Ask Stew: After Lapse, National Guardsman Seeks Fitness Help

North Carolina National Guardsmen learn about functional fitness.
Mark Shropshire, the owner of Shropshire Sports Training in Columbia, Maryland, works with the Fit to Serve program, teaching and demonstrating functional fitness to 22 North Carolina National Guard soldiers at the Camp Butner Training Center in Butner, North Carolina, Jan. 24, 2019. (Maj. Matthew Boyle/U.S. National Guard photo)

Joining the National Guard is a great way to serve your community and country. However, it can be difficult to work a few days a month in the actual job and still maintain your fitness level. This happens quite often if fitness is not part of your daily schedule. Here is a very typical email from a Guardsman who needs a fitness scheduling adjustment in order to stay healthy, remain in the Guard and still perform his duties:

Stew, I am a National Guardsman and an artilleryman. My fitness has fallen severely over the years. I am currently at 240 pounds, barely pass my push-ups and sit-ups, and cannot pass my run. I am 25 years old and need a plan. I am indecisive on what plan I should follow to get back into shape. I know running and calisthenics are ideal, but honestly I pay a gym membership so I'd like to use it, too. I just need a point in the right direction; otherwise, my career will fall flat. Thank you, Jeff

Jeff, I understand. This occurs in the Guard, Reserves and active duty. Not having a daily fitness plan in your schedule can lead to an easy five- to 10-pound weight gain per year if you are not careful. This can lead to 40-50 pounds of added weight in 4-5 years, putting your military career in jeopardy. 

Imagine going for a ruck with 50 pounds on. Not that big of a deal, but now imagine carrying that ruck with you all day long. That is what you have created for yourself -- a living ruck of 50 pounds to carry. This extra weight makes calisthenics tougher and running more difficult. It also adds a level of  difficulty to your run time; imagine doing your two-mile timed run with a 50-pound ruck. It is very difficult, if not nearly impossible, to pass with that kind of weight to carry.

Your goal has to be attacked from both ends -- weight loss and fitness performance. The good news is that you can use the gym to start with non-impact cardio options (bike, elliptical, row and swimming). Running at your current weight is doable, but every other day at most, focus on the non-impact options until you close in on your normal weight zone.

Here is what I would recommend. Mix in some high-intensity circuits with weights/calisthenics at your gym. See some ideas with Circuit Training. If you need more of a structured program with many options each day to follow, check out the Circuit Training 101 workout.

Follow the resistance programming first, then cool down with a moderate to easy cardio session. Some days can be fast/slow interval training but always do a 15- to 20-minute easy cooldown cardio to assist with additional fat burn on the back side of the workout.

Your weight loss begins in the kitchen. Eat less but eat good nourishing food. Drink more water. At your weight, you can drink a gallon of water spread throughout the day -- never all at one time.

If the above is too hard at this time, mix in this as a daily minimum standard (45-Day Plan) and follow the lean down plan, too. The reason I give you an easy option is that you may have to treat yourself like a beginner if it has been too long since you have trained regularly.

Good luck. When in doubt, keep on moving, even if just a 10-minute walk after every meal of the day.


Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Visit his Fitness eBook store if you're looking to start a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle. Send your fitness questions to

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