Part 1: Frequency
Let’s get real! As Aviators, how often can we (or do we need to) workout? Is there a clash between theory and reality? Only Aviators can answer this question.
In general, the exercise guidelines set out by the American College of Sports Medicine gives you a place to start when figuring out how often to workout.
For Cardio: Depending on your goal, guidelines recommend moderate exercise five or more days a week or intense cardio three days a week, to improve your health. If you want to lose weight, you’ll want to work up to more frequent workouts, often up to six or more days a week.
For Strength Training: The recommended frequency here is 2-3 non-consecutive days a week (at least 1-2 days between sessions). Your frequency, however, will often depend on the workouts you’re doing, because you want to work your muscles at least 2 times a week. If you do a split routine, like upper body one day and lower body the next, your workouts will be more frequent than total body workouts.
That’s all very nicely written down by ACSM and helpful to the general population.
But Pilots & CCM are not the general population! Looking at our challenging roster, stressful physical & mental challenges, fatigue, and family commitments after flying, do we struggle to follow ACSM guidelines, or can we work out our own specific set of rules based on the reality of our fuselage environment??
So, do we exercise?!
Before embarking on a 10-12 hour flying shift? mhhhh…
After returning from a 10-12 hour flying shift? Not sure about that…
Using the rostered days off? That could be an option…but I am so so tired – I just want to play couch potatoe with a big pack of biscuits and a great glass of red wine! I deserve it!
In theory, it may seem easy from an outsider’s point of view, but not from the reality of our world of aviation.
Your frequency often depends on a variety of factors including the type of workout you’re doing, how hard you’re working, your fitness level, and your exercise goals. From a Pilot seating position perspective (mentally extremely and uniquely challenging), to the cabin crew role (physically very active and mentally exhausted by dealing with a variety of issues with the public) – both roles have one common factor: the artificial environment in which we operate.
My flying experience gives me some basic guidelines.
Before Flying: on an easy late shift, I would do a 20-minute cardio at low intensity, working up a sweat, without tiring you before your shift. I would also include a hyper-extension movement to strengthen my lower back (recommended daily for pilot’s lower back issues).
Before Flying: on a heavy long late shift, I stretch at home and do 3 or 4 sets of 1-minute plank.
After Flying: on early short shift, I would re-fuel once at home, and before heading out for a sea-swim/pool-swim, cycle, slow run (or use a 30-minute gym session, or fitness class I like).
After Flying: on early long shift, I would go home and sleep – knowing that for the previous 3-days I worked hard and managed to move, stretch and strengthen my body – and shift my focus onto basic and good nutrition for energy maintenance & management.
The ACSM guidelines may not suit everybody, while frequency is individual to your personal goals, mental mindset and realistic amount of available time between work & family commitments.
There is a huge difference between staying motivated to train on my first flying day and last one. Or between a 6-sector, 2-sector, or long-haul flight. There is also a difference between a business flight to London, and a holiday flight to Tenerife or Malaga to set my mental and emotional response to my motivation and perception at the end of my day.
Most important is that we gradually transform our way of thinking towards physical fitness – introducing a incremental changes in our uniquely challenging routine, and get tuned in with our own frequency!!