Preparing for Basic Training

Updated: November 8, 2022

Many potential new recruits and their families are understandably concerned about the rigors of basic training. Whether it’s the Army, the Air Force, the Navy, the Marine Corps, or the Coast Guard, how should someone get ready for these fitness requirements?

What follows should not be considered medical advice. This is information provided based on personal testimony, expert studies, and information published on military official sites. Always consult a physician before attempting a new exercise regimen. This is especially the case if you haven’t been physically active in a while.

Physical Preparation for Basic Training: What You Should Know First

No matter what you are told by a recruiter, currently serving military member, or even an article on the internet, always consult a physician for advice on exercise concerns related to your own personal medical history.

What else should you know about the basics of physically preparing for your reporting date for training? The level of physical stress you experience will naturally vary depending on the branch of service. All branches have running, push-ups, crunches, and other activities as part of the daily training routine.


Body Types, Body Fat and Fitness

All branches of service will have some type of body fat measurement system that, at least in part, informs physical fitness standards. Some recruits may have no trouble at all meeting these service-specific body fat standards. Others, because of genetics, lifestyle, or other factors, may struggle to meet these standards for one reason or another.

Starting early before reporting to boot camp on fitness and diet can help new recruits and potential new recruits with the adjustment to basic training.

Once started on the road to better health, even those who are considered “marginal” may be able to come up to current standards.


Start Slowly and Work Up

Those who have not exercised in a while should not dive in head first by beginning long runs, large amounts of pushups, or other rigorous workout elements. It is important to ease into the exercise regimen and listen to your body. This is true in both of the types of workouts you choose and in the workout itself.

Warm Up, Cool Down

The official United States Army recruiting site strongly advises recruits to take a 10-15 minute warm-up and an equally long cool-down period as part of every exercise session. This prevents injury and helps the body ease into the intensity of the actual workout.


Choose Your Workout Carefully

If your workout concentrates on weights and seated cardio, you could be cheating yourself out of some important prep work. Basic training involves physical challenges that pit you against your own body.

More often than not, you will be required to develop the strength to deal with your own body weight in the form of push-ups, running and swimming.

Lifting weights and seated cardio can be good supplements to running and swimming. It is also a good way to ease into a training regimen that incorporates those activities.

If you skimp on push-ups, crunches, and running, you may find yourself hurting more in basic training than you expect, even with the prep work.

Some Branches of Military Service Swim, Some Do Not

Joining the Marine Corps and the United States Navy requires swimming skills. One Marine drill instructor interviewed in a published report commented that some of his new arrivals had never been in a swimming pool before. Don’t be one of those people, as you will be at a major disadvantage.

The Navy basic-training regimen includes something known as Water Survival Training. To complete it successfully, the recruit must learn how to stay alive in open water without the assistance of a floatation device “long enough to be rescued if you were to fall overboard.”

That training includes swimming 50 yards, plus a five-minute “prone float.” The Navy official site states definitively that all recruits must graduate as certified swimmers.

Some military branches don’t require swimming in general, but your chosen career field still might. One such case involves the screening process for Air Force pararescue that involves similar working conditions to certain special forces missions.

The screening process for pararescue recruits involves a swimming challenge. The opportunity to take that challenge may or may not be offered to some recruits during basic training.

If you are not sure whether swimming is a requirement to the boot camp where you are going, ask your recruiter what you should do in terms of physically preparing.

Don’t Neglect Walking and Hiking

Depending on the branch of military service you join, you may wind up marching in military formation a lot more than you realize. Marine Corps recruits drill for 100 hours or more. That means you will carry weapons and other gear while in military formation.

It may be wise to try extended walking with a full backpack to get used to the feeling and prepare your legs and back for the kind of workout you won’t get from a set of gym machines.

Make Sure Your Pre-Boot Camp Fitness Program Is Long Enough

You should take a minimum of six weeks before reporting to basic training to prepare physically. Eight weeks is better, but six is the absolute minimum. Do not be discouraged in the first week when your results are slow to appear. This is natural.

Some see results right away, while others won’t until they are well into the workout routine. This is also normal. You should expect to get results later down the line rather than right away.

How Much Exercise Do You Need?

The Centers for Disease Control official site states that adults need a certain minimum amount of exercise each week to improve their health.

Note that this is not a guide or rubric for preparing for basic training demands. This is a baseline of “just healthy enough” guidelines that include:

  • Two hours and 30 minutes per week of “moderate-intensity aerobic activity” and weight training muscle-strengthening activities on two or more days a week that work all major muscle groups.
  • Jogging for one hour and 15 minutes (75 minutes) or vigorous-intensity aerobic activity (i.e., jogging or running) every week and muscle-strengthening activities on two or more days a week that work all major muscle groups.
  • An “equivalent mix of moderate- and vigorous-intensity aerobic activity” and muscle-strengthening activities on two or more days a week working all major muscle groups.

Remember, the guidelines above are not recommended for preparation for basic training, but guidelines for simply being healthier. You will need to do more than what is mentioned above to prepare for boot camp’s challenges, but it will be worth it.

Nutrition is Just as Important as Your Exercise Routine

What some new recruits don’t understand (and learn the hard way) about going to basic training is nutrition’s role. A military diet is extremely important to the success of both your exercise program and your basic training experience.

This has more implications than some realize. The body can’t sustain prolonged physical activity without proper nourishment. This is another reason why “see your doctor first” is good advice. You can explain what you are doing to your primary care provider and get advice on how to adjust your diet accordingly.

Ask Your Recruiter about The Basic Training Diet

There is no such thing as “the basic training diet,” if you are looking for a quick results fad diet program. At least none are officially sanctioned by the Department of Defense. But that does not mean that you won’t encounter diet restrictions and food intake controls at basic training.

What does this mean?

No matter what branch of military service you join, there is a concerted effort to give new recruits a challenging, but safe environment to learn the military lifestyle. And that means making sure all recruits are properly fed, hydrated and nourished.

No Coffee or Cigarettes in Basic Training?

Many potential basic trainees don’t realize that they will be required to go both tobacco-free and caffeine-free for a significant portion of their training. Access to caffeinated beverages of any kind will be at the drill instructor’s pleasure, and you may not even be allowed to eat candy or dessert until your initial phases of basic training are completed.

Your training instructors view these items as rewards and will be doled out accordingly. Preparing for these restrictions can be important for some recruits, especially those with a serious coffee or smoking habit.

Start Working on Your Diet Now

Don’t wait until basic training to start cutting down your caffeine, tobacco, sugar and junk food intake. The adjustment period when cutting out these “vices” can be difficult and interfere with some training.

It’s best to work on these habits at the same time you are working on your pre-basic training physical fitness regimen. That ensures that when you report to basic training you will be fully focused on the tasks at hand rather than fighting with your own body to adjust to a lack of caffeine, junk food, sugar, or nicotine.

Your food intake may increase in basic training. Some may feel perpetually hungry at first until the body adjusts to the new physical demands it is placed under. Early prep in both diet and exercise can help ease this transition.

Written by Team