This series of articles is intended to provide a close-up view of the demands placed upon a soldier in the U.S. military and the ways in which these demands are countered through progressive weight training. Read on ...
Early mornings and long days are a regular part of Jonathan Walsh's lifestyle as he works to protect his troops at Eskan Village, Saudi Arabia (his official role is to provide detection to the installation).
A dog handler for the U.S. Air Force, Jonathan, accompanied by his ever-present K-9 companion Senta, spends a large portion of his time on the lookout for suspicious activity. Specific duties for Jonathan include searching vehicles that come into the base, and sitting for long periods watching for signs of possible attack.
Like many in the military, Jonathan, 31, respects his occupation, but values time away from the trenches. For Jonathan, the greatest mode of escapism, perhaps ironically, comes in the form of strenuous work at the base gym.
In fact, and again like many of his fellow troops, Jonathan is a bodybuilder and views weight training and attention to correct eating as being the best way to stay in the kind of shape required to perform his military duties to the best of his abilities.
Indeed, Jonathan feels bodybuilding enables him to optimally support his fellow K-9 handlers, and other units, and serve his country - things he enjoys most about being in the Air Force.
This article - the first in a series that will track Jonathan's progress - is intended to provide a close-up view of the specific demands placed upon a soldier in the U.S. military and the ways in which these demands are countered through progressive weight training.
Specifically highlighted will be Jonathan's current program and the progress he has made. His future bodybuilding goals will be discussed, as will be the methods used to achieve them.
Upon rising early, Jonathan takes his dog and goes to work inspecting his base during which he helps to ensure the safety and security of all military personal. Throughout the day, Jonathan will, time permitting, eat two meals in addition to several snacks.
The importance of proper nutrition is not lost on Jonathan who considers it crucial to the success of his current weight training program. Indeed, as well as being a soldier Jonathan is a bodybuilder and after 12-hours of oftentimes exhausting work, Jonathan, four nights a week, makes his way to the base gym.
He then turns the air conditioning off. "The weather is in the mid 80's right now but I turn the air conditioner off in the gym because I read that the cool air is not good for the muscles and I get a better sweat with the AC off," says Jonathan.
Do You Prefer To Work In Hot Or Cold Temperatures?
Jonathan feels training conditions are important for a good workout and this means no distractions. "I work out by myself because I don't like talking when working out and I can never just stand still. I'm always going to another exercise or doing another routine."
Training for Jonathan is a solitary experience with heavy metal music cranked up to full volume. "We play the music loud for motivation. I really like Rage Against the Machine, Korn, Chevelle and stuff like that." Once the conditions are just right, Jonathan hoists the weights for up to an hour and a half before eating and retiring.
The Power Of Music!
No doubt about it, music is a powerful tool and one that should be taken advantage of. At the same time, music should be used judiciously for optimal performance. [ Click here to learn more. ]
According to Jonathan, the equipment he uses to sculpt his muscles is top-of-the-line and provides just the kind of workout he craves at the end of a hard day.
"The gym we train in is good. They have equipment that we don't have at my home station.
"Dumbbells all the way up to 100 pounds, but now I need more than that for chest days. They have a lot of Hammer Strength and Life Fitness work stations that are awesome," he says.
Directly after training, Jonathan will go to the "chow hall" to eat his post training meal before retiring to his room to watch TV, or knock out three to four sets of push-ups.
To hear Jonathan explain it, his training progress while serving have been excellent, and his results (explained later) suggest a positive adaptation to his current program. Jonathan explains the benefits of working out on base:
"It's actually easier working out over here compared to home.
"There's not a lot to do, so you workout and you concentrate more. At home you have the temptations of fast-food restaurants and I have two kids and a wife and you do need family time. You don't get family time at deployed locations. I look forward to working out when I get off work."
Click Image To Enlarge. "It's Actually Easier Working Out Over Here Compared To Home."
Asked if there are any obstacles, or disadvantages, Jonathan says, "Maybe the gym might be too crowded or you have to wait in line for certain things, or sometimes the food gets old and boring. Also, an obstacle to bodybuilding progress might be getting the exact food I need on a regular basis right and sometimes you get tired from working 12 hours shifts. Everything else is not bad at all though."
