Working Out: Gain Without the Pain


Sweat was dripping down my face. I was enjoying the famous runner’s high and on my way to breaking my personal record on the treadmill. AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck” perfectly matched my running pace, as if the stars had lined up for me to knock this cardio session out of the park, or so I thought. My trance was interrupted by an ill-omened 1MC announcement, “Standby for heavy rolls while the ship comes about.” Shortly after the last word was heard, I found myself dangerously close to the front end of the treadmill. I reached for salvation in the form a bright red “STOP” button.

Too late! My foot violently struck the treadmill’s plastic frame and, in a blink of an eye, my gaze went from the uninteresting bulkhead down to the vicious and merciless treadmill. There was one thing that made the difference between an unpleasant treadmill face tattoo and walking away relatively unscathed: the emergency stop cable. Luckily, I limped away with just a hurt ego and a scraped knee.

Staying fit while underway can be a very difficult and frustrating goal, especially when your ship is smack in the middle of a high operational tempo. Many ships, such as USS Arleigh Burke (DDG-51), provide her Sailors with a well above average fitness facility, well-equipped with free weights, cable machines, and cardio equipment in an effort to maintain fleet fitness standards and to provide Sailors with a means to let off steam. However, these benefits oftentimes go hand in hand with inherently hazardous situations as we hop on the treadmill or hit the weights. Riding on what is essentially a metal cork in the ocean, our bodies have to account for pitch and roll when transiting the ship, let alone running full speed on a barely user-friendly machine or holding up heavy chunks of metal over our heads. One false step and you could find yourself on the wrong side of a medical emergency and on a one-way trip to the hospital.

Many of us who have made the gym part of our underway routine have seen firsthand potentially life threatening situations while we squeeze a workout into our busy schedule. A few of my (dis)honorable mentions include the “shoulder press gone wrong,” where I saw in slow motion a shipmate’s elbow start rolling the wrong way, and the “dumbbell avalanche,” where you watch in fear as improperly stowed dumbbells precariously dangle from the weight rack over someone doing sit-ups below. It is no secret that under the worst cocktail of factors, one of your shipmates might have been heading at flank towards very serious bodily harm or in the worst of cases, death.

The gym is inherently a dangerous place both ashore and at sea. We all take into account the risk in order to reap the benefits of a healthy lifestyle. However, the reality of the matter is that the chance of most of these cringe-worthy situations occurring can be highly reduced. The ship will continue to roll, the seas will never accommodate to our schedule, but through proper planning, risk management, supervision, and situational awareness, we can make our average workout be just that, an “average” workout.

Here are some nuggets of wisdom that make for a safe workout underway: Know the seas. Take a quick trip to combat information center and ask a watchstander what they expect the weather will be like that day. This way you can decide if you can replace some of the free weight-intensive exercises with body weight equivalents.

Be mindful of your surroundings. Keep an eye out for misplaced equipment, runaway dumbbells, and other gear adrift. Be a leader and move the object out of the way for your shipmates.

Know your equipment. Understand all of your equipment’s safety features and use them. They might appear annoying at times but nothing is more annoying than a treadmill skid mark on your face.

Protect your shipmates. Be that on-call spotter and look out for others in the gym. You might stop a developing dangerous situation before anyone gets hurt.

Do not be a hero. Know when to call it. If the ship undergoes unforeseen maneuvering or weather conditions, consider wrapping up your workout. You can easily make up some reps or a set later, but you can’t say the same for missing teeth.

ENS Jose Otero-Vera is currently the assistant safety officer onboard USS Arleigh Burke (DDG 51).

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