When I was deployed to Afghanistan in 2010, I wasn't anybody's idea of a perfect soldier. I was 25 pounds over my target weight and eating way too much fast food. Because I wanted to lead my platoon the right way, I set a goal to get into the best shape of my life. And at a secured base without fast food and the distractions of home, I figured the pounds would melt off.
I was wrong. The base's gym was much smaller than I expected, and meals weren't geared for someone who wanted to lose weight. When the first mortar round hit, I discovered, after a five- to six-hour firefight, that the only thing I wanted to do was sleep—certainly not work out.
The first month of my deployment passed without any real results. I made excuses for not working out, like "We got attacked today, and I sweated enough." or "Why do I work out hard? The only thing I have to eat is unhealthy food."
By month two, my situation hadn't changed, but my attitude had. I decided to quit making excuses and start executing. I asked friends and family to start sending me healthy food. I went to the little gym every single day, sometimes even after a firefight. When my brain told me to stop, I pushed even harder.
In Afghanistan, I ate a lot of granola bars, chicken, steak and grapefruit. I even learned to eat broccoli. To get into the best shape of my life, I did cardiovascular work for 30 to 45 minutes every morning and returned to the gym for an hour and a half of free weight work in the afternoons. Concentrating on low reps with maximum weight forced my body to work harder than it was used to and helped it burn fat faster. The added muscle kept my metabolism at a high rate.
It was rough at first, but as time passed, I discovered that my body could do much more than I had ever realized. During my deployment, I ended up losing 45 pounds. Perhaps even more important, I discovered an inner mental strength that helped me work through family problems, a concussion and even the temporary loss of one of my soldiers.
My time in Afghanistan taught me that I can do anything if I work hard enough at it. So whether you're trying to get into the Special Forces or want to be captain of your basketball team, I encourage you to set a goal and make no room for excuses. When you push through that initial mental block, you may surprise yourself with what you can accomplish.
Photo: U.S. Army
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