Faced with zero gravity, a young, healthy adult in space can lose up to 20 percent of their muscle mass in five to 11 days. That’s the hell that awaits U. S. Navy Lieutenant Jonny Kim, 36, who recently completed NASA’s astronaut-candidacy training for his potential first trip to space.
To figure out how he’ll adapt, Kim spends workdays in the Johnson Space Center’s zero-g simulator, the Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory, a 6.2-million-gallon pool.
Underwater lies a mock-up of the International Space Station, which will be Kim’s home if he’s sent to space. Training in the pool in his rigid spacesuit mimics the movement struggles of space.
Kim calls his water time “a six-hour marathon.” His life experience to this point has helped him prepare physically and psychologically. Previously he served as Navy SEAL in Iraq, raiding terrorist compounds.
After that, he studied emergency medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital as a Harvard Medical School graduate. Still, space is a new frontier. To train for NASA, he says, you have to make sure “the pain, the suffering, and the fatigue is as close to real as possible so that there aren't any surprises in space."
In his pressurised suit, even small hand motions, like making a fist, require serious muscle. “You’re not walking on the space station. To get around, to do training exercises, and make repairs you’re grabbing a truss and moving yourself hand over hand.
The pressurised suit requires that every movement be extremely forceful," he says. Constantly using his hands to climb across handrails on the station’s exterior is a unique way to build meaty guns. “The muscles that get smoked the most are my forearms,” he says.
Kim, who is 5'11" and weighs 175 pounds, is overcompensating on earth by rising at 3:30 each morning to work out—which almost always includes farmer’s carries, a key grip-strength move. His other go-to: heavy barbell squats. “There’s nothing more important than squatting for getting my whole-body strength up,” says Kim. “All things being equal, a stronger person will have an easier more successful time doing any task, even if the task isn’t strength related.”
Build Space-Ready Total-Body Muscle
Warm up. Then do 5 sets of 5 heavy back squats, resting at least two minutes between sets. Next grab the heaviest dumbbells that you can walk 100 feet with and perform five sets of farmer’s walks.
This story originally appeared in the Everyday Strength feature in the May 2020 issue of Men’s Health US.
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