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Underway Workout

stew smith

When on a Navy war ship (or submarine), you have two issues to deal with: lack of time and lack of space (unless you are on a huge ship, then you will have access to moderate scaled weight rooms -- but you still have the issue of time).

This week a Navy Sailor emailed me and got me thinking back to the underway deployments I was on, and what we did to stay fit -- or to at least maintain an advanced level of fitness. He wrote:

I'm currently in a deployable billet. I know some people come back a few pounds heavier. I really won't have any control over the food I'm served. I'm going to do pushups and crunches daily, at a minimum. I'm wondering if you have any general suggestions on what I can do to minimize weight gain while I'm on deployment.

Stretch - At a Minimum
Even when you have just minutes in your day to exercise, you should always do a quick walk around the ship, up a few ladders, and then stretch. This Stretching Plan, found in my Fitness Article Archive, will provide you with a minimum recommended amount of exercise on your busiest of days (18-20 hours long).

Stay Hydrated
Staying hydrated and not getting too dependent to coffee and soda (caffeine) to stay awake will make you feel better too. Too many sailors drink down 8-10 or more cups of coffee a day and drink very little water. This provides a temporary boost in alertness, but leaves them very dehydrated, as caffeine is a diuretic and a blood vessel constrictor.

See this article on the correlation between drinking water and weight loss:Want to Lose Weight?

Food Intake
Calories IN = Calories OUT to maintain your weight. The Sailor is right about food onboard ship. You do not have much control over what the ship is dining on, but you can watch your portions and look to eat more fruits, vegetables, and lean meats. Theses will provide you with the essential nutrients and fiber that will help fill you without adding on the extra calories. Try to avoid fried foods and always have a salad with as many vegetables as you can fit on your plate. This is not easy, but if you do it for 1-2 weeks you will create the habit of eating light and right. By eating right, you will have the energy to exercise when given the time.

Exercise 20-30 Minutes a Day
Time is usually the issue that keeps many sailors from exercising while underway. But you can get a great workout with little or no equipment. Here are some examples:

The superset is a great way to workout if you have limited time. Each cycle should take you two minutes. If you can do ten cycles of this you will total 300 pushups and 400 crunches. Not bad for 20 minutes! No resting in between sets. You basically rest by doing crunches. The two supersets you see below are great to alternate every other day.

Pushup/Crunch Superset:
Repeat 5-10 cycles of:
Regular Pushup -- 10
Crunches -- 10
Wide Pushup -- 10
Crunches -- 10
Tricep Pushup -- 10
Left/Right Crunches -- 10/10
Pull-ups – Max Reps

Leg/Ab Superset:
Repeat 5 cycles of:
Squats -- 20
Crunches -- 20
Lunges 10/Leg
Crunches -- 20
Calve raise -- 20
Crunches -- 20

We would also bring a metal pole and dumbbells with us on ship to use during the workouts. Place the pole in between two upper rafters and you have a pull-up bar. Another fun workout is the Fit Deck made by former Navy SEAL Phil Black. This is a card game that requires you to do a variety of PT exercises every time you flip over a card.

Adding a cardio routine is absolutely necessary for fat burning. Walking, jogging, biking, elliptical gliding, and rowing machines are sometimes found onboard ship. If you are so lucky, try the Manual Mode Resistance Pyramid on any cardio machine.

Start off at level 1 resistance for 1:00. Each minute, increase the resistance by 1-2 levels. Continue up the pyramid until you can no longer peddle, row, or run and then repeat in reverse order back to where you started at level 1. This is a great warm-up, max out, and cool down routine all rolled into one 20-30 minute workout.

Swimming Alternatives
Many future SEALs, divers, and rescue swimmers ask me about trying to keep up swimming muscles while not being able to swim while underway. I recommend focusing on hip flexor, lower back, hamstring, and upper back muscles with a few exercises like:

Hips/abs - Flutterkicks, leg levers, and scissors will help you keep the muscles associated with swimming with fins and kicking strong and ready for the beach when you arrive in port.

Lowerback/Upperback/Hamstrings – Swimmers, birds, arm haulers, and reverse pushups will help you with the upper back muscles, rear shoulders, lower back muscles and back of the legs with a mix of isometrics and non-weight exercises. These exercise also help you balance out the front torso muscles of the chest, abs and shoulders.
See the article Lower Back Injury Prevention article for pictures.

I hope this gives you a few ideas for fitting fitness into you busy day underway. Good luck and hopefully you will find yourself in a sunny port, so you can hit the beach for a run and a swim. Email me if you have any questions or ideas you do onboard ship at

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