Military Muscle

When America flexes its military muscle, the real work is shouldered by hundreds of thousands of highly trained soldiers who draw on their True Strength to consistently perform at the very highest level whenever and wherever the mission requires. The long hours they put in during extended deployments in often harsh environments can make it a real challenge to keep up with personal physique goals. It's not that these soldiers don't get plenty of what the military calls 'Physical Training'. They most certainly do, but those programs weren't designed for bodybuilders or even strength athletes and aren't necessarily conducive to building or maintaining muscle mass.

Nick Shively conducts daily Physical Training exercises for the U.S. Army. The program for military intelligence operatives that he oversees breaks down like this:

The Battle Focused training involves obstacles course running, buddy carrying exercises, ruck marches along with non-physical activities like map reading and battleground navigation. Nick supplements this routine with 4 to 5 trips to the gym every week where he's currently working a push-pull-legs split. He weighs 185 pounds right now and wants to hit 200 by the end of the year. On the strength side of the equation, Nick's working up to consistently benching 350 pounds.

Needless to say, the high command does not discourage muscle building. The effort just has to be taken care of during a soldier's free time, which can be very limited depending on a wide range of circumstances. Consider the story of Celia Romero, a Navy veteran who won the female Overall title at last year's 2009 All Forces Military Bodybuilding Championships.

For Celia, who worked at a Naval hospital, the challenge revolved around finding time to eat 6 to 7 'clean' small meals every day. "It's not like you can take a break anytime you want to," she said. In her opinion, the military chow wasn't at all bad. She would add packets of tuna to a salad and carry protein bars with her throughout the day. Of course, "protein bars don't always hold up well when you're training in hot environments," she noted. Because a soldier burns so many calories training and working all day, the nutrition aspect of a bodybuilder's regimen takes on even greater importance.

For Anthony Bocz, an active duty Marine, time was the main barrier to keeping up with his own personal physique goals. "The main challenge is trying to meet you macros (protein, carbohydrates and fat) and squeezing in time for weight training." The Marines in his unit were so busy that they didn't have a lot of time to spend on anything other than their assignments. "It's impossible to eat multiple small meals all day," he said. "Instead, we just had to eat 2 or 3 squares and rely on shakes to meet protein requirements."

Because of all the Physical Training expected of these Marines, the effort Anthony had to put into weight training went well beyond heavy lifting. "Weight training is difficult to match up with your schedule with PT (Physical Training) every other day. You're already tired from PT, and don't want to overtrain yourself." Squeezing in some quality time with bars and plates often meant sacrificing a couple hours of sleep. "Sometimes I only get 4 or 5 hours a night," Anthony said.

If personal training goals are hard for stateside service men and women to meet, imagine what it's like for the Marine on the ground in Afghanistan. Taylor Yontz is a Satellite Communications Expert who fortifies his diet with whey and casein shakes as well as a gender-specific high-potency mulitvitamin, creatine, glutamine and ZMA. His schedule allows him to work out every day, but he takes one day off for recovery. Taylor's current 3-day split looks like this:

Taylor's lifting philosophy is "less reps and more weight." He isn't sure how the dumbbells, bars and plates made it over to Afghanistan, but the benches and racks were built from scratch out of scrap lumber. Where there's a will, there's a way.

If you think the Afghan desert is an extreme environment, consider what Bryan Mac's going through training U.S. Air Force officers and Special Forces personnel how to survive behind enemy lines with little to no help. The 25 pounds he lost during Basic Training was nothing compared to what he faced as a SERE (Survival Evasion Resistance Escape) instructor. "Being a SERE means doing the unusual all the time," he said.

During survival courses, Bryan's eaten all kinds of things off the land that people in normal situations would not consider touching on a dare. There was the physical danger of swift water rescue, a wilderness survival operation where he ended up with hypothermia, and a desert survival op with very little water and nothing to consume other than bugs.

Trying to get to the gym during these incredibly demanding parts of the program was the last thing on Bryan's mind. It was difficult enough managing the different extreme situations. But now that he's focused on studying manuals and books, Bryan's hitting the gym 5 days a week doing 5 sets per exercise, anywhere from 8 to 10 reps. The focus is on specific body parts. In addition to the lifting, he runs 5 miles every day. "When this madness is over, I'll have a lot more time to devote to getting really massive," he explains.

Elijah Maine, a member of the Navy's Seabees construction battalion, experiences a unique challenge to his personal training mission: Constantly moving from one location to another. "Seabees deploy to areas of the world where the dining isn't the best and the gyms aren't up to par," he said. To get over the first hurdle, Elijah takes a George Foreman Grill wherever he goes.

The training tools sometimes need to be built, with a heavy emphasis on improvisation. "Wherever we go, we work beside Marines, and Marines need a gym," Elijah said. "In Iraq in 2005, we built a bench press out of lumber and attached sand bags at both ends of a truck axle to make a barbell." They will build pull-up bars and dip bars wherever. Plus, Elijah always carries suspension training straps along on deployment as the training alternative of last resort.

Of course, having the tools is one thing. There's also the issue of time. When they're building a project for the Navy or Marine Corps, Seabees typically work 13 hour days, getting only 5 hours of sleep. The work is also physically demanding. But drawing on True Strength, the determined Seabee will prevail. After all, their Construimus, Batuimus motto means 'We Build, We Fight'.

For more stories of personal triumph and goal achievement, visit and watch videos of athletes and others who never doubted their ability to succeed. You can also follow @Team_Optimum at for breaking news updates, fitness and diet tips along with ongoing opportunities to sample products and participate in contests.

Leave a Comment
Suresh Ananthasubramanian
Apr 30, 2010
That's AMAZING. A normal person would need a lot of determination and stamina to undergo such an intensive training. Hats off to those on the battle ground. At the end of the day, health is God and one should pray for and protect it day in and day out without fail.
EJ Gutierrez
Apr 30, 2010
who is the pretty young solider lady in the photos ,she is really toned ,,, Good Job !!!
john greaves
May 02, 2010
what a true-inspiration these guys are! just shows us how real true-strength comes from within,as well as on the outside. these stories are a great "reality-check"-for every one of us. we should never take life for granted.
May 03, 2010
i will definitly try this miltary exercise program...
May 03, 2010
I'm currently training to wear Bryan Mac's shoes with a Periodized Program focused on natural body movements. I list a four week set progression; each time the volume changes via sets. I keep the weight constant for the first two weeks then increase by 10lbs on weeks 3 & 4.

Mondays go like this:
Superset 1: Squat & Pull Ups
(4x3 & 8, 5x3 & 8, 7x2 & 8, 5x2 & 8),
Superset 2: Front Press & Back Extensions
(4x3 & 8, 5x3 & 8, 7x2 & 8, 5x2 & 8),
Cardio: Hill Sprints

Cardio: low-intensity swim/run

Superset 1: Deadlift & Burpee
(4x3 & 8, 5x3 & 10, 7x2 & 12, 5x2 & 8),
Superset 2: Incline Press & Dumbbell Row
(4x3 & 8, 5x3 & 8, 7x2 & 8, 5x2 & 8)

Cardio: low-intensity swim/run

Powerclean & Press,
Superset: Pull Ups & Ab roll-outs,
Weighted Sled push/pull (30yrds)
(this is a 5x5),
Cardio: Hill Sprints

Cardio: low-intensity swim/run

Day off

I've increased a lot of my power for sprinting and natural ranges of motion by using this.
Jun 03, 2010
Congrats to my friend, Celia! You're awesome girl. You rock that muscle with such sexy style!
Jun 03, 2010
Awww Thanks Brooke! They could've picked a better picture of me. lol Lovely article though.