Most people would probably imagine functional fitness as CrossFit, slamming a sledge hammer on a tire or throwing barbells around a gym, but I have learned to take a far more abstract approach to fitness. I have never been one to follow a traditional training regimen—I develop creative workouts that are fun and have yielded great results for me. Without any formal education in fitness, I can only speak from my experience and the impact fitness has had throughout my life.
Many skills from Ninja Warrior are directly transferrable to military applications, which have opened doors to new opportunities in my military career, such as Airborne and Air Assault School. For example, I do a core workout geared toward Ninja Warrior that involves tossing a medicine ball while balancing on a large exercise ball. That core strength significantly helped me successfully perform parachute landing falls repeatedly throughout Airborne School. The constant laché-ing (swinging across a gap between obstacles), rope climbing, and upper body demands of Ninja Warrior training had a direct impact on my ability to climb ropes and pull risers on a T-11 parachute during Air Assault and Airborne Schools, respectively.
In the fall of 2018, I deployed to Afghanistan with an amazing legal team from 4ID. As with most deployed Soldiers, we all had fitness goals to strive for during our time in Afghanistan. One of the female JAG captain’s fitness goal was to do an unassisted, static pull-up. Even though everyone had different goals, fitness became our office-wide bonding mechanism. The time and location to work out was discussed daily, so even if we worked out separately we still held each other accountable to complete a daily workout. In the main Office of the Staff Judge Advocate, they would play a song every hour, on the hour, prompting everyone to do an exercise for the entirety of the song before returning to work. These exercises included things like push-ups on our helmets, overhead presses with body armor, and tricep dips on the office chairs. As the Chief of Client Services, I was in a separate building where we had our own unique daily challenges. I encourage anyone reading this to try some of the challenges:
- 1. Fold a piece of paper in half, put it on the ground, and stand on one foot while you bend down and pick up the paper with your mouth (no part of the non-weight-bearing leg can touch the ground).
- 2. Put your nose and toes against the wall and do a squat until your legs bend to at least a ninety-degree angle (nose and toes must stay against the wall at all times).
- 3. Lie on top of a sturdy table and climb around the bottom of the table to get back to the top position (no part of your body can touch the ground).
These hourly workouts and daily physical challenges not only gave our brains short breaks throughout the day, they also had an undeniable team-building effect. Our main office started making a schedule for daily workouts over the lunch hour. Before you knew it, the impact of fitness was obvious across the formation! It is a stress reliever, boosts energy, builds confidence, brings people together, and can lead to so many opportunities both within and outside of the Army.
Starting a consistent workout schedule can be very difficult, especially if you are someone who exercises infrequently. It is essential to make time during your busy schedule to do something that is uncomfortable and challenges you mentally and physically. In the beginning, progress can feel like a moving goal post. You may not see results right away, but with a little patience, improvements will increase exponentially and create a wave of motivation. This is where the supportive community comes into play—sometimes it takes someone else pointing out small improvements to make you realize you are achieving success. I remember during our first month in Afghanistan, when that same female JAG captain completed her first dead-hang pull-up, I jumped in excitement! That is such a huge accomplishment and something that was out of reach only one month earlier. After she got one, I could see a seismic shift in her confidence at the gym. By the fourth month, she was doing sets of five dead-hang pull-ups throughout her daily workout and now consistently scores the maximum on the Army Physical Fitness Test.
Functional fitness is not only a stress reliever and energy booster, it opens opportunities both inside and outside of the Army. There is no need to invest in special equipment or supplements that promise to boost your success—a simple exercise each day is the first step toward success. Before you know it, you will run past that goal and continue on to the next! TAL