Fighting on the Front Line: 6 Lessons War Taught Me About Fitness, Habits, And Discipline

November 15, 2017 | 14 Comments

The following was written by Jonny Collins, a British Army veteran. Jonny’s time in the military has taught him 6 valuable lessons that form the foundation of his life to crush it, not only fitness, but every other aspect of his life. He outlines them below.

british military fitness

My body has been pushed past its limits.

I only had the energy to put one foot in front of the other, keep my weapon on my shoulder, and lift my feet to avoid stepping on pressure plates.

My team and I were in the green zone of the Helmand province (an area in Afghanistan where all the Taliban strongholds are).

Our TCP (temporary checkpoint – usually an old mud wall compound) was set up on the high ground, to look across the Taliban’s playing fields – huge flat plains of greenery and dirt, a perfect place to hide the placement of an I.E.D. (improvised explosive device).

We were on our way back after an unsuccessful op.

Our goal was to find a group of local insurgents and engage them.

On our way back, all I can remember was the intense agony my body was in.

I knew I wasn’t going to stop moving, but I couldn’t imagine taking another step.

Then it happened…

The sound of a bullet hissing past me was as familiar as my morning alarm.

I hit the ground.

We were just 1k from our TCP when we came under enemy fire.

Leaves around me split, torn apart by bullets.

It was at that moment my entire body sprung back to life.

No more fatigue. No more low energy. No more tired feet.

Taking cover and fighting for my life completely transformed me.

Not just in the heat of battle, but in life as well.

Humans are masters at adapting to external stress and pressure.

I have learned a lot from my time on the front line, but these 6 lessons changed my body, mindset and life.

And if you implement the lessons below, they will change yours too.

  1. Your body always quits before your mind
  2. Discipline is everything
  3. You don’t need as much as you think
  4. Live how you were designed to live and your body will thank you
  5. Everything is sweeter when it is earned.
  6. Life needs to be simple

army fitness

1. Your body always quits before your mind

Have you ever dropped the weight before your last rep, completely convinced you couldn’t do one more?

This isn’t your mind telling you you’re lazy.

This is just your brain telling you to keep something in the reserve tank, in case of an emergency.

As an ex 22 Special Air Service RSM (highest rank of a soldier) once told me:

“Your body is just an empty carcass, it will do what you tell it to do. Don’t let your mind put limits on it.”

In Afghanistan, there were times I didn’t know how my body was going to move, but it never failed.

I needed to move, so I did.

Failure to do so meant death.

This was when I realized what my body was truly capable of.

Break past this mental barrier, the part of your mind that is telling you you’re done, and there’s nothing you can’t do.

2. Discipline is everything

You can be the smartest, most skilled person in the world, but without discipline, none of that matters.

I define discipline as performing an action without emotion,

It means doing something without being affected by your energy levels, mood or mental state.

On the battlefield, you must watch your surroundings no matter how much the sun stings your eyes. You must keep a look out for ground signs (evidence that an I.E.D. has been buried nearby) no matter how much you want to go home and see your family.

A shit bloke from my unit was posted with another unit and was caught playing video games while on stag (i.e. guard duty).

And in Afghanistan, this is not something you screw around with.

He was sent home and sent to Colchester prison (the British Army Military Prison).

A few weeks later, a Taliban insurgent tried to sneak into another TCP.

The insurgent engaged the guardsman on stag. Unfortunately the soldier died from his wounds, but it was his discipline that kept the men inside alive.

3. You don’t need as much as you think

Before going out on an op, I would spend hours deciding what to bring with me.

On one mission, I knew the chinook (military helicopter) was picking us up, and dropping us 5k from the TCP.

I had to pack light since we would still be on foot for 5k where anything could happen.

If we came under enemy fire or set off an I.E.D, we had to move fast.

When packing, I asked myself a simple question, “Is this going to help keep me or the blokes alive?”

If the answer was yes it would go in one pile. If the answer was no it would go into another pile.

