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New Year's fitness plans already flat? Get tips from 5 bodybuilders in uniform

January 13, 2017 (Photo Credit: Courtesy photos)
The new year was supposed to be when you kicked your body into another gear. 

Don’t just pass the fitness test, ace it. Don’t just build core strength, get that six-pack. Don’t skip leg day, just … you get the idea. And then came mid-January, old habits kicked in, and the fitness push can wait until spring. Maybe summer. Or 2018. 

Don’t settle – instead, get some advice from five service members who’ve piled up trophies (and some cash) on various bodybuilding circuits.

First, a bit about the contributors, who pose in competitions run by various bodybuilding and physique-modeling promotions. Each one answered questions via email for Military Times, offering some New Year’s fitness knowledge:

  • Chief Warrant Office 3 Truman Ward (Instagram) joined the Army National Guard in 1993 and shifted to active duty the next year. An instructor at Fort Lee, Virginia, Ward won the sports model division at the 2016 Natural Olympia event in Las Vegas – his third straight title in that competition. He’s gunning for a fourth this year.
  • Army Sgt. 1st Class Dante Jones (Instagram), a member of the Fort Bragg, North Carolina-based 98th Civil Affairs Battalion, began his bodybuilding career in 2015. Top performances include earning his pro card in the men's open class physique division at the International Federation of Bodybuilding and Fitness North American Championships in August. He has deployed to Iraq and South America, and is pursuing a degree in gerontology as well as a personal training certification.
  • Air Force Reserve Tech. Sgt. Jessica Keller (Twitter and Instagram) served on active duty for about 13 years – making Iraq and Afghanistan deployments as a security forces airman and also serving as military working dog trainer –before recently switching components. Part of her path into fitness competition came from her desire to “pull her own weight” in male-dominated fields, she said; she won a show at Luke Air Force Base, Arizona, to kick-start her career and is active at the national level on the National Physique Committee circuit.
  • Army Staff Sgt. Chareece Johnson (Instagram) enlisted in 2006 and serves as a chemical specialist at Fort Bragg. She took top honors in her division at an NPC national bodybuilding championship event last year, one of two contest wins in 2016. She’s prepping for her first professional event in Charlotte in April.     
  • Air Force Staff Sgt. Robert Timms (Twitter and Instagram) enlisted in 2006 and serves as an aircraft armament systems technician at Luke Air Force Base. An all-around athlete who fought a successful battle with cancer in 2008-9, Timms packed on 65 pounds of muscle during a 2011 Afghanistan deployment and began competitive bodybuilding while stationed in South Korea in 2013. He’s since found a home in the new classic physique division, taking sixth in the IFBB Mr. Olympia last year. 

CW3 Truman Ward
Chief Warrant Officer 3 Truman Ward
Photo Credit: Courtesy photos

STAYING MOTIVATED

All five service members took different approaches to a similar point: When a resolution or a goal isn’t enough to keep you going, dig deeper. 

Ward draws motivation by picturing “some kid out there” working to knock him off the podium. Timms draws from his personal history, saying the best way to reach the finish line is to “remember where I started.” Jones embraces the process, “knowing there is victory in working toward my goals.” Keller suggests starting with smaller fitness goals and using the positive feedback from those achievements to build toward longer-term success.

One thing missing from all responses was an over-the-top, gung-ho approach – while every workout warrior is used to pushing through pain, Ward said it’s imperative to take stock of any injuries and resist the urge to make them worse.

“It does me no good to continue to work out an injured body part and then really cause serious damage which then causes me to be sidelines for months versus days,” he said.

Air Force Reserve Tech. Sgt. Jessica Keller
Air Force Reserve Tech. Sgt. Jessica Keller
Photo Credit: Courtesy photos

ABS: COOKING VS. CRUNCHES

It’s the advice most folks who spend their gym time on the ab machine know, but don’t want to hear.

“I am a firm believer that abs are made in the kitchen,” said Keller, who admits a bit of jealousy toward boyfriend Timms, who said he rarely focuses on his ab development … but keeps a strict diet.

