Life as a Fitness, Sports, and Recreation Coordinator on board an HMC ship

Robert Roos

Robert Roos aboard HMCS Vancouver. Photos: Lietuenant (Navy) Michelle Scott, HMCS Vancouver PAO

Robert Roos, 
HMCS Vancouver, FSR Coordinator

Have you ever run, squatted, or done push-ups on a floor that shifts beneath your feet?

I hadn’t until two months ago when I joined HMCS Vancouver on deployment.

I am the ship’s Fitness, Sports, and Recreation (FSR) Coordinator. My job involves leading group fitness classes, writing individual training programs, and hosting recreation events for the members on board. I previously deployed with the Canadian Armed Forces to Latvia in 2021, where I worked in an FSR department with three other colleagues, but here on Vancouver, I am a department of one.

Shipboard fitness presents challenges that can be divided into two broad categories: technical challenges of the job and social challenges of living and working on a ship.

From a technical perspective, simple exercises on land take on a new level of difficulty when the ground under you moves unpredictably.

As the ship pitches and rolls, participant safety is a top priority. Exercises and body positions need to be adjusted, and equipment and exercise selection needs to be considered. Compare holding two 30-pound dumbbells or one exercise band in an overhead press when the ship suddenly rolls to one side – there is less risk of injury with the band. Space is at a premium on board, which also extends to fitness equipment.

Equipment needs to be basic but effective, easily taken out for set-up, and quickly stowed. This is especially true as most group fitness classes take place on the flight deck, where, if called to flying stations, the air detachment may need the deck cleared ASAP, or some kettlebells may end up in Davy Jones’ Locker.

The most difficult challenge I have with run­ning fitness programming on the ship is the changing nature of members’ shifts and watches.

Members’ schedules are constantly changing, and accommodating a fixed fitness schedule is not easy. Seeing members who regularly attend class disappear due to a shift in their work schedule is hard to swallow. I can see their fitness improving and confidence growing, and then one day, they aren’t there anymore. Building relationships is integral to being an effective FSR Coordinator, and the constantly shifting, 24-hour nature of ship life makes it much more difficult
than on land.

A solution we discovered is to post daily workouts in the ship’s gym, where those who can’t attend classes in person can still participate in daily fitness programming.

Another option is to post fitness challenges that the whole ship can achieve together. For example, on Vancouver, we are racing the ship home (collaboratively running, biking, walking, rowing, or using the elliptical to move enough kilometres to beat the ship home) and lifting the ship (collaboratively while exercising to lift the 5 million-kilogram weight of the ship).

Working through these challenges daily with the Royal Canadian Navy members has been extremely rewarding. As a fitness professional, it is a situation I never expected to find myself in, but I’m glad I accepted the opportunity.

HMCS Vancouver

Sailors onboard Vancouver’s flight deck participate in Roos’ fitness class.

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