Staying Active During Deployment: Fitness Tips for Limited Resources

Staying Active During Deployment: Fitness Tips for Limited Resources

Time spent on deployment is a challenging time for any service member. The emotional stress of being away from home, myriad responsibilities, and the unpredictable nature of military life often means that keeping in shape takes a backseat. The last thing you probably want to do after a patrol or night on sentry duty is get into your PT gear and have a workout. Sleep and chow are your priorities. However, maintaining physical fitness during deployment is not just about keeping fit; it's about mental well-being, camaraderie, and ensuring you're combat-ready at all times.

In this article, we reveal some tips for staying in shape on deployment even when resources and time are limited.

The Realities of Keeping Fit on Deployment

Physical training (PT) at your regular barracks typically operates like a well-oiled machine. Safe places to run, well-equipped gyms, sports facilities, and dedicated instructors make getting and staying in shape pretty straightforward. With scheduled PT sessions, you're always in the know about upcoming workouts, and there's ample time for fitting in your own training. But deployment? That's a whole different ball game.

Deployment introduces numerous challenges that can make staying active feel like navigating an obstacle course:

  • Limited resources: Unlike the well-equipped gyms back home, deployed locations might not offer the same training facilities you are used to. You may find yourself without weights, machines, or even a proper space to work out.
  • Unpredictable schedules: The hectic nature of deployment means that your routine can change at a moment's notice. This unpredictability can make it hard to establish a regular fitness routine.
  • Environmental factors: Depending on where you're deployed, you might face extreme weather conditions – be it the scorching heat of a desert or the biting cold of mountainous regions. This can make exercise unpleasant and even impossible.
  • Space constraints: In some deployment settings, there might be limited space to perform workouts, especially group activities. This is especially the case when serving on ships.
  • Limited nutritional options: Food on deployment may not be optimal, affecting energy levels and recovery.
  • Lack of sleep: Eight hours of rack time can be hard to get when on deployment. Not getting enough sleep can undermine your motivation and energy to exercise.
  • Mental health challenges: Deployment can lead to stress, anxiety, or depression, affecting your motivation and ability to exercise.
  • Lack of time: Intense and frequent operations can leave little downtime for personal activities, including exercise.
  • Cultural or local restrictions: In some regions, local customs or security concerns might limit outdoor activities or certain types of exercises.
  • Lack of Routine: Constantly moving or changing bases can disrupt any established fitness routine.

However, while these barriers are real, they're not insurmountable. Adapting and overcoming is the name of the game because staying active during deployment provides numerous benefits.

10 Benefits of Staying Active on Deployment

Despite these challenges, staying active during deployment offers a plethora of benefits:

  • Physical readiness: Regular exercise ensures that you're always in top shape, ready to tackle any mission that comes your way.
  • Injury prevention: Strong, flexible muscles and joints are more resistant to injury than those that have been neglected.
  • Avoid weight gain: Some deployments involve a lot of "hurry up and wait," leaving you bored and with nothing else to do but eat the treats your family sent you in your last care package. Avoid deployment weight gain by using your free time to exercise.
  • Improved sleep: Exercise aids in regulating sleep, which is crucial for decision-making and well-being. Quality sleep can be hard to come by on some deployments, so it makes sense to make what sleep you get as good as possible.
  • Disease prevention: Regular physical activity boosts the immune system, reduces the risk of chronic diseases, and promotes overall health.
  • Mental resilience: Exercise is a known stress reliever. It releases endorphins, which are natural mood lifters that are chemically related to morphine. In the challenging environment of deployment, this mental boost can be invaluable.
  • Team building: Group exercises and sports can foster camaraderie among team members.
  • Enhanced focus and concentration: Physical activity can sharpen your cognitive abilities, ensuring you remain alert and attentive during operations. Fatigue can lead to mistakes.
  • Improved morale: Staying active can provide a sense of accomplishment and routine in an unpredictable environment, lifting your spirits and boosting morale.
  • Mental distraction: Exercise can serve as a positive distraction, offering a break from the stresses and anxieties of deployment. Nothing saps morale like boredom.


So, how can you stay active during deployment even when you're saddled with limited resources? Here are some tried-and-tested tips:

  1. Forget the weights – use calisthenics: Bodyweight exercises like push-ups, planks, lunges, pull-ups, and squats are perfect for almost every deployment situation. You can do most calisthenic exercises anywhere and anytime.
  2. Pack some resistance bands: Resistance bands are light, compact, cheap, and portable. Put some in your pack and take them on deployment. You can use bands to supplement your bodyweight training and to replicate any machine or free-weight exercise you can think of.
  3. Use a suspension trainer: The original TRX was invented by ex-Navy Seal Randy Hetrick. Fed up with the lack of equipment on deployment, Hetrick created his strap-based bodyweight training system so he could stay in shape anywhere. There are now many alternatives to the TRX, many of which are very cheap. They're the ideal portable fitness system for service members on deployment.
  4. Jump rope for fitness: Running can be hard on deployment, especially in a hostile environment where you cannot leave camp easily. Jumping rope is the ideal alternative.
  5. Use improvised equipment: Backpacks, sandbags, ammo boxes, rocks, logs, your team members – you can use all these things for your strength-building workouts.
  6. High-intensity interval training (HIIT): HIIT workouts are short, intense, and can be done without any equipment. They're perfect for those days when you're short on time but still want to get a workout in. Really pushed for time? Try Tabata training. Tabata workouts only last four minutes but are perfect for squeezing into even the busiest schedule.
  7. Grease the groove: Fed up with your workouts being interrupted? With grease the groove (GTG), you break your training down into its constituent sets and then spread them throughout your day. Anytime you've got a few spare minutes, pump out a set or two of your chosen exercise. By the end of the day, you should have completed your workout, albeit one set at a time.
  8. Partner workouts: Team up with a buddy for exercises like partner push-ups or assisted squats. It's a great way to add resistance and motivation to your routine.
  9. Stair workouts: Stairs aren't just for getting from A to B. Use them for cardio and strength exercises like stair jumps and step-ups.
  10. Isometric training: Try exercises like wall sits or planks where you contract your muscles to maintain a specific position. They're great for building strength and endurance. You can also do various isometric exercises using a towel or length of rope.
  11. Obstacle courses: Make like a contestant on Ninja Warrior and set up a makeshift obstacle course using available resources for a fun, team-building workout.
  12. Swimming: If you're near water, and it's safe to do so, swimming offers a full-body workout and a refreshing break.
  13. Play sports: Sports are physical training in disguise. You might not feel motivated to work out, but an hour of sports can fly by and keep you entertained at the same time. Options include:
  • Basketball
  • Martial arts sparring
  • Soccer
  • Touch/flag football
  • Tug-of-war
  • Ultimate Frisbee
  • Volleyball
  • Water polo

Staying Active During Deployment – Closing Thoughts

Deployment will test your resilience, adaptability, and determination. While the challenges are many, the rewards of maintaining your physical and mental fitness during this time are invaluable. Remember, the benefits of every push-up, every jump, every stretch, and every game played are not just physical; it's about fortifying your mind, building bonds with the rest of your team, and ensuring you're at your best when duty calls.

But let's not just leave it at words. It's time to put these tips into action. Whether you're in the scorching desert, aboard a ship, or in a temporary camp, there's always a way to keep moving. So, lace up those boots, grab that resistance band, or start banging out some push-ups. Your future self will thank you, your team will respect you, and your mission will benefit from it.

Service members, it's time to rise to the challenge. Stay active, stay fit, and stay ready. Let's do this!