From small beginnings to avid fitness junkie, wellsite geologist, author and marathon runner, Amanda Barlow, lays out how she sustains personal health and wellness offshore with her ‘Top 10 Tips.’
1. Routine: Have One
The most important factor in staying motivated and sticking to an exercise plan is to have a routine. This shouldn’t just be while you’re at work but also when you are home. Your body, and more importantly your mind, craves routine! I find it’s easier to stick to a training routine at work because the day is already structured by the hours you work and when you take meal breaks so this part is taken care of for you, whether you like it or not. All you have to do is then fit some training time around those other activities.
2. Scheduling the Sweat
I’m a morning person so I’ve always preferred to do my training before my shift begins. As a marathon runner I like to do cardio sessions first thing in the morning, but I equally prioritize weight training into my fitness regime because it’s essential for maintaining muscle mass. Endurance running is very catabolic (meaning that it burns muscle rather than builds it) so, it’s very important to also do reasonably heavy resistance training for its anabolic effects. Maintaining muscle mass is essential as you age because the more muscle mass you have, the higher your resting metabolic rate will be (and lots of other benefits too numerous to mention in the scope of this article). Training first thing in the morning is also ideal for sticking to a routine because, generally, any disruptions to your day come after you have started work. In turn, this can derail your routine by the end of the day, if you wait until you knock off from work to train.
3. The Execution is all in the Preparation
Before you go to bed at night make sure you have your training gear ready to go and you know exactly what you plan to do when you hit the gym or the helideck when you get up the next morning. Having a plan to follow is one less thing you have to consciously think about which makes one less excuse to use to avoid doing it! This is why having a consistent training routine at home and at work helps build a solid foundation for your training plan, no matter where you are. When I’m at home and have all day to fit in my cardio and weight training sessions, I always do cardio first thing in the morning and generally do my weight training in the afternoon.
Ideally, it’s best to split the two up, especially if you plan to do both activities at a high intensity. With both methods of training utilizing completely different energy systems it can be disadvantageous to train both at the same time. While both training protocols will be compromised somewhat in the level of intensity at which you train when only able to train once a day, it’s unavoidable when you are at work, due to lack of time. As such, I am careful to plan what I do to minimize the effects of cardio on my weight training. As everybody is different and has different goals and reasons for training, it’s not practical for me to tell you to do exactly what I do. For starters, I don’t want to lose weight, in fact I can’t afford to lose weight, so that probably sets me apart from 90% of the population right there. Being middle-aged, my priority is building and maintaining muscle mass, with marathon running just a fun thing I like to do with my friends. So I will always prioritize weight training over running if I have to choose one or the other. But in saying that, I have created a very workable plan for myself where I can optimize both training systems so my muscle mass isn’t compromised and I can still train at a high-enough intensity on the treadmill to maintain a Boston Marathon qualifying time each year as well as doing high intensity weight training to maintain muscle mass. But how I do that is a topic all on its own for another article.
4. Execute with Anywhere-Exercises
One of the most critical factors in my training regime is that whether I’m training at home or on the rig, I perform exercises that I can do at both places. Most city gyms will have much more variety of equipment than what you will get in a rig gym so in order to maintain the ever-important routine, I try to do the same exercises at both. There’s no point using hi-tech fancy gym machines when you are training on your break but then can’t do the same exercises when you are on the rig. You instantly sabotage your routine by doing this.
5. Don’t be a Sucker and Put In the Effort
Don’t forget, you are most likely spending over 6 months a year at work so, your training on the rig (or any facility) is equally as important to the training you do while at home. It’s not like training while you’re on a couple of weeks vacation – it is for over half your working life. Therefore, take it more seriously than just a “fill-in,” half-assed training session every now and then, whenever you feel like doing it. When it comes to exercise equipment and training programs the basics always have been, and always will be, the best. Forget all the marketing hype about the latest trendy equipment or program – they only serve to fleece you of your hard-earned money or confuse you with too many options. I guarantee that the 2017 Mr. Olympia, Phil Heath, probably trained using nearly the exact same exercises Arnold Schwarzenegger used when he trained for his seven Olympia titles in the 1970’s.
6. Mind Games Matter to Muscles
If it’s a ripped six-pack you’re after (and who isn’t?!) then using “free weights” will trump machine exercises any day, due to the extra core activation required to stabilize the entire body while performing the exercises. Plan a routine based over 4 to 7 days. I split my weight training into different body parts each day and it takes me 5 days to complete the full body cycle. ALWAYS GO INTO THE GYM WITH A PLAN. However, NEVER label each day’s plan with a day of the week. Instead, label them Day 1, Day 2, etc., as opposed to Monday, Tuesday, etc. This is because there will always be days where you can’t train, like crew change day for example, and if you miss training on a day then it throws your whole plan out and messes with your head. Trust me, training is all about the psychology of taking charge of your body. Everything your body does is a result of convincing your mind you want to do it. You have to play mind games with yourself until you get to the stage where you genuinely love training because of how good it makes you feel. If you miss a day then just continue on from where you left off. This scheduled detailed workout plan means whether you are at home or at work you maintain the same routine. Training like a pro isn’t rocket science: Stick with the basics, do them well, and do them routinely!