Ward was a bit more blunt: “Honestly it doesn't really matter how many reps or exercises I do for my abs. If my diet is not zeroed in … I will simply have well-developed abs under a layer of belly flab, which actually sucks.”

Got the diet in place but still looking for some definition? Jones’ “Ab Killer” workout features 10-15 reps each of regular situps, three crunch variations (regular, legs straight and raised six inches, legs straight out with feet shoulder-width apart and raised six inches) and a variant on toe touches – while on your back, raise your legs straight up, put your hands on your chest, then “drive your hands from your chest in an attempt to touch your toes.” 

He’ll do all those in a row with no break, then pause about a minute and re-start the cycle for five to 10 “super sets.”

Johnson’s regimen is a bit less complicated, relying on longer sets (15-20 reps) of leg raises, weighted incline situps and pullovers. All the service members agreed the proper form in other exercises will have the added benefit of ab definition.


Army Sgt. 1st Class Dante Jones
Army Sgt. 1st Class Dante Jones
Photo Credit: Courtesy photos

GO-TO FUEL

Timms stressed the need for a personally tailored diet – one size won’t fit all body types, and especially not all fitness goals.

That said, he’s a fan of steak, specifically the eye of round cut for its desirable protein-to-fat ratio. Jones favors ribeye, but would rather go with ground turkey and rice. Johnson prefers flank steak, but swears by eggs and rice as muscle-builders and – in a nod to bicep-flexers of the cartoon variety – suggests spinach as “a high-protein vegetable … because it is easy to cook and digest.”

Keller’s a vegetarian, so she relies on egg whites and protein-packed meat-substitute products – Quorn’s meatless chicken is a favorite, she said. Ward goes for super-lean ground beef – 99 percent fat free – and recommends at least 40 grams of protein per meal for muscle-building.

(Like many in their field, some of our experts have a leg up on nutritional needs: Keller’s sponsored by Gaspari Nutrition, and Jones is sponsored by Total Nutrition of Fayetteville.)

Army Staff Sgt. Chareece Johnson
Army Staff Sgt. Chareece Johnson
Photo Credit: Courtesy photos

TARGET TRAINING


Asked about hard-to-develop areas, the experts split into two groups.

Ward, Timms and Johnson said they needed to work legs: The warrant officer suggests heavy-weight, high-rep (up to 35) deep squats, the airman uses hack squats (face away from the bar behind you on the floor with feet shoulder-width apart, bend at your knees, grab the bar and stand up) and the soldier works the adduction and leg-curl machines.

Jones and Keller hit shoulders, with the soldier preferring variants of overhead presses and cable work. One favorite, fittingly, is the Arnold press, named for and used by Arnold Schwarzenegger, whose status as bodybuilding legend formed the foundation of the actor-turned-governor-turned-TV host’s long career. Hold two dumbbells at shoulder height with elbows bent, palms facing in, then raise them over your head in a traditional press motion, rotating your arms to finish with palms facing out.

Air Force Staff Sgt. Robert Timms
Air Force Staff Sgt. Robert Timms
Photo Credit: Courtesy photos

STOP SHOWING OFF

What do fellow service members do wrong in the weight room? Johnson summed it up in two words: “Ego lifting.”

“I see is service members doing too much weight and sacrificing proper form,” she said, adding that the behavior “looks good and makes you feel good momentarily but can cause injuries and hinder good quality muscle gains.”

Ward pointed to a common cause of ego lifting: “Males will grab weight that is way too heavy for them, which causes them to use horrible form, all in hopes to impress the girl seated next them, who coincidentally was paying them no attention in the first place.”

That behavior can not only lead to injury, it can limit muscle growth in the long run, adding to motivational issues when long hours at the gym don’t offer the expected results. 

And while acting on expert advice – not suggestions from your lifting partner with slightly bigger biceps – may solve some fitness issues, Timms warned against subscribing to a “magic training plan that will get you to look like certain people.”

“The honest answer is that we are all different and what works for me will not work for everyone,” he said. “So grab as much knowledge as you can from the fitness world and mix and match until you find what works best.”
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