Posted on April 27, 2018 by Ashleigh Cowie
By Steve Regis
As a society we are becoming more health conscious. Now, surrounded by a plethora of information and advice (not all of it good) as well as technology, such as Fit Bits and similar devices, it’s inevitable that our interest in fitness will continue to grow. But, how can you maintain health and fitness in the middle of the sea? It’s not as easy as you’d think- but it is possible. I’ve worked on over 50 vessels and in my experience, inspiration from others can be the one catalyst needed to motivate the whole crew.
As a Royal Marine, leading an active live lifestyle was very much a part of the job. When I left the marines, I was employed as a privately contracted armed guard on vessels. While we were deployed, my team would focus on the essential activities: advising the captain on hardening the vessels and going over drills with the crew, before creating a schedule of who would be keeping watch. After the jobs were done, we’d all be eager to get to the gym. Sometimes it would be as modern and well-equipped as a club gym ashore, other times it would be basic and often improvised.
When we were working out we would often have an audience; the crew were fascinated with how much we would push ourselves, usually finishing in a sweaty heap gasping and downing litters of water. I would always encourage the crew to get involved and quite often they would. All it takes is for one person to start and it can inspire a whole crew. So, here’s my own practical tips to having a healthy life on-board:
Get Off Your Ass!
Kicking-off a routine is often the hardest part of any physical training program but once you get going and you’ve completed a work out you’ll get that addictive endorphin rush. After a couple of days, you’ll find that you’re looking forward to the next workout. Get a training buddy, someone who is on the same shift pattern as you, you’ll keep each other motivated and won’t let each other have an extra ‘rest day’ when you’re not quite feeling it.
Be realistic and set some short terms goals. Don’t walk into the gym and think you can bench press all the weights, you’ll probably tear all the muscles in your chest, you’ll ache for days just trying and you’ll demotivate yourself and look for excuses not to go again. Instead, go nice and easy and work out your limits, then with your gym buddy plan out a routine. Set some goals for the end of your contract at sea, and then some smaller goals for each month. It can even be useful to set some micro goals for the end of each week.
Here’s an example of the sort of goals I’d set: ‘My contract is for 4 months, when I go home I want to be 8kg lighter but have a bigger chest and bigger arms (so I looked good in a t-shirt!).’ So I aimed to lose 2kg per month, or half a kilo per week. My training program was to train for 6 days out of every 7 with a mix of weights and circuits. I was terrible at doing pull-ups, at the start I could only do 5, so I set myself a target of doing 5 every day, then building it up so I was doing 5 every hour! By the end of my contract I would do 20 pull-ups in one go (and I looked good in my t-shirt!)
Think of your body as a machine, you’re only as good as the fuel that you put in it. I know that it’s difficult on-board as you have to eat what you’re given, but here’s my top tip - make sure that you are good friends with the chef! I would always give him my hard drive so he could get the latest movies and TV series and in return I’d regularly get an extra portion of protein. Another tip- go easy on the white rice! I know it’s in a lot of meals but, a portion no bigger than your fist should be more than enough. Me and all the security guys would always deploy with a couple of kilograms of protein, for us this was a good way to get in the extra portion we needed as we were training. Tins of tuna were a saviour when you didn’t like the food on board.
And not beer! (At least, not all the time). The guidance is to drink 8 glasses of water a day, but let’s be honest how often do you keep count? I carried a big bottle of water with me at all times and would constantly keep sipping away. It’s up to you if you do this gradually or neck some water before bed, but the more you drink the better you’ll feel.
Your work on-board will be tiring, stressful and can take its toll on how you feel. Keeping watch for 12 hours was incredibly boring, but losing concentration was literally life or death. How much I worked out and what I ate had a direct impact on how I felt. Working out isn’t just about your body, it’s a great way to unwind and decompress yourself. Talk! Especially us guys, we find it hard to talk about feelings and emotions, but I challenge you, it takes a bigger man to say that something is unsettling you. Everyone has got their own way of communicating, so also be a good listener and be observant of your crew mates; you live with each other long enough to know if someone is not themselves. If so, genuinely ask them how they are, ask them how their family is or when they last spoke to them and don’t take ‘fine’ as an answer.
Habits are key. I have found that the success of anything is to get into some really good habits. Habits are hard to start especially on ship, but once you do it’s contagious and within two weeks you’ll love it. You’ll start to look better, you’ll have more energy and you’ll feel stronger. Start small, take the stairs instead of the elevator, have a desert once a week not everyday, get yourself a training buddy and challenge each other to reach new goals. Keep your body healthy and your mind will follow.