EDITOR'S NOTE: Getting a workout doesn't necessarily mean you need to hit the gym or the basement treadmill. There are plenty of ways to exercise without performing push-ups or hoisting free weights. While I realize running around in the woods and shooting plastic pellets at an opponent may not sound like your style of fitness, it is one alternate way to shape up... for men and women. Check out today's guest blog from Army veteran John Durfee.
I was looking through some old photos of myself from years ago. I was in my early 20's somewhere in the Iraqi desert. I was posing with my m4a1 rifle, just wearing standard fatigue pants and a green t-shirt.
It was startling how much has changed!
I remember long days patrolling and then doing weights with my buddies to pass the time. The MRE's while sustaining, weren't fine cuisine, so we didn't eat much then either.
I had broad shoulders, the sleeves on my t-shirt were tight, and you could see the ropy muscles in my forearms. I was in top shape.
Now that I've been a few years back from duty, I've settled into the civilian life. I'm working in an office and I don't get nearly as much exercise as I used to.
A lot of that lean muscle and cardio fitness has gone away, replaced by a bit of "office fat" accumulating in my midsection and legs.
A while back I realized that I can do something I love to help push back the fat and bring me back into fighting form.
I keep active with a military simulation and recreational sport called Airsoft.
We use replica Airsoft guns that fire tiny plastic pellets called Airsoft BBs. It would be an understatement to say I'm an enthusiast; I have been playing for the past 10 years.
I recently went on an extended weekend event for the first time in many months. These are run over the course of a day, and attempt to recreate real-life military scenarios. There are growing numbers of them around the country as many are switching over to Airsoft rather than Paintball.
I came back exhausted and exhilarated after a fun outing. I had been stressed by the week so I pushed myself pretty hard to let off some steam. Afterwards I noticed it felt very similar to a long day of patrolling back in Iraq.
My shoulders, calves and arms felt pumped, and my core felt a little sore. Curious, I ran some numbers.
I calculated by my weight and heart rate that I had burned 1,500 calories in the span of 6 hours!
I couldn't believe it! The best part: I was having a blast the whole time I was exercising.
These are my thoughts on the fat-burning benefits of playing Airsoft.
You get stress cardio training as you're sprinting from cover to cover with 30-40 pounds of gear on your tactical vest. Think of all the different sports it combines.
Strength training as you leap over barricades and scale walls. At points you'll be doing Yoga from all the uncommon positions one holds when ducking and aiming around cover to shoot. Depending on your weapon, if it's a rifle or heavy airsoft SAW machine gun, you can get a great shoulder and arms workout from raising and carrying it all day. Think of the day playing airsoft as a marathon aerobics class with some high-rep low intensity weights.
Hydration is Key
About 60% of Americans are severely dehydrated and they don't even know it. All the running in Airsoft works up as much thirst as a half-marathon. I carry a 3-liter water bladder for when I'm on the field, and an extra gallon in my car for refilling. Staying hydrated is key, as you'll actually metabolize fat much better when properly hydrated. You'll also feel less hungry when you're hydrated, as many mistake thirst for hunger.
Fight or Flight
Firefights during Airsoft can mimic the intensity of a real firefight. Even though you know it's safe, your body and instincts can't help but get you into the "fight or flight" response. Adrenaline is coursing through you as your mind races to make split-second decisions. Your feel anxiety as you turn blind corners. This adrenaline and combat rush increases your heart rate and blood pressure, helping you burn calories faster than regular exercise.
Just like doing weights when I was deployed, playing Airsoft for me is a huge stress reliever. I found myself calmer, happier and more level-headed throughout the week. Because of this, I wasn't reaching for food or other stimulants as a coping mechanism. That meant less junk food, candy or coffee.
Cheaper than 'Six Flags' & a Bigger Rush
So what's the out-of-pocket cost to try this out? All the safety gear you'll need is proper eye/face protection. And all the gear can be rented on the field.
Rental of a gun and mask and BB's for the day can come in at a package price of $25-$35. It's generally a lot cheaper than paintball because the BB's run cheaper than paintballs. Since the guns are battery powered, you don't need to purchase C02. Every field I've gone on will switch out the battery of a rental for a fresh one for free. If you really get into Airsoft, then you can start buying gear like vests, pouches and boots.
Airsoft vs. Paintball
Overall, getting shot hurts less than paintball without leaving the same kind of marks. It's more an acute sting, like someone pinching you, rather than being whacked by a projectile that leaves a painful welt and bruise.
The array of weapons you can use is enormous, ranging from pistols, to assault rifles, to even heavy machine guns! And all of these weapons are modeled after their real-life counterparts! You reload just like you would with a real gun. You do not have to pour paintballs into a kidney-shaped bladder.
I think it's much more fun to aim down the site or scope of an Airsoft gun, than having to deal with the "hopper post" on the top of a paintball gun. That just gets in the way of taking aim no matter how you try.
Your Own Personal Drill Sergeant
Want to simulate Military training as much as possible? Try the MARSOC Short Card. It's a condensed exercise routine meant to maintain Marines in top shape. The best part is convenience; you can finish it in 30 minutes.
Perform the MARSOC Short Card before heading out for the day to get your metabolism ramped up and burn even more calories. You can Google "MARSOC Short Card" and the link will send you to a PDF you can download. This series of exercises provides intense calisthenics interval training that will leave you pumped.
Not sure where to find a playing field? Airsplat has a comprehensive listing of US Airsoft fields, which makes it simple to plan your next intense physical outing. I try to go at least two times a month. It gives me something to look forward to, and definitely breaks up the monotony of focused workouts on the track or at the gym.