Col. Chris Hadfield, who until recently was commander of the International Space Station, has a workout regimen that is out of this world.
Sorry. Couldn’t resist. Hadfield’s new book, “An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth,” goes into detail about what it takes to be in shape for space travel.
What kind of shape do you need to be in to qualify for the space program?
To qualify to live on the space station, you have to pass the hardest physical exam in the world. There has to be a high lack of a probability of a problem, whether it’s your appendix or an injury. There is a team of doctors checking everything all the time, so I knew I really had to take care of my body to not get medically disqualified.
We also have height and weight restrictions. There isn’t a big-and-tall shop for spacesuits. The suit and crash seat for the Soyuz are all custom fit, so I couldn’t bulk up.
Tell me about your exercise regimen while on the International Space Station.
I used the resistance exercise device on the ISS for an hour every day the entire time I was there. It looks like a universal gym. It has big pistons that have a vacuum on them. The beauty of it is that it is a consistent resistance the whole way through. You can do squats, bench press, overhead lifts, calf raises, curls and sit-ups. .
I understand a space walk is quite the workout.
Doing a space walk is incredibly physical. Every move you make is resistance exercise because the suit is pressurized. It’s as if you hooked rubber bands to your whole body so they resist every single motion you make, and then go put a new transmission in your car for six hours with no food. And sometimes you have to move tough things like turning a wrench and your body would fly around, so you have to stabilize yourself. You need to use your skeleton and musculature to turn the wrench because you don’t have the platform gravity gives you. It’s like trying to lift weights on roller skates.
How is the food in space? Is it as bad as airplane food?
It’s actually very good. We have a team of dietitians involved, and we record every single thing we eat on a spreadsheet while we’re on board. ... The fact that I came back with more muscle mass and less body fat than when I left Earth, but at the same body weight, shows that they do their job extremely well.
What kind of shape were you in when you got back to Earth?
Because of all the resistance training, when I came back I actually had increased muscle mass and strength, and my bone density was the same or higher except at the top end of my femur and pelvis. I lost about 8% in those areas. We’re a lot better at preserving bone mass than we used to be.
But it’s your cardiovascular system and balance that are all messed up. … Back on Earth it’s sort of like exercising when you’re sick. You’re tired and your body is rebuilding itself, so you really have to force yourself to do it. ... For most astronauts it takes about four months to feel completely normal again.
Fell is a certified strength and conditioning specialist and founder of sixpackabs.com.