Life In Eskan Village
Jonathan has served as a soldier in the Air Force for three and a half months in Eskan Village, Saudi Arabia. Before this placement, he served, in his current capacity of K-9 Handler, for five months in Kirkuk, Iraq, with the 506th Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron.
Click Image To Enlarge. The Eskan Village.
In contrast to his previous placement, Eskan Village provides for Jonathan many of the facilities and creature comforts associated with life back home (notwithstanding the scorching heat, which often reaches the 120's).
Click Image To Enlarge. The Heat Often Reaches The 120's.
Occupying 300 acres, the housing area of Eskan Village is home for Air Force and other military people deployed to Saudi Arabia's Riyadh Air Base. Tens of thousands of Air force personnel alone have, since the first days of the Operation Desert Shield build-up in 1990, called Eskan home.
Click Image To Enlarge. A Street In The Eskan Village.
Situated on a broad desert plain about 20 kilometers south of Riyadh Air Base, the Eskan complex of 841 villas and 44 high rise towers was initially built in 1983 for one of the many Bedouin tribes that live in the surrounding desert. However, Eskan was to be used in a completely different manner, than originally intended.
In August 1990, after having been left unused by the Bedouin tribe, who decided to maintain their desert existence, Eskan was provided by the Saudi Government as Government housing for U.S. and coalition forces.
In 2003, the 4,500 U.S. troops stationed there at the time, redeployed to Qatar on the boarder of the Persian Gulf and Saudi Arabia, leaving around 500 in Saudi - primarily at Eskan Village. Today Eskan houses nearly 2000 military.
Click Image To Enlarge. Today Eskan Houses Nearly 2000 Military.
Life in the military is never easy, but every deployed location has its own unique set of advantages and disadvantages. The temperature at Eskan can pose a problem for those unaccustomed as it often reaches 120 degrees. This, however, can be easily overcome in the air-conditioned environment of the villa - not your average military residence.
Click Image To Enlarge. Not Your Average Military Residence.
The villas, in which the majority of military personnel live, are, on average, comprised of five bedrooms, three baths, a living room and kitchen. One of these bedrooms has its own television set and bathroom. The villas also contain a washing machine, gas-fire stove and television in the living area.
Comparatively "luxurious" accommodation aside, Eskan Village is militarily significant in that it serves as the headquarters for the Army Forces Central Command - Saudi Arabia (ARCENT-Saudi Arabia).
This body exercises administrative control of all the Army Forces operating in Saudi Arabia as well as conducting coordination with the host nation for U.S. patriot missile assents and security forces deployed to Saudi. Further, ARCENT-Saudi Arabia plans and executes reception, staging, onward movement and integration of these deploying forces.
Click Image To Enlarge. On Patrol.
Over the years, since the U.S. military occupation, Eskan has become remarkably westernized with all the facilities one would expect to see comprising their average American town. Medical and dental clinics, the Mirage Dining Facility, the Pub, Chinese and Pizza restaurants, volleyball and basketball courts and a miniature golf course and swimming pool can all be found at Eskan.
Click Image To Enlarge. The Swimming Pool.
Occasionally, troops are entertained by traveling performers. In November, 1990, Bob Hope entertained troops after being introduced by General Schwarzkopf. This performance was to be screened on national television around Christmas of that year, giving Eskan a taste of fame.
Click Image To Enlarge. Bop Hope At Eskan.
Of course, Eskan also has the aforementioned gym complex that is put to good use, especially at the end of Jonathan's workday when he is ready to pound the iron.
Jonathan's Current Programs:
Jonathan began his bodybuilding quest on August 8 2005, and in his words, has become stronger, larger and more cut up on the program he adopted. Chest is trained twice a week as Jonathan is trying to target this muscle group for greater development to bring it in line with his already massive shoulders and arms.
Other muscle groups are trained once a week. Jonathan typically keeps his reps in the 10-12 range so he can emphasize heavy weights to build muscle mass in the shortest possible time.
