Losing Gains While Underway: Can I Prevent It?


If you deploy on ships and train hard while in port, often some of your endurance gains can be lost or significantly decreased after a few months. Especially if you are making great strides with swimming conditioning, technique, and water efficiency, a long boat ride is tough to maintain. Here is a question from a young Navy sailor who is seeking to prepare for a future in the Special Ops community of the Navy and prepares for the Navy Physical Screening Test (PST): 500yd swim, pushups, sit-ups, pullups, and 1.5 mile run.

Stew -- I 'll be going underway soon and I want to figure a good routine since I 'll be limited to calisthenics, some weights, rowing, and a treadmill.  I know I 'm going to lose some of my running and swimming endurance/skills as I was at about 20 miles running and 8,000m swimming a week. What do you suggest I do while on ship to stay in shape as best I can for cardio?

You have enough to stay in above average shape while on ship, now you just have to make time for it. Doing some form of cardio every day is the best way to stay in shape for running and swimming. Maybe warming up with the rower and running your distance on the treadmill to keep up with your mileage per week. Make your weights and calisthenics workouts tough with little to no rest in between, to keep your heart pumping. Doing tabata intervals and sprints with the rower is a great cardio option as well.

Some ideas:

Five Part Series on Calisthenics
Tabata Intervals with Circuits
Fast Interval Cardio / Resistance Mixed

How do you suggest I get back into my program after being on the boat for 2 months?

As with anything in athletics, you do not want to start over where you left off after several weeks of not performing certain exercises. I would recommend going at about 50 percent of where you were for total miles / meters for running and swimming, but you may find that, if that is easy, you can progress quicker than normal, ESPECIALLY if you trained hard on the treadmill and rower while deployed. The good news with swimming is that your technique will be unchanged, so now you just need to work on your conditioning. Do what you can. Rest when needed in between 100-200m swim sets.

Some ideas for Progressions on the Ship

First, keep doing the program you are currently on, just replace the swimming with rowing. This way, you can progress through the workout plan and then, when in port, just have to make up the swimming conditioning.

Another option is to take a break from impact cardio and work on strength training. There is nothing wrong with taking a 6-week cycle of lifting for strength and power to build to a foundation of strength. You still need to be adding some cardio at the end of the workout so you do not lose it all. However, a strength focus is a healthy option, especially if your future involves log PT, boat carries, rucking, and other load bearing exercises. Once you are back in port, you can get back on the program as mentioned in your first question above.

Good luck with your training and thanks for serving!

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Stew Smith works as a presenter and editorial board member with the Tactical Strength and Conditioning program of the National Strength and Conditioning Association and is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS). He has also written hundreds of articles on Military.com's Fitness Center that focus on a variety of fitness, nutritional, and tactical issues military members face throughout their career.

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