Fitness on the high seas

Crowsnest - Spring 2016 / April 25, 2016

By Lieutenant (Navy) Tim Woodworth

Fitness on the high seas is not always as easy as tying up a pair of sneakers and going for a jog. The motion of the sea, compressed work schedules and confined spaces are just a few of the obstacles that would make it much easier to crawl into a bunk rather than exercise during down time.

However, sailors are overcoming these challenges and excelling in becoming physically fit while deployed overseas aboard HMCS Fredericton.

The fitness culture on the ship attracts people from many different backgrounds. There are those who are trying to get back into a healthy lifestyle and establish lasting habits, those who are trying to maintain their fitness and mental well-being, and athletes who enjoy running, cross-country skiing, biking and hiking when they are home and want to achieve a higher level of fitness.

One exercise participant who has had back problems for a long time credits a combination of his on-ship training and the physiotherapy he did for a year prior to leaving Halifax with better health, stating “my back hasn’t been this good in years.”

Individuals can gauge results from their exercise regimes in a number of different ways. For some, they have not weighed or measured themselves since leaving Halifax, but they’ve noticed that they feel sore for shorter periods of time after a workout, have improved sleeping and more energy. One of the participants mentioned being excited to wear a size 36 waist pants again. 

When asked about other fitness goals, some participants said they want to strengthen their legs and lose some weight in order to be able to participate in a marathon relay, while others want to work on their core and overall muscle strength.

Over the last three years, one sailor has been training for triathlons, so training while deployed on ship is a departure from his normal training regime. CrossFit and climbing were part of his pre-deployment routine. At sea, he strives to work out every day and every second day while in port.

A new approach for some, circuit training has increased the flexibility of people who would normally have only jumped on a treadmill as a workout. There are many benefits of exercising, including allowing people to function better as sailors, improved communications, and better sleep at night. 

One of the obstacles facing sailors at sea is to find creative ways to manage their time and still get their work done, connect with home, maintain their fitness and sleep. This can include switching or extending shifts to attend scheduled fitness classes which are offered three times a day to allow everyone a chance to work out at least once a day.

As for equipment, most of the workouts require very little. Running on the flight deck in the fresh air, a few mats and pull-up bars allow sailors to work out at their own pace. Other creative fitness solutions include working out during the quiet periods on watch with goals such as the “Bridge Push-up Challenge.” One sailor chooses to use all of his time off duty to exercise, combining Personnel Support Program classes with jogging on a treadmill. These fitness routines result in an energetic crew who are fit for the task at hand.

After a good workout, the majority of sailors also incorporate a stretching routine, which can include yoga positions, to aid in body recovery. Flexibility and agility is increased as sailors take advantage of a few extra minutes in the sun on the flight deck. “I’ll usually do some extra stretches and then run down to my mess to shower and change,” said one sailor. “I’ll grab a quick lunch, several glasses of water and a piece of fruit when available,” said another. 

As any good fitness professional will tell you, working out is only half the battle. Nutrition goes hand in hand with fitness and the cooks in HMCS Fredericton do a great job of supporting a healthy lifestyle by offering a selection of fruits and vegetables at every meal. While no one program is right for everyone, people are able to take charge of their diets and choose healthy eating.

With mutual support and fitness education readily available, the crew members of HMCS Fredericton are pushing each other into working a little harder than they had planned on, and ultimately achieving their goals.