Jonathan's exact training split is chest with forearms on day one back and shoulders on day two, biceps and triceps on day three and legs and chest (with a different chest workout) on day four. His exact exercise schedule, with commentary from the man himself, follows:
Concentration curls (with a cable kneeling, regular, or with a straight bar attached to a cable): four sets of 10-12.
"I can do straight bar curls standing or seated. I like the seated because I can feel the pump quicker. I also do the 45-degree incline bench curls where I move the incline at different angles, or leave it at 45 degrees. Also there are standing or seated alternate dumbbell curls. I do kneeling cable concentration curls and I alternate with regular ones. I can also do them standing at eye level with a straight bar on the cable."
"Sometimes I even use two dumbbells and do the skull crushers that way. I then alternate with a dumbbell and do concentration extensions. At the end of my triceps sessions I will do some dips either on a dip bar or use the two bench method with added weights. I also try to mix up the rotation every workout cycle to shock my muscles."
A lighter chest workout is done at the end of this leg routine. Jonathan picks a few exercises and does half the volume of Day One's chest workout.
One unorthodox aspect of Jonathan's training is the push-up sessions he does in the late evening, four-nights-a-week. These are done either regular or elevated, in a wide, close, or diamond stance. Rather than through necessity, Jonathan does these because he enjoys the challenge and the extra workload.
Click Play To Start The Video.
Pushups Exercise Data
Main Muscle Worked: Chest
Other Muscles Worked: Triceps, Shoulders
Mechanics Type: Compound
Jonathan's aerobic program could be defined as sporadic as he does not have a structured cardio plan. In addition to various sporting activities (softball and basketball mainly), Jonathan likes to swim every second week and use the cross trainer when he feels the need.
"I swim about 6-8 laps and I'm there for about 45 minutes to an hour. I also do the cross-trainer for about 20 minutes." However, Jonathan would like to increase his cardio to facilitate greater fat loss. He had decided to increase cardio to four times a week beginning on January 1.
Although Jonathan has made pretty good progress on his current program, he is, as are most bodybuilders, not entirely satisfied with what he has accomplished. Therefore, in consultation with myself he has made some changes (specified below), which should see him lose excess body fat and gain more muscle.
Jonathan's Current Programs:
One supplement Jonathan has had success with is creatine, as he credits it with giving him more power during his workouts. Jonathan gives his current supplement regimen below.
At 5-foot-11 and 235 pounds with a comparatively low body fat percentage (although lowering it further is still a major goal); Jonathan takes a lot of feeding. His exhaustive training regimen coupled with long work hours means regular nutrient dense meals are a necessity.
Jonathan's nutritional strategy dictates three larger meals daily, in addition to several smaller snacks, as well as up to five bottles of water.
Diet is one area Jonathan would like to focus on more consistently. "Sometimes I do slack with diet but I try my hardest to stick to it. I try to eat mostly chicken, turkey, tuna or things of that nature. It's hard but it's slowly working."
However, he says, "the food is getting old and I'm getting tired of it." Jonathan feels getting the exact food he needs at the right times presents his biggest obstacle in terms of gaining mass. Therefore, this is something that will be worked on over the next three months.
Physical Status & Future Goals
Physically, Jonathan is fit and active at 5-foot-11, 235 pounds. Jonathan considers his shoulders and biceps to be his strongest muscle groups, with chest and back being the weakest.
Compared to the average male of his age (31), Jonathan appears to be heavily muscled and in great shape. However, he is not 100 percent satisfied with what he has achieved and, with myself as a guide, will undergo a transformation over the next three months.
Major Goals To Be Achieved Over Three Months Include:
Body fat reduction (4-5 percent reduction overall).
Overall muscle gain with attention to weaker chest and back areas.
Increase bench press to 400 pounds (from 315 currently).
Increase squatting weight from 225 pounds (current) to 350 pounds.
The following changes are designed to get Jonathan into his best possible shape and establish training and dietary habits that will enable him to make further gains over a longer period.
Program Changes & Expected Outcomes: Bodybuilding.
Jonathan's existing program is good in that it features all the right exercises to develop muscle mass throughout the body. The main problem lies in the way this program, as a whole, is structured.
Although Jonathan trains exceptionally hard and uses all the right exercises, he does appear to prioritize certain muscle groups ahead of others, which could be the reason he is not getting kind of balance he desires throughout his physique. For example, chest is trained twice a week with many more exercises, sets and reps than other groupings.
