Quarantine on a Military Base Shouldn’t Prevent You from Staying Active

Air Force tech sergeant competes in Murph workout.
U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Ryann Abdon, 509th Healthcare Operations Squadron Medical Logistics flight chief, performs pull-ups during the Murph workout while wearing body armor at Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri, May 27, 2021. (Senior Airman Parker J. McCauley/U.S. Air Force)

When COVID-19 outbreaks occur on military installations, the residents often are required to quarantine for 10-14 days with minimal outdoor activities and no off-base privileges. From service academies to military training bases, these full restriction of movement (ROM) orders are commonplace.

Such orders lead to more virtual training or physical training in the confines of a dorm or barracks facility.

Here are some suggestions on how to cope:

Stay in Your Routine

We are creatures of habit. If you look at your weekly schedule, you will find that you mostly eat and drink the same foods. You relax, study, sleep and exercise at roughly the same time each day. Even though daily schedules may differ slightly, you will see a common routine. When any of these activities are thrown off schedule, that change is a natural stressor.

While it may be easier to sleep longer and do nothing, work hard to keep good habits alive, because all it takes is a week or two to build bad habits. Then you will have to break them when your schedule returns to normal.

Routine, Habits Are First Steps to Mental Toughness

Habits are critical to our well-being. All habits start off as inspiration and motivation. We build good habits -- and maybe drop a few bad habits -- during the exciting times when we’re setting new goals.

One day your motivation will be low, and you won’t feel like working toward the goal. This is when creating good habits while highly motivated improved your discipline and you go to work on that goal anyway. Getting to work even though you may not feel like it is the process of learning to become comfortable being uncomfortable.

You are finding the fuel when the tank is empty and climbing another notch higher on the mental-toughness ladder.

You cannot become mentally tough one day by watching a video, looking at a poster or meme, or by reading a book. You can become inspired and motivated in an instant, but it is what we do with that motivation initially that determines whether we grow from it.

Here is the journey that leads to growth.

Inspiration > Motivation > New habits > Build routine > Consistency > Discipline > Mental toughness > Personal goal achievement & growth

Besides, routines keep us sane. In fact, psychologist William James described a need for habits in the late 1800s: There is no more miserable human being than one in whom nothing is habitual but indecision.

An even better quote of his expresses the importance of your attitude in everything we do. He wrote, The greatest discovery of my generation is that a human being can alter his life by altering his attitudes. And the greatest weapon is our ability to choose one thought over another.”

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Making Routines the Priority

When faced with a change in our normal routine, we must work hard to make as many of the most important parts of our day as possible stick to our previous schedule. This means training and eating at the same time in the day. These two activities are critical, because you cannot skip these two without suffering major consequences, including low energy, weight gain, mood swings and low productivity.

Typically, the work and study schedules also stay the same in the virtual training platform so many of us have been using this year. You may find yourself with additional free time between meetings and classes. Use this time wisely and avoid building any new bad habits.

Try to move while in your confined space. Stretching is a perfect thing to do, even if you only have 10 minutes here and there spread throughout the day. See 10-minute stretch challenge.

Try some ideas to get moving when you have a few minutes, versus sitting down all day:

If you can get some equipment in your room, such as straps, bands, TRX or dumbbells, that is great. If those aren’t available, resort to the following options:

Biceps curls or rows: Use towels or sheets placed in the top of the door for TRX-like rows or biceps curls.

Pull-ups in the room: Use a towel on top of the door and do pull-ups on the actual door if the door is sturdy enough to hold your weight.

Floor space: You always can do push-ups, squats, lunges, step-ups, PT resets and stretching. Try the PT pyramid, super set, Max rep set, Sandbag Murph and other room workout ideas.

Rubber bands: Carry bands or straps in your backpack for a very helpful tool that will enable you to add more to your room workouts.

Backpack: Save water bottles from meals to hold water and place in your backpack for squats, lunges, overhead presses, overhead static holds, etc.

Cardio in a room: Running in place is not the easiest or most fun activity, but when you are trapped and cannot go outside, it can get the heart pumping. Other ideas include jumping rope, jumping jack variations, burpees, 8-count push-ups, squat thrusts and jumping lunges with lunge variations.

Downtime and sleep: Relaxation time may also be virtual, but if you can get away from the screen, open a window and get some fresh air and sunlight. If you can go outside, take full advantage even if you only go on a walk.

Now is the perfect time to work on your cardio if you have some time to run or ruck around the base. You will find the increase of oxygen will help you feel better, work off stress and help you stay in shape.

Light activity will help you sleep better, so it is critical to add either inside or outside activity to your day. Try not to take long naps during the day, since naps can disrupt your ability to fall asleep later. If you are playing catch-up on your sleep, a short 20- to 30-minute nap is helpful.

A Year into This 'New Normal'

We would like to think the changes to our lives over the past year will soon go away. If you have some extra time on your hands while we wait, now is the time to work on a few of those activities that you always wanted to do if you had more time in your day. If you get creative, you may find ways to address that old desire and start improving yourself.

Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Visit his Fitness eBook store if you’re looking to start a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle. Send your fitness questions to stew@stewsmith.com.

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