After doing this with every single item, I would have a small pile of essential life saving stuff – rifle cleaning kit, ammo, essential medkit, water, and rations.

I would then pack in whatever else I could while still maintaining order. Did I need a sleeping bag? It was pretty warm that month, so no.

Did I need this towel? Well… maybe, but I’ll cut it in half just to save a bit of room.

When you’re carrying your kit, you appreciate every gram you take off your back.

I hate clutter.

Everything in my life must have purpose.

People have a hard time letting go, thinking they must keep this or that “just in case.”

But cleaning out your stuff and realizing what little you need to be happy is refreshing.

4. Live how you were designed to live and your body will thank you

I remember coming home in October and looking in the mirror.

The same mirror I looked in every morning before I went away.

I had never seen my body so lean yet muscular.

I always had abs, but nothing like this.

Being in the military put my body in perfect hormonal balance.

My testosterone levels were through the roof due to a steady stream of dangerous and violent encounters.

I would constantly walk around with weight on my back doing short bursts of intense activity, combined with long drawn out stints of low intensity movement.

Call these “desert intervals.”

Humans were designed to endure extreme physical endurance.

We were made to walk hundreds of miles every week, hunt our own food and fight neighboring tribes to protect our loves ones.

It is no wonder, that when you live like this, your body and mind find balance.

5. Everything is sweeter when it is earned

3 men and I sat with our backs against a compound wall.

We were talking about what we missed the most about home.

When I used to go home on leave, I would sleep at my dad’s house on a little blue sofa.

When I was home, that little blue sofa didn’t seem like much.

But when I was away it seemed like paradise.

In Afghanistan, all I thought about was sitting back on the sofa and watching tv.

All the men in my unit would talk about partying, women, and holidays.

But all I was thinking about was that little blue sofa, spending one day doing absolutely nothing.

There is no true value in relaxing when you haven’t put the work in.

Someone who spends every day in front of the tv hasn’t earned the rest they are getting.

That is laziness and those people will never be happy.

But when you push past your limits, fight through the pain and show true discipline…

That’s when sitting down to relax feels 10x sweeter.

You know you earned it, and you’ll lay down on your couch with a big smile on your face.

6. Life needs to be simple

In today’s western world, distractions are everywhere.

People have lost their ability to focus on a single task without checking their phones every 5 minutes.

We put all this pressure on ourselves to make the most money, have the nicest body, and impress everyone we meet.

But in the end, we end up biting off more than we can chew.

People do best on a simple routine, and that’s what the military gave me.

Every day I would:

  • Sleep
  • Fight
  • Regroup
  • Eat

Rinse and repeat.

Of course nothing was perfect.

We had an old saying in the military, “No plan survives a contact.”

Which basically means, you can have a perfect plan but once bullets start flying, everything goes to shit.

Things change.

Life throws curveballs at us.

You don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow, one week from now, or one year from now.

All you can do is focus on the present and adapt to whatever life throws at you.

And when you simplify your life and cut out all the meaningless shit, you develop an amazing sense of clarity and purpose.

These 6 lessons will change your life

Serving in the military has changed me forever and these 6 lessons form the foundation of my life.

I’m 10x more productive.

My training and nutrition has improved.

And I realize I don’t need nearly as much “stuff” to be happy and fulfilled.

Decide what you want in fitness and life, and make a simple plan to get there.

Stay disciplined in your pursuit.

And enjoy your rest (but only when it’s earned).


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14 Comments - Leave Your Thoughts

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  1. Thank you for what you do and thank you for sharing your experiences with us. Because of you I sleep easy. God Bless you and keep you close to Him.

  2. Number 5 reflects personal experience and preferences, but it’s like saying working in construction and busting your body for a low pay is better than being a tycoon. If it takes the author to be knee deep in shit and life threatening situations to realize the value of happiness it’s a very biased perception of happiness. I would say it’s sweeter if I get it with minimal effort, that’s the real definition of sweet. Not denying the value of hardworking but who cares or wants to be a construction worker instead of a tycoon.

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