During his fifth deployment, U.S. Army Sergeant First Class Jared Bullock ran over an improvised explosive device (IED) in Afghanistan and lost his right arm and leg. As soon as his recovery allowed, he was back in the gym. Just 10 months after hitting the IED, Bullock ran a 12-mile race.
Since then, he has competed on the bodybuilding stage and completed a dozen more obstacle courses, mud runs, and Spartan races. What could make a man this resilient? Maybe it’s his upbringing, or his military service, or something coded in his DNA. Regardless, his story will inspire anyone who feels limited in pursuit of their fitness dreams.
From Farm to Special Forces
Bullock himself traces his tenacity back to his boyhood days on his grandfather’s farm in Illinois.
“My twin brother and I grew up doing a lot of manual labor on my grandpa’s farm,” he says. “He was an awesome man, but he didn’t take any shit. [laughing] If you wanted to eat, you had to work. That attitude started there and just kind of grew within me until I joined the Army.”
Bullock and his brother enlisted in the Army in 2003. After two tours of duty in Iraq, Bullock started training for the Green Berets. He earned his beret and deployed to Afghanistan. Exactly one month later, the vehicle he and his team were riding in struck a roadside bomb. Bullock was blown almost 300 feet and lost his right arm and right leg. His best friend was killed, and two other team members were seriously injured. Bullock says that one minute he was driving the vehicle, and the next he was waking up in an Army hospital in Germany.
After a year of rehab at an army base in San Antonio, Texas, he vowed to himself that he would run an obstacle course within the next year. Remarkably, 10 months later, he did it. After the race, he began to focus on building his strength. His trainers kept telling him to build up his strong side and not worry so much about his injured side, but he didn’t agree.
“I was doing my own research on how to train without all of your limbs,” he says. “At the same time, I was working with child amputees here in the United States and kept seeing how the asymmetrical strength they were developing would cause them problems. I didn’t want that to happen, so I spent a lot of time in my gym working my whole body.”
Bullock had started building his home gym eight years earlier when he had to travel a great deal as a Green Beret. When he was home between deployments, he wanted to be able to spend as much time as possible at home with his wife and son.
“My gym is well-equipped,” he says. “I have a standing calf-raise machine, a lateral-raise machine, and a leg-extension/hamstring-curl combo machine. We have a couple of racks in there for barbell work, dumbbells, various forms of sandbags, a few kettlebells, and some battle rope and plyometric boxes. I have everything I need.”
Strong Side/Weak Side Workout
Bullock started creating his unique workout by copying the exercises a couple other amputees posted on Instagram. Then he just started looking at body movement as a physics problem.
“You need tension,” he says. “You’ve got to have certain angles. I just played with those on machines and using straps looped over a barbell. I figured out how I wanted to do it as I went along.”
He experimented with ways to use what remained of his right arm to do deadlifts and settled on nylon Velcro straps. Having spent part of his time in the Army as a member of a mountain team, he knew a lot about fasteners, which helped him figure out the best way to attach the straps to his barbells. As he worked on his equipment, he also adapted the exercises themselves.
“Every now and then I try to do full deadlifts,” he says. “But I don’t have that great of a range of motion and can end up hurting my lower back if I’m not careful. So I tend to focus on rack pulls. Or if I’m feeling kind of iffy on certain lifts, I’ll use a lot of bands.”
Bullock says he also enjoys doing anything shoulder related, noting that having two beefy shoulders helps him look more symmetrical in front of bodybuilding judges.
“My wife and I invested in a plate-loaded lateral weight machine, which makes it a lot easier for me to set up,” he says. “I use it for front raises on my amputated side, too. I’m just happy my mom gave me such good shoulder genetics.”
Bullock says he can’t do a lot of the raises he did before, and when he does his adapted movements, his workouts take much longer to complete. If he only has an hour, he does a unilateral workout. If he wants to go heavy on his amputated side, he asks a friend over to help him get set up, then act as his spotter.
“I usually like to stick with kind of an upper/lower split,” he says. “Yesterday, I did legs on the calf machine that I use for four different exercises. I set it up so I can do six reps of step-ups at about 200 pounds. Then I’ll do three “finisher” sets at 15-20 reps with a lighter weight to pump in some more blood. For legs, I’ll do heavy single-leg Romanian deadlifts, then I’ll finish off with leg extensions and hamstring curls. I don’t go for in-depth on my left leg; it just grows anyway. I don’t try to beat it too much, because it’s the only one I’ve got,” he adds, laughing.
There isn’t much of Bullock’s right leg left—a mere 9 inches. Even so, he’s able to train it using a very low platform to do step-ups, with his robot leg attached. He also does sled walks sideways, pushing off with his right leg to give it a workout.
Of course, he, like every other strength trainer, hates cardio. But it’s more difficult for him because a workout of any length can cause abrasions where his skin meets the prosthetic device.
Bullock says he’s learned to eat much more nutritious meals, and he augments his diet with a pre-workout supplement, protein, vitamins, and fish oil. While other people with disabilities might have a problem with gaining unwanted pounds, that’s not an issue for this high-energy ex-Special Forces soldier.
“I’ve always had a fast metabolism, but now, as an amputee, I burn calories like crazy,” he says. “My robot leg weighs 10 pounds. Dragging that around takes twice as much energy as it would to walk around with a regular leg. I burn through so many calories that I have to eat about 4,500 calories per day.”
A Star Builds a “Smart” Home
Despite all the admittedly badass workouts he posts on Instagram, Bullock admits that he’s only human.
“When I’m worn out at the end of the day, I’ll sit down and rest in a wheelchair,” he says. “It takes a lot of energy to maintain my stability.”
More stability will come soon after Bullock and his family move from their current home in Florida to their new home in Illinois, where both his and his wife’s families live. And it won’t be any old home. The day after he retired from the Army in 2015, he received a call from the actor Gary Sinise, who started a foundation dedicated to helping veteran soldiers, first responders, and their families.
“Gary called me and said, ‘Hey, man, we want to build you a house.’ I was like, ‘That’s awesome. We accept your offer.’ It’s going to be an amazing house,” says Bullock.
All the doorways in the new house will be large enough for a wheelchair. The cabinets will be custom made to pull out and down so Bullock can access the contents without having to stand up. He’ll also be able to adjust the AC, lights, and other systems from his iPad.
By now, Bullock has accumulated so much equipment that he asked for a slightly larger garage to house his home gym. The Gary Sinise Foundation went one step further and built an additional 20-by-20 room that, unlike his current gym, will have HVAC so he won’t “sweat to death” like he does in Florida.
Paying It Back, Paying It Forward
Bullock loves his home gym. But the gym he’s most excited about is the one he’ll build in a yet-to-be-found location near his new home.
“The gym truly is my dream,” he says. “I want to own a business. I want to serve the community. And I want to be able to be successful so I can support all the foundations that’ve helped my family and me. Whatever they gave me, I’ll give back to them so they can help other veterans.”