A marine’s guide to fitness on the front line
While on operations, training is a whole new ball game. The marines will already have the fitness levels required to be doing the job at hand, but maintaining this level is mortally essential and makes for a valuable team-building and destressing activity.
The facilities available are largely down to where the soldier finds himself. In Camp Bastion, Afghanistan, a few well-equipped gyms exist. Fans are in abundance to keep the users cool. In more remote places like Lashka Gar, the facilites have grown with the numbers of troops occupying the camps. Having started with scaffolding bars put through holes in large planks of wood dug into the ground to form dips bars and pull-up bars, they now have a gym with bikes, treadmills, a squat rack, bench press, and free weights.
Makeshift makes stronger
In other areas, far more remote, even makeshift gyms are an impossibility. With no proper training kit to speak of, and sheltering in derelict buildings, the warriors have to get imaginative. They are adept at coming up with circuits, exercises and competitions using all sort of bodyweight moves and invented pieces of kit. Simple examples are jerrycan circuits/runs/walks (jerrycans are large water containers obviously full of water which can be used as makeshift weights, or for farmers walks). Ammunition tins, whether full of ammo or even sand, are also good, easy-to-come-by weights. The ubiquitous sandbag can be an excellent tool for squats, lunges, and pretty much any exercise you would ordinarily do with a bar-bell.
A respirator or gas mask is often used to make burpees a bit tougher, as the ability to breathe is restricted (like a power breather). Other examples are leg circuits, runs or press-ups/pull-ups wearing a weighted rucksack. When I was in the field, I decided to do press-ups and pull-ups everyday, adding one rep to one set daily. A simple progression, but it soon leads to doing three sets of pressups and pull-ups of quite high numbers.
Heat of battle
Acclimatisation is one of the biggest benefits for soldiers in Afghanistan who get into training early. Getting their bodies used to working in the heat, bringing their heart rates up and allowing their bodies to adapt, ensures that when they are on patrol or in battle they are less likely to fatigue early. Often commandos need to perform in incredible heat while carrying a large amount of weight.
It has to be remembered that TV and radio are not readily available in places such as Afghanistan certainly not for the troops on the ground away from the larger camps. In these remote areas, sometimes the only form of entertainment comes from telling each other stories or dits as they are called. Often, they will also invent circuits and exercise routines that are simply horrendous. The entertainment comes from watching your mates performing it, and the agony on their faces, despite the fact that you may be doing it next! This shared hardship and sense of humour in adversity, learned in recruit raining, and solidified in the corps, really goes a long way to de-stressing the team, while making it a tighter and stronger unit.
About the author
Sean Lerwillserved in the Royal Marines Commandos for eight years, spending time in numerous countries on exercise and operations. He was the physical training and sports officer, and head of physical training at the Commando Training Centre Royal Marines from 2005-2008. He is also the author of the 2009 HaynesRoyal Marines Fitness, Physical Training Manual. Sean is now the fitness manager at The Third Space, Londons premier integrated health club.
Video: Royal Marines Fitness Tips
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