Above photos are of author, Amanda Barlow, working out in a gym on an offshore drilling vessel.
7. The Skinny on Eating Well
When it comes to achieving and maintaining a healthy body weight it’s a no-brainer that you have to have a healthy diet. And by a healthy diet, I mean one that contains as little processed foods as possible. While there have been thousands of books written about what the ideal diet should be, there’s really only two things you need to delete from your food intake that will eliminate obesity without even the need to exercise excessively. And while it might seem that leaving out just two things in your diet should be easy to do, the bad news is that almost every processed food contains one, or both, of these ingredients. What are the two most addictive and destructive ingredients man has ever placed in their mouth? Processed sugar and flour. These two ingredients alone can change your life if you delete them from it. And I don’t mean just cut them out for a week or month, but forever! Forget they exist so you don’t agonize over craving them. Make a conscious effort to evaluate everything you eat and if it’s anything other than fresh food then you can bet it contains sugar or flour. But before you whine about how that leaves nothing else to eat, consider this: No “fresh” food contains sugar and flour. We are not referring to natural sugars like those found in fruit and milk but processed sugars made from sugar cane or sugar beets. Your range of food groups is barely even impacted when you consider that you can still eat meat, fish, chicken, fruit, vegetables, legumes, eggs, milk, cheese, natural yogurt, herbs and spices. The catch is that they have to be fresh foods.
8. Kill the High-Glycemic Gumbo. FOREVER.
Eating these high glycemic additives is a sure-fire way to destabilize your metabolism. They have become such a staple of modern diets that we now have second and third generations of humans whose digestive systems have been totally sabotaged by the effects these foods are having on their metabolisms. The body is no longer receiving the natural enzymes and nutrients it needs for normal insulin production and is instead receiving an instant energy source that bypasses all the natural energy pathways. Epigenetic modifications are being programmed into the DNA of not just our genes but those of our children and grandchildren. That’s how evolution works. That’s why obesity is not only an adult problem but also now a huge problem with children, and at an ever-increasing younger age with each consecutive generation. All I have space for in this limited article (don’t worry, I will be writing a book about it!) is to say that if you can’t cut out sugar and flour altogether then there is a sliding scale of how inter-related consuming these products is with the amount and intensity of exercise you have to do to compensate for eating them. The more you eat of them, the more exercise you have to do and higher intensity you have to train at to compensate your metabolism for them. There’s a direct correlation. It’s that easy. It’s not rocket science but common sense. Well, maybe not so easy when you’re stuck on a rig and can’t do your own shopping and cooking, but you can still limit the amount of these high-glycemic additives by selecting only fresh foods as much as possible. The more of a habit you make of it when you are at home, the easier it will be to follow when you are at work. Like weight training, it’s not rocket science…stick with the basics!
9. Counting Enough Sheep is Priority #1
Sleep is the most important factor in any training program and it’s always something I prioritize and work my daily schedule around. You have to consider all the tasks you have to do throughout your day and place them in order of priority – with sleep being top of the list. The hours you work have to then be the next priority and this is generally an absolute minimum of 12 ½ hours including pre-tour meetings. I like to allow 7 to 8 hours for “in bed” time. This leaves 3.5 to 4.5 hours either before or after work to eat, shower and train. I call it “in bed time” as opposed to sleeping time because many people have trouble sleeping offshore (or even at home for that matter!) so, being able to manage the exact number of hours you are actually sleeping is very difficult. The idea is that being in bed at least trying to sleep is the next best thing to actually being asleep. If you create a routine where you are going to bed at the same time every night then the sleep will come naturally. My golden rule about sleep is that if I go more than one night without at least 7 hours “in bed time” then I don’t train on the third day – I instead catch up on my sleep. Training at a moderate or high intensity is detrimental to your health on lack of sleep. Not getting adequate sleep between training sessions can greatly affect your immune system and can be counterproductive to not only your training but also your health. Like I have already mentioned, sleep is my number one priority for this reason.
10. Neat and Tidy Take-Away
To summarize, here are the most important things to remember when creating a workable routine while working offshore – and at home!
- Prioritize sleep at the top of your list.
- Always have a day-by-day training plan mapped out – and stick to it!
- Choose exercises that you can do both at home and while on the rig.
- If you miss a day for any reason just continue on from where you left off.
- Eat only fresh food as much as possible.
- ROUTINE-ROUTINE-ROUTINE. Create one and reap the rewards!
About the Author
Amanda Barlow is a wellsite geologist in the offshore oil and gas industry, an accredited personal trainer and MetaFit™ coach, a marathon runner, and a published author. Her passion is to help those working offshore to live a healthy lifestyle.
Her books include: Offshore Oil and Gas PEOPLE – Overview of Offshore Drilling Operations, An Inconvenient Life – My Unconventional Career as a Wellsite Geologist, Call of the Jungle: How a Camping-Hating City-Slicker Mum Survived an Ultra Endurance Race through the Amazon Jungle.
Feature Photo Credit: The Surprising (And Glorious) Health Benefits Of Sweating Like A Pig.
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