Military FitnessUpdated: September 28, 2020
If you are a new recruit or a first-term military member in the early days of your military career, you may wonder why the military places such an emphasis on physical fitness.
Aside from the obvious–being physically ready for duty at a moment’s notice and being able to manage the physical demands of your military job–there is an emphasis in the military on something known as the “whole person concept” which includes work-life balance, fitness, education, professional development, personal integrity and other traits.
Military fitness requirements vary depending on the branch of service, but there are some things all have in common that you should know about–especially if you haven’t committed to the military yet and are trying to get yourself ready to do so.
Military Fitness Basics
All military members must meet minimum physical requirements. Part of basic training is getting recruits into shape, which for some can be a transformative experience.
But you really, REALLY don’t want to ship out to boot camp without some kind of physical preparation. Those who do so struggle far more than those who started or maintained a fitness program ahead of joining the military.
Boot camp requires a lot of marching, running, pushups, situps, and other physical activity. You will be required to wear a backpack in many cases, loaded with gear and uniform items required in the field. You will be required to crouch, kneel, climb, and crawl.
These are just the physical tasks you’ll be asked to perform, this is NOT a description of the fitness test you will be required to pass as a condition of graduating from boot camp. More on that below.
What New Recruits Should Know About Military Fitness
To start, you should DEFINITELY begin or continue a fitness program before shipping out. Military fitness standards are higher than some are used to, and if you know you need to up your fitness game but don’t know where to start, there is good news for you.
Your recruiter can help you start a fitness program that can specifically prepare you for the rigors of boot camp.
One important caveat–before starting a new fitness program you should get the advice of your primary care physician. It pays to be careful and methodical about your new exercise routine, especially if you have had a lapse in physical activity.
Don’t just dive in and start punishing your body. Get medical advice–and be sure to explain to the doctor that you are specifically trying to get in shape for a military environment.
Know Your Military Service Fitness Standards
The physical fitness requirements that apply to you are dependent on the branch of service you join. Boot camp is designed to get you physically ready to serve (among many other things) and as mentioned above, you will be required to pass a fitness test to graduate from basic training.
When planning your military fitness routine as a new recruit or as a first-term soldier, sailor, etc. you should train in such a way that addresses all the fitness challenges you are required to pass during the fitness test.
Remember that all military members are tested on an annual basis (sometimes more frequently depending on circumstances) so it’s best to address these needs in your fitness plan year-round. In most cases, the only way to get out of a fitness test is to be exempted for medical reasons–even if your test is delayed by a TDY, permanent change of station move, or professional military education, you will be tested eventually.
Military Fitness Test Requirements By Service
Military fitness standards and testing requirements are subject to change and they can change often depending on mission requirements, directives from the chain of command, alterations in service policies, etc.
In the past, military fitness test requirements have included the following–check with a recruiter or your command support staff to learn what the most current fitness guidance is.
- Air Force: A timed one-and-a-half mile run, plus a timed test to see how many pushups and situps you can do within the allotted time.
- Army: A timed two-mile run, plus a test to see how many pushups you can do in two minutes and a similar test involving two minutes of push-ups.
- Marine Corps: A timed three-mile run, two minutes of crunches, two minutes of pull-ups (or pushups). There is also a Combat Fitness Test that includes a timed 880-yard run, 30-pound lifts, plus a 300-yard combat maneuvering challenge.
- Navy: A timed mile-and-a-half run, plus two minutes of “curl-ups” and two minutes of push-ups.
- Coast Guard: A timed one-and-a-half-mile run, one minute of push-ups, one minute of sit-ups and a “platform jump” and 100-meter swim.
Tips For Achieving Military Fitness
Don’t go it alone–it pays not only to get a doctor’s advice and help from your recruiter (where applicable) but also to have a workout buddy. This person does NOT have to be joining the military with you, but they should be prepared to follow the training regimen recommended for you to get in shape for boot camp or for your first military fitness test post-boot camp.
Learn what specific activities are put to the test (see above for examples of past fitness test requirements) and cater to those specifically.
However, don’t neglect the rest of your body–your arms and abs will get plenty of good workouts but what about your lower back, your glutes, lower body, etc.? Don’t neglect any major muscle group–treat your fitness program as a whole-person effort for best results.
You will need to strike a balance between cardio workouts and muscle-building. Basic training and your fitness test both require these areas to meet certain standards. Cardio is very important.
And don’t forget about good nutrition. You will not be able to eat junk food or fast food during your initial military training except under circumstances that may or may not be allowed by your training instructor. It’s best to ditch your vices before shipping out as you won’t be drinking coffee, smoking cigarettes, or eating fast food for some time. Get your nutrition issues sorted out and your entire fitness routine will benefit.
Vary your fitness routine the way a personal trainer would tell you to–don’t overtrain any one muscle group, work a different muscle group every day (not the same ones twice in a row), drink more water, and listen to your body when it tells you to rest and recover.
You should never do a military fitness test having worked out the day before the test is administered–your body needs downtime and the older you are, the more downtime you may need.
Joe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter for Air Force Television News
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