responsive. My legs felt more powerful, I had greater flexibility, and I was able to complete the exercises with less effort…all effects that my running routine had not been producing.

Lead…and workout…by example

Physical fitness is a requirement for military service. Combat-ready physical fitness is different. It requires bursts of energy, heavy lifting, aerobic endurance, hand-eye coordination, fueling on the move, and an attitude that one must be ready for any test. The “finish line” in combat is a fluid concept. Selection never stops.

Those who will lead in combat must maintain their fitness capability because they set the standard for the team. Soldiers look to them for inspiration and ideas. Leaders should model both the discipline to continually test themselves, as well as the ingenuity to train for all the physical components of combat.

Take Your Pick

Nowadays, there is really no excuse for not pushing yourself and your team in creatively taxing ways.

CrossFit, SealFit, and StrongSwiftDurable have hundreds of free (and not so free) workouts that will yank you out of your comfort zone. TRX allows you to workout in any environment. And if you want a little motivation while you get smoked, try any flavor of the Beachbody series, including Insanity, P90X, and…wait for it…the Brazil Butt Lift.

If you’d rather race your way to exhaustion, obstacle courses races are becoming more and more popular. Slosh your way through a Tough Mudder, battle Gladiators in a Spartan Race, or team up for a multi-skilled endurance challenge run by special operations cadre at GoRuck.

And don’t forget that you can get a killer workout and training for combat with your favorite flavor of combatives.

No matter which method you chose, it’s time to get deliberate about staying outside of your fitness comfort zone. Get over your fear and assumptions about popular workout programs. Find a program that tests your fitness in unimaginable ways because the battlefield that awaits will test you in unimaginable ways. What’s more, the people you lead will base their preparation for that battlefield on your effort. So, make it count.

Questions for Leaders

  • Is your current fitness program going to prepare you for the battlefield you will encounter?
  • What do your Soldiers learn when they observe your workout routine?
  • Even if you aren’t the most fit member of your team, in what ways could you challenge your teammates with creative workouts or unique events?

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Originally published at www.themilitaryleader.com on August 19, 2015.

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