Living the Good Life: Exercise Regimens for Veterans
The US military squeezes every ounce of energy out of you while on active duty. When you transition back to the world, you’re lost, confused and disoriented. Kinda like drinking coffee all night after 12 beers: a wide-awake drunk, trying to walk ten miles back home . . . in the wrong direction.
It takes months to find and settle into a new routine that includes job, money, home, new belongings, and a few friends. It also takes time to forget your previous job on the battlefield. The drone inside you is used to a simple routine that called for little more than showing up and going many a round with the enemy. Shaking that old routine takes even longer.
What if you were armed with a secret weapon that not only gets you through each day but also transforms you into a new and better you? Something so simple you may not even think of it at first.
No, it’s not a pill you take but it acts as many different drugs on all parts of your mind and body.
It’s also ridiculously cheap and easily accessible to all. It’s something you can take anytime you wish. You can use it anywhere. And you can indulge as long as your heart desires, even to exhaustion.
What could possibly be so simple yet at the same time be one of the most essential parts of living well?
You’re probably smacking yourself over such a simple answer.
It’s true, though: exercise, or the simple act of moving with intent, can transform you from a couch-potato to a fit, muscular new you in under six months. Just add water. Plus nutrients, desire and passion. How hard is that?
For many veterans, it feels impossible.
So how to start?
One, recognize the problem. Talk with yourself objectively and think about your situation: where you are now, how you feel, what your options are. You’re still young.
Then make a plan: get a job, if you don’t have one; earn money to get a home, if you’re not already safely tucked into one; find an exercise regimen that fits your current needs.
Today there are dozens of different regimens for every personality and body type. From traditional gym workouts to Brazilian jiu-jitsu to CrossFit to specialized routines by world-renown experts like Stew Smith, a former Navy SEAL who teaches high-level fitness, writes books and articles on the subject, and does instructional and inspirational videos.
I recently spoke to Stew and he recommended getting started by doing something easy like walking, stretching, and drinking more water than caffeine and sugar in your day.
“Seriously, just get moving by walking ten minutes before every meal, practice deep breathing while walking (box breathing) to help you relax, then stretch with some basic stretches of the legs, lower back, and arms. At the end of the day, you can accumulate thirty minutes or more of activity, two to three quarts of water consumed, and receive the benefits of a nice break in the middle of your day.”
Stew brings up an excellent point: start small . . . but at least start your new fitness routine and keep going.
Ask your friends and colleagues what they’re into, go visit their gym or box. Get a free membership for a week, see how it fits you, then decide on a long-term plan. And, the important part, perhaps: stick with it, understanding that it takes at least six months to see and feel any noticeable difference. Being patient is as important as showing up.
Most gyms and CrossFit boxes offer discounts to veterans, but you usually have to ask. There’s no shame in getting a substantial discount. You earned it. Take that extra $50 and put it toward a new pair of Reebok Nano Xs. After all they give us a 50% discount on everything in their store.
The important thing to keep in mind: to live a good, healthful life, you must exercise, eat well, drink a lot of water, stretch and knead your muscles and fascia, and think good thoughts. Sure, there are plenty of other supplementary exercises and routines you can adopt, but these are the basics. Start there, get a daily routine, then add things as you need them.
Back in the days of Arnold et al., it was cool to train with heavy weights and get really big. Cartoon-kinda large. Those guys ate pounds of beef and dozens of eggs each day, shot up with anabolic steroids, and cruised Venice Beach in tank tops and tiny Speedos. Hey, those were the ‘70s, just minutes after the days of LSD and free love.
Things have changed: we now recognize the importance of consuming less red meat and more vegetables and fruit, and cutting back on saturated fats and oils. We acknowledge that Arnold and his gang were wrong about a lot things, though they looked fit.
Most important, though, we now realize that simply moving around a lot each day can put years of life on your timeline. Good years.
CrossFit is the first choice of all the veterans I spoke with. It’s pricey, yeah, but it delivers a knockout punch to your exercise routine that most others cannot touch. Years of research results prove to us that high-intensity interval training, along with Olympic-style weightlifting and good diet, shreds the fat, builds muscle and stamina, increases flexibility and overall power, and produces a great feeling of well-being. In short, you feel like a kid again.
Naysayers argue that programs like CrossFit do more harm than good because they cause long-term muscle and tissue damage. I call bullshit. CrossFit and programs like it can be scaled to fit your personal needs and goals.
You don’t have to train like The Fittest Man On Earth, Mr. Mat Fraser. Train like Mr. You and Ms. You!
Stew also commented: “I do not agree with the naysayers, either. What makes it great for veterans is, many are missing the camaraderie of their platoon members. CrossFit group training offers a similar environment to their military training days which can be a life-saving activity for many.”
Again, Stew’s right: just being around good people who are there for the same purpose lifts your spirits and makes you a part of something larger than yourself.
I’ve done CrossFit for the past seven months and feel great. After years of many broken bones and stress fractures, torn muscles and tendons, and the slow insidious accumulation of unwanted fat, I can claim that CrossFit saved my life.
Previously, my mind had dulled from all the daily abuse from beer and cigarettes, laziness and stupid stuff.
Now, I am clear headed, my thoughts come easily, I can think fast and accurately.
Perhaps the strangest result of all: I rarely listen to the mindless, droning sounds of the ocean or rainstorms that I looped over and over each day.
No, my brothers and sisters, you can now catch me listening to Bruno Mars, Adele and Pink at 120 dB.
If that ain’t real change, I dunno what is.
So get off your ass and show up, then do as Stew Smith suggests: start.
Don’t stop ‘til you hit the grave. And don’t forget to have fun en route.
AUTHOR: Bo Riley reports on issues of interest to veterans and active-duty personnel. He’s a former Army Ranger with the 1st Ranger Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, and lives in the Tampa Bay area.
Special thanks to my colleague, former Navy SEAL and world-class fitness expert Stew Smith, for contributing to, and commenting on, this article. Cheers, Brother! Check out Stew’s books, articles and videos: https://www.stewsmithfitness.com. Contact him here: Stew@StewSmith.com.