Add to this the fact that Jonathan does push-ups four nights a week, in addition to the four sets of five exercises he does twice a week for chest, it is easy to see he is probably overtraining his chest and shoulders. In addition the largest muscle group of all (legs) only gets three exercises, once a week.
Sessions in Jonathan's program are stretched out over four days, yet muscle groups (not withstanding the chest) are only trained once a week. It is recommended Jonathan do the following:
Day One: Chest, Shoulders & Triceps.
Rather than training these groupings on separate days, they will be combined to facilitate the greatest growth as these areas are more closely interrelated.
This will allow for them to be trained twice a week to receive equal stimulation, which will enhance balanced growth. It will also allow for back (a weakness for Jonathan) to be trained with the smaller biceps.
Sets will be reduced to three, rep range will remain unchanged and exercise selection will be changed slightly to target all aspects of each muscle grouping. The routine - to be done on day one and five - follows.
Flat bench: three sets of 6-10 reps
Incline dumbbells: three sets of 10-12.
Decline press: four sets of 10-12.
Shoulder press with bar: three sets of 10-12.
Alternate dumbbell raises (to the front): three sets of 10-12.
Dumbbell side laterals: four sets of 10-12.
Shoulder shrugs (behind the back, with a bar or dumbbells) four sets of 10-12.
Decline EZ bar skull-crushers: three sets of 10-12.
The high rep workouts are intended to stimulate the body to burn more fat and build the oxidative fibers (as opposed to the fast-twitch fibers, which are stimulated through the heavier loads) for total muscle mass gain, while stimulating connective tissue growth, which will, over the long term, allow for greater loads to be lifted on lower reps days.
In addition to following the prescribed changes above, Jonathan will be omitting the push ups as they would interfere with the progress he is to make while following his new regimen.
Up until now, Jonathan has been sporadic with aerobic training. In January he is to increase cardio to four times a week. The recommendation is that Jonathan does cardio three times a week for 40 minutes. This level will be assessed weekly to see if it is sufficient to help him shed body fat while maintaining muscle mass.
I think 40 minutes three times a week is a good starting point. With his present workload, four times a week might prove to be excessive. The routine follows:
40 minutes cross trainer or bike (preferably bike) at night in place of the usual press up workout (about two hours after weights workout and post workout nutrition). Eat again after cardio.
40 minutes swimming (not continuously but with small rests in between laps). With swimming the idea will be to build up to continuous laps over time.
40 minutes on cross trainer or bike (in evening, in place of regular push-up session).
Program Changes & Expected Outcomes: Diet & Supplementation.
In terms of diet, the key factor for Jonathan will be consistency. If he eats the same wholesome foods he has access to on a regular basis, he is sure to make the kind of progress he is capable of. Key changes will be:
1. Meal Increase:
Increase meals to four per day with three smaller snacks in between. An example of what Jonathan would eat on a daily basis follows*:
One multivitamin/multimineral to be taken once a day. Other than this, Jonathan's current supplement regimen is to stay the same until further notice (his supplement plan is under review and some changes will be made here over the next two weeks).
Training at his military base in Eskan Village, Saudi Arabia, presents many challenges for Jonathan (the heat, and access to all the food he needs at the right times), not the least being the factoring in of time to do his bodybuilding workouts. He has however accomplished a lot considering these challenges and the excessive training workload he undergone up until this point.
With the right program and diet, and a renewed focus to achieve his bodybuilding goals, Jonathan should make great progress. Future articles will provide reports on the progress Jonathan has made while delving more into his life as a soldier.
Click Image To Enlarge. SSgt Jonathan Walsh Posing After 6 Months Solid Training.
After looking at the accompanying photos of Jonathan and reviewing his progress to date, it is clear to me he has the potential to develop a formidable physique. Already large at 235 pounds of solid muscle, Jonathan just needs to bring up his weaker muscle groups while dropping body fat by 4-5 percent.
The key changes to his existing program - outlined in this article - should see him making phenomenal progress over the next few months. Look for updates on Bodybuilding.com.