Clay on Staying Fit and Sane During Quarantine

The sane part is highly subjective

With quarantine, either self-imposed or mandatory, looming for many of us it’s time to finish preparing. I hope by this point you have a stash of food and medicine, and if you’re on our site, guns and bullets are a given. But what else do you need? How about a way to keep your body strong.

Other episodes in this series:

Let’s use what you have already.

Fitness is going to have many benefits in the very near future, enough that you should prepare for it no matter your present circumstances. A fit body and cardiovascular system will help you fight off the disease, should you be unlucky enough to catch it. Strong people are harder to kill, that is just a fact of life.

Exercise is also an excellent stress reducer, and you are going to have plenty of stress stuck at home while the markets crash and burn. It will also take up some of the time in your day, and believe me, boredom is going to settle in. Unless you are lucky enough to be riding this out on your thousand=acre farm, the walls might very well feel like they are closing in.

Functional strength is key.

I’m not exactly a Calvin Klein model, nor am I saying any of you need to become one. But I do know some things about staying fit with the most basic of tools from my time aboard ships as well as remote firebases. We call the improvised systems “prison gyms,” after the crafty methods prisoners often use to stay yoked with minimal equipment.

SEE ALSO: Clay on Survival Foods for COVID-19 Crisis (How to Avoid Eating Your Pets)

Something else you might want to take from that statement. When you are in an animal world, getting strong takes on a whole new impetus. And from my view, you want to emerge from the coming hibernation ready to fight. We don’t know what that world will be, but its safe to say rainbows and sunshine are unlikely.

Right now, the mail is still running, so I am including a few factory-made things that are nice to have. But in case you have devoted all of your funds to more important stuff like food, I am also including the improvised solution. Some of these are nice to have, not must-have. In a pinch, body weight and will are still enough.

Overhead swings, one of the Bulgarian Bag’s many uses

Bulgarian Bag — This is one of my absolute favorite pieces of gear, because it does it all. Invented by Bulgarian Olympic wrestler Ivan Ivanov, this bad johnson builds extreme functional strength, cardio, and power all at once. For a bonus round, get the training DVD to go with it. I started using this a few years ago, and it absolutely works better than you would believe. Many of the movements used with the Bulgarian Bag are dynamic, so don’t go too heavy. A relatively strong man, new to the system, is going to max out at around a 33-pound bag. Don’t go heavy thinking this is like iron weights. Trust me, even a 13 pounder will absolutely devastate you trying to keep up with Ivan. For shared use, 13 is great. If you are decently strong, I recommend the 26 pounder.

Improvised version — A duffle bag from Wal-Mart, or a pant leg full of rocks. Even a cheap duffle bag is a surprisingly durable alternative, I used one for quite a while with sand in it. A cut off pant leg, tied on both ends, is also a short term workaround.

Kettlebells have dozens of unique movements.

Kettlebell — Just having one kettlebell can go a long way, and the internet is chock full of trainers showing you exercises with them. I recommend somewhere between 20 and 30 pounds if you are new to this.

Alternative — Classic dumbbell. These are much easier to source locally and tend to be cheaper. Also, the Bulgarian Bag will do most of what a kettlebell does.

Ab Roller — I was first introduced to this torture device at a jujitsu class 20 years ago. Keep in mind, I was also 18 and had been training for boot camp for over a year. And the ab roller still crushed me. My midsection was so sore the next day it was scary. This is a great device to supplement sit-ups and the like, highly recommend. The cheap ones are just fine, available at Amazon, or any local box store.

Improvised Alternative — You can build your own with a lawnmower wheel and a section of broomstick.

Added bonus, it fits an AR pistol with stock fully extended, 10.5-inch barrel.

Ruck PT — The heart of the system! Now, this is the one you can’t live without. And you likely already have it, you just need to use it. A soldier is never without a ruck (backpack to you landlubbers) and because of that, we all have learned to stay strong with nothing else around.

The real key here is to have a high-quality bag so that it will take what you dish out. This has an added benefit of also conditioning you to your specific ruck. Like a gun, everyone is a little different. Training in the one you might also be using to exfil your location immunizes you to hot spots and chafing, so this is the best way to roll.

