In 1991, when we shipped our tanks to Saudi Arabia from Germany, in addition to the 40 main gun rounds, 25,000 rounds of 7.62, a case or two of 5.56 and a couple boxes of mines, we packed something personal: a curl bar and 50 pounds of free weights.
That was it. Our entire fitness center. It wasn't so much a case of that was all we wanted to bring, but more an issue of we didn't have room for anything else. A real bench? A bench bar? Forty-five-pound plates? Where would we stow them? (It's not like our tanks didn't look like gypsy wagons already, but weights and their accessories take up a lot of space.)
We worked with what we had.
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Fast-forward 17 years to today. Now I'm using the TRX suspension trainer. I admit it, I didn't know about this thing until I saw it on our website, and my first impression was, "Damn, I wish we had one of those in '91." Nonetheless I was intrigued enough that I actually got one, just to try it out.
Bottom line: I'm impressed. The TRX system is essentially a long strap with handles that you configure in a variety of positions to conduct your exercises. The beauty of the TRX system is that you use your own body weight as the resistance force; there's literally no need for "free" weights since you're packing all the weight you'll ever need.
In addition to the exercise strap, the TRX system comes with a demonstration video (DVD actually) a workout DVD and a waterproof (i.e. sweat-proof) military-oriented fitness guide. The strap even comes in a mesh bag that makes it easy to launder.
The demonstration video is a must see. There are so many things you can do with the TRX that you literally will spend the first couple of hours (I did), learning how to get yourself into the required positions to do the drills. Once you figure out the positioning, though, the routines are a snap, and because you're using your own weight and body angle, it's easy enough to adjust in mid-set (certainly much easier than swapping 45-pound plates for 35-pound plates on a bench.)
The only limitation to the TRX system is that it requires an elevated attachment point. This point can be a door (the system even comes with a placard you put on the other side of the door to warn folks you're using the door to exercise, so no one opens it and hurts you), tree, wall, fence, buried pipe, you name it.
As long as you can hang the strap, you can get in a workout. (A word of caution -- on the cover of the force training DVD is a picture of a soldier using the TRX strap, apparently suspended off the elevated gun tube of an M1 series tank. M1A1, I'm thinking.) Do not do this without permission from the tank commander.
As an old-school TC (I'm still afraid of c-rat apricots), the only thing that ever touched my gun tube was the bore brush, the MBD and the bore evacuator spanner wrench. If you want to do suspension exercises on a tank, put the turret over the side and do them off the bustle rack.
Now I take the TRX everywhere I go. To the field, on vacation (worked great in Hawaii on a coconut palm until the damn coconuts started falling on me), even on business trips (why waste time looking for a local gym when you've got one in your bag?). Not bad for a personal gym that weighs two pounds and fits in a one-gallon Ziploc bag.
Eric Daniel is an associate editor at Military.com. He has 16 years of combined service in both active component (1st Armored Division (D/1-37AR) as an M1A1 gunner during the 1991 Gulf War, where he was awarded the Bronze Star Medal with "V" device and Oak Leaf Cluster, and the National Guard (HHC (IA trainer),1-103 Armor, Pennsylvania Army National Guard, OIF III.) He is currently serving as a cavalry scout in the California Army National Guard.
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