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Keep fit on deployment with these improvised workout equipment ideas

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Deployments and field operations can be a real pain when it comes to physical fitness. Nutrition sucks, sleep sucks, and you are typically tight on time. If you can get 15 minutes in, you can consider yourself lucky. However, what’s tougher than finding time is finding workout equipment, and with that in mind, let me give you some lower-enlisted advice on the best workout equipment you can improvise in the field. 

My first deployment is when I was introduced to the idea that a little dirt and a couple of containers can go a long way. While deployments vary quite a bit, ours was pretty primitive. We didn’t have a gym or any workout equipment at all. We walked everywhere and slept in holes fairly often. Resupplies were limited due to the lack of infrastructure, so we got creative with our workout equipment. 

A good part of our deployment was spent in patrol bases. We moved by foot to these locations carrying a heavy load of food and water to supply ourselves for the week and hauling heavy weights wasn’t going to happen. 

Improvised workout equipment

If you are in the field or deployed in a primitive area, then you probably have limited access to most things. What you likely have excess access to is empty ammo cans and sandbags, and what I know you have excess access to is dirt. Combining dirt with ammo cans and sandbags creates an effective weight to help you get a little resistance training. 

If you have some duct tape, you can reinforce the sandbag to make it a little tougher. You can even make a kettlebell with a duct tape handle. A full sandbag can get pretty hefty, and you can easily use it as a slam ball, or as a weight for push-ups, sit-ups, overhead presses, and so much more. Sandbags will eventually fall apart with abuse, but they can last a decent amount of time. 

Ammo cans vary in size. The 50-cal cans are the absolute best for working out while the 7.62 and 5.56 cans are better than nothing. The rugged design of the cans makes them last a lot longer than sandbags and their handle also makes them a bit more versatile. A couple of cans can act as awkward-shaped dumbells and can be used for curls, deadlifts, farmer’s carry, and beyond. 

Related: Why the Marine Corps is unapologetically obsessed with pull-ups

The benefits of ammo cans and sandbags 

Ammo cans and sandbags are readily available and most units going to the field will have both in spades which means you can also have a squad workout without needing a ton of extra equipment.

Also, the weight of both can be adjusted easily and quickly by adding or removing dirt. Grab your E-Tool and make them heavier or lighter as necessary. This makes ammo cans and sandbags very easy to customize for different exercises and weight requirements and allows for progressive overload. 

They can also be emptied and packed away pretty easily. If you are moving from one place to another, dump the sand and move on. Refill when you arrive, and bam, you are on your way to better fitness. 

Further, both sandbags and ammo cans can be combined with numerous other improvised workout gear to provide an even more diverse workout. Mix in chains, poles, or whatever to customize your workout on deployment or in the field. 

Related: The Long Range Desert Group and the birth of special operations around the world

The weight of the sand can also shift, which can add a twist when working out: Leave some room in your improvised workout equipment, and as you do your lifts and functional movements, the sand will shift unpredictably, causing you to work a bit harder than normal dumbbells and barbells do. 

I like these things so much that I still use ammo cans for workout equipment to this day.

Keeping fit 

Mix in weight exercises, some running, and calisthenics, and you can keep your fitness levels up there or even improve them. Hopefully, I’ve helped you find a new way to work out in those less-than-modern environments servicemembers find themselves in.

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Travis Pike

Travis Pike is a former Marine Machine gunner who served with 2nd Bn 2nd Marines for 5 years. He deployed in 2009 to Afghanistan and again in 2011 with the 22nd MEU(SOC) during a record-setting 11 months at sea. He’s trained with the Romanian Army, the Spanish Marines, the Emirate Marines, and the Afghan National Army. He serves as an NRA certified pistol instructor and teaches concealed carry classes.