I currently use an Eberlestock Big Trick. Veteran owned, these packs are tough as nails. I used an Eberlestock pack extensively in the Army, I can attest to the hard use capability. The Big Trick has an added bonus of looking innocuous in black (other colors are available), while still holding a 10.5-inch AR. Even with the stock fully extended. At 1,900 cubic inches, the Big Trick also doubles and an excellent bug out bag.

(Author’s note — I’m using a Nerf ruck in all of these pictures, as I am still on the injured reserve.)

Drag handles are great for tactical reasons, and for curls.

You can use anything laying around the house to add or subtract weight from your ruck, including the canned goods you probably bought recently. If you do opt for the canned goods, I strongly suggest you pad each layer. Fitness is important, but you don’t want to bang up the precious food supply either. Water bottles are preferred, as they are harder to damage. The movement of the water in the containers also helps train accessory muscles.

Exercises are simple. For starters, simply wearing the ruck and walking some circles in your house will help keep your legs and back strong. This is going to be extremely boring, so I recommend you do it while listening to a podcast or the news. Going the distance of a favorite album will also give you an achievable metric of success. Start light, around 15 to 20 pounds if you are new to this. Build up your time from 20 minutes to 2 hours over the first month.

Curls and Overhead Presses — Due to the fact that a ruck will never be perfectly balanced, you want to go light on all of this. But, it will get the job done.

Simple, but effective.

Squats — We often add these in at set intervals during ruck marches. It is a good way to simulate elevation changes if you only have flat terrain.

Your gun can come with you for further conditioning.

Walking lunges — For the same reason as squats, but a slightly different muscle group.

Excellent upper body strength builder.

Pushups — This is a great way to add some spark to your pushups. Make sure you have the waist strap to keep the ruck from shifting.

Make sure you have a good waistbelt, if possible.

I will be back with some more prison gym updates over the coming weeks, but this will get you going. Strong body, strong mind. We don’t know what is coming next, but it is safe to say hardening up is never going to be a detriment.

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About the author: Clay Martin is a former Marine and Green Beret, retiring out of 3rd Special Forces Group. He is a multi-decade and -service sniper, as well as 3-Gun competitor and Master ranked shooter in USPSA Production. In addition to writing about guns, he is the author of “Last Son of The War God,” a novel about shooting people that deserve it. You can also follow him on twitter, @offthe_res or his website,

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  • rob March 21, 2020, 4:59 pm

    Good to see you dropped lbs and back in shape brother. Know your wife/kids appreciate it too. They want/need you around for the long haul. Sometimes it takes a kick in the nutz to get us going again…

  • paul March 20, 2020, 11:32 am

    Miss your reviews. Had to settle for this. I know the other guys they use are cheaper but you sir are the class of Gun America. Loved your book. Look forward to the big shots realizing you are the cream in the coffee when it comes to gun reviews. I want you to know I have reduce my fee to 5%.

  • WiscoGunner March 20, 2020, 10:50 am


    Great Job!

    When I first started watching your reviews, I thought: “Wow, for a former special forces guy, he looks really out of shape! (I get it…once you are out of the teams, who says you can’t enjoy a few extra pizza’s). Thanks for your service!

    What I want to say is: Great job on getting yourself back in shape again. You look very fit and that is inspiring me to hit the weights and cardio again and try to get my old body tuned up. It takes a lot of discipline to do it. I salute you. (Just don’t live on Chefboyardee too much unless you have too!)

  • triggerpull March 20, 2020, 9:17 am

    Nice article, thanks for that. Arm presses on the reloading press handle are good exercise too for high repetitions.

  • Roy March 20, 2020, 9:13 am

    Good to see him working out. Noticed he was putting some on while watching reviews. Love the strait forward commentary

  • Np March 20, 2020, 9:07 am

    Another good one is a doorway pull up bar- $20 from Walmart. Make sure to do them from a dead hang. These are hard and will get a guy strong fast if committed

  • Rich March 20, 2020, 6:42 am

    Good to see you up and about. It’s been a good work out week for me here and am heading out for a run now!

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