14 ways to stay in shape for a Guardsmen

Maj. Rebecca Walsh, Joint Forces Headquarters Public Affairs Office

We’ve all heard it, seen it or experienced it, the stereotype of National Guard soldiers being lazy, over the weight standards or unmotivated.

But, what can we do to avoid living up to this stereotype?

I think we can all agree that it’s hard to juggle our civilian employment, our family responsibilities and our National Guard duties.

Working out on our own is just one more thing to add to the already overflowing “to-do” lists.

It’s easy to hit the snooze button when our alarm goes off for a morning workout or to blow off our afternoon workout for another hour at the office.

It’s easy to grab a quick and easy fast food lunch instead of doing cardio.

Here’s the truth: We aren’t like active duty units that have structured and supervised PT every day. Our physical fitness and health is our own individual responsibility. Our squad leader can support and encourage us but he or she can’t take our APFT for us. Fitness and health is the one thing in the Army that really is a solo event. That means that passing our APFT is up to us.

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As a result, we have to show a strong level of personal discipline to exercise on our own.

Maintaining and improving our physical fitness isn’t easy to do but these simple tips might make it easier to get moving.

Schedule your workout.

This may sound silly but if you go through the act of filling space with a workout onto a calendar you’ll be more likely to get the workout done and less likely to let something else get in the way. Protect your workout time, don’t let other activities get in the way.

Many people have the most success if they schedule the workouts for first thing in the morning. If morning workouts are on your plan, lay out your workout clothes on the floor right by your bed. You can take it one step further and put your alarm clock on the opposite end of your bedroom so you have to physically get out of bed and walk past your workout clothes to turn it off. Seeing those workout clothes just might be the mental trigger you need to get to the gym.

Plan your workout in advance.

If I wake up without a specific workout already planned I tend to slack off, big time. But if I write exactly what I’m going to do when I schedule my workouts it takes the decision making out of the process and so much easier to push myself.

Set a physical fitness goal.

It doesn’t matter what your goal is, just set one. Maybe your goal is to run a half-marathon, climb a fourteener in Colorado or pass your APFT. All you need to do is write that goal down on paper, and share it with a friend or someone who can hold you accountable. Make sure that goal is specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-oriented. A bad goal would be, “I’m going to pass my APFT.” A good goal would be “On June 13th I’m going to pass my APFT with a minimum score of 270. To prepare for my APFT I’m going to commit to working out for 45 minutes, 5 days per week.

Find a workout partner.

In the Army we know the value of having a battle-buddy in everything we do. This is true when it comes to exercising too. Find a friend, civilian or someone in your unit to workout with, it’ll make workouts more enjoyable.

But make sure this is a friend who will push you. It’s hard to sleep in when we know that someone is waiting for us at the gym, the track or a trailhead.

Find an accountability partner.

If you can’t find a workout partner, or prefer to workout solo then make sure you find someone who will hold you accountable to your workout plan. I like to workout on my own so my accountability partner is my husband who always asks how my workout was when I walk in the door after exercising.

There are other ways to find accountability too. One of my favorite authors is Jock Willink, who wrote the book Extreme Ownership: How Navy Seals Lead and Win. I follow his twitter feed and every morning he posts a picture of his watch at 4:30 am with a quote like “There is only one shot at today.  MAKE IT COUNT,” or “No one is coming to help you. There is no back up. There are no reinforcements.  You are alone. It’s on you. SO GET IT DONE.” Willink makes himself accountable to his followers every single morning on social media.

Go ahead and post your workout on social media, I won’t judge you for it.

Select exercises that you enjoy so you actually stick to your plan.

If I wake up in the morning and I have a workout that I don’t enjoy doing on my schedule there’s a 100 percent chance that I’ll turn off my alarm clock and go back to sleep. But, if I have a workout on my schedule that I can’t wait to do there’s 100 percent chance that I’m going to go and crush it. I’m not saying to avoid doing hard workouts but I am saying that if you hate swimming why on earth would you schedule workouts in the pool every day?

But, ensure that your workout plan prepares you to pass the APFT.

How many of us enjoy running, doing pushups, and doing sit-ups? Probably not very many of us. My preferred modes of exercise are cross-country skiing, yoga, mountain biking, snowshoeing and mountaineering. Those are good and healthy activities and they keep me fit but none of them are awesome at preparing me to pass the APFT. So, when I see a PT test on the schedule a few months out I start to transition my workouts by throwing in some runs, intervals, pushups and sit-ups into the mix to get ready.

Give yourself a non-food reward for reaching a goal.

Remember earlier how I said that if we see an APFT on the schedule it’s time to start modifying our workouts? For me this means that if I get out and run for 30 minutes I can reward myself with a yoga workout. I do the part of the workout that I don’t like first, get it over with and then move on to the fun part. This strategy works wonders.

Or you can try rewarding yourself with a new pair of running shoes after a certain goal is met, or even just a show on Netflix that you get to watch every night – but only if you’ve completed your workout.

Join an online challenge.

Online physical fitness challenges are a huge trend right now. We know that working out is a habit, and that building a habit takes discipline and that it generally takes 30 days to form a new habit. An online 30-day challenge can provide a little bit of motivation to build the habit of working out daily. Right now I’m doing an online 365 Mile Challenge, where the goal is to get outdoors for one self-propelled mile every day for 365 days, it’s easy but just enough to keep me motivated.

Finish your workout and then some.

Have you ever taken an APFT and been tricked by a course where you thought the finish line was right there but it ended up being around a corner, or another 200 meters? I love to tell myself that I’m just going to run for 30 minutes and then when the 30 minutes is up see if I can go for another 2-5 minutes just to push myself a little bit harder. For me that’s an exercise in not just training my body but my mind, too. If the mind is strong, the body will follow.

Join a gym or a workout group.

To get in shape we really don’t need much except for adequate clothing and shoes but sometimes it’s just nice to go to a gym where there’s equipment to supplement our workouts.

Thankfully many gyms and health clubs in Wyoming offer reduced rates and military discounts for National Guard soldiers. If you’re on the fence about getting a gym membership because of the expense always check to see if you can get a discount.

Also, if you live near an armory, some of them will have gym equipment available for you to use, so you can save money, check in with fellow Guardsmen and get a work on in without paying a financial price.

If you’re looking for a workout group consider joining the Wyoming National Guard Biathlon team’s Facebook group. We post our workout schedule here and you can join us for a workout and you’ll find accountability from the team. Just request access here and we’ll be happy to let you join even if you have no interest in biathlon.

Don’t just be a fair-weather exerciser. Workout outdoors when the weather is bad too.

Gyms are great but you never know what the weather is going to do when you’re taking an APFT so get after it in the cold, wind, snow and rain to train your body and your mind not to let adverse weather slow you down.

Think about physical fitness from a readiness perspective. Have you ever deployed and worn heavy body armor for days on end? It’s tough, but easier if you’re in shape. We are soldiers after all, wars aren’t fought and won in running shorts under perfect weather conditions.

Be inspired.

Listen to inspiring people. Talk to inspiring people. Learn about what it is that motivates physically fit people. I recommend starting with this podcast interview with Amelia Boone.

Make exercise fun.

Have you tried the Zombies Run app?

We all have visions of being smoked senseless at Basic Training where exercise was used as a form of punishment. It’s time to get past that and think about how we feel at the end of the workout. That sense of accomplishment and pride. Taking care of our bodies and strengthening our minds. It’s a good feeling.

It’s time to bust through stereotypes and get fit.

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