Every Saturday morning while most of Charlottesville, Va., is still asleep, 15 to 20 “zombies” emerge from the fog near a suburban elementary school. Bleary eyed with mussed hair and wearing rumpled sweats, they walk slowly, stiffly, raising right leg straight out to meet right foot to right hand, and then left foot to left hand and so on. The “zombies” could be mistaken for those in The Walking Dead.
But instead, they are Boy Scouts and their dads from Troop 111 chartered to Grace Community Church. They’re simply doing the Zombie Walk, a warm-up exercise in preparation for an hourlong fitness session designed and led by the Scouts themselves.
“We do it every Saturday, rain, shine or snow,” Scoutmaster Mike Nelson says. It’s a way for Scouts and their fathers to bond while instilling the idea that physical fitness is important for a healthy life.
The routine, which the troop has been doing for the past two years, builds muscle and endurance and prompts friendly competition.
Comrades in Fitness
Each session is performed round-robin style. The group forms a circle, and a Scout chooses the first exercise. After the first set, a Scout or dad to his left picks the next exercise and so on. As the workout progresses, the moves become more challenging as Scouts and dads try to one-up each other. Someone might call for a 50-yard bear crawl and the next guy follows up with even more punishment: “backward bear crawl this time!”
“There’s lots of joking around, but it’s all in good fun,” says Connor’s dad, Tom McGuiggan.
The camaraderie and competitive spirit make every workout unique and challenging. But what if you’re 40 minutes in and just can’t do another rep of burpees? No worries. Connor says anyone can take a breather any time without judgment: “We’re a team; we support each other.”
Troop 111 looks to the Navy SEALs for workout inspiration. SEALs perform their training on a concrete surface called the grinder, which led the troop to call its workout “The Grinder.” Like the SEAL workout, the troop’s exercises are made up of bodyweight calisthenics.
For a greater challenge, Troop 111 performs certain strength exercises using gallon-sized plastic milk jugs filled with water, which weigh about 8 pounds. They call these homemade weights “character builders” and use them to add resistance to squats, lunges and other exercises. “We’ll walk a distance for five minutes holding the jug straight over our heads,” says Nelson. “It builds muscle and mental toughness.”
And, hopefully, a lifelong love of exercise. “Fitness is an integral part of our lives and it prepares us for the challenges of the day,” says Tom McGuiggan. “If a Scout is physically fit, he will be mentally awake.”
Nelson and McGuiggan are convinced the weekly workout has helped members of the troop perform better in scholastic sports like soccer, cross-country and lacrosse, and is ideal prep for the troop’s annual 50-mile hike.
One of Connor McGuiggan’s favorite exercises is a grueling move that combines a burpee, a pushup and the character builder. Start by standing in front of your water jug. Bend down, place your hands on the ground and kick your legs back into a pushup position. Next, do a full pushup and then, in the up pushup position, grab the water jug with your right hand and push it forward and pull it back. Do another full pushup and then use your left hand to push the character builder forward and back. Finally, do another pushup and then jump your legs forward and explode upward to a standing position. Repeat.
“We call these ‘man makers.’ They get you in better shape,” Connor says.
But the real benefit of these workouts, if you ask Troop 111’s adults, is the bond the workouts create between dads and sons and among the Scouts. Says Tom McGuiggan: “Watching these kids grow and mature as young leaders every Saturday, man, that’s absolutely money.”
Scroll down to view detailed descriptions and illustrations of select Troop 111 exercises for you and your Scouts to try at home.
JEFF CSATARI is the author of the New York Times best-seller The Belly Off! Diet.
Take the Troop 111 Challenge
Have a troop hike or long bike ride on the horizon? Use it as a reason to start a regular Scout-led fitness program. It’s the best way to ensure that everyone is in top shape to get the most enjoyment out of a physically challenging outing. Plus, research shows that group exercise boosts motivation, creates a feeling of community and holds members accountable to prevent straying from goals. And for Scouts, it’s an awesome opportunity to knock off requirements for the Personal Fitness merit badge and other awards.
Here’s how to start:
- Establish a regular meeting time for a workout.
- Ease into the routine with a short circuit of bodyweight calisthenics, a bike ride or troop swim.
- Each week or month, allow a different member of the troop to plan and lead the workouts. Make sure every member can complete the workout. Leave no buddy behind.
- Mix up the exercises. To keep motivation high, plan different types of physical challenges, such as group road or mountain bike rides; exercise circuits using loaded backpacks or water jugs for resistance; cross-country runs or obstacle courses; relay races or capture-the-flag games; or active games like volleyball, soccer, softball, basketball or street hockey.
The idea is to make fitness fun and allow friendly competition to foster motivation until a workout no longer feels like work.
The Troop 111 Workout
LEARN MORE about the BSA’s SCOUTStrong Healthy Living Initiative, including how you can earn the SCOUTStrong Presidential Active Lifestyle Award at scouting.org/scoutsource/BSAFit.