GARMSIR DISTRICT, HELMAND PROVINCE, AFGHANISTAN
GARMSIR DISTRICT, Helmand province, Afghanistan — Across the room from a Kevlar helmet and body armor, near an M-16 rifle and night vision goggles, sits a jug of whey protein. Outside the doorless entryway, resting against the wall, are a minesweeper and electronic countermeasure gear entangled by a recently used jump rope. Sweat-stained uniforms hang from corners of a well-used pull-up bar.
In Patrol Base Empire, barbells, dumbbells and kettle bells sit in the Afghan dirt. A bench thrown together of sandbags and hesco barriers holds a Marine horizontal while he works his pectoral muscles. A jungle gym of engineer stakes and tent poles holds another Marine in the air while he completes a repetition of triceps dips.
While patrolling everyday with 40 extra pounds of gear may build stamina, it’s not nearly enough exercise for the Marines at PB Empire, or for the Marines of1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, the "Lava Dogs." Being physically fit is an attribute Lava Dogs strive for and most achieve, even when in Afghanistan.
“Working out helps relieve my stress and tension,” said Pfc. Christian Patten, a mortar man with Bravo Company and native of St. Augustine, Fla. “I have more energy during the day when I workout compared to when I don’t. Staying physically fit is important to me because it helps me stay healthy.”
The battalion’s atmosphere of demanding physical performance was broadened when Battalion Commander Lt. Col. Sean Riordan joined the Lava Dogs. Riordan invited the staff at Crossfit Oahu to come and give a fitness seminar to his Marines when he took command, December 3, 2010. The seminar addressed functional fitness, which is focused toward a short workout at high intensity instead of a traditional two-hour bodybuilding session. This style compliments an infantryman’s required physical skill set. It concentrates on working multiple muscle groups at one time, vice the muscle isolation of traditional weightlifting.
“[In the Marine Corps], we have historically trained long, slow running and body building … which frankly doesn’t translate well to the requirements we have in combat,” Riordan said. “So I wanted people to fundamentally change the way they prepared physically, and there are side benefits like better body composition and more confidence, which comes with increasing physical performance and work capacity by training the use of functional movements executed at high intensity across broad time and modal domains, actually resulting in major improvements to people’s personal physical fitness.”
Riordan didn’t think the Lava Dogs were lacking physical fitness. His intent was to ensure that training before deployment was versatile enough to meets the needs for his men while in combat.
Riordan stressed the importance of a healthy diet to amplify results of physical training and to instill in his Marines an analytical mindset of what they eat. He said eating natural foods and protein while lessening things like sugars and processed foods is essential.
“You look around this battalion and you don’t find many fat people … and that’s not every battalion,” Riordan said. “[An infantryman’s] job is based on physical activity. Their job is inherently physically based. They have to be prepared to do a long duration patrol wearing a lot of equipment, a medevac, an ammo re-supply or be able to close that last 200 yards with the enemy doing fire and movement … and these things require varying competencies across 10 generally recognized physical skills.”
In the last 10 months, many Marines in 1/3 have experimented with different exercise styles. While in pre-deployment training, many explored the functional fitness style because of the time benefits from working out (in some cases) 45 minutes vice two hours.
“I feel like I can get a better work out in a shorter time,” said Cpl. Christopher Hudson, a rifleman with 1/3’s Guard Force Platoon and native of Murray, Ky. “There are always different workouts I can do, and I feel like I am in better shape than I was when I was doing other styles of exercise.”
After four months in Afghanistan, functional fitness has proven useful in the high-tempo lifestyle of a deployed Marine. At every Lava Dog position, there are pull-up and dip bars and various pieces of weights and exercise gear; enough that Marines can keep continuity of their personal fitness. But many Marines strive for more than continuity and are driven to the style of functional fitness, which generally requires less equipment and delivers better results; often times equipment can be replaced with rocks or body armor.
“I think [functional fitness] is good while deployed because you can do it no matter how much equipment you have,” Hudson said. “Even if you don’t have equipment you can still do burpees and sprints.”
To say that 1/3 is a functional fitness convert would be inaccurate. Many Marines haven’t ‘jumped on the band wagon,’ so to speak. Most prefer the traditional style of weightlifting. There is, however, a general focus shift from isolation workouts like a bicep curl to functional workouts like the classic Marine Corps burpee exercise; which works groups of muscles by combining a push-up, squat and height jump.
“Since I have been with 1/3, I have seen more people trying different things when before all they did was weightlift,” Hudson said. “But it has been things like hand-stand push-ups, deadlifts, muscle-ups and burpees. So no one has ‘converted’ to Cross fit, but there has been a general addition of exercises that work the whole body to a lot of people’s workout regimen.”
By no means are the Lava Dogs breaking new ground by focusing on functional workouts. With the introduction of the Combat Fitness Test late October of 2009, the Marine Corps has adapted to the varying demands of modern combat. The Lava Dogs emulate the focus of the CFT through the concentration of functional fitness.
“Hey, Marines do what they do best … they make due and get creative,” said 1st Sgt. Paul Davis, Weapons Company first sergeant. “We were able to get every one of our PB’s a pull-up bar, dip bar and minimum weights. Every one of my Marines looks forward to working out and have become better infantryman because of it.”
Headquarters Marine Corps is pushing to replace equipment at bases around the Corps from joint based isolation machines, which don’t give a combat Marine the functional fitness he needs, to more austere functional fitness based facilities and equipment to allow Marines to take advantage of high-intensity, results-oriented programs, said Riordan, who was previously stationed at HQMC as an infantry advocate.
With the ever demanding physical requirements of being a deployed Marine, the Lava Dogs make do with what they have; chiseling away at the body one workout at time.
Editors Note: First Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, is currently assigned to Regimental Combat Team 5, 2nd Marine Division (Forward), which heads Task Force Leatherneck. The task force serves as the ground combat element of Regional Command (Southwest) and works in partnership with the Afghanistan National Security Forces and the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan to conduct counterinsurgency operations. The unit is dedicated to securing the Afghan people, defeating insurgent forces, and enabling the ANSF assumption of security responsibilities within its operations in order to support the expansion of stability, development and legitimate governance.
||GARMSIR DISTRICT, HELMAND PROVINCE, AF
This work, Barbells, Dumbbells, Kettlebells, Oh My!, by Cpl Colby